The Most Accurate Thermometers For Babies & Kids (2018 Edition)

Not all thermometers are accurate! Find out which ones are.

Editor’s note: Due to the current ongoing situation with COVID-19, you might be more worried than usual. Here’s what to know about children & COVID-19.

Are children at risk for COVID19?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children aren’t more susceptible than adults to getting the virus. (source)

While there have been cases of children diagnosed with COVID-19, the vast majority of cases are in adults. When children do get the virus, they seem to experience only mild symptoms like fever, runny nose and a cough.

If your child does have underlying medical conditions, speak with your pediatrician about what you should watch out for.

In the first year, babies come down with about six to 12 infections. Most children will get sick sometime during their first year, and the sad thing is that they have no way of telling us they don’t feel well.

Imagine having the flu and being totally unable to do anything about it except cry. It’s heartbreaking, and it can actually be pretty dangerous.

One of the best (and really, the only reliable ways) to tell if your baby is sick is by using a good, accurate thermometer.

A thermometer should be in any parent’s arsenal, and if you don’t have one yet, well, you should get one.

Today we’ll be looking at:

  • The different types of thermometers.
  • Which ones are most appropriate by age.
  • The best thermometers for babies and kids.
  • Why old mercury thermometers are dangerous.

The different types of thermometers: compared & contrasted.

There are several types of thermometers for babies, and the best one for your child will depend on a few different things. The different types of baby thermometers are:

Rectal thermometers.

Rectal thermometers are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for all children below 3 years of age. (source)

While these are the most accurate thermometers, good luck with getting an accurate reading with a wiggling newborn.

You might cringe at the thought of using a rectal thermometer, and yes, they are uncomfortable. But if you’re truly worried that your child might be sick, a rectal thermometer is your best option due to their accuracy.

If you buy one of these, look for one that has a flexible tip and a wide base—these features prevent you from inserting the thermometer too far.

Oral thermometers.

Oral thermometers are also really accurate, but not suitable for use in babies.

This is because they need to stay under the tongue for around a minute, which is essentially impossible with an infant.

For kids around 3 or 4 years old, they’re a great option—but skip these if you’re buying a thermometer for a child younger than this.

Temporal artery (forehead) thermometers.

These are the newest thermometers on the block. They use infrared technology to take a temperature reading from the temporal artery on the forehead. It makes you feel like you’re living in a Star Trek episode, right?

While taking your baby’s temperature rectally is the most accurate, it’s always a good idea to have a backup temporal thermometer on hand.

These thermometers are generally considered to be appropriate for children of 3 months or older.

If you really can’t stomach the idea of using a rectal thermometer, give one of these a go—but just remember that they’re not quite as accurate as a rectal thermometer.

Axillary (armpit) thermometers.

These aren’t suitable for infants and aren’t really all that accurate.

The best use for taking a temperature via the armpit is to take a “baseline” temperature that you can compare with.

But all in all, armpit thermometers aren’t really useful.

Ear canal thermometers.

Minimally-invasive and appropriate for babies 6 months and older, but still not as accurate as a forehead, rectal or under-the-tongue reading.

are a common option as they are minimally-invasive and easy to use. They are simply placed in the ear and give a reasonably-accurate temperature reading for children over 12 months old. However, they are deceptively difficult to use, as you have to place them in the ear at exactly the right position to get an accurate reading. They are not optimal for children younger than 12 months, as their ear canals may be too narrow to get a proper reading.

Pacifier thermometers.

These might seem like a genius solution to taking an infant’s temperature, but they’re really not accurate and should be avoided.

The best thermometers: by age.

Not all thermometers are suitable for all ages; here is a general guideline to follow when selecting a thermometer for your baby.

Best for infants: rectal thermometers (3 months & younger)

Rectal thermometers are simply the most accurate way to take a temperature reading, even if they seem a bit cringy to use.

If your baby might be sick, it’s crucial that you can get an accurate temperature reading to make sure your baby is doing well, and the other thermometers just won’t cut it.

While forehead thermometers are mostly pretty accurate and could be used, if you’re at all concerned that they might have a fever, double-checking with a rectal thermometer is ideal. You should check with your pediatrician before you use one of these for the first time, just to make sure you’re doing it correctly.

We would recommend the Safety 1st Gentle Read Rectal Thermometer (click here to check price on Amazon): it’s very inexpensive, gives a fast reading (5-6 seconds) and is easy to wash and clean compared to other rectal thermometers. It meets all of our safety recommendations: it has a flexible tip and a guard to prevent dangerous insertion.

Many people prefer this over other multi-purpose thermometers for one reason: this one is very simple to use and has no settings to mess around with. It just turns off and on and gives an accurate reading.

Plus, why would you want a thermometer that can be used both rectally and in the mouth? It’s just gross.

This thermometer is highly recommended for all parents of infants. You can upgrade to a non-rectal thermometer when they’re older!

Click to see it on Amazon!

For older kids: forehead thermometers (3 months & up)

For ages 3 months and over, using a forehead (temporal artery) thermometer is a great idea. My favorite forehead thermometer is the Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer (click here to check price on Amazon).

Temporal artery thermometers aren’t the easiest to use, but with a little practice, you’ll get the hang of it. You just swipe the end of the thermometer gently across your child’s forehead, and it reads the temperature with accuracy.

These thermometers are often used in hospitals, which should tell you something! Just make sure to read the instructions thoroughly and remove the protective end cap before you use it! You might laugh, but this is a common mistake parents make when first using this.

To use it, all you do is put it in the center of your child’s forehead, press the button, and swipe it gently across to the temple. You’ll hear a beep to let you know that it’s working correctly, and if it is, you should have a very accurate reading of your child’s temperature! It’s simple to use with a little practice.

It takes a 9-volt battery, which is easily replaced, but it should last a long time before you have to do that. The only real downside to it is that extreme temperature variations in the room will throw the reading off, so if you bring it from a cold room to a hot room, let it sit for a few minutes before you use it.

All in all, this is a great forehead thermometer, and highly recommended.

Click to see it on Amazon!

Which Baby Thermometer is Best For For My Child?

Depending on what type of illness your baby has, it will make a difference in which type of thermometer you should use. Here are some general guidelines. The below table is information from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

General guidelines: thermometer suitability by age.

Child’s ageRectalOralAxillaryEarTemporal artery
Newborn to 3 months
3 months to 3 years
4 to 5 years
5 years and older 

This is just a guideline of when the different types of thermometers are suitable. There are some aspects of the various thermometers that might make them unsuitable for certain children. Here are some things to think about.

  • Rectal thermometers are the most accurate. If suitable, you should try to use either of these methods, especially for younger children. When a baby is an infant, having a temperature reading that’s even a few degrees off might make the difference of needing a trip to the hospital or not. Oral thermometers are also accurate. However, using an oral thermometer and getting an accurate reading means that it has to be in your child’s mouth—without moving—for several minutes. This generally makes them only suitable for older children.
  • Temporal artery thermometers are excellent and very accurate. They are overall the best thermometer for most children, and you can most likely use them even on your infant, but a rectal thermometer is the most trustworthy.
  • If your baby has diarrhea or any other sickness that might make it too uncomfortable to use a rectal thermometer, go with an axillary (armpit) thermometer. Of course, using an armpit thermometer is only possible if your baby will stay still for the few minutes needed to take an accurate temperature reading. It should be noted that axillary thermometers are the least accurate, so they should be only used on older children.
  • Ear thermometers are very popular and easy to use. However, they are not always the most accurate and shouldn’t be used on children under three months of age due to their smaller ear canals. Things like earwax can also lead to an inaccurate reading.

Have an old mercury thermometer? Get rid of it.

While mercury thermometers used to be very common, experts now say that you should avoid using them because they are potentially dangerous.

If the thermometer breaks, it can cause the mercury inside can vaporize, which leads to toxic fumes.

Experts have recommended avoiding mercury thermometers for many years now, so you probably won’t even find one in stores, but if you happen to have an old one, you should dispose of it and get a new, safe digital version.

Didn’t Find a Thermometer You Liked?

If you didn’t like our thermometer choices, feel free to click here to see the best-selling thermometers. You’ll probably find one you like!

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