As mercury thermometers are a thing of the past, you no longer have to wait several minutes to read a small red line. Instead, there are now five different types of thermometers — rectal, oral, axillary (armpit), temporal (forehead) and tympanic (remote ear) — that can display a reading in seconds on a digital display. Many also offer helpful features like color-coded backgrounds and fever indicators, a log of historical readings and the ability to read surface temperatures, such as a baby’s bottle.
To gain some insights on thermometers, we spoke to two medical experts. They explained that, while readings may differ a degree or two depending on whether you’re using an oral or a forehead thermometer, all types can aptly alert you to the presence of a fever. So, aside from toddlers under 3 years old (for whom a rectal thermometer is best), it all comes down to personal preference. (You can read their full insights below.)
In our search for the best thermometers, CNN Underscored tested 15 of the most highly rated options. All thermometers were tested on the same person several times to check for accuracy and consistency. Aside from evaluating the readings, we also considered ease of use, speed of readings and any other nice-to-have options. After weeks of testing, we found three thermometers that should have a place in every medicine cabinet:
Best thermometer overall
This thermometer can be held up to 2 inches away, and there’s a positioning sensor that shines a light on your forehead to ensure you’re on the right point of the head when taking temperature. With an option to silence any noise and an LED display that can be seen in the dark, the Braun No-Touch thermometer offers everything you need — plus some — in a thermometer.
Best thermometer for travel
The Elepho eTherm Infrared Ear & Forehead Thermometer, while not as slim as the oral/rectal/axillary thermometers, is the smallest, most durable on-the-go thermometer you’ll find that doesn’t require you to also pack probe covers. You also have two options to take temperature reading: in the ear canal or on the forehead.
Best affordable thermometer
The Vicks ComfortFlex Digital Thermometer boasts a large reading display with a backlight and has three different color-coded indicators. Though readouts took longer than the no-touch options, for a small (and cheap) thermometer, this one is a solid option.
Braun Digital No-Touch Forehead Thermometer
The Braun Digital No-Touch Forehead Thermometer was by far the best we tested. This thermometer guides you through the entire temperature-taking process with directions conveniently printed right on the front of the thermometer. Our medical experts emphasized the importance of following directions for any particular thermometer used since they all work a little differently.
When taking the temperature, a light casts from the thermometer to your forehead to ensure you are pointing it on the right part of your forehead (you can read more about thermometer placement below). If you’re too far away, it’ll tell you to move forward by displaying “FWD” on the large reading display, a function unique to this thermometer.
This capability allowed us to receive both accurate and consistent results when we tested our own forehead temperature — our results ranged between 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit and 98.3 degrees Fahrenheit. While many other thermometers we tested also gave us similarly consistent results (though some did vary between each reading by up to 2 degrees), this one made us feel more confident that we were in fact receiving an accurate reading due to the positioning light, never worrying we were taking temperature readings too far from or in the wrong place on the forehead.
The Braun No-Touch also works by holding it directly on the forehead, which might be easier if you’re taking your own temperature. This is not an option available on many other no-touch thermometers. If you need to take the temperatures of multiple people, the no-touch option will reduce cross-contamination and lessen the risk of spreading germs.
Temperatures were easy to read on this thermometer, thanks to a backlit color-coded screen that displays three different colors based on the temperature reading — green for a normal reading, yellow for a slightly elevated fever and red for a high fever. This quick indicator can be useful if you’re taking mass readings one right after another — for example, as children walk into their preschool — to quickly see if anyone is running a fever. The light-up display is also useful for taking a child’s temperature in a dark bedroom while they’re sleeping; you can silence the thermometer with a switch on the side as well so there’s no beeping sound that might wake them up.
The thermometer comes with a protective cap to keep the display and probe clean and offers a three-year warranty, which is significantly longer than most others we tested. You’ll also be notified when the battery life has 20% left with a flashing battery symbol.
One issue with this thermometer is there’s no memory function to display past readings, something we found helpful with other thermometers. If you want something that will keep track of your readings, this is probably not the thermometer for you, as there are many that have this functionality (the iProven No-Touch Thermometer being another favorite of ours).
While this thermometer costs more than most we tested, you’re getting a thermometer that’s easy to use, offers the easiest directions to follow and will give you some of the most accurate and consistent readings — and is both the best forehead and non-contact thermometer we tested.
Elepho eTherm Infrared Ear & Forehead Thermometer
Looking to get out of town but want to ensure that a thermometer is packed? If so, the Elepho eTherm Infrared Ear & Forehead Thermometer is the top choice. With lots of functionality and a slim design, this thermometer can easily slide into a toiletry bag or purse.
We found the thermometer incredibly easy to move across the forehead, and it felt better than some of the other forehead thermometers that go against your skin, some of which felt a little too rigid and hard. When we tested against a 4-year-old’s forehead, he concurred that this one was smooth and in fact actually felt “nice.” He even asked for his temperature to be taken with the Elepho eTherm over and over again, just for fun.
This thermometer can also be used in the ear canal, and was only one of three thermometers we tested that offers both forehead and ear canal reading. (And since it was one of the few that did not require probe covers, it was one of the best ear thermometers we tested.) Of those, the Elepho eTherm gave us significantly better readings than the other two. With the forehead readings, we received consistent and accurate results ranging between 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit and 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit — which is right within normal range for the forehead. It’s also similar to what we received with our top pick overall. Our ear canal readings were also within normal range, but also slightly lower: between 98 degrees Fahrenheit and 98.24 degrees Fahrenheit.
There’s a large LED display, which can be seen in the dark, and instead of a color-coded backlight, you’re notified of a fever via a beep. One beep indicates a normal temperature, two beeps if slightly elevated and four beeps if you’re showing a fever. We preferred the color-coded system featured on the Braun over beeps — especially if you have a sleeping child — but the beeps were also effective.
One component we really liked about this thermometer is that it automatically shuts off after eight seconds. This will save your battery, which is important if you’re using the thermometer on the go. It also passed our durability test with flying colors, with no breakage when dropped against our hardware floor.
With its slim and durable design, this thermometer is the perfect choice to throw in your bag on your next trip — especially since you don’t have to worry about probe covers, the batteries draining or it breaking.
Vicks Comfort Digital Thermometer
Although the Vicks ComfortFlex Digital Thermometer is one of the least expensive devices on the list, it still provides solid functionality, even some that you might not get with more expensive thermometers.
This thermometer allows you to take your temperature readings three different ways — orally, rectally or under the armpit. First, we tested our temperature orally — with and without probe covers (disposable casings that go over the thermometer tip to keep the device sanitary), and we received similar readings between 98.3 degrees Fahrenheit and 98.8 degrees Fahrenheit with each method. That wasn’t the case with all of the oral thermometers we tested — such as the Femometer Infrared Thermometer, which had up to a 1.64 degree Fahrenheit difference with and without probe covers — making this thermometer much more desirable.
This positive result told us that even if you don’t have probe covers easily accessible, you’ll still receive consistent readings. If you aren’t able to use probe covers, you can easily wash the tip of the thermometer with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Fortunately, five single-use probe covers come in the box to get you started, and it’s about $5 to order another 200 covers, keeping it squarely in the budget-conscious category.
We took our temperature under the armpit and received a slightly lower reading, averaging 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Although lower, this is expected when taking a temperature with this method. As the directions state, taking your temperature under the armpit “produces a temperature 1 degree Fahrenheit lower than a temperature taken orally.” We also consulted with the medical experts and learned the reason behind this: The axillary (armpit) is taken outside of the body (versus inside), so you’re taking the temperature of your skin versus your core. That’s why, when taking your temperature under the armpit, you’ll want to add approximately 1 degree Fahrenheit to your reading to determine whether or not you have a real fever. (Note: We did not test the thermometer’s rectal reading, so we cannot specifically speak to this thermometer’s accuracy in that realm.)
We saw about a 14-second average recording time for taking temperatures with this thermometer. While this is a shorter time frame than some of the other oral thermometers we tested (which fell anywhere between 10 and 25 seconds), 14 seconds can feel like an eternity for kids. Comparatively, most of the ear and forehead thermometers will take just a second for the reading to appear. And even though we’re only talking about a difference of a few seconds, during our testing, both a 4- and 7-year-old found the forehead preferable to oral, so it’s something to consider if you have young kids.
Despite the small size of the thermometer, you’ll find a large display with a backlight that shows three different colors based on the temperature — green means no fever is present, yellow is 99.9 degrees Fahrenheit and above, and red is for fevers 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit and above — so you can quickly identify where your temperature falls.
Simply put, this was was the best oral thermometer and best thermometer for babies (where a rectal temperature is recommended) of all those we tested.
We interviewed two medical experts — Michael Elkort, M.D., pediatrics at Newton Wellesley, and Jacqueline Jossen, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics gastroenterology at Columbia University — to gain a better understanding of thermometers and how they work.
Types of thermometers
We tested five different types of thermometers: rectal, oral, axillary (armpit), temporal (forehead) and tympanic (remote ear). While individuals may have a preference for one type over another, we spoke to a medical expert to understand which type is in fact the best for which circumstance.
Dr. Elkort emphasized the importance of using the proper thermometer for different ages — especially when taking the temperature of a child. He said that for those younger than 3 years old, rectal thermometers are always the best since this records an internal temperature (versus the forehead). Babies and toddlers have ear canals that are too small for an ear thermometer and getting an accurate reading orally is challenging (and it’s not recommended to put a thermometer in a baby’s mouth). With a rectal thermometer, there’s simply less room for error. Clinical decisions rest on the thermometer reading, so it is important that the reading is accurate.
For all children over 3 years old, he recommends using the following — in the order listed — for accuracy: oral, armpit, forehead and ear. Although Dr. Elkort does not recommend forehead or ear thermometers for children since they can give you a wide range of readings if you in fact have a fever, they are accurate in alerting you if a fever is present and are still very reliable at measuring normal body temperatures. This makes forehead and ear thermometers good for quickly and easily checking for the presence of a fever when the actual number measurement isn’t important. Dr. Elkort also suggests that these thermometers work best when taking the temperature for a large group of people, as these thermometers work quickly with minimal concern for cross-contamination. Additionally, when taking your temperature as a precautionary measure, you simply just need to know whether or not there is a fever present — the actual temperature reading isn’t as important.
How to determine a fever
Normal body temperature is said to be 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. However, some individuals run high or low, so figuring out your own normal body temperature is important. Before you take your temperature when feeling ill, you should determine your normal body temperature with that same thermometer — since many thermometer readings have a slight margin — so you compare the reading against a predetermined baseline for normal. You can also refer to the American Academy of Pediatrics’s guidelines for taking children’s temperatures.
For example, if you typically have a 97.8-degree temperature with a certain thermometer, you might be more concerned when it gives you a 100.8-degree reading than if your normal temperature is 99.1. According to CNN Health’s reporting, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a person to have a fever when his or her temperature is 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater.
This is why your doctor will ask you the method by which you took your or your child’s temperature, as they will many times add or subtract a degree to determine if the temperature reading is concerning.
Dr. Jossen gave us some tips to help ensure accurate readings. First: Be consistent with where you’re taking your measurement. Temperatures taken from different parts of the body may not be comparable. For instance, there are natural variations between your right and left ears, and temperatures measured in the armpit (as done with infants) are less accurate.
Second: Make sure (with all thermometers) to position them correctly. This is especially important with no-touch thermometers to ensure you’re holding the device the appropriate distance from clean, unobstructed skin. Dr. Jossen emphasizes the importance of always referring to the manufacturer’s instructions for any particular thermometer.
Lastly: Oral thermometers should not be used shortly after drinking something hot or cold, as that can skew readings. Give it at least 15 minutes.
After scouring editorial and user reviews, we picked 15 of the most highly reviewed thermometers to put to the test. We completed multiple readings for each thermometer (within the same time frame) to determine consistency and then compared those readings to the readings of every other thermometer.
We also analyzed everything you’d want in a thermometer, including usability right out of the box (and after reading the directions), the display options, the speed of getting your temperature taken and any indicator to let you know if you have a fever.
Here’s how we evaluated each thermometer to find our winners:
Accuracy check: We recorded our temperature with all of the thermometers on the same individual within the same 10-minute time period to see if any of the readings were widely different than the others. Consistency of reading: With each thermometer, we took our temperature four times (twice per day throughout testing) on the same individual to see if the readings were the same. Speed of reading: We timed the reading for all thermometers to see how long it took to receive the reading. Ease of use: Is the thermometer easy to use right out of the box? Or do you have to read the directions? Is it easy to figure out all extra functionality? Temperature tracking: Does the thermometer save and track previous temperature readings? Extra features: Does the thermometer have any extra features, such as signals for when a reading is complete, app connectivity or the option to change between Fahrenheit and Celsius? Build
Ease of reading temperature: We documented how easy it is to read the temperature in both well-lit and dimly lit environments. Ease of cleaning: We noted how easy it is to clean each thermometer. Auto shutoff: Does the thermometer automatically shut off to conserve battery? If so, we timed how long it takes to shut off. Durability: We put the thermometer to the test by dropping it twice on a hardwood floor. We then noted issues, if any. Warranty
Warranty: Does the company offer a warranty? iProven No-Touch Thermometer ($29.49; amazon.com)
If you want a thermometer for every member in your family to use, then the iProven No-Touch Thermometer fits the bill — plus more. It was even tested by a 4- and 7-year-old without issue. And with a large number display, reading the temperature recording can be done by anyone — even a child. In fact, this thermometer is very comparable to our best overall, the Braun Digital No-Touch Forehead Thermometer, but it doesn’t offer the same positioning light.
However, if memory functionality is important to you, the iProven will store an impressive 50 readings, whereas the Braun doesn’t offer any storage capability. This eliminates having to write down readings — with the possibility of losing that scrap piece of paper — and having all temperatures readily available when speaking to a doctor. It’ll also help you determine whether or not your fever is going up or down over time.
Since this is a no-touch thermometer, it reads from the forehead with no physical contact required. This helps keep the thermometer clean and avoids spreading germs from one person to another. This thermometer also measures room, objects and liquid temperatures — something the Braun Digital No-Touch Forehead Thermometer doesn’t offer.
Overall, though, the forehead guides and distance measurement on the Braun were features we found more helpful in everyday use, thus securing its place atop the field.
iHealth No Touch Forehead Thermometer
iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer ($24.99; amazon.com)
This no-touch forehead thermometer has a very similar look and feel as one of our favorites, the Elepho eTherm Infrared Ear & Forehead Thermometer, although it doesn’t offer an ear recording option. The thermometer is sleek and slim in design, and much smaller than some of the other no-touch forehead options.
The thermometer is extremely easy to use right out of the box, and there’s a one-page guide with directions to understand the basics.
This thermometer includes a built-in infrared temperature sensor, which collects more than 100 data points per second. This technology allows for extremely consistent readings, and out of the four readings, three were exactly the same, while one was just 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit lower.
To use this thermometer, you’ll put it an inch away from the center of a person’s forehead and within one second you’ll receive the reading. Once the temperature is recorded, the thermometer vibrates to indicate it’s complete. We liked this better than a beep, as it avoids annoying sounds, but it still gives you a message that the temperature recording is complete. There’s a large LED display, which can easily be seen in the dark. Unlike many of the other thermometers, there’s no color-coded backlight to indicate a fever.
Now, if you want a wireless version that can track to your phone, there’s an upgraded version — at just $39.99 — where you can track up to 99 readings on your smartphone with the free iHealth app.
Braun ThermoScan 5 Digital Ear Thermometer ($49.99; amazon.com)
The Braun ThermoScan 5 Digital Ear Thermometer is ideal if you’re looking for an ear-only reading. The prewarmed tip helps ensure accurate readings — and our own readings confirmed that, as two of our readings were a normal 98.6-degree temperature, while the other two were just 0.1 and 0.2 degrees higher.
The thermometer does require disposable probe filters, and the thermometer will not work if a filter isn’t in place. While this helps to keep the thermometer probe clean and germ-free, it does require you to always have clean filters on hand. It also creates extra plastic waste, if that’s something you’re concerned about. Fortunately, a box of filters is included so you can use the thermometer right away, but a refill 40-pack will cost you an extra $6.
There’s an easy storage case for the thermometer to snap into, and the probe filter box goes right inside, so you never have to worry about losing them.
At this price point, however, we would’ve liked to see a few more features, such as the capability to track more than just the last reading and a backlight to see in the dark. And while the thermometer has an on/off button — unlike most of the thermometers we tested — it does not automatically shut off for
We tested 15 top-rated thermometers: Here are 3 worth buying
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