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Our use of the word ‘best’

All thermometers count as medical devices and therefore must pass certain federal standards. So really, no thermometer brand should be “more accurate” than another, though a brand may have more or less consumer trust behind it.

But people tend to prefer the features of some thermometers over others. And some types — rectal in particular — are known to be the most precise.

Is your little one feeling under the weather? Experts estimate that most babies get eight or more colds in the first year — yikes! Suffice it to say, a baby thermometer is a must-have for all parents.

Along with a stuffy nose and cough, you may also notice that your baby feels warm. Keep the following in mind when it comes to babies and fevers:

  • Any fever in a baby under 3 months should prompt a call to the doctor.
  • If your baby is younger than 60 days old and has a fever, or even if they seem ill (with or without a fever), they need to be seen right away.
  • Call or make an appointment with your pediatrician if your 3- to 6-month-old baby has a temperature that registers 100.4°F (38°C) or higher — or a fever of any degree that persists longer than 24 hours.

To measure temperature with accuracy, you’ll need a reliable thermometer. And while there are many thermometers on the market today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends using a rectal (inserted into the anus) option if your baby is under 3 months old.

For babies and children 3 months to 3 years, the AAP recommends using rectal, axillary (underarm), or tympanic (in ear) for the most accurate readings.

Here are the AAP recommendations for thermometers as your child grows:

AgeType
under 3 monthsrectal
3 months–3 yearsrectal, axillary, tympanic
4–5 yearsrectal, oral, axillary, tympanic
5 years–adultoral, axillary, tympanic

A temporal artery (TA) thermometer is another option for use with babies and children. In fact, recent studies show they may be as accurate as rectal temperatures in even the youngest infants when used properly.

You may hear TA thermometers referred to as forehead thermometers because the temperature is measured by starting in the middle of the forehead and then running the probe toward the ear. They’re not the same as the inexpensive strips that are placed across the forehead — doctors don’t consider those accurate.

Related: Baby fever 101: How to care for a sick baby

You may get dizzy scrolling through all the thermometer options for your family. Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. Keeping the AAP guidelines in mind, the following thermometers earn high marks from parents and caregivers for accuracy, quality, and affordability.

Other criteria and considerations:

  • fast results, so you’re not sitting there for several minutes trying to get a read on a cranky baby
  • multi-use design, meaning you can use it for different types of reads, like forehead and ear
  • washability and waterproof design, especially when it comes to rectal thermometers
  • added features, like no-touch design, color-coded reading, and multilingual audio functions
  • approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), whose standards medical devices must meet in order to be sold in the United States
  • money-back guarantees, in case you’re unhappy for any reason — because, hey, sometimes stuff doesn’t work as you might expect

You might notice that the thermometers in this article are all digital. If you still have one of those old mercury thermometers hanging around your home, the AAP says to get rid of it. The glass in this type of thermometer breaks easily, and exposure to mercury is dangerous even in small amounts.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $15
  • $$ = $15–$30
  • $$$ = over $30

Most popular baby thermometer

VAVA Smart Baby Thermometer

Price: $$$

Key features: The VAVA baby thermometer can provide peace of mind. Rather than feeling the need to continuously check your little one’s temperature, it alerts you once their temperature spikes by way of a safe, silicone patch you place near their armpit. A 1.5-hour charge will buy you 24 hours of real-time monitoring.

Considerations: It’s a very convenient option when you don’t want to disturb your sleeping baby but still need to monitor their temperature if you suspect they’re getting sick. If you do notice a temperature spike, it’s best to follow up with another method (ideally using a rectal thermometer if your baby is under 3 months old) to confirm.

Pros

  • continuous temperature monitoring
  • charge lasts 24 hours
  • automatic alerts when temperature is high

Cons

  • may not be as accurate in younger infants
  • may need to follow up with another type of reading
  • expensive

Best rectal thermometer

Kamsay Digital Medical Thermometer

Price: $$

Key features: The Kamsay digital thermometer has a soft flexible tip that makes it ideal for rectal use, though it can also be used orally and in the armpit. However, do not mix methods once you’ve used it rectally.

Makers claim it’s 100-percent accurate and has been clinically tested. It’s also FDA-approved. It has a fever alarm that will alert you if the result is too high or a simple beep that will let you know if the result is in a normal range. In either case, your baby’s temperature will show on the LED screen. You can set the thermometer to read in Celsius or Fahrenheit.

Considerations: The 10-second results window may make it difficult to take temperatures if your child is squirmy or restless.

Pros

  • soft, flexible tip
  • can be used for rectal, oral, or underarm readings
  • high accuracy

Cons

  • results take 10 seconds
  • may be hard to use on squirmy infants
  • need to wash carefully if using for rectal and oral, etc.

Note: Never use the same probe cover for both oral and rectal use.

Best forehead thermometer

Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer

Price: $$

Key features: All you need is a gentle stroke across the forehead to get a reading for the Exergen temporal thermometer. It features a lit display and has indicator beeps that you can turn on and off.

The company explains that this product has “proven” accuracy with use in over 70 clinical studies. And if you’re worried about tiny cell batteries (and the tiny objects accidentally ending up in kids’ mouths), you’ll be happy to hear that this thermometer takes a 9-volt battery. It’s also made in the United States.

Considerations: The small display is difficult to read in low light. There’s no color-coded option to indicate fever. Some people say that readings are “consistently inconsistent” and may be off by several degrees (lower) or that their thermometer worked for several months just fine and then became inconsistent. Sweat may also cause inconsistent results.

Pros

  • quick and gentle forehead reading
  • no cell batteries for safety
  • proven accuracy in clinical studies

Cons

  • hard to read in low light
  • sweat can alter readings
  • results may be inconsistent (low/high)

Best ear thermometer

Braun ThermoScan Electronic Ear Thermometer

Price: $$$

Key features: This Braun digital ear thermometer measures the infrared heat put out by the eardrum and surrounding ear tissue. It has a pre-warmed tip to help with comfort and accuracy and disposable lens filters to help keep things clean.

Readings take only a few seconds, and reviewers appreciate the large display screen. There’s also a memory feature that gives you your last recorded temperature for reference. It comes with a 3-year warranty.

Considerations: The product description explains that this thermometer is suitable for the whole family and “even for newborns” — it’s important to remember that the AAP doesn’t recommend the use of ear thermometers with children younger than 3 months of age. And for the price, this thermometer is lacking some handy features, like a color-coded display and audible fever alert.

Pros

  • pre-warmed tip for comfort
  • large display screen
  • memory feature

Cons

  • expensive
  • not for use on newborns
  • lacking features for the price (color code, fever alert, etc.)

Best ear/forehead combo thermometer

iProven Ear and Forehead Thermometer

Price: $$

Key features: The iProven infrared thermometer offers two different recording options — ear and forehead — and boasts readings in just 1 second. It also features a fever alarm, backlit display, and temperature color guide. It even allows you to save up to 20 readings in its memory.

This product is backed by a 100-day money-back guarantee.

Considerations: Thousands of people have purchased and reviewed this product. While the bulk of the reviews are positive, many people say this thermometer stopped working after 6 months to a year of use.

Pros

  • reads ear and forehead
  • provides results in 1 second
  • 100-day money-back guarantee

Cons

  • may stop working within 6 months of purchase
  • may provide falsely high readings
  • may be inconsistent

We hate to sound like a broken record, but if you’re going to use the same thermometer for rectal and oral use, never use the same probe cover for both.

Even better? Have one thermometer in your home that’s strictly for rectal use — and label it, so no one gets confused!

Best thermometer for newborns

Vicks Baby Rectal Thermometer

Price: $

Key features: Reading temperature rectally is what’s recommended for the youngest infants. New parents — well, anyone, really — may be squeamish about sticking a probe in too deep. The Vicks rectal thermometer is ergonomically designed and features a short, flexible probe with a wide base so you can’t go too far.

It also has a memory function that gives you your last reading and lights up (backlit) when the reading is complete. Oh, and its waterproof design is made for easy cleaning.

Considerations: The flexible tip may not seem all that flexible, but that’s because it’s short. Some people feel it becomes less and less accurate as time goes on. And despite being waterproof, the display in some cases may stop working well after submerging the thermometer in water.

Pros

  • works for even the youngest babies
  • ergonomic design
  • wide base for safety

Cons

  • tip isn’t very flexible
  • may become less accurate with time
  • may not be waterproof, as described

Best baby thermometer for tech-savvy parents

Kinsa Smart Thermometer

Price: $$

Key features: Want a “smart” thermometer with additional bells and whistles, like an app? The Bluetooth-enabled Kinsa has you covered. This flexible-tip thermometer takes oral, rectal, and underarm readings in 8 seconds or less.

Bonus points: It allows you to store this information — by individual family member — in your phone. Why might this be helpful? Think doctor calls or visits, especially if you have multiple babies or kids. The battery works for up to 600 readings or 2 years if used every day. (Pro tip: Even in our tracking culture, there’s approximately zero need to use a thermometer every day when you’re well.)

Considerations: This thermometer works with iPhones on iOS 10 or higher and on Androids on 5.0 or above. The body itself is water-resistant, not waterproof, so the company advises cleaning it with alcohol on cotton swabs. Some people feel that this thermometer may be inaccurate, especially at high temperatures. You have to enable location services on your phone to use the app, which may feel invasive to some users.

Pros

  • oral, rectal, and underarm readings
  • readings in just 8 seconds
  • temperature readings stored in app

Cons

  • not waterproof
  • inaccurate at high temperatures
  • must enable location services to use app

Best no-contact thermometer

iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer

Price: $$

Key features: The iHealth touchless thermometer works within 1.8 inches from the forehead (aim for the center). Its infrared sensor reads 100 data points per second to deliver results in just 1 second.

Of over 128,000 reviews on Amazon, it has a 4.5-star rating. Reviewers commented about being impressed with the speed, and that it made for convenient temp-taking when their child was asleep. Some critiqued it was slightly less accurate than other types of thermometers, which is likely because it’s an external method.

While a 2012 study did conclude that no-contact infrared thermometers are reliable, researchers felt more studies were needed to confirm accuracy. Rectal is still the gold standard for babies — particularly newborns. You may want to have a backup rectal method when using this thermometer with younger children.

Considerations: This type of thermometer is best used as a quick read before confirming with a rectal temperature because there isn’t much evidence of its accuracy yet. Remember: Rectal is most accurate with newborns and young babies. While you can put the thermometer on silent mode, the actual beep of the on/off button is very loud and can’t be turned off.

Pros

  • no touch needed for temperature readings
  • reads 100 data points per second
  • quick results

Cons

  • external read may not be as accurate
  • may need backup method for younger babies
  • loud on/off beep cannot be turned off

Best budget thermometer

iProven Digital

Price: $

Key features: For approximately one Alexander Hamilton (he’s on the $10 bill), you can get a best-selling flexible-tip thermometer that reads both oral and rectal temperature in just 10 seconds. (Always use a separate probe cover for rectal readings.)

The waterproof design makes cleaning with soap and water simple. The display provides a smile guide along with the temperature reading to help indicate when fever is normal (smile), elevated (neutral), and high (frown). This device is also backed by the company’s 100-day guarantee.

Considerations: When not calibrated correctly, this thermometer can be off as much as 4°F, so be sure to follow calibration instructions. If you’re hard of hearing, it may be difficult to hear the beeps indicating when the temperature has been read. And despite package promises, a few people note that it takes longer than 10 seconds to read a temperature — more like 20 to 30.

Pros

  • costs less than $10
  • oral and rectal readings
  • flexible tip

Cons

  • can be off as much as 4°F
  • may take longer than 10 seconds for reading
  • reading beeps are quiet

PriceThermometer TypeKey FeaturesConsiderations
VAVA Smart Baby Thermometer$$$most popular• Continuous temperature monitoring
• Charge lasts 24 hours
• Automatic alerts when temperature is high
• May not be as accurate in younger infants
• May need to follow up with another type of reading
• Expensive
Kamsay Digital$$best rectal• Soft, flexible tip
• Can be used rectally, orally, or under arm
• High accuracy
• Results take 10 seconds
• May be hard to use on squirmy infants
• Need to wash carefully if using for rectal and oral, etc.
Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer$$best forehead• Quick and gentle forehead reading
• No cell batteries for safety
• Proven accuracy in clinical studies
• Hard to read in low light
• Sweat can alter readings
• Results may be “consistently inconsistent” (low/high)
Braun ThermoScan Electronic Ear Thermometer$$$best ear• Pre-warmed tip for comfort
• Large display screen
• Memory feature
• Expensive
• Not for use on newborns
• Lacking features for the price (color code, fever alert, etc.)
iProven Ear and Forehead Thermometer$$best ear/forehead combo• Reads ear and forehead
• Provides results in 1 second
• 100-day money back guarantee
• May stop working within 6 months of purchase
• May provide falsely high readings
• May be inconsistent
Vicks Baby Rectal Thermometer$best for newborns• Works for even the youngest babies
• Ergonomic design
• Wide base for safety
• Tip isn’t very flexible
• May become less accurate with time
• May not be waterproof, as described
Kinsa Smart Thermometer$$most tech-savvy• Oral, rectal, and underarm readings
• Readings in just 8 seconds
• Temperature readings stored in app
• Not waterproof
• Inaccurate at high temperatures
• Must enable location services to use app
iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer$$best no-contact• No touch needed for temperature readings
• Reads 100 data points per second
• Quick results
• External read may not be as accurate
• May need backup method for younger babies
• On/off beep cannot be turned off, loud
iProven Digital$best budget• Costs less than $10
• Oral and rectal readings
• Flexible tip
• Can be off as much as 4°F
• May take longer than 10 seconds for reading
• Reading beeps are quiet

Again, there are five basic types of digital thermometers — oral (mouth), axillary (underarm), rectal (rectum), temporal artery (forehead), and tympanic (ear). Choosing the right one for you and your family has to do with your child’s age, your preference, and your budget.

The general price range for consumer thermometers is between $10 and $50. While there are more expensive medical-grade ones, like this $260 oral probe from Welch Allyn, you can definitely get a reliable thermometer on the cheap.

That said, expect to pay more for features like quick readings, memory tracking, or multiple reading types. These features do not always mean a thermometer will have better accuracy, so consider whether or not you need these extras for your family.

So, what to choose?

With newborns, you may want to start with a rectal thermometer and then use a forehead or ear thermometer as they grow. Plus, if you ever question a reading, you can use the rectal thermometer as a backup.

For older babies and toddlers up to age 3, you can choose between rectal, axillary, or tympanic. You may want to consider getting more than one type if you have more than one child or if you’d like to use one, like rectal, as a backup reading method.

Other tips:

  • Digital thermometers are key. Glass and mercury are harder to use and read, and they may be dangerous if they break.
  • Comfort and safety features like a flexible tip and wide base are must-haves when shopping for rectal thermometers.
  • Backlit displays or even talking thermometers are good options and will help you see (or hear!) readings in the nighttime hours or if you have a vision impairment.
  • Pacifier thermometers may look like a genius option, they’re actually not super-accurate and may take longer to capture a reading.
  • Likewise, skin strips that read temperature also aren’t accurate on babies.

A note about consistency and accuracy

Look at customer reviews for any thermometer, and you’ll find at least some consistency complaints.

If you suspect your thermometer is inconsistent or inaccurate, contact the manufacturer. Many companies will allow you to refund or exchange faulty devices.

And for peace of mind, take your thermometer to your child’s next pediatrician appointment. There, you can check the reading against what your doctor gets with their device.

Related: What you should know about colds in newborn babies

We all may be a little resistant to this — but always read the instructions! How you use your thermometer will depend on what kind you have in your medicine cabinet. Here are some general guidelines for use by type.

Rectal thermometers

  1. Wash the thermometer using soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Then rinse thoroughly with warm water and let dry. Wash hands thoroughly.
  2. Before inserting into the anus, lube the end with a little petroleum jelly or other lubricant.
  3. Gently lay your baby down on their tummy on your lap or another stable surface. Place your palm on their back to hold them in place. Or, you may lay your baby face-up with their legs bent toward their chest, resting your free hand on their thighs.
  4. Turn on your thermometer and then insert it about a half inch to a full inch into the opening of their anus. Hold it in place with two fingers. It may help to cup your hand on your child’s butt. Then remove the thermometer when you hear it beep, which indicates you have successfully taken a reading. Wash hands thoroughly.
  5. Always clean the thermometer before storing it between uses. And consider labeling it so you don’t accidentally use it for oral readings.

Tympanic (in-ear) thermometers

  1. Make sure your thermometer is clean and that you use a cover over the end, if necessary.
  2. Gently pull your child’s ear back and place the cone-shaped end in the ear canal. You’ll want to position it as if you’re pointing it at the eye on the other side of your child’s head.
  3. Once in place, turn on the thermometer and wait until you hear a beep, indicating you have a reading.

The AAP doesn’t recommend using tympanic thermometers with babies under 3 months old. Even with babies under 6 months, the ear canal may be just too small to get an accurate reading.

You’ll also want to avoid this type if your little one has an earache or has recently bathed or been in the pool.

Temporal artery (forehead) thermometers

  1. Make sure your thermometer sensor is clean and dry.
  2. Place the probe directly in the center of your baby’s forehead. Press the scan button as you move the thermometer toward one ear.
  3. Release the scan button and read your baby’s temperature.

Axillary (underarm) thermometers

  1. Make sure your thermometer is clean and dry. While this isn’t as important as when you place it in the rectum or mouth, it’s good for the maintenance of your device.
  2. Turn the thermometer on and place the reading end into the space of your baby’s armpit. Make sure that the end is touching your child’s skin and not their clothing.
  3. Hold it in place until you hear a beep that indicates you’ve taken a reading.

Oral thermometers

  1. Clean your thermometer with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Rinse and let dry.
  2. Turn the thermometer on and insert it into your child’s mouth — toward the back — under the tongue. You may remove it when you hear a beep that indicates you’ve taken a reading.

Oral thermometers can be tricky with infants and children under 3 years old. You may want to wait until your child is older — and able to cooperate with holding a thermometer fully under their tongue until it beeps — to use this method.

Also, you should wait at least 15 minutes after your baby eats or drinks to take their temperature.

You might be wondering “how high is too high?” when it comes to a fever in babies. It depends on various factors, including your baby’s age, how they’re behaving, and whether or not the fever responds to treatment.

Call your doctor if your baby:

  • Is under 3 months old and has a fever of 100.4°F or higher
  • Is between 3 and 6 months old and has a fever of 102.°F or higher
  • Has other concerning symptoms, like rash or cough, with the fever
  • Has had the fever for 5 days or longer
  • Isn’t acting like their usual self (for example, not eating or seems lethargic)
  • Shows signs of dehydration (no wet diapers, no tears, etc.)

You should also let your doctor know if your baby’s fever isn’t responding to treatment with over-the-counter fever medications, like Tylenol.

At what age can my child use an adult (oral) thermometer?

Experts generally recommend waiting until a child is 4 years old before using digital oral thermometers. Before this point, your little one may not be the best at keeping the thermometer in their mouth, which can impact the temperature reading.

So, for kids under 4, it’s best to stick to options like rectal, axillary, or tympanic readings.

How can I tell if a thermometer isn’t working?

Thermometer reading 92°F or 120°F? It’s good to question seemingly “off” readings.

First, follow all package instructions when recording temperature and reading results from your thermometer. Second, you might try taking the temperature of other members of your family to see if it seems off for everyone or just one person (remember: this will depend on the type of measurement you’re taking).

If the reading is still questionable, refer back to package instructions about accuracy. You might need to change the thermometer’s batteries or recalibrate.

What thermometer will my doctor use on my baby?

The type of thermometer your office will use on your baby may depend on your child’s age and the office practices. If you have concerns or questions, call ahead before your appointment to ask what type they use and why.

Whatever the case, you can always call your pediatrician with questions about your child’s temperature or possible fever.

There’s a lot to learn in your baby’s first few years of life. Don’t worry — you’ll figure this (and other things) out and be a pro in no time.

It may take a few tries to get the hang of taking your baby’s temperature. If you’re looking for some pointers, try asking your child’s pediatrician or nurse at your next well-baby visit. Your doctor may even have specific thermometer recommendations to share with you.