Three best infrared thermometers
The big advantage of an infrared thermometer is that it can take readings without contact. You can be several feet away and still get an accurate reading. IR thermometers are great for hard-to-reach or hazardous areas and places where an ordinary thermometer isn't practical. With a wide range of possible applications, you also get a wide range of products to choose from. Which infrared thermometer suits you best will depend on what you want to use it for. We've put together the following guide to help you sort through the technical aspects of buying an infrared thermometer. We've also made a few product recommendations for the fastest shopping.
Considerations when choosing infrared thermometers
Why buy an infrared thermometer?
Measuring at a distance, without having to touch hot or cold objects, has a number of applications for the homeowner. With an infrared thermometer, you can quickly measure the heat of a hot pan, check HVAC systems or boilers, and measure a vehicle's engine temperature.
Infrared thermometers are also used by medical professionals, mechanics, and engineers as a quick and accurate way to read temperatures.
Budget models are available for as little as $15 to $20. Professional-grade IR thermometers can cost up to $150.
Let's take a look at what features to consider when shopping for an infrared thermometer.
Most IR thermometers can switch between Fahrenheit and Celsius, but their range varies. Typically, inexpensive thermometers can measure from around -60°F to 700°F (-50°C to 370°C). High-end models can measure from around -20°F to 1,200°F (-30°C to 650°C).
Higher-end IR thermometers will quote accuracy: plus or minus 1%, for example. Cheaper models may not, and they could be anywhere from three to five degrees off.
An infrared thermometer's laser system also has an impact on accuracy. Most devices have a single-point laser, so you only get a reading from one spot. Others have dual rotating lasers that take two measurements close to the focal point. The resulting average is a more accurate reading. Thermometers with multi-point static lasers also claim to be more accurate, but like those with single-point lasers, they only take one reading.
Distance-to-spot ratio (D:S) is the thermometer's distance from the object in relation to the size of the spot being measured. For example, if an infrared thermometer's D:S is 12:1, the device measures a one-inch target area from 12 inches away. The quoted D:S is the optimum distance for that particular model.
Emissivity is how much an object emits thermal radiation. Most objects have an emissivity of about 0.95, and infrared thermometers generally cover emissivities from 0.1 to 1.0. This is an important feature for scientists and technicians (and some infrared thermometers have variable emissivity to suit the demands of these professionals), but the rest of us don't need to worry about it.
Response time is how fast the device takes a reading. Normally, it's 0.5 seconds or less.
Most infrared thermometers have backlit screens so you can read them in low light. A hold button will keep the reading on the screen long enough for you to make a note of it.
Many IR thermometers have alarms that alert you when the temperature you are trying to record exceeds the maximum or minimum the device is capable of measuring.
Battery-saving auto-off functions are common. Some infrared thermometers also warn you when the battery is running low. Check to see if the model you're considering comes with batteries.
IP-rated infrared thermometers are certified for dust and water resistance.
Look for a warranty of at least 12 months, though better IR thermometers usually offer three-year warranty protection.
Q. How are infrared thermometers different from standard thermometers?
A. Standard thermometers measure temperature by contact with the object, which can be hazardous in some situations. Infrared thermometers take measurements from a distance. What they read is the infrared emissions or thermal radiation of an object.
IR thermometers can be very accurate, but they're not without flaws. Reflective surfaces are difficult to measure because they obscure an object's true emissivity. Also, if you have two hot objects close together, thermal radiation from one can bleed into the other and give a false reading.
Q. Are infrared thermometers dangerous?
A. No. Infrared is harmless, and it comes from the object being measured, rather than the thermometer itself. An IR thermometer's laser will be either Class 1 or 2, which is safe for normal use, although you should never point any kind of laser directly at someone's eyes.
Infrared thermometers we recommend
Best of the best: Fluke 62 MAX Plus IR thermometer
Our take: This infrared thermometer has every feature and is ideal for professionals.
What we like: The twin laser system measures minimum, maximum, and average temperature for absolute precision. The thermometer is drop-tested to over nine feet, rated IP54 for dust and water resistance, and clips to a belt or bag--a superb device.
What we dislike: It's not cheap, but the best tools seldom are.
Best bang for your buck: Etekcity Lasergrip 774 Infrared Thermometer
Our take: A good budget infrared thermometer for home and DIY use.
What we like: It has the features that most home users need, including quick measurements in Fahrenheit and Celsius, a hold button for the current reading, and an easy-to-use, clear LCD screen, all at a bargain price.
What we dislike: The single-point laser does not offer the best accuracy or range.
Choice 3: Raytek MT6 MiniTemp Infrared Thermometer
Our take: This IR thermometer is a high-quality, mid-range device for a wide range of applications.
What we like: It has a competitive temperature range and a large, easy-to-read backlit display. Users report that it takes very accurate readings.
What we dislike: Its small D:S ratio of 10:1 and single-point laser mean it's not as versatile as some infrared thermometers.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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