We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (2024)

We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (1)

A pulse oximeter is a noninvasive medical device that estimates the saturation of hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen to your organs and cells, says François Lellouche, MD, PhD, member of the American College of Chest Physicians and professor at the Department of Medicine at Laval University. They are commonly used to monitor oxygen levels in doctor's offices, emergency departments, and homes—especially in people recovering from illness or with respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pilots and athletes also use pulse oximeters to track their oxygen saturation (SpO2) during high-altitude and high-intensity activities. Most people have a normal oxygen saturation level of 95–100%. That said, Raj Dasgupta, MD, FACP, FCCP, FAASM, triple board-certified physician and chief medical advisor for Sleep Advisor, says not to rely on a pulse oximeter for a health diagnosis.

To find the best pulse oximeter on the market, we researched dozens of products and tested 14 options in the Verywell Testing Lab under the expert guidance of a board-certified physician. We considered ease of setup, fit, ease of use, data readability, and overall value during testing. Additionally, a board-certified physician from our Medical Expert Board reviewed this article to ensure medical accuracy.

Types of Pulse Oximeters

Pulse oximeters are becoming more advanced and increasingly accessible, and several types are now available, such as fingertip, wrist-worn, and sleep trackers. Here's a breakdown of the most common types of pulse oximeters:

  • Fingertip: These are the most popular type of pulse oximeter and typically clip onto your finger like a clothespin. Most are compact and portable, so you can easily toss them in your bag or car. Some models come with a lanyard or carrying case. They're also relatively inexpensive compared to other types of pulse oximeters.
  • Wrist: These devices sit on the wrist like a watch. A sensor on the back of the device measures the oxygen level in your blood. While they can be more comfortable than fingertip models, they may have a higher margin of error.
  • Sleep Trackers: Sleep trackers are worn on the base of your finger or fingertip and continuously monitor your oxygen saturation and heart rate while you sleep. They often come with an app that tracks your sleep quality and provides personalized tips for improving your sleep.

What Healthcare Providers Want You to Know

  • Pulse oximeters and dark skin tones: According to Dr. Lellouche, melanin absorbs near-infrared light (the same type of light used in pulse oximeters), which may impact pulse oximeter accuracy in patients with darker skin pigmentation. This could contribute to an overestimation of oxygen saturation. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 10 recent studies have documented that pulse oximeters may increase the risk of occult hypoxemia, a condition in which oxygen levels may be lower than what's being read by the pulse oximeter.
  • Your health needs: If you have a specific health condition requiring frequent monitoring of your oxygen levels, such as COPD or sleep apnea, it's best to consult your doctor about which pulse oximeter is best for your needs. They may recommend a specific type or brand that aligns with your health goals and provides more accurate readings. Fitness enthusiasts should consider a pulse oximeter with advanced features for tracking oxygen levels during workouts, as many devices don’t record data accurately during movement.
  • Accurate results may vary: Dr. Lellouche says pulse oximeter accuracy is typically between 2% and 4%. This means the value measured by your pulse oximeter is within 2 to 4% of your true SaO2. However, Dr. Lellouche says that some at-home models can have a higher margin of error, up to 10%. Skin pigmentation and brand reliability are two of the most significant factors affecting this margin of error.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you see a low oxygen reading, first ensure you’re using the device correctly and that no external factors are affecting the readings, such as poor circulation, cold hands, nail polish, or low battery. Dr. Raj advises to stay calm and recheck the home reading. If your oxygen saturation level is 92% or lower, he advises that you call your healthcare provider. If it’s 88% or lower, immediately get to the nearest emergency department. Symptoms such as difficulty breathing or chest pain also warrant immediate medical attention.

Our Top Picks

Best for Most Users and Usecases:

Zacurate Pro Series 500DL at Amazon ($23)

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In This Article

  • Types of Pulse Oximeters

  • What Healthcare Providers Want You to Know

  • When to See a Healthcare Provider

  • Our Picks

  • How We Tested and Selected

  • How Pulse Oximeters Work

  • How to Use and Read

  • Our Experts

  • FAQ

  • Why Trust Verywell Health

Best for Most Users and Usecases

Zacurate Pro Series 500DL

We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (2)

Our Ratings

  • Setup

    5/5

  • Fit

    5/5

  • Ease of Use

    5/5

  • Data Display

    5/5

  • Overall Value

    5/5

Pros

  • Large display

  • Doesn’t require an app

  • Includes carrying case and lanyard

Cons

  • No long-term data tracking

  • Reports of short battery life

Key Specs

Display: LED | Power: Battery, 40 hours | Connectivity: None

Why We Recommend It

The Zacurate Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is our best overall pick because it's straightforward, easy to use, and accurate. The large display provides clear readings of your oxygen saturation levels and pulse rate. During testing, we found that this model accommodates a range of finger sizes and provides quick results. Unlike other pulse oximeters, the Zacurate Pro Series 500DL doesn’t require an app or additional software.

The simplicity alone makes it an excellent option for those who prefer a simple device without advanced (and sometimes time-consuming) features. After slipping the device onto our finger and pressing the power button, our reading was displayed in bright red LED numbers. It comes with two AAA batteries, a lanyard for carrying, and a protective case. Children ages 12 and up can use this device.

However, if you’re looking for a high-tech finger pulse oximeter, the iHealth Wireless Pulse Oximeter could be a better fit for you. It uses an app to store readings for multiple users and automatically transfers your readings. However, it’s also highly sensitive, and small movements can create inaccurate readings.

Keep In Mind

It's a basic model without advanced insights or data-tracking features, so it may not be the best pick if you're looking for a device to track your oxygen saturation levels over time. Some users report a shorter-than-expected battery life, so keep extra batteries on hand.

We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (3)

We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (4)

Our Ratings

  • Setup

    5/5

  • Fit

    5/5

  • Ease of Use

    5/5

  • Data Display

    4/5

  • Overall Value

    4.5/5

Pros

  • Multiple display formats

  • Large, bright numbers

  • Good for kids two years and up

Cons

  • Can’t be used on infants

  • No long-term data tracking

Key Specs

Display: OLED | Power: Battery, 30 hours | Connectivity: None

Why We Recommend It

Dr. Lellouche says pulse oximeters are safe for children when used correctly. When sickness and illness strike, monitoring their oxygen saturation levels and pulse rate may provide peace of mind and help you gauge their recovery. We chose The Zacurate Digital Pediatric Finger Pulse Oximeter because it offers the same technology as our best overall pick, just for smaller, more delicate fingers.

In testing, we appreciated the easy setup, quick and accurate readings, and the display options—there are six display formats to choose from. It takes seconds to slip your finger into the device, power it on, and get a reading. The results are displayed in bright blue numbers with a pulse bar graph and plethysmograph (a wave representing your pulse). Plus, we think the fun polar bear design will be a hit with most kids.

Children have smaller fingers, so a pediatric-specific pulse oximeter is crucial to ensure it fits properly and provides accurate readings. If the pulse oximeter is too large, the light source and sensor may not align accurately, resulting in inaccurate readings. Excessive movement or wriggling during use can also affect the accuracy of readings.

Keep In Mind

This device is not suitable for infants or newborns. The company recommends it for children 2 years and older. As with several other models on this list, it doesn’t have the ability to track your reading over time. You may have to keep a log of your child's readings if you'd like to share it with a healthcare provider.

We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (5)

Pros

  • Real-time tracking

  • Fits fingers up to 3.2 inches in diameter

  • Free app for storing and sharing data

Cons

  • Bulky

  • Needs charge before first use

Key Specs

Display: LED | Power: Rechargeable, up to 16 hours | Connectivity: Connects to app via Bluetooth

Why We Recommend It

The Wellue Viatom O2Ring Wearable Oxygen Monitor differs slightly from standard devices. It fits on your finger like a ring and continuously monitors your oxygen saturation and heart rate for as long as you wear it (the rechargeable battery lasts up to 16 hours). You can wear it while sleeping, during exercise, or whenever you want to monitor your values in real-time. A wearable monitor like this can also benefit people with chronic conditions such as asthma or COPD.

We like that it fits finger sizes ranging from 2 to 3.2 inches in diameter. The accompanying app is user-friendly and offers detailed insights into your data, like your averages and body movements. You can set vibration reminders to take readings, easily share your data with healthcare providers, and download your results in PDF format. A vibration sensor notifies you if your levels drop too low or spike too high. It comes with a charging cable that plugs into a USB port.

Keep In Mind

This device is bulkier than fitness rings and may take some time to adjust to. You'll need to charge it before connecting to the app and using it for the first time.

  • We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (7)

  • We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (8)

Pros

  • Worn on base of finger

  • Real-time tracking sleep metric tracking

  • App provides personalized sleep score

Cons

  • Can only see results in app

  • More expensive than traditional pulse oximeters

Key Specs

Display: None | Power: Rechargeable, 2 nights | Connectivity: Connects to app via Bluetooth

Why We Recommend It

Unlike traditional pulse oximeters, the Go2sleep by SleepOn is worn on the base of your finger to continuously monitor your oxygen saturation and heart rate while you sleep. Overnight pulse oximetry may help monitor oxygen in people with sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea. The company recommends wearing the device on your ring finger for the most accurate readings. It's lightweight and relatively low-profile, so it shouldn’t disrupt your slumber.

We like that the app tracks oxygen levels, heart rate, apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), oxygen saturation, and sleep quality and quantity. It provides a personalized report each morning and offers tips on improving your sleep based on the data collected. The rechargeable battery lasts up to two nights (it takes two hours to charge fully). It comes with a sleek wireless charger, charging cable, three size options for the wearable sensor, and instructions.

Keep In Mind

The tracker takes continuous readings while you sleep, but you'll need to open the app in the morning to sync the data from the device. Because it has more advanced features and detailed tracking, it's more expensive than traditional options.

Compare

SetupFitEase of UseData DisplayOverall Value

We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (10)

Best for Most Users and Usecases:

Zacurate Pro Series 500DL

$23 at Amazon55555

We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (11)

Best for Kids:

Zacurate Digital Pediatric Finger Pulse Oximeter

$30 at Amazon55544.5

We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (12)

Best for Chronic Conditions:

Wellue Wearable Oxygen Monitor

$180 at Amazon

We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (13)

Best for Overnight Monitoring:

SLEEPON Go2Sleep Wearable Sleeping Monitor

See price at sleepon.us

How We Tested and Selected the Best Oximeters

We spent hours in the Verywell Testing Lab testing 14 pulse oximeters to find the most accurate, reliable, and user-friendly options. We picked our top pulse oximeters based on the following criteria:

  • Ease of Setup: We noted whether each option was ready for use out of the box or required additional steps, like downloading an app or installing batteries. If it needed smartphone pairing, we tested the process and noted any issues.
  • Fit: We assessed whether each device fit comfortably and securely or chafed or pinched the skin. We also noted whether the device felt durable or flimsy to gauge its longevity.
  • Ease of Use: We considered how easy it was to turn the device on and off, take measurements, and access any additional features. We also noted whether the device had any buttons or menus that could be confusing.
  • Data Readability: We paid close attention to the quality of the display and whether it was easy to read in different lighting conditions. Each device also displays heart rate and oxygen saturation in varying formats (digital or bar graph, for example), so we noted which options were easiest to interpret. Pulse oximeters with a companion app were also evaluated for the app's readability and data tracking and storing capabilities.
  • Overall Value: While value wasn't the main consideration in our selection, we did consider the cost of each device and its overall performance to determine whether it was worth the price.

How Pulse Oximeters Work

Pulse oximetry works by shining light through the skin and measuring how much of that light is absorbed by oxygenated versus deoxygenated blood. Oxygen-rich blood absorbs more infrared light, while red light is mostly absorbed by deoxygenated blood. By comparing these two readings, a pulse oximeter calculates the percentage of oxygen saturation in your blood—usually within 30 seconds.

Most pulse oximeters also measure heart rate by analyzing the pulsing pattern of blood flow. The device displays these readings on a small screen. Depending on your chosen device, it may also show a graph of your oxygen saturation or a visual representation of your heart rate, usually as a wave or bar. Pulse oximeters with companion apps connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth, offering long-tracking and additional health insights.

How to Use and Read a Pulse Oximeter

Using a pulse oximeter correctly is crucial for obtaining accurate readings. The middle or index finger is recommended for the best results. Ensure your hand is warm, relaxed, and held below heart level before placing the oximeter on your finger. Ensure your finger covers the light and sensor. After turning on the device, it will display your heart rate and oxygen saturation level.

To read a pulse oximeter, watch the display until the readings stabilize, typically within 30 seconds. A normal pulse oximeter reading usually ranges from 95% to 100% SpO2, indicating adequate oxygen levels in your blood. Meanwhile, the heart rate displayed corresponds to the number of beats per minute and should reflect your current physical state, whether at rest or during activity.

A reading below 92% may warrant further investigation, especially if symptoms such as difficulty breathing or chest pain are present, as this could indicate insufficient oxygenation, says Dr. Raj. Always consult healthcare professionals if you have questions about your readings. It may also be a good idea to take your device to your doctor's appointments and check it against the readings from their equipment for a more accurate comparison.

Our Experts

We spoke with breathing experts to gain insights into what makes a good pulse oximeter and how to use it correctly. Our experts include:

  • François Lellouche, MD, PhD, member of the American College of Chest Physicians and professor at the Department of Medicine at Laval University
  • Raj Dasgupta, MD, FACP, FCCP, FAASM, triple board-certified physician and chief medical advisor for Sleep Advisor
  • Rachel Medbery, MD, thoracic surgeon with Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons in Texas
  • Kathleen Dass, MD, physician at Michigan Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Center
  • Sanjeev Jain, MD, PhD, FACAAI, allergist and immunologist at Columbia Asthma & Allergy Clinic
  • Kunjana Mavunda, MD, pediatric pulmonologist at KIDZ Medical Services in Florida
  • Daniel Murphy, MD, assistant professor and medical director of the Section of Internal Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How accurate are at-home pulse oximeters?

    Rachel Medbery, MD, thoracic surgeon with Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons in Texas, says it depends on the type of oximeter you’re using and what you plan to use it for. She notes that over-the-counter pulse oximeters sold online or in pharmacies without a prescription from your doctor are not FDA-reviewed. They should not be used for professional medical purposes, though they’re safe for basic spot checks at home.

    The FDA rigorously tests and reviews prescription pulse oximeters. While these are typically used in doctor’s offices, Dr. Medbery says sometimes doctors prescribe them for at-home use in their patients. It's important to understand the limitations of at-home pulse oximeters, as movement, temperature, and nail polish can impact their accuracy.

Why Trust Verywell Health

Lindsay Modglin is a nurse and journalist with several years of clinical cardiac experience. As a health professional, she understands the importance of quality medical products and services. Her byline has been featured in global publications like Forbes, Healthline, Insider, Yahoo, and more. Her goal is to help readers make actionable and informed decisions about the products and services they use to improve their lives.

We Tested 14 Pulse Oximeters for Accurate Readings—These 4 Were Our Favorites (2024)
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