How to clean and disinfect your thermometer - and how often you should do it

Geetha Srimathi,Jason R. McKnight
·4 min read
thermometer
You should disinfect thermometers to make sure others using them don't get sick. Chanintom Vanichsawangphan/EyeEm/Getty Images
  • It's important to clean a thermometer before and after using it to prevent the spread of germs.

  • To disinfect a digital thermometer, you can use an alcohol-based wipe with at least 70% concentration, or rubbing alcohol.

  • You can also clean glass thermometers or rectal thermometers with soap and water.

  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

A thermometer should be cleaned before and after every use. The World Health Organization suggests that thermometers, among other medical instruments, must be disinfected after every use with a patient.

"Cleaning thermometers helps prevent spread of germs or infection," says Deepti Mundkur, MD, an internal medicine physician in San Diego, California.

If you're using a thermometer, chances are you're checking for a fever, which is a common symptom of many contagious illnesses like the flu. Cleaning the thermometer - which is exposed to germs - can help ensure that others don't get sick.

Studies also indicate that disinfecting patient care devices, including thermometers, could decrease the spread of pathogens responsible for illnesses such as diarrhea and urinary tract infection.

Here's how to disinfect your thermometer in a few different ways:

How to clean a digital thermometer

Digital thermometers are the most commonly used type of thermometers since they provide near-accurate results and are easy to use. They are used by healthcare professionals in hospitals as well as by common people in homes.

Here's how you clean a digital thermometer.

  1. Wash the tip of the thermometer with cold water.

  2. Wipe down the thermometer with alcohol-based wipes (at least 70% alcohol) or rubbing alcohol.

  3. Rinse the thermometer to remove the alcohol.

  4. Lastly, wipe it dry with a soft cloth.

  5. Repeat the entire process once again after use.

Instead of rubbing alcohol, thermometers can also be cleaned with antibacterial liquid soap, says Mundkur. Avoid washing the screen on the digital thermometer to prevent water damage to the digital thermometer device, she cautions.

The CDC also suggests glutaraldehyde and iodine solution as two materials to clean a thermometer. However, rubbing alcohol and soapy water are the most commonly available ones and get the job done effectively.

How to disinfect a rectal thermometer

Taking temperature with a rectal thermometer is more suitable for infants and small children since it would be difficult for them to hold a thermometer in their mouth.

Mundkur says that it is important to disinfect rectal thermometers to prevent the spread of infection or germs since the rectum has many bacteria. Also, it is best to keep separate thermometers for oral and rectal use.

Mundkur recommends the steps below to clean a rectal thermometer.

Before use:

  1. Dip a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol.

  2. Squeeze out the excess alcohol and completely wipe the tip of the thermometer.

  3. Wait for a few seconds to let the alcohol evaporate before taking the child's temperature.

After use:

  1. Clean the tip with antibacterial liquid soap and water to remove any stool or fecal remnants.

  2. Wipe the thermometer with alcohol.

  3. Place the thermometer on a clean paper towel to dry by air before storing it.

How to clean a glass thermometer

Glass thermometers are no longer widely used or recommended. This is because the liquid mercury inside glass thermometers could pose serious consequences if it is accidentally inhaled or touched when the thermometer breaks.

"They are not very common these days since we have access to many easy-to-use, affordable digital thermometers," says Mundkur.

However, if you are still using a glass thermometer, it's just as important to clean it. Here's how you clean a glass thermometer.

  1. Wash the thermometer in a bowl of cool, soapy water (liquid soap can be used).

  2. Rinse thoroughly under clean running water.

  3. Use the thermometer immediately and then repeat the process after using the thermometer as well.

  4. Let the thermometer dry by air, on a clean paper towel before putting it away.

Alternatively, you can also use the rubbing alcohol method, suggests Mundkur.

  1. Dip a cotton ball or pad in alcohol (70% or 90% alcohol).

  2. Rub the cotton on the entire thermometer gently.

  3. Rinse thoroughly under running water.

  4. Use the thermometer immediately, and then repeat the process, but do not rinse off the alcohol from the thermometer this time.

  5. Let the thermometer dry by air, on a clean paper towel before putting it away.

Insider's takeaway

It is important to disinfect a thermometer before and after using it. A fully clean thermometer helps prevent the possible spread of bacteria or virus that a sick person might be infected with.

The best method to clean thermometers is to first wash them with liquid soap and water since alcohol wipes will not wash away all the debris. Additionally, a wipe-down with 70% isopropyl alcohol can provide even more antibacterial protection, says Mundkur.

Related articles from Health Reference:

Read the original article on Insider