How to Clean a Thermometer
Caring for Your Thermometers
Cleaning thermometers after each use cuts down on spreading germs, so your family is back on the mend faster.
Keeping your thermometer clean cuts down the chance of spreading germs from one family member to another. Cleaning also gets rid of the ear gunk, sweat, spit and other body debris that comes into contact with the sensor on your thermometer.
Ways to Clean Thermometers
Sterilizing the thermometer after each use prevents you from contaminating other people in your family. It also keeps the sensor free of anything that could interfere with accurate readings. Clean the thermometer before and after each use. You can use a disposable thermometer cover to cut down on contamination of the sensor, but it's still a good idea to clean it after each use.
A quick, easy way to sterilize the thermometer is to wipe it down with alcohol. You can use alcohol wipes or soak a soft, disposable pad or cotton ball in alcohol. For small crevices, use a cotton swab soaked in alcohol. Let the alcohol dry completely, or rinse the tip of the thermometer in cool water before using it.
Another option is to wash the thermometer with lukewarm water and soap. Rinse the tip with cold water. Hot water can affect the sensor. Never submerge the entire thermometer in water. Steam cleaning is also potentially damaging to digital thermometers.
Types of Thermometers
Thermometers to check your little one's temperature come in different styles with slight differences in each type. The type you choose affects how you use and clean the thermometer.
Consider the following types:
- Digital: Digital thermometers now replace the glass mercury thermometers of your childhood. An electronic heat sensor detects the body temperature when used for the rectal, oral or armpit method. The probe area needs regular cleaning. It's also important to have a separate thermometer for rectal temperatures. Mark it clearly, and do not use the rectal thermometer for any other method.
- Temporal artery: This option checks your child's temperature on the temporal artery on the forehead using an infrared scanner. Temporal artery thermometers are the least invasive, so your little one might cooperate better. Wipe the sensor area with an alcohol wipe. You don't actually touch the sensor to the skin, but accidental contact sometimes happens.
- Ear: Another option is a digital thermometer designed to go into the ear canal. An infrared ray checks the temperature in the ear canal. Differences in the ear canal size or shape can make this type of thermometer less accurate. Earwax can also interfere with the reading. Clean an ear thermometer using a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to wipe the sensor and ridges around the sensor.
When to Replace Your Thermometer
Thermometers last longer when you care for them properly, but you may start noticing inaccuracy that signals it's time for a new one. Digital thermometers use batteries to operate. Over time, the battery gets low or completely dies. If you notice the thermometer seems off or slower than normal, try replacing the battery. Some models use expensive batteries that are difficult to find, so you may find it cheaper to buy a new thermometer instead.
If you put in a fresh battery and the thermometer still seems inaccurate, you may need to replace it. Testing the thermometer on a healthy family member is one way to check accuracy. You may also notice that the readings are vastly different or seem way off compared to what you expect. If you have more than one thermometer, compare the readings to see if one is off the mark and needs replacement.
- Parents: Q+A: What's the Best Way to Clean a Thermometer?
- Today: 5 Items to Clean When Someone Gets Sick at Home and How to Clean Them
- Mayo Clinic: Thermometer Basics: Taking Your Child's Temperature
- Childrens Mom Docs: Choosing a Thermometer
- National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health (UK). Thermometers and the detection of fever. In: Feverish Illness in Children: Assessment and Initial Management in Children Younger Than 5 Years. London: Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (UK); 2013.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016) Fever Without Fear: Information for Parents. Itasca, Illinois: American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Teng, C.; Ng, C.; Nik-Sherina, H. et al. The Accuracy of Mothers Touch to Detect Fever in Children: A Systematic Review. Journal of Tropical Pediatrics. 2008;54(1):70-73. DOI: 10.1093/tropej/fmm077.