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We’ve come a long way since mercury thermometers. They took too long and were too hard to read. For safety reasons, mercury thermometers are out, and digital thermometers are in.
These days, it only takes a few seconds to get an accurate, readable temperature.
The thermometer is a staple of the home medicine cabinet. But with so many types on the market, how do you choose the right one? Good question!
We’ve selected one thermometer of every type to highlight key features and things you should consider before choosing yours.
We all have our preferences. The best thermometer for you isn’t necessarily the best for someone else. For purposes of this article, we’re paying special attention to:
- Design. We looked for thermometers that don’t complicate things when you’re looking for clarity. It should be intuitive and easy to use.
- Speed. You’re sick, or someone you love is sick. You want to know if there’s a fever, and you want to know now so you can take the next steps.
- Readability. You shouldn’t have to turn on a spotlight or squint hard to read a thermometer.
- Accuracy. What’s the point if you can’t trust the reading?
Sellers of these products weren’t given a heads-up. They neither asked nor paid for inclusion in this article.
Another thing to remember is that sales for thermometers are booming, in large part due to COVID-19. Some products may be out of stock right now, but hopefully they’ll be available again soon.
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting supply and demand, which may be reflected in pricing. Here’s our price guide:
- $ = Under $20
- $$ = $20–$50
- $$$ = Above $50
Prices may change, so check for current prices.
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.
But people tend to prefer the features of some thermometers over others. And some types are known to be the most precise in general.
Key features: The CHOOSEEN 8-in-1 thermometer is designed for the whole family. With forehead and ear options, you can take someone’s temperature while they relax.
This thermometer can also take the temperature of the room, bathwater, or even a cup of soup. If you’re a caregiver, that could come in handy.
The 8-in-1 offers instant readings, a color-coded fever warning system, and 35 sets of memory. A lot of people who’ve used it say it’s accurate, easy to use, and easy to read.
It comes with 90-day money-back guarantee and an 18-month replacement warranty. Two AAA batteries are included.
Considerations: Some people say the batteries die out too quickly, and others have trouble hearing the “ready” beep.
Despite all it does, it lacks a “no-contact” feature, so if that’s important to you, this isn’t the right choice.
Key features: Ear thermometers can be easier for some people to handle than oral thermometers.
With the Braun Thermoscan 7, your results will be displayed in just a few seconds, plus it keeps track of the previous nine readings.
You get to select the appropriate age group, which offers a better understanding of what the reading means.
Let’s not forget that you can pre-warm the tip for comfort. It comes with disposable lens filters and two AA batteries. Many users love that it’s super easy to read.
Considerations: Some people find it annoying that you have to set the age every time you use it. If you have a newborn, your pediatrician will probably advise against an ear thermometer in favor of a rectal, forehead, or underarm device.
Also, earwax or tiny ear canals can interfere with digital ear thermometers, giving you an inaccurate reading.
Key features: Vicks ComfortFlex Thermometer only needs 8 seconds to display your temperature and let you know if you have a fever. The flexible tip makes it easier for the young set, too.
We’re in a high-tech age, but people tend to praise this thermometer for its simplicity.
Considerations: It can also be used under the arm or rectally. But if you need a rectal thermometer, you should have one designated for that purpose alone.
Also, some people have complained that replacement batteries are difficult to find.
Key features: Of all the ways to check for fever, what could be easier than a quick swipe to the forehead? Forehead thermometers are also known as temporal artery thermometers.
The Exergen Temporal Thermometer TAT-2000C saves the last eight readings, has an illuminated display, and programmable beeper so you don’t have to disturb your kids if they’re sleeping. The one-button programming should make all that very convenient.
A 5-year warranty and 9-volt battery are included.
A fair share of reviewers applaud it for accuracy and longevity.
Considerations: It’s pricey and could be a challenge if you’re dealing with fidgety kids. Forehead temperature can be affected by sweat, matted hair, or bandages, so be sure to read the instruction manually carefully.
Key features: Babies and toddlers can be fussy and squirmy even when they’re not sick. That can make taking an oral or rectal temperature quite the exasperating task.
The iProven DMT489 can get a temperature reading in just 1 second. You can also look back over the last 20 readings to keep track of your child’s fever.
It has a nice, large display, and you can switch from ear mode to forehead mode with the touch of a button.
People praise it for ease of use and accuracy and say it’s a good option for kids of all ages.
Considerations: It’s on the expensive side, and there are some complaints that it has a short lifespan.
Price:Free (App only)
Key features: The Kinsa App links to a Kinsa thermometer to track temperature.
It also offers:
guidance to decide if you need to see a doctor
information on illnesses going around in your area
on-screen entertainment for the kids while you’re taking their temperature
Considerations: The app is free, but you have to buy the Kinsa QuickCare ($$), which is good for oral, underarm, or rectal use, or the Kinsa Smart Ear ($$) thermometer. Both use bluetooth and work with or without the app.
Key features: The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the benefits of no-touch temperature taking as a way to minimize risk of spreading disease. They’re certainly easy to keep clean.
The iHealth PT3 can be used on kids and adults and features one-button control. You shouldn’t have to strain your eyes at the large LED display, even in the dark.
Instead of waiting to hear a beep, you’ll feel a vibration when it’s ready. Then there’s no need to wait – you can take someone else’s temperature right away.
Two AAA batteries and 12-month warranty are included.
Considerations: Distance, environment, and positioning can affect no-touch thermometers. Read the instructions carefully to avoid inaccurate readings.
Key features: If what you want is an accurate, no-fuss temperature reading, Vicks SpeedRead is right up your alley. No bells and whistles here, but it gets the job done.
It features a color-coded display, last-temperature recall, and automatic shut-off to preserve battery life.
Whether you use it orally, under the arm, or rectally, you only need 8 seconds to get a temperature.
It’s waterproof and comes with batteries and a storage case.
Considerations: Some people caution that it’s hard to find replacement batteries, so you might want to keep some on hand.
Key features: For nurses, speed and accuracy are vital. The Innovo Medical FR201 is a no-contact forehead thermometer that only takes one button and one second to use.
Results are displayed on a large screen, and you can use it with the alarm or in silent mode.
It’s noninvasive, works for all ages, and it never touches the skin, so it’s less likely to spread germs. It features a durable design and a portable carrying case. Even better, it powers off automatically after 10 seconds.
Considerations: No-contact forehead thermometers in general are affected by things like sun, humidity, and drafts. It’s important to read the instructions in detail before using.
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.
The first thing to consider is how you’re going to use it. Some thermometers are geared toward infants or children, while others are designed for family use.
Then decide if you prefer oral, ear, forehead, or no-contact. If you tend to get a buildup of earwax, for example, an ear thermometer isn’t a good choice. Many thermometers have multiple uses.
Avoid glass thermometers, which can break, and mercury thermometers, which are dangerous.
Here are some other things to consider when choosing a thermometer:
The purpose of a thermometer is to gauge body temperature. Anything else is a bonus, and paying more won’t necessarily buy accuracy.
Fever strips and pacifier thermometers aren’t known to be accurate, so stick with digital.
Ease of use
Can you get your thermometer out and get a reading within a few minutes? Is it easy to operate or does it require too many steps?
If it looks too complicated or awkward, it probably is.
Look for things that matter to you:
- Do you need a big, easy-to-read display?
- Would a flexible tip be better for the kids?
- Do you want a loud beep or the option to turn it off?
- Would it be useful to have lots of memory?
Choose one that checks off your must-haves.
Most digital thermometers have the option to switch between Fahrenheit and Celsius, but make sure it has your preferred method.
Thermometers loaded with extras can be helpful, but you may not need anything fancy. You can find many simple digital thermometers that do the job for under $20.
If you want oral and rectal use options, you can buy two and still pay less than you would for some fancier models.
If you’d like some of those bonus features, you can expect to pay more. Check for a warranty or money-back guarantee.
Look at product reviews, especially if you’re interested in expensive models. If possible, check out multiple sites.
Every product will have some negative reviews, so look for consistency. If many reviewers point out a particular pro or con, it’s worth mulling it over.
Digital thermometers are the most accurate way to take body temperature. There are many types, including oral, rectal, and forehead, plus many that are multifunctional.
Once you decide on the type of thermometer you want, you can think about design, extra features, and price.
Checking for fever is one way to gauge health, and an important thing to know when you call a doctor. Having a working thermometer and a few extra batteries on hand can give you a little extra peace of mind.