I’m one for tradition, so I still like to have a clock in various rooms. However, I often find the ticking to be very loud and distracting, so I looked for ways to quiet it once and for all.
The easiest way to quiet a loud ticking clock once and for all is to add mass, such as a piece of quilting, over the ticking mechanism on the back of the clock. Failing this, you can also oil the mechanism, but this will need repeating every few weeks to keep the clock quiet.
Aside from adding mass, there are other options to try to make your clock quieter. In this article, I look at why clocks tick so loud, along with the best ways to make the ticking quieter once and for all.
Why do clocks tick so loud?
Clocks make a ticking noise as their mechanism counts out the seconds. This is hardly new information, as all clocks tick. Old-fashioned wall clocks tick very loudly, but this is because their mechanisms are heavy and designed to be longer lasting than modern clocks.
I imagine most people reading this article won’t be looking for solutions for their expensive antique wall clock. After all, you expect these to be loud and it’s part of the appeal. However, one of the benefits of modern clocks, theoretically, is that they don’t need to be as loud.
The problem is that some are. I recently bought a wall clock that’s loud enough to hear in another room, even with the doors shut! But why is it so loud when the mechanism is much smaller?
The main reason modern clocks tick so loud is because they’re often made with cheap parts that have higher tolerance levels than antique clocks. So in short, loud ticking is a side effect of our desire for disposable products that aren’t made with the same quality levels.
Another reason is that cheap clocks are made with a pulsed electromagnet powered by batteries. This magnet pulses to move the parts, which then move the fingers. Considering the magnet has to pulse every second and is moving cheap and potentially flimsy parts, it’s no wonder it makes a bit of noise.
Slightly more expensive models use a pulsed motor to move the parts, which generally doesn’t make any noise. These clocks might not have a second hand, or if they do it’ll likely be the kind that rotates rather than ticks. The only sound you can expect to hear from one of these clocks is the hands moving, but even that’s pretty quiet.
A good place to start when it comes to choosing a clock is to go for a slightly more expensive model, as this will have higher quality parts, which will usually reduce the level of ticking you’ll hear. However, this isn’t much help if you’re looking to quiet an existing clock.
How to quiet a loud ticking clock
It’s fair to say that a loud ticking clock is pretty annoying. In some cases I can find it quite relaxing, but this definitely isn’t the case when I’m trying to concentrate or watch TV.
So I found some ways to make my clock quieter, which are listed below.
- Add mass to the clock mechanism
- Switch to a mains-powered clock
- Quiet the ticking by oiling the mechanism
- Put the clock in a container
- Modify the clock
- Just buy a new clock
Now let’s look at each of the methods mentioned above in detail.
1. Add mass to the clock mechanism
Most modern clocks have a tiny ticking mechanism fitted on the back of their face. Unlike old clocks, which needed complicated moving parts, modern clocks are often just a motor that turns the hands. After all, if it can turn them at the right speed and you can set the time, then its actual ability to tell time is irrelevant.
This method works best on wall hanging clocks, as bedside or alarm clocks generally have their mechanism housed in a unit. However, it will still work on them, but smaller clocks are easier to manage in other ways.
Start by taking your clock off the wall. On the back, in the center, should be the clock’s motor. This is usually where you fit the batteries, and will probably just be a small plastic box. The other way to tell it’s the ticking mechanism is that it might have a dial fitted that allows you to turn the handles.
Take a piece of fabric big enough to cover the ticking mechanism with a bit to spare. What you use depends on what you have, but as with all soundproofing solutions, it should be as dense and heavy as possible. I used a bit of thick quilt for mine, and it seemed to work fine.
Then just stick it down with a bit of packing tape. I used enough to completely cover the edges of the quilt, meaning there was a pretty good seal around the ticking mechanism.
This solution works on the same principles as normal soundproofing: you’re adding mass to block the sound. However, this is neither the most effective nor the most practical solution for making the clock quieter.
The first reason is because this only blocks noise from the back, and you’ll likely still hear some ticking from the clock’s face. Also, you’ll have to peel the tape off every time you need to change the batteries. While this might not be very often, it’s still not the most that helpful.
2. Switch to a mains-powered clock
Almost all clocks are battery powered, unless you’ve got a slight more expensive alarm clock radio. However, having a mains-powered clock is actually a much better move if you’re bothered by the ticking sound.
Clocks connected to the mains synchronize their time using the mains frequency, which means they might not even have a second hand. If they do, then they’re generally the rotating kind rather than the ticking kind, which also removes the problem.
Alternatively, mains-powered clocks might sync to radio frequencies instead. You can also get these clocks in battery-powered versions, and they’re designed to make almost no noise (see the image below).
The clock in the image above (check its price on Amazon) is a silent, ‘non ticking’ clock.
3. Quiet the ticking by oiling the mechanism
When you think of oiling moving parts, it’s often to make them run smoother. While this is one purpose of oiling the clock’s mechanism, a heavier oil can also add tension to more sensitive mechanisms just through the sheer weight of the oil.
However, the biggest thing with this option is that you’ll need a bit of knowledge on how clock mechanisms work. More than them being complicated, they’re very sensitive, so you need to have a very light touch if you plan on taking them apart.
Also, most cheap clocks won’t allow you access to the ticking mechanism. However, if there are screws holding a cover in place, I’d recommend taking it off to see what you’re dealing with.
The only real variations in clock mechanisms are size and the materials used. All mechanisms follow a basic formula, so once you know that you should be fine.
If you’re just wanting to lubricate the mechanism, use a specialty clock oil. This is much thinner than normal oil and so is more sensitive on the delicate mechanism.
However, this method can also be used to add tension to the gears, which can make them quieter. If that’s what you’re going for, use vehicle oil like 5W or 20W, as this will be much heavier. To oil the clock’s mechanism, do the following:
- Take the back plate off to expose the clock’s mechanism. This is really easy to identify because it’s a load of gears connected to the clock’s hands.
- Any knobs poking through the back panel should either pull off or be screwed on. This will largely depend on the quality of the clock, but neither is particularly difficult. Keep a mental note of what goes where though.
- When opening the mechanism housing, be very careful and gentle. A forced movement might make the gears fall out, which would be game over for your clock.
- Find the gear that’s moved by a tiny coil. This is the one that moves the second hand, so is the main source of the ticking. Carefully put a single drop of heavy oil on this gear. The end of a toothpick is perfect for this.
- The gear that this connects to should also be oiled. Focus on the gear’s bearings first, but then spread a tiny amount on its teeth too. These are the only 2 gears you need to oil.
- If you’re using clock oil instead, simply spray a small amount on the mechanism, ideally coating all gears. Either way, leave the clock open for 30 minutes or so for any excess oil to evaporate.
- Finally, put everything back together just the way you found it. This can often be the difficult part if you didn’t pay much attention when disassembling the clock.
Another useful thing to do is to stuff a small amount of mass in the clock. This works in the same way as insulating a stud wall, as the extra mass will absorb some of the ticking noise, dampening it slightly. However, only do this if there’s excess room because you don’t want to stuff the clock and put pressure on the mechanism.
The video below will serve as a helpful guide, apart from the procedure mentioned above.
4. Put the clock in a container
This option is more suitable for small desk clocks or bedside alarm clocks, but is actually really effective. Ideally, the container should be airtight as this will stop any ticking noise from leaking out. Failing that, make it as heavy as possible.
When I was trying this with my cheap alarm clock, I first used a Mason jar because these are designed for preserving food and so are airtight. It actually worked amazingly well and the clock was basically silent. The only drawback is having to explain to people why my alarm clock is in a pickling jar!
Another reasonably effective option is to use a glass cloche. However, these won’t do as good a job because the cloche will only sit on a surface rather than forming an airtight seal around the clock. You’ll still notice a reasonable reduction in ticking noise using one though.
The biggest drawback of this option is that it basically renders your alarm clock redundant if you’re using it for an alarm. Not only will you probably not be able to hear the alarm, but if you do you’ll have to open the jar to turn it off. However, doing something like that is probably enough to wake you up in the morning!
5. Modify the clock
Your options for modifying the clock will largely depend on what type of clock it is. For example, it’ll be much easier to modify a small alarm clock than it would a large wall clock. However, there are some things you can do that should hopefully make a difference to the clock’s ticking.
The first thing to try is making the second hand shorter. As I mentioned above, most modern clocks are made with cheaper materials, and the hands are usually pretty flimsy plastic.
The technical reason clocks make such a loud tick is because the stepper motor (which controls the second hand) has a stronger force at certain points, and then is slacker in others. This tension and slackness is caused by the clock’s construction, and this is how it ticks from one minute or hour to the next.
When the stepper motor reaches a slack point and releases tension, this vibrates and travels down the second hand. This is often what causes the loud ticking noise, and is also why the clocks ticks louder on some seconds than it does on others.
A simple and effective way to minimize this problem is to simply make the second hand shorter. I just cut it down using a pair of scissors, and the shorter hand has less flex in it, so vibrations don’t travel as easily. How short you cut it will depend on the size of the clock, but I’d leave at least a quarter of it behind.
Another effective option is to wrap the clock in something that dampens the ticking noise. While I suggested this above for the ticking mechanism, it also works on desk clocks, but is more effective if you just wrap the entire clock.
At the very least, use something thick like a towel or quilt. But to be even more effective, consider using an actual soundproofing material like Dynamat or mass loaded vinyl. These are obviously the best kind of thing for blocking sound, although trying to wrap a clock can be a bit fiddly.
6. Just buy a new clock
It’s fair enough to look for ways to quiet a loud ticking clock, but one of the biggest issues with many modern products is that they’re not designed to be altered at home by the buyer. This often means that you won’t be able to access the ticking mechanism, particularly if it’s a cheap clock.
What’s more, I think it’s only really worth the effort of trying to change a clock if it’s actually worth hanging on to. If you can access the clock’s inside, or at least wrap it in something, then go ahead. If not, I’d consider just looking for a new clock.
The easiest solution for combating the ticking problem is to choose a digital clock instead (like this one on Amazon). Not only are these much more accurate than analog clocks, they also don’t even tick. If you ask me, that’s a problem solved!
Perhaps you don’t want a digital clock for whatever reason. In that case, I’d still look to buy a new clock, but use the information given earlier in this article to pick the right model. There are plenty of options for silent clocks on the market, you just need to know what to look for.
The first thing I’d recommend is to increase your budget. After all, more expensive clocks will generally be better quality, and if you look for radio controlled or mains-powered models then the ticking problem should be minimal.
Also, many companies advertise their clocks as silent now. If this is something you’re looking for online, make sure you check customer reviews.
A good silent clock is definitely something that people will praise, so it shouldn’t take you long to find one. Again, you might find yourself spending a bit more money, but in my opinion it’s worth it if you don’t have to deal with a ticking problem any more.
Some final thoughts
As I found, there are a surprising number of solutions for how to quiet a loud ticking clock once and for all. However, many of these depend on your skill level, and as I mentioned above, you might be prevented from taking the clock apart anyway.
However, the simplest solution is probably just to add mass to the clock because this can be done on the outside, and is generally inexpensive. Aside from that, you can always throw the clock out the window if you find it too annoying!