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Infrared thermometers are handy tools that can be used in a variety of industries to determine surface temperature. In many professions, high temperatures are the first signs of trouble, often indicating a failure of electrical circuits, building systems, or mechanical equipment. Infrared thermometers can help to check temperature to target trouble areas, possibly preventing major catastrophes.

The infrared thermometer was originally invented to measure the temperature of moving objects, or objects in a vacuum, both situations in which normal contact thermometers would not work effectively.

How Do Infrared Thermometers Work?

All matter gives off energy in the form of infrared radiation, or heat. If there is a difference in temperature between two objects, or between an object and its surrounding environment, the difference can be measured and applied. If an object is at a temperature identical to its surroundings, the net radiation energy exchange is zero. Whether the temperatures are of equal or unequal values, the spectrum of radiation depends on the temperature of the object and the temperature surrounding the object.

Infrared radiation temperatures use this “radiation dependence” on temperature to arrive at a measure for the object in question, and display it to the operator for evaluation.

Uses of An Infrared Thermometer

If the workings of the infrared thermometer sound very scientific, they are, but that doesn’t mean only scientists can use them. One of the biggest advantages of using an infrared thermometer is that you don’t need to be in close proximity to an object to measure its surface temperature, which can help prevent injuries to the user.

Infrared thermometers are invaluable in many lines of work – for example:

  • Many chefs use infrared thermometers when cooking in the kitchen to check temperatures of foods and cook wear, and to check temperatures of surface areas when working with temperature sensitive foods.
  • Firefighters, electricians and other trades use infrared thermometers in the field to detect hot spots or other hazardous conditions.
  • Infrared thermometers are also frequently used by mechanics to check engines for overheating.
  • The medical profession uses infrared thermometers to determine body temperature.

There are also many practical uses for infrared thermometers in the home:

  • Keeping an eye on the family’s body temperature is fast becoming the job of an infrared thermometer.
  • Homeowners can use infrared thermometers to target areas where heat or air may be escaping, and cut down on their energy costs.
  • They can also be used for checking temperatures in a car engine and help diagnose any mechanical problems, saving time and money.
  • And of course, they can be used for cooking

Advantages of Infrared Thermometers

One of the biggest advantages of an infrared thermometer is the non-contact feature. The ability to test temperatures without touching the product not only ensures the safety of the worker, but also prevents product contamination, ensuring the safety of the consumer.

Infrared thermometers are also fast, easy to use, and accurate. Most infrared thermometers can determine and display readings in about a half a second, and are accurate to a maximum range of about 100 feet.

Buying An Infrared Thermometer

Whether for professional reasons or personal ones, an infrared temperature can be an invaluable tool. However, not all infrared thermometers are created equal. If you’re in the market for an IR thermometer, here are a few things you may want to consider:

  1. Temperature Range

The first thing you may want to take into consideration when purchasing an infrared thermometer is temperature range, and your requirements may vary depending on what you need the thermometer for. If you’re looking for a thermometer for use in your home, you may not find yourself having to deal with extreme temperatures, and thus, may not need an infrared thermometer capable of measuring them.

Typically, the temperature range of infrared thermometers is from about 60 degrees fahrenheit to 930 degrees fahrenheit. This temperature range should be suitable for any in-home use, and anything more complicated may be unnecessary, and more highly priced.

  1. Accuracy

Another thing you should think about when looking for an Infrared thermometer is how accurate it is. Distance-to-Spot ratio (D/S) and emissivity are two things that can impact the accuracy of your reading.

  • Distance-to-Spot Ratio

Distance-to-Spot Ratio is a ratio that tells you the distance from the object and the relative diameter of the surface it can accurately measure.

For example, if you have an infrared thermometer with D/S of 18:1, that means when your thermometer is 18 inches away from the object, it will measure an area that is 1 inch wide. If you move beyond this distance from the object, the size of the spot will increase, meaning that anything which falls into the line of view of the thermometer will also be measured, and your reading will include the temperature of whatever else falls in to that spot.

The best way to ensure an accurate reading is by making sure your object is larger than the spot size. If accuracy is important, the target should be a minimum of two times the size of the field of view. A higher ratio means your thermometer is more accurate at a greater distance.

  • Emissivity

Emissivity refers to how reflective an object is. The emissivity of an object is based on its material, and this can affect the accuracy of the measurement. A highly reflective object has low emissivity and an object that absorbs light and doesn’t reflect has high emissivity.

In theory, finding temperatures of objects based on infrared energy would seem pretty clear cut. Ideally, objects with high temperatures emit a large amount of infrared energy, while objects with low temperatures emit less. However, in reality, the measurement of infrared energy is not only determined by temperature, but also the emissivity or reflectivity of the object.

If you are planning to measure temperatures of highly reflective objects, be sure to choose a thermometer that allows you to adjust for emissivity. Alternatively, sticking a piece of masking tape on the area you wish to measure and targeting the tape can be a simple solution to overcome the emissivity of a shiny object.

  1. Price

When it comes to infrared temperature price, it’s important to know that quality is not necessarily directly related to cost. If you’re a layman, something in the $80 to $100 price range should be more than capable of meeting your needs. Professionals who require more precision in their work may need to look for models with greater accuracy, which tend to range upward of $100.


Infrared thermometers can be useful in a variety of applications, both personal and professional. However, in order to get the most accurate reading from your thermometer, there are a few things to look out for:

  • When buying an infrared thermometer, consider the temperature range to make sure it is suited for your requirements.
  • Be sure your instrument can be calibrated to adjust for emissivity, especially if you intend to use it on reflective objects.
  • If accuracy is crucial, the distance-to-spot ratio should be larger than the spot size.

Other than that, look for a durable, well-constructed tool that will last a long time. Know that price does not necessarily reflect quality, and make sure you know how to use your infrared thermometer to its fullest potential. When used correctly, an infrared thermometer can make your life safer and more productive, and help provide endless benefits in emergency situation.

Best Infrared Thermometers