Digital thermometers

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We've tested 17 thermometers for accuracy.

Fever (or a high temperature) is often the first sign of illness. Fever is common in children – so a digital thermometer is a must-have in your first aid kit. We've tested 9 infrared and 8 digital probe models to check their accuracy and ease of use.

From our test

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Types of thermometer

You have several options when choosing a thermometer. Whichever you choose, always read the instructions to ensure you get the most accurate reading. If you’re unsure, get your doctor to show you how to use your thermometer.

  • Digital probe thermometers can be used for oral, rectal or armpit readings. Our tests show they are accurate but some are easier to use than others.

  • Ear (tympanic) thermometers are inserted into the ear canal and use infrared rays to read body temperature. They are quick and less invasive than a digital probe thermometer but must be carefully positioned to get an accurate reading. They aren’t recommended for infants under 6 months of age due to the size of their ear canals.

  • Forehead (temple) thermometers use an infrared scanner to measure forehead temperature. They are quick and non-invasive but aren’t usually considered accurate for infants under 3 months of age.

  • Mercury/alcohol thermometers contain mercury (a silvery-grey liquid metal) or alcohol (usually red). They are harder to read than digital thermometers and there’s a risk of poisoning if a mercury thermometer breaks and spills its contents.

  • Temperature strips are a plastic strip with heat-sensitive crystals that change colour to give a temperature reading. They are very easy to use but not very accurate.

What we found

We've tested two types of digital thermometer - infrared and digital probe - in separate tests.

Surgipack 6189 infrared forehead thermometer
Surgipack 6189 infrared forehead thermometer

Infrared thermometers test

We tested accuracy by comparing readings with an accurate digital probe thermometer.

Most models claimed an accuracy of +/-0.2°C, which is acceptable. Five thermometers achieved this accuracy and are our recommended models. The Omron Forehead Thermometer MC-720 was slightly less accurate (although still acceptable), but it was the easiest thermometer to use so we think it’s worth considering.

The Braun, Safety 1st and Tommee Tippee models didn’t meet their claimed accuracy.

Ease of use
We also assessed how easy it was to turn each thermometer on and off, plus change the battery. We also checked the quality of instructions, display, and audible signals.

All thermometers were easy to use but some had batteries that were fiddly to remove and replace (although you might think this is an advantage so the batteries don’t get into the hands of your littlies). Also, some of the instructions had small print so were a bit difficult to read.

Speed of reading
Infrared thermometers give a quicker reading than a digital probe thermometer. The claimed time to reading varied from 1 to 12 seconds but these times can vary depending on the circumstances – a wriggly upset child may make taking a temperature very difficult.

Digital probe thermometers test

Vicks V916C Fever Insight digital probe thermometer
Vicks V916C Fever Insight digital probe thermometer

We tested accuracy using a calibrated thermal bath. Readings were taken at temperatures ranging from 32°C to 41.9°C. If the thermometer came with a sheath, we tested it sheathed and unsheathed.

For temperatures from 32°C to 42°C, all the models in our test claim an accuracy of +/-0.1°C, which is all the accuracy you need. Our test found all were accurate.

We also tested the Vicks V916C on a small number of real people. We did this because it’s a predictive thermometer – it takes a partial reading and calculates the final temperature. This makes it faster than most other models.

Ease of use
We assessed each thermometer for ease of turning it on and off plus changing the battery. We also assessed its quality of instructions, display, and audible signals.

The Dreambaby F319, Vicks V916C and Omron MC-246 were easier to use than the other models. They had better displays and clear instructions, and their batteries were easy to change.

Speed of reading
The claimed time to reading varied from 10 to 80 seconds but these times can vary depending on the circumstances – a wriggly upset child may make taking a temperature hard work. Most models wait until the thermometer reaches a stable temperature, then beep and display a reading.

Checklist

Features to look for when you're choosing a digital thermometer.

  • The display should be easy to read. A large or backlit display is best.
  • Audible signals indicate when the thermometer is ready to use and when it has finished taking a temperature.
  • A fever indicator lets you know when a temperature is above normal.
  • Disposable sheaths keep the thermometer clean and hygienic. Though wiping the probe with sterilising alcohol between readings also does the trick.
  • A cover protects the thermometer when it’s not being used.

Temperature-taking tips

  • Avoid taking a temperature immediately after a shower or bath – the reading will be high.
  • If you’re taking someone’s oral temperature, make sure they haven’t had anything to eat or drink in the last 15 minutes (this can affect the reading). The probe should be placed under the tongue and the mouth should be closed while the thermometer’s in place.
  • For an armpit reading, the armpit must be clean and dry. Make sure the probe tip touches the skin, and then position the arm next to the body so that the room air doesn’t affect the reading. Gently hugging your child may help keep their arm in place. Armpit readings are usually 0.5°C lower than oral readings.
  • After taking someone’s temperature, wipe the thermometer with a soft cloth and warm water or mild detergent. You can also sterilise the probe tip with alcohol (but avoid alcohol contact with the battery/display end). Don’t immerse it in water unless the instructions say you can do this.
  • Digital thermometers are not toys and their batteries are hazardous if swallowed. So store your thermometer beyond a child’s reach.
  • Temperature readings with digital thermometers are only a guide and not a substitute for proper medical diagnosis. If you’re concerned, get medical advice.
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What’s too hot?

Normal body temperature is 37°C but this is only approximate. It varies from person to person and also depends on the time of day. A high temperature is defined as over 37.5°C in mild cases or over 38.2°C in more severe cases.

The fever will pass as the body fights off the illness. But babies with a fever (especially babies under 3 months) should be checked by a doctor in case the illness is serious.

Always see your doctor if you’re concerned about your child’s temperature or health.

More information

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