How and where to buy a thermometer: the essential features to look for

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Let’s face facts, in this day and age, every household should have a working thermometer to take a family member’s temperature. It was always really an essential piece of medical gear, in the family’s first aid kit. After all, when a baby is not feeling well, knowing if the little one is running a fever is a crucial piece of information to know if the pediatrician should be contacted, and medical care should be sought, and how quickly.

These days, with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, many essential workers are being required to monitor their temperature to decide if it is safe for them to continue to work, or if they need to be quarantined, making it even more important to have a good one. 

How to buy a thermometer

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Thankfully, the world has moved on from mercury thermometers, which were made out of glass, broke easily with virtually any drop, were hard to clean between uses, and contained toxic mercury inside. Replacing this long standing icon of healthcare is the digital thermometer. Inside, rather than the toxic mercury, are solid state electronics, which provides an accurate reading of the body’s temperature. Still other thermometers use a chemical method to determine temperature.

Today’s thermometers can take temperatures in more places than ever. The options start with the traditional oral (‘under the tongue’), rectal and axillary approaches. In general, the axillary approach is considered the least accurate, rectal the best, and the oral approach somewhere in between the two. Note that rectal is usually for infants, and that if you plan to use the thermometer via this method, you should also purchase a separate one for oral use, and avoid using the same thermometer for both places.

Beyond these traditional methods for taking a temperature, additional options exist. These include tympanic via the ear, and also via the skin of the forehead. In fact, the latest thermometers can measure the temperature without ever coming into contact with the person, known as a contactless thermometer.

With a digital thermometer, be sure to pay attention to the display. Features to look for include a display with a larger readout, and also one that lights up, which can be ideal for taking a temperature at night in the dark.

Another deciding factor for a thermometer is how quickly the temperature can be obtained. Most are pretty fast these days, but it can still range from a few minutes to just a mere second. Digital ear thermometers (aka: tympanic thermometers) are known for their rapidness in measurement, a very useful feature with an uncooperative child unlikely to keep an oral thermometer under their tongue for the time required for an accurate reading.

Rather than dedicating each thermometer to a single family member, there are options today to have a single thermometer safely shared between multiple members of the household. The first option is to look for a thermometer that can accept a probe cover. These are a simple plastic sleeve that can protect the thermometer, and gets pulled off and tossed after each use. Another plus is that many are universal and can be used with thermometers of multiple manufacturers making this an affordable option. Yet, another option is to go the disposable route, and simply toss the thermometer after each use for the ultimate in convenience. 

Braun Thermoscan 7 IRT6520 |£54.99£38.08 at Amazon

Braun Thermoscan 7 IRT6520 | £54.99 £38.08 at Amazon
Thermometers are out of stock at most retailers, but this Braun ear thermometer is one of the few that's still available. It's supplied with 21 disposable probe covers for hygiene and features age-adjustable fever guidance.

The best thermometers

All of the thermometers below are doctor-recommended. They are currently out of stock online, but may be available on shelves in-store, and are a good representation of what to look for when shopping.

Vicks ComfortFlex Digital Thermometer

(Image credit: Vicks)

Vicks ComfortFlex Digital Thermometer 

For those looking for an affordable, and accurate choice of a thermometer that does not scrimp on features, we recommend the Vicks ComfortFlex Digital Thermometer. We like how quick it is, as it can read a temperature in a fast 8 seconds. It can also be used in any of the basic positions for temperature, including axillary, rectal and oral for flexible use.

Speaking of flexible, the Flex-tip is soft to maximize comfort in use. The display also stands out as it can display either temperature in either the Fahrenheit or Celsius scales, and is large and easy to read. We also like that not only is it illuminated, but that it glows green for a normal temperature, yellow if it is borderline, and red for fever above 101.5F.

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Choseen 8-in-1 Professional Infrared Temporal Fever Thermometer

(Image credit: Choseen)

Choseen 8-in-1 Professional Infrared Temporal Fever Thermometer

If you want a thermometer that can detect a temperature as fast as your child can run away, then checkout the Choseen 8-in-1 Professional Infrared Temporal Fever Thermometer. The benefits start with obtaining a temperature in a mere second via the latest infrared scan lens technology!

We also like that it runs off of readily available two AAA alkaline batteries. The other plus is that it can be used for either forehead or ear measurements, as the ear can be inaccurate for a temperature with earwax (impacted cerumen), or with infants under six months old – but this device has this covered with the forehead mode, by just toggling to the appropriate mode. We also like the easily readable, illuminated digital display.

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Landwind FT118 Forehead Thermometer

(Image credit: Thermometer)

Landwind FT118 Forehead Thermometer

Another type of thermometer is the contactless thermometer, useful for screening a number of folks for fever in short order for fever, such as children coming to school, or employees reporting for their shift. The Landwind FT118 Forehead Thermometer eliminates the infection risk in such a situation as it can measure the temperature at a distance, without ever coming into direct contact with the individual.

It is also quite quick, able to take each temperature in about a second. We also like that the display can report for both F and C measurements, is useful in all age groups, is precise down to +/- 0.1F, and provides an audible fever warning when the temperature exceeds 99.5F/37.5C.

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Jonas P. DeMuro

Jonas P. DeMuro is a freelance reviewer covering wireless networking hardware.