The 5 Best Thermometers in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
Every household should have an accurate digital thermometer and know how and when to use it.
The CDC recommends checking your temperature before heading to work, school, or other public places.
Our top pick, iProven’s DMT-511, reads accurately in 1 second and can be used in-ear or on forehead.
This article was medically reviewed by Benjamin Hoffman, MD, professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University.

Having an accurate thermometer on hand can help tell you how severely the body is in distress – whether it’s confirming that you or your baby is ill enough to need a doctor or the hospital, or if your systems are safe after being exposed to dangerous weather.

A fever also one of the key symptoms of COVID-19, and many businesses, school, gyms, and other public places as you to confirm you don’t have one before entering. (It’s worth noting that influenza usually produces higher fevers than common colds, and not everyone with COVID19 even spikes a fever.)

Luckily, getting a quick temperature reading is remarkably easy and safe these days. But the biggest variable among thermometers you can buy is really just: Is it accurate? That’s why I tested 10 leading thermometers, in addition to speaking with many experts and parents on which type of home thermometer is best and other FAQs on therometers and fevers.

Here are the best thermometers to check for a fever:

Best thermometer overall: iProven Forehead and Ear Thermometer DMT-511Best thermometer on a budget: Vicks Comfort Flex ThermometerBest infrared non-contact thermometer: iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer PT3Best thermometer for daily testing: Kinsa Quick Care Smart ThermometerBest thermometer for kids: Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer with Smart Glow

How we tested thermometers

I reached out to a number of pediatricians for their expert opinion on thermometers and read journal articles, “Consumer Reports,” customer reviews, and even spoke with 20 parents about their temperature-taking experiences.

I narrowed it down to the top 10 thermometers and tested each myself nine times over the course of three days on myself and my two kids, as well as a handful of times on my sister and two of my nieces, one of whom is an infant. I also handed off two of the infrared thermometers to Cindy Mrotek, owner of A.C.E Behavior Solutions, an essential business screening adults and children with special health care needs upon entry, for testing over the course of one week.

I looked at each product’s speed, size of display, mute options, memory recall, batteries, warranty options, and storage containers. I also looked hard look at:

Accuracy, precision, and readability of thermometer instructions: You have to use a thermometer correctly for an accurate reading, so I evaluated the information on each product’s box and inside its user manual from a health literacy perspective, including how helpful and easy to read the instructions were. Models varied, with some having a quick guide with pictures (great), information in Spanish (big bonus), or a QR code for video instructions, while others had print so tiny you need a magnifying glass to read it.  Cost and availability: Since thermometers are an essential part of an at-home health kit, they need to be affordable. Some on our list are the price of two cups of coffee, while others are upwards of $30, but we also layout how you can save money on a thermometer by using your health savings account or flex spending account
Best thermometer overall

The iProven Forehead and Ear Thermometer DMT-511 is highly impressive with an accurate instant read in just one second, versatile use, and comprehensive instructions on quality packaging. 

Pros: User friendly, easy to read, nice storage pouch, precise, can be used either contactless or in-ear

Cons: Cap to change methods difficult to snap on, no probe covers 

The iProven DMT-511 infrared therometer is two-in-one, as it allows you to switch from reading via an in-ear probe or a forehead setting, the latter of which is safer for infants under 3 months old.

It was highly accurate in my tests, reading within 0.5-1.0 degrees again and again for forehead readings and within 0.5-0.8 degrees for ear mode. It also displays the temperature within one second.

There are separate buttons for “head” and “ear,” and to change from one to the other, you need to snap on or off the top cap of the thermometer, which I found a little difficult but still doable.

To get an accurate ear temperature,  you have to insert and place the probe top correctly, so be sure to read the instructions thoroughly. It took me a couple of tries to feel confident taking my own temperature this way.

I liked that it has a fever alarm and color temperature indication to take the guesswork out of interpreting the readings. The manual also includes a very comprehensive comparison table on how to interpret measurements based on age and method. The thermometer can also store up to 20 past readings for easy comparison. 

The devices comes with two AA batteries, a soft pouch for storage (great for travel and diaper bags), and cleaning instructions. It also comes with a two-year limited warranty and the option of an extended year warranty for free.

Best budget thermometer

The Vicks Comfort Flex Thermometer was the most affordable of the thermometers tested, easy to use, and has a large digital screen with color-coded readings to indicate fever.

Pros: Affordable, multiuse, precise, large digital display, comes with probe covers

Cons: Very loud beep, must turn off and on between readings, colored fever alerts misleading, coin cell battery is more annoying to replace 

The Vicks Comfort Flex Thermometer is easy to use right out the box: There’s only one button and you have the option to use the device orally, rectally, or under the arm. Its runs on an included coin cell button battery.

I found the large digital display to be the easiest to read of all the thermometers I tested. It also beeps the loudest of the group, which is especially helpful for seniors with visual and hearing impairments, but also could be a nuisance for some considering the beeping lasts a full eight seconds.

The LCD screen uses a color temperature indication alongside displaying the actual number, which is generally helpful but fever isn’t the same for everyone so this could be alarmist if you run hot.

The precision and repeatability of the thermometer was quite good in my tests and only varied by about 0.5 degrees. Although the box says the Vicks Comfort Flex Thermometer takes 10-12 seconds to read your temperature, I found it was actually much quicker with a response time of 5 to 6 seconds orally and 6 to 7 seconds rectally. 

It is a little annoying that you have to turn it off and back on to take a second reading, and it is  only able to recall the last reading you took. But I did like that this model comes with 100 disposable probe covers and a protective holder, along with a one-year limited warranty and instructions in English and Spanish.

Best infrared non-contact thermometer

The iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer PT3 reads in just one second and makes it easy to accurately take anyone’s temperature while being socially distant. 

Pros: Fast reading, precise, no beeping, helpful content in user manual  

Cons: Vibration may be missed, prone to user error, doesn’t work well for kids that won’t sit still

Prior to testing the iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer PT3 myself, I’d already seen it in action for pre-screening at both my dentist’s office and my daughter’s daycare. It seemed like a good product that offered quick readings.

When I tested it myself, I found that first impression held up. Instead of a beeping alarm, the device vibrates once it has a reading, which also lights up the LED display. This is nice if you don’t want a loud noise, and upon testing, I found the precision and repeatability varied only by 0.5 degrees. 

I also had Cindy Mrotek, whose business A.C.E Behavior Solutions screens people upon entry, try it out and she said the iHealth was a faster read compared to other infrared thermometers. However, she added it was a bit difficult to use on kids that can’t sit still. I myself found the device woudn’t read if it was too far away from the skin.

The iHealth comes with a user manual in English and Spanish, a quick guide with pictures, two AAA batteries, and cleaning instructions. It also has a one-year limited warranty. 

Best thermometer for daily testing

If you’re tech-savvy and looking for a great smart thermometer, the Kinsa Quick Care Smart Thermometer can be used three ways and even allows you to contribute to public health research. 

Pros: Diverse way to read temps, can support multiple family members and keep temperature records separate, has great app features, contributes to public health research  

Cons: Needs app to work, does not include probe covers,

Every morning, I have to self-certify that my kids are free of COVID-19 symptoms before sending them off to school. A smart thermometer like the Kinsa — which stores all the readings for each individual family member on my phone and helps me monitor their baseline temperature — makes that daily routine much easier to manage.

The Kinsa Quick Care Smart Thermometer connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and uses an app, which I found easy to set up. I then created profiles for each member of my family, which includes inputting their birthdays to help the app’s algorithm provide appropriate care instructions person to person. You can also add notes, symptoms, and track medication doses within the app.

After each reading, the thermometer displays not only the temperature but a happy, neutral, or sad-face emoji corresponding with fever status.

You can check the temperature orally, under the armpit, or rectally (they also make a separate model specific for in-ear use). Although the box says the response time is 8 seconds, I found it to read a temperature between 2 to 3 seconds when used orally. The precision varies between 0.8 and 0.5 degrees.

Kinsa sits in a really unique space for both thermometers and smart equipment contributing to public health: As Hilary Brueck, Insider’s Senior Health and Science reporter, has laid out, the smart thermometer has helped forecast outbreaks of both the coronavirus and the flu, including detecting fever spikes weeks before hospitals and clinics start to see an influx of patients. 

It’s an added bonus that using this stellar, versatile, and accurate thermometer can help contribute to predicting COVID hotspots.

Best thermometer for kids

The Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer with Smart Glow was the most accurate and consistent out of all the thermometers I tested and has over 80 peer-reviewed clinical studies to back up its use on children. 

Pros: Most precise tested, suitable for all ages older than three months

Cons: Unintuitive, dim display, plastic cap to protect the sensor easy to lose 

Next to rectal thermometers, temporal artery thermometers are the most reliable way to get an accurate reading on children and babies over 3 months of age. (Use a rectal thermometer on infants under 3 months.) 

With the Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer, a gentle stroke across a child’s forehead captures the naturally emitted heat waves coming from the skin over the temporal artery to give a reading in 2 to 3 seconds. It can store up to eight readings. 

When tested repeatedly, the Exergen thermometer delivered the most consistent and precise results of any model tested on myself and my kids — within 0.3 degrees.

However, unlike other models with backlight displays, the Exergen has a relatively small LCD display screen with a dim readout. It may be hard to see if you are in a dark room. 

However, unlike others, this thermometer wasn’t as intuitive to use, despite having instructions printed directly on the back of the device, I wasn’t sure if I was correctly stroking the top of the unit across the forehead. But the instruction manual had a QR code which led to videos demonstrating how to use it, which was helpful. 

The model comes with a 9V battery already installed, cleaning instructions, and a five-year limited product warranty.

Read our guide to the best thermometers for babies and children for additional options.

What else we considered

What we recommend

Braun Thermoscan 7 Ear Thermometer ($38): This is a fantastic in-ear thermometer with much peer-reviewed research to back it up, and not only do we recommend it but many parents I spoke with already own it. The downsides are it takes 10 seconds to read a temp, and it’s the most expensive option I tested — especially when you factor in the disposable lens filters that need replacing for accuracy and hygiene.

Dr. Talbot’s Infrared Forehead Thermometer, Non-Contact ($19.89): This device has comparable precision and speed to the iHealth and is designed for contactless reading of infants over 3 months, including adults. I liked this device and it was easy to operate, but it’s more expensive than the iHealth and was difficult to change the settings using only the trigger. 

Kinsa Smart Ear Thermometer ($39.99): The Kinsa is super sleek and easy to use on yourself, which can be tricky for the ear. I also found the app to be tremendous in terms of content with very helpful instructions. Even though the readings only took a second, the precision tended to vary by 1.5 degrees.

What we don’t recommend

CVS Health Flexible Tip Digital Thermometer ($18.49): This unit was disqualified because did not function at all. 

Vicks SpeedRead Digital Thermometer with Fever InSight ($9.72): Despite being called “SpeedRead,” this device took 8 seconds to deliver a reading — slower than its cousin, the Vicks Comfort Flex, our best budget thermometer. Plus, I found the SpeedRead to have a metallic taste. 

What we’re looking forward to trying

Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer Original ($42.99): We were unable to test this due to an inventory shortage at the time we were evaluating thermometers for this guide.

Which type of at-home thermometer is best?

Your basic digital thermometer options to choose from are: 

Single-use stick thermometer (marketed for rectal only) Multiuse stick thermometer (rectum, mouth, or armpit)  Tympanic thermometer (ear) Temporal artery thermometer (forehead)Tympanic and temporal thermometer (ear and forehead) Infrared non-contact thermometer (forehead)  

Though there’s plenty of apprehension about no-contact thermometers, a column in Ask a Pediatrician by Dr. Elizabeth Murray, an official spokesperson for the AAP, addresses those concerns directly. Murray says that “the claims about their danger are false … It is the infrared energy coming from the person that is being gathered by the thermometer, not infrared light being projected to the person.”

All thermometers sold in the United States must meet federal standards and are already calibrated for home use at the time of purchase.

FAQs

Which type of thermometer is the most accurate?

Dr. John Vann, a pediatrician in Omaha, told Insider that only a rectal temperature offers a true outpatient reading. “Everything else is an estimate,” he said.

“Luckily, the exact number is not usually as important as how the patient looks,” he adds. Which is to say, there are other indicators of how severe someone’s illness or condition is other than an optimally-accurate temperature reading. There are also reliable methods for checking your temperature even if you don’t have access to a thermometer.

No matter if you opt for an infrared thermometer or a strictly ear-based model, it’s important to know fever isn’t the same for everyone and that it varies by age, gender, and time of day, among other variables. Using a thermometer at various times of the day when you’re feeling well gives you an idea of what’s normal for you, or your baseline temperature. 

Which is the best thermometer for home use?

Among at-home thermometers, medical research hasn’t determined an exact correlation between oral, rectal, ear, armpit, and forehead temperature measurements. But Kaiser Permanente notes that an ear (tympanic) temperature is 0.5 to 1 degree higher than an oral temperature and a forehead (temporal) scanner is usually 0.5 to 1 degree lower than an oral temperature. 

What is the best thermometer to use for COVID?

The best thermometer for COVID is really just one that is accurate and reliable. That means any of the thermometers on our list are great for checking for COVID symptoms. That being said, if you’re using the thermometer on more than one person, it’s best to use a contactless reader to not cross-contaminate. In that case, we highly recommend the iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer PT3 or the Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer with Smart Glow, both of which proved to be accurate and reliable in my tests.

Can I use my HSA/FSA funds to buy a thermometer?

If you have an HSA or an FSA account, know that over-the-counter digital thermometers are eligible for reimbursement without a prescription. 

Here’s how it works: 

If you pay with cash or credit card in a store or online, you can request a reimbursement from your HSA/FSA account. Different plans have different requirements on what’s needed for reimbursement but usually, a copy of your thermometer receipt will be enough.There are HSA and FSA-specific retailers, like the HSA Store and the FSA Store that make shopping for items that qualify for reimbursement really simple. According to both websites, when shoppers use an HSA or FSA card to pay, they typically don’t have to submit receipts; purchases on these websites automatically substantiate. It is worth noting, however, that the thermometer options available on these websites are limited and cost more than other retailers. 

What counts as a fever?

Many Americans think anything over 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is a problem, but what constitutes a fever is actually different person to person.

Rik Heller, a biomedical engineer and thermographic expert, tells Insider, “Age, gender, and even time of day impact normal body temperatures.” 

Some children’s temperatures especially run higher than others, points out Dr. Jesse Hackell, a practicing pediatrician with New York-based Pomona Pediatrics. Any reading of 100.4 F or higher in a baby younger than 3 months is reason to call the pediatrician. “Another reason to call is if the fever persists for more than 24 hours in children younger than two and more than three days in a child 2 years of age or older,” he said.

Meanwhile, older adults tend to have lower baseline temperatures than younger adults; sometimes fevers in the elderly are completely absent.

To figure out what’s a fever for you, you want to find your baseline temperature (i.e., what’s normal for you) by checking your temperature at various times of the day when you are feeling well. 

At the end of the day, how you or your child is acting and feeling is the best indicator of a fever over the number on a thermometer, multiple of our doctors say.

Our expert sources

Jesse Hackell MD, FAAP, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Practice and Ambulatory Medicine and a practicing pediatrician with New York-based Pomona Pediatrics, a division of Boston Children’s Health PhysiciansJohn Vann, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at Omaha Children’s Clinic in Omaha, NebraskaDr. Jenifer Johnson, a family medicine physician and internist at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, NYRik Heller, a biomedical engineer and thermographic expert who founded the clinical-grade thermometer company, WelloCindy Mrotek, business owner of ACE Behavior SolutionsAP News. Infrared thermometers used for COVID-19 testing do not pose risk to pineal gland. July 28, 2020Consumer Reports. Thermometer Buying Guide. September 23, 2016NASA. Ingestible Thermometer Pill Helps Athletes Beat the Heat. January 8, 2007EPA. Mercury Thermometers. June 26, 2018CDC. How COVID19 Spreads. October 5, 2020Business Insider. Coronavirus temperature scans are nothing more than pandemic security theater. In some cases, they’re dangerous.Mayo Clinic. Thermometers: Understand the options. September 15, 2018HealthyChildren.org. When to Call the Pediatrician: Fever. November 21, 2015HealthyChildren.org. How to Take Your Child’s Temperature. October 12, 2020HealthyChildren.org. Are Infrared Thermometers Safe? October 15, 2020New York Times. Can Smart Thermometers Track the Spread of the Coronavirus? March 18, 2020Kaiser Permanente. Fever Temperatures: Accuracy and Comparison. June 26, 2019HSA Store websiteFSA Store website

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