The 6 Best Pulse Oximeters of 2021

Track your blood oxygen levels right at home

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Pulse Oximeter

Verywell / Sabrina Jiang

First Look

Best Overall: Contec CMS50DL at Amazon

"In addition to being accurate, this device is simple to operate—you just have to turn it on, slip it on, and wait for a reading."

Best Budget: Zacurate Pro Series 500DL at Amazon

"It reads both blood oxygen saturation levels and heart rate and delivers both in an incredibly simple, read-at-a-glance visual display."

Best Ring: Wellue O2Ring at getwellue.com

"If you have sleep apnea or COPD where your doctor might want you monitoring your oxygen levels overnight, the ring will stay on your finger better than a clip-on."

Best for Kids: Zacurate Children Fingertip Pulse Oximeter at eBay

"This pediatric version is made to fit the fingers of kids between 2 and 10 and is quite accurate in its readings."

Best Display: Insignia Pulse Oximeter at Best Buy

"Great for anyone who is vision impaired and needs a clear display to read."

Best with App: iHealth Air Wireless Fingertip Pulse Oximeter at Amazon

"The app gives guidance on how to read your results and tells you directly if your oxygen levels are in a normal range. "

Pulse oximeters have traditionally been used by nurses and clinicians, or for home monitoring with conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis. The device is a painless, reliable way to check someone's oxygen saturation—or the amount of oxygen that's currently being pumped through your blood.

While you should always consult your physician first if you’re concerned about your blood oxygen levels, a pulse oximeter can regularly spot check your levels on a daily basis. Your symptoms may be mild, but a sudden drop in your blood oxygen saturation can be be an early warning bell to go see your doctor ASAP. 

“It’s normal for your oxygen to fluctuate between 95 and 100 percent if you are otherwise healthy” Kathleen Dass, M.D., an allergist and immunologist privately practicing in Michigan, tells Verywell Health. “There aren’t any known risks to using a pulse oximeter unless [you don’t know] how to interpret the numbers you have.”

Here are the best pulse oximeters on the market today.

Due to increased demand for online shopping, items in this article may be out of stock. Updates to this article will be made frequently with only products we recommend.

1
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Best Overall: Contec CMS50DL

Pulse oximeter
Pros
  • FDA-approved for accuracy and reliability

  • Good for adults and children

  • Batteries included

Cons
  • Somewhat short battery life

When researchers at the University of California at San Francisco tested six low-cost finger pulse oximeters, the Contec CMS50DL was one of two that read oxygen saturation precisely enough to meet the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) criteria for accuracy. Plus, it's an FDA-approved medical device, so the standard of quality is there.

In addition to being accurate, this device is simple to operate—you just have to turn it on, slip it on, and wait for a reading. It measures your oxygen saturation through a finger sensor and displays both your blood oxygen saturation level as well as your average heart rate. 

The batteries are intended to last up to 24 hours, and the device shuts off automatically after five seconds to help battery life last longer.

Best yet, it’s one of the most affordable devices on the market. And with the cheaper price tag, you’re not giving up accuracy—just added features. If all you need is a quick oxygen saturation check, this device gets the job done better than most.

Type: Fingertip pulse | Battery Life: 20-30 hours | Smartphone-Compatible: No

2
of 6

Best Budget: Zacurate Pro Series 500DL

Zacurate Pro series 500DL fingertip pulse oximeter
Courtesy of Amazon.
Pros
  • Visual display is good for self-reading

  • Hypoallergenic silicone finger chamber

  • Longer battery life

Cons
  • Slower read results

  • Best for ages 12 and up

The Zacurate Pro 500DL has everything you need in a pulse oximeter: accuracy and reliability. 

It reads both blood oxygen saturation levels and heart rate and delivers both in an incredibly simple, read-at-a-glance visual display. Both the numbers face the user, which is great if you’re looking for a device you’ll take readings off of yourself, but can be annoying if a caregiver is the primary user.

The read-out isn’t the fastest—the device promises to deliver your numbers within 10 seconds. But the readings are accurate, within 2 percent of your blood oxygen saturation levels, which is standard for most high-quality devices. And the 500DL takes an equally accurate reading regardless of whether you're in natural lighting, indoors, or in a dark room (something their previous models struggled with). 

The device itself is made with a medical-grade silicone finger chamber, so it's hypoallergenic (particularly nice if you are sensitive to latex), that will fit most fingers over 12 years old. One set of batteries will last you 40 hours with this model, and it turns off automatically 16 seconds after you remove it from your finger.

Type: Fingertip pulse | Battery Life: 40 hours | Smartphone-Compatible: No

3
of 6

Best Ring: Wellue O2Ring

Wellue O2Ring Continuous Ring Oxygen Monitor

Courtesy of Wellue

Pros
  • Can be used while sleeping

  • Alert system for low heart rate and oxygen levels

  • Bluetooth compatible

Cons
  • Expensive

Because this device looks so different than the typical pulse oximeter, it’s easy to write it off. But a landmark study in Clinical and Experimental Hypertension confirmed a ring-shaped pulse oximeter delivered just as accurate of an oxygen saturation reading as a standard pulse oximeter.

The Wellue O2Ring is one of the best ring options you can buy. The real draw is using it to sleep: If you have sleep apnea or COPD where your doctor might want you monitoring your oxygen levels overnight, the ring will stay on your finger better than a clip-on. (Docs note the ring should be used in conjunction with a CPAP machine, not in lieu of.)

It looks super high-tech and sleek, especially compared to other pulse oximeter rings. But moreover, it has a vibrating alert system, which is less alarming than a loud beep if your oxygen levels or heart rate drop too low in the middle of the night, but still jarring enough to wake you.

What’s more, the ring is bluetooth-compatible, connecting with a super clean app interface where you can customize which levels cause an alarm. The bluetooth also allows you to upload reports and share them with your doctor.

It certainly comes with a higher price tag than most pulse oximeters, but the technology is reliable and accurate and the device itself durable to last you longer than cheaper, finicky devices. It also comes with a 12-month warranty, which is nice to cushion the higher price tag.

Type: Ring | Battery Life: 12-16 hours | Uses App: Yes

4
of 6

Best for Kids: Zacurate Children Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

Zacurate Digital Pediatric Finger Pulse Oximeter

Courtesy of Zacurate

Pros
  • Good for kids as young as two years old

  • Fun polar bear design

  • Easy-read display rotates for best angle

Cons
  • Not good for babies

Most regular pulse oximeters will have a difficult time getting a read off the small, thin fingers of children. But this pediatric version is made to fit the fingers of kids between two and 10 and is quite accurate in its readings. And the face rocks a cute polar bear design, making medical readings a little less scary for your kiddo.

We love that the display is not only clear and bright for easy use, but also lets you rotate the direction of the numbers so it's readable from in front of your child or next to them. The Zacurate also reads heart rates, displayed via a plethysmograph waveform—essentially the most bare-minimum visualization of a heartbeat, so it's easy to read and interpret at a glance.

It can run up to 30 hours on one set of batteries (and there's a battery life on the display).

Type: Finger | Battery Life: 30 hours | Smartphone-Compatible: No

5
of 6

Best Display: Insignia Pulse Oximeter

Insignia
Pros
  • Display has ten brightness levels

  • Shows results in four different ways

  • Includes batteries and lanyard

Cons
  • More expensive

An easy-to-read display is an important consideration when looking for an at-home pulse oximeter. Insignia's large, colorful display can adjust to 10 different levels of brightness and can show results in four different styles.

This easy-to-use device comes with a lanyard and a set of AAA batteries, so you don't need to purchase any additional accessories. The device is great for anyone who is vision impaired and needs a clear display to read.

Type: Finger | Battery Life: N/A | Smartphone-Compatible: No

6
of 6

Best with App: iHealth Air Wireless Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

iHealth
Pros
  • Bluetooth-compatible for iHealth Myvitals app

  • Bright, easy-to-read display

  • Store and track read-out results

Cons
  • Expensive

Smart devices allow you to connect all of your health data in one place, and this pulse oximeter from iHealth is no exception. A finger clamp connects to your smart phone's app via Bluetooth, where you can store and track your results. The app gives guidance on how to read your results and tells you directly if your oxygen levels are in a normal range.

Not only can you view your results on the app, but this FDA-approved oximeter has a bright display right on the device that's large and easy to read. If you're trying to track your oxygen levels regularly, this should be your first pick.

Type: Fingertip pulse | Battery Life: N/A | Smartphone-Compatible: Yes

Final Verdict

If you need a basic pulse oximeter just to spot-check blood oxygen saturation levels for any kind of medical condition (or pandemic peace of mind), the Contec CMS50DL (view at Amazon) is the most reliable device with a wallet-friendly price tag that doesn't compromise accuracy. If you're looking for a device to monitor health concerns more than just one-off, it’s worth it to fork up for the Wellue 02Ring (view at Wellue). It’s packed with more advanced technology, accurate sensors, and designed to stay on your finger as you move during sleep.

What to Look for in a Pulse Oximeter

FDA Classification

If you’re relying on a device to help you understand your oxygen saturation, it’s important to be sure that device has been subjected to a high level of regulation and scrutiny for its effectiveness. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains three levels of classifications for medical devices based on the risk to the user and their intended purpose; Class I devices are the simplest, while Class III devices are the most high risk (think pacemakers and cosmetic implants).

Pulse oximeters are Class II medical devices, which puts them at moderate “risk” to the user, though in this case, the risk exists mainly because oximeters are a diagnostic tool. Other Class II medical devices include powered wheelchairscatheterspregnancy tests, and contact lenses.

Any pulse oximeter you buy should be cleared by the FDA for use as a Class II medical device so you know it’s as safe and reliable to use as possible. This information should be stated somewhere on the device’s packaging. Always consult your doctor before using a new medical device.

Accuracy

In order to correctly detect your oxygen saturation, any oximeter you buy should fit securely on your finger, says Sanjeev Jain, M.D., PhD, allergist and immunologist practicing at Columbia Allergy.

“Most pulse oximeters on the market are larger in size and meant for use on adult fingers [but] if the pulse oximeter is too loose while placed on a finger, it may be unable to obtain an accurate reading,” he explains. “If you are planning to use a pulse oximeter on a child or a person with frail hands, it would be best to purchase a smaller pediatric device.”

It should be noted that there is a huge variation in the accuracy of commercially-available pulse oximeters. A 2018 study in the European Respiratory Journal reports that overall, commercially-available pulse oximeters give an accurate reading of oxygen saturation—but how accurate varies among devices.

To find the most accurate at-home pulse oximeters, look for those that are FDA approved, though that doesn’t necessarily guarantee their precision. Kathleen Dass, M.D., an allergist and immunologist privately practicing in Michigan, recommends testing out your personal oximeter at your doctor’s office so you can compare its readings to the ones taken by your doctor’s device.

Type

Continuous Reading Oximeters:

If you’ve ever been hospitalized for respiratory distress (or, in many cases, for anything from birthing a baby to undergoing surgery), you may have been hooked up to a medical grade oximeter that provided an ongoing picture of your oxygen saturation. 

“Doctors' offices and hospitals use sophisticated devices that provide continuous reading,” says Dr. Mavunda. “These devices are the size of a hardcover book and have rechargeable batteries that can last several hours.”

Personal Use Oximeters:

Though some doctors hesitate to recommend that their patients use a personal oximeter, others believe it can be a useful tool as long as their patients know how to use it correctly. Dr. Mavunda says these oximeters are usually small, portable clips that fit on your finger; with most of these coming in under $25, personal use oximeters are affordable, reliable and readily available for purchase. 

Infant Monitoring Oximeters:

A “smart sock” that fits over an infant’s foot, these oximeters are baby monitoring devices that tell watchful parents exactly how well their baby’s heart and lungs are performing. Typically, these devices are connected to an app on a parent’s smartphone or tablet, which gives them a continuous reading as well as alerts if their baby’s vital signs drop below preset levels. They’re often quite expensive though, Dr. Mavunda notes.

Usage

With most respiratory issues—from COVID-19 to asthma—you're going to feel a disruption in your breathing before a pulse oximeter spot check alerts you to any problems, points out Daniel Murphy, M.D., assistant professor and medical director of the Section of Internal Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. These devices are most helpful if you have more mild symptoms and then a sudden, significant drop in blood oxygen saturation. But make sure you're paying attention to any warning signs from your body first and foremost, even if your pulse oximeter doesn't set off any alarm bells.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does a pulse oximeter work?

    Your pulse plays a starring role in obtaining the oxygenation reading, explains Kunjana Mavunda, M.D., a pulmonologist with Kidz Medical Services in Florida. She uses the example of a pulse oximeter attached to your finger to describe the process: “When the heart contracts, blood is pumped out to the finger [and] when the heart is resting, blood travels from the finger to the heart; the difference in this velocity is used to measure the oxygen saturation in the blood.”

  • What is a good pulse oximeter reading?

    Before you run out and buy a pulse oximeter, you should consult with your doctor. However, there is a standard range of normal when it comes to saturation readings, your specific range may vary based on your medical condition.

    “A pulse oximeter reading of an oxygen saturation more than 90 percent is good for most people,” says Dr. Dass. “However, [a 2015] study showed that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with an oxygen saturation less than 95 percent have a higher risk of exacerbation [of symptoms].”

    In other words, a pulse oximeter reading isn’t one size fits all: most healthy people hover between 95 and 100 percent—and most doctors will want to hear from you if your saturation falls below 92 percent, warns Dr. Dass—but ideally you would use an oximeter at home with oversight from your physician. 

  • Which finger should a pulse oximeter be used on?

    The finger you place your pulse oximeter on can affect the quality of your reading.

    “We typically place a pulse oximeter on the right middle finger to get the most accurate information about a patient’s blood oxygen content, tissue perfusion, and heart beat rate,” says Rachel Medbery, M.D., thoracic surgeon with Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons.

    If you can’t use your right middle finger, the next best option is your right thumb, which has also been shown to provide better results than other digits.

  • How accurate are home pulse oximeters?

    It depends on what type of oximeter you’re using and what you’re planning to use it for, says Dr. Medbery. 

    “Over-the-counter pulse oximeters either sold online or in pharmacies, without a prescription from your doctor, [are] not FDA reviewed and should not be used for professional medical purposes,” she says, though she adds that they’re safe for basic spot-checks at home. 

    Prescription pulse oximeters go through rigorous testing and review by the FDA; while these are typically used in doctor’s offices, Dr. Medbery says sometimes doctors will prescribe them for at-home use in their patients.

    Either way, though, it’s important to understand the limitations of these devices. Dr. Medbery says movement, temperature, and nail polish can impact the accuracy.

  • How do you read a pulse oximeter?

    According to Dr. Medbery, a normal level of oxygen saturation (SpO2) in your blood is usually 95 percent or more, though “some people with chronic lung disease or sleep apnea can have normal levels around 90 percent.”

    Your oximeter should have a clear place where the SpO2 reading is displayed, which will show you the percentage of oxygen in your blood. Unless your provider has told you otherwise, an SpO2 reading of lower than 95 percent warrants communication with your provider ASAP. 

    Keep in mind that your SpO2 reading is just one measurement of your oxygen saturation, and how you feel (or, more accurately, how easily you can breathe) is important, too. If your oximeter shows a low oxygen saturation, you should contact your provider right away—but OTC or prescription, these devices shouldn’t be used as the only barometer for getting help.

    “If your pulse oximeter...gives a normal reading but you do not feel well, you should seek medical attention,” advises Dr. Medbery.

What the Experts Say

“Most pulse oximeters on the market are larger in size and meant for use on adult fingers [but] if the pulse oximeter is too loose while placed on a finger, it may be unable to obtain an accurate reading. If you are planning to use a pulse oximeter on a child or a person with frail hands, it would be best to purchase a smaller pediatric device.”—Sanjeev Jain, M.D., PhD, allergist and immunologist practicing at Columbia Allergy

Why Trust Verywell Health?

Rachael Schultz is a freelance writer with a focus in health and nutrition. Her articles have appeared on a handful of other Health sites, and she has a degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She specializes in breaking down science and medical jargon into digestible information.

Additional reporting to this story by Sarah Bradley

Sarah Bradley has been writing health content since 2017—everything from product roundups and illness FAQs to nutrition explainers and the dish on diet trends. She knows how important it is to receive trustworthy and expert-approved advice about over-the-counter products that manage everyday health conditions, from GI issues and allergies to chronic headaches and joint pain.

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