This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Which pulse oximeter is best?

Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, most people had likely never heard of a pulse oximeter. Now, this handy, potentially life-saving device has become increasingly popular. Not only do people use it to monitor their health, but athletes also rely on it to gauge how well their bodies process oxygen.

When shopping for a pulse oximeter, you want a model that is easy to use, reliable and accurate. One of the top-rated models is the Zacurate Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter. This highly accurate device is capable of giving you a quick reading that only has a margin of error of plus/minus 2 percent.

What to know before you buy a pulse oximeter

What is a pulse oximeter?

A pulse oximeter is a noninvasive device that is used to monitor an individual’s blood oxygen levels. It is important to have good blood oxygen levels because oxygen helps replace cells that wear out, supports the body’s immune system and gives you energy. Besides measuring blood oxygen levels, this device also monitors an individual’s pulse rate.

How does a pulse oximeter work?

A pulse oximeter painlessly clips onto a body part such as a toe, an earlobe or, most often, a finger. The unit contains a light source and a light detector. The pulse oximeter sends both red and infrared light through your finger and measures how much of the light from each is absorbed—deoxygenated blood absorbs more red light while oxygenated blood absorbs more infrared light. The sensor uses the ratio of red to infrared light to quickly and accurately determine your blood oxygen levels.

What are some signs of low blood oxygen levels?

While a pulse oximeter is an important tool, it should not override paying attention to common signs of low blood oxygen levels. These signs may include the following:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Bluish coloring in the lips, face or nails
  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Racing pulse
  • A persistent cough that gets worse

While these conditions may or may not always be present with low oxygen levels, if any are present, or if you get readings from your pulse oximeter that are not within the healthy range limits, it is vital you call your health care provider immediately.

What to look for in a quality pulse oximeter

Reliable performance

The most important aspect of a home pulse oximeter is reliable performance. If the model you are considering is plagued with reviews of inconsistent readings, it is best to consider a different option.

Ease of use

Ideally, the pulse oximeter that you purchase should be intuitive and easy to use—just clip it on, press a button and get a reading. 

Comfortable and secure fit

Not only should a pulse oximeter clip painlessly to your finger, it also must have a secure fit to obtain an accurate reading.

Out-of-range alarm

While not all models offer an alarm, receiving an audible alert when your blood oxygen drops below a safe level is a worthwhile feature.


Besides the pulse oximeter and instructions, it is possible to purchase a model that comes with useful extras, such as free batteries, a travel case and a lanyard.

How much you can expect to spend on a pulse oximeter

Most pulse oximeters made for home use are $12-$30. If you want a Bluetooth model with a tracking app, those devices run closer to $200.

Pulse oximeter FAQ

Are there any tips for getting a good reading on a pulse oximeter?

A. First, follow any and all of your health care provider’s instructions as to when and how often to check your blood oxygen levels. Make sure your hand is warm, relaxed and positioned below your heart for optimum results. Sit still until the pulse oximeter displays a steady number and write down that number so it is easy to track. Additionally, certain nail polishes can cause faulty readings. If you are not getting the numbers you expected, try removing your nail polish.

What is a normal pulse oximeter reading?

A. According to the Mayo Clinic, “normal pulse oximeter readings usually range from 95 to 100 percent.” Any reading below 90 percent would be considered low.

Is a pediatric pulse oximeter the same as an adult pulse oximeter?

A. While the devices both function in the same manner, a pediatric pulse oximeter differs from an adult model in that it is sized to accomodate a child. Using an adult pulse oximeter on a child will produce inaccurate readings. Infants require a model that wraps around the hand or foot in order to obtain reliable readings.

What’s the best pulse oximeter to buy?

Top pulse oximeter

Zacurate Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

Zacurate Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

What you need to know: This is a highly accurate and reliable pulse oximeter that is a great choice for home use.

What you’ll love: Zacurate’s model can determine blood oxygen levels with a plus/minus 2 percent margin of error. It also calculates pulse rate and is manufactured to be hypoallergenic. This model features an upgraded screen that now faces the user for ease of reading.

What you should consider: Some users have noted you need to be patient with this model and you might have to wait for up to a minute before receiving a reading.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top pulse oximeter for the money

ClinicalGuard CMS-50DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

ClinicalGuard CMS-50DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

What you need to know: This is an affordable, one-size-fits-all pulse oximeter that can be used for accurate spot-checking of your blood oxygen levels.

What you’ll love: This model is designed to provide an accurate reading in as little as eight seconds. It was manufactured with athletes and individuals with active lifestyles in mind. The unit comes with two AAA batteries so it can be used right out of the box, and purchase includes a 12-month warranty.

What you should consider: A few users felt the grip of the clip was rather weak.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Santamedical Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

Santamedical Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

What you need to know: If you are looking for a device that is easy to operate, the one-button design on this pulse oximeter will satisfy your needs.

What you’ll love: This model has a self-adjusting finger clamp coupled with a one-button design that makes it easy to obtain precise readings. The unit can operate for up to 30 continuous hours on one set of batteries and it features a bright LED display. Purchase includes a neck strap and a nylon case.

What you should consider: Some users have noted it can take up to two or three minutes for the readings to stabilize on this unit.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Want to shop the best products at the best prices? Check out Daily Deals from BestReviews.

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.