Updated March 2022
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Buying guide for Best thermometers

No matter how well we take care of ourselves and our families, everyone gets sick sometimes.

Evaluating someone’s temperature is a key part of knowing whether they need more serious treatment, and a thermometer is the only way to do that.

Things have come a long way since the mercury-laden glass thermometers of yore, and trying to pick out the right thermometer for your household can get overwhelming.

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While 98.6°F (37°C) is generally considered to be a

Types of thermometer

First things first! Before choosing, you need to understand a little more about the different types of thermometers available. Each has its pros and cons, and different parts of the body typically read at slightly different temperatures. The rectal temperature is about 1 degree warmer than an oral temperature, and the armpit is one degree cooler than the oral temperature.

Digital stick thermometer

A standard digital stick thermometer works just like an old-fashioned glass thermometer, but is safer and more accurate. It can be used orally, rectally, or under the armpit.


  • Digital stick thermometers are suitable for taking the temperature of anyone – newborns to adults.

  • They’re fairly versatile; you can take temperatures one of three ways using digital stick thermometers.

  • Digital stick thermometers are extremely simple and intuitive to use.

  • If you're on a tight budget, digital stick thermometers tend to be affordable.


  • Some digital stick thermometers can take a minute or longer to show a result, which is longer than many kids can stay still.

  • When taking an oral temperature, you have to wait at least 15 minutes after eating or drinking, as the temperature of what you've consumed can affect the reading.

  • Your mouth has to be closed the entire time when trying to take an oral reading with a digital stick thermometer.

Ear thermometer

Ear thermometers use an infrared ray to measure the temperature just inside the ear canal.


  • Ear thermometers generally give a quick result.

  • Minimal contact is needed to get a reading with an ear thermometer, so it shouldn't be uncomfortable.


  • A narrow ear canal or a buildup of earwax can cause ear thermometers to give incorrect readings.

  • Ear thermometers aren't suitable for babies younger than six months.

Temporal artery thermometer

These thermometers are placed on the temporal artery, on the forehead, to get readings. They’re sometimes called forehead thermometers.


  • You get quick results from temporal artery thermometers.

  • Temporal artery thermometers are unobtrusive to use, even with people who generally don't like their temperature taken.

  • Research has shown that temporal artery thermometers give just as accurate a reading as rectal thermometers in kids, and it's much more pleasant for everyone involved.


  • Temporal artery thermometers tend to be significantly more expensive than basic stick thermometers.

  • If you don't place the thermometer correctly, the reading won't be completely accurate.

Non-contact thermometer

Non-contact thermometers use the same infrared technology as ear thermometers, but require no contact whatsoever, making them perfect for tricky patients.


  • Non-contact thermometers are suitable for even the most squirmy of patients.

  • Some non-contact thermometers bring back results in a single second.


  • Non-contact thermometers can be fairly complicated to use.

  • Non-contact thermometers are more expensive than other varieties.

Glass and mercury thermometer

Glass and mercury thermometers are just what they sound like. The outside is made of glass and the fluid inside is mercury, which reacts to temperatures and shows a reading.

We're not even going to list pros and cons as we do not recommend that anyone use a glass and mercury thermometer.

"These can break and cause glass damage as well as as toxic mercury exposure," cautions Dr. Schreiber.

Old-fashioned mercury thermometers bring a risk of dangerous mercury exposure. What's more, they're not nearly as accurate as their digital counterparts.

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Expert Tip
If taking an armpit temperature, it is most accurate first thing in the morning – before you get out of bed. When you start moving, the temperature goes up.
Dr. Schreiber
Chiropractic Physician, Acupuncturist, Nutritionist

Thermometer considerations

These are some of the main points to think about when selecting a thermometer for your household.

Response time

The fastest thermometers can produce results in just a second or two, whereas slower models can take upwards of 90 seconds. If it's just adults who'll be using the thermometer, slower response times probably aren't too much of a big deal. Where babies or young children are concerned, the faster the better.

Ease of use

If you want a thermometer that's extremely simple to use, a digital stick thermometer is your best bet. Most people have used glass thermometers at some point, and these work almost the same. The only differences are an on/off switch and a digital display.

Other types of thermometers may have a little bit of a learning curve, but they tend to be fairly intuitive. As long as you read the instructions thoroughly you should be able to take a proper reading.


A thermometer that's comfortable to use is especially important when you have kids. If your child has one bad experience with a particularly cold or pointy thermometer, she might object the next time you want to take her temperature.

Non-contact thermometers obviously cause no discomfort whatsoever, as they don't even need to touch the skin to get a reading.

With other types of thermometers, look for features such as soft, flexible, silicone ends or self-warming tips to increase comfort.


A basic digital stick thermometer is small and unobtrusive enough to easily slip into a purse or coat pocket to be used on the go, in case you want to monitor your own temperature or that of a family member who you think might be coming down with something. This also makes them perfect for packing when you go on vacation.

Other varieties, such as ear and temporal artery thermometers, tend to be significantly larger and more cumbersome, but this shouldn't be an issue if you only want to use them at home.

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Expert Tip
Remember to clean and disinfect your thermometer after every use to prevent the spreading of germs.
Dr. Schreiber
Chiropractic Physician, Acupuncturist, Nutritionist

Thermometer prices

Thermometers can vary significantly in price, and the cost generally depends on which type of thermometer you choose.

Digital stick thermometers

These usually cost between $5 and $15, with those at a lower price being more basic and potentially producing less accurate readings.

Ear thermometers

You can find ear thermometers for as little as $10 and as much as $40. We recommend spending at least $20 to get one that gives an accurate reading, but more expensive models will have more bells and whistles.

Temporal artery thermometers

These thermometers can get quite pricey. They start at about $20 for home use, but they can cost over $100 for professional models. To get an accurate reading every time, you should look to spend a minimum of $30.

Non-contact thermometers

We've found non-contact thermometers for as little as $15, but we recommend spending at least $20 to $30 on this variety to get a quality model.

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A thermometer with a fever alarm will beep in a certain way if you get a high temperature reading, which is useful if you can't remember what temperature constitutes a fever.


Q. What is a person's normal body temperature?

A. Most literature tells you that a normal body temperature is 98.6°F, but this can depend on how you take the temperature, the age of the person in question, what they've been doing and the time of day. As a rule, a body temperature of 100.4°F or higher is considered a fever. However, if the temperature is taken in the armpit, anything over 99.3°F may indicate a fever.

Q. What's the best kind of thermometer to use?

A. There's no single best type of thermometer to use. It all depends on your personal requirements. If you want something that's simple and affordable, for instance, we recommend a digital stick thermometer. If you want a thermometer that's going to make it easy for you to take a restless child's temperature, without making him or her stay still for too long, a non-contact thermometer would be your best bet. Think about what you want from a thermometer and go from there.

Q. How do I use my thermometer?

A. Every type and model works slightly differently, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the instructions before you first use your new thermometer.

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