Written By
Published Oct. 9, 2021

The ability to monitor your health from home provides peace of mind and can sound an alarm when it’s time to give the doctor a call. Pulse oximeters measure blood oxygen saturation levels, also called saturation of peripheral oxygen (SpO2). For adults, 95 to 100 percent is a safe range. Illness or injury can cause oxygen levels to drop, leading to dizziness, muscle fatigue, intense headaches, or nausea. (Of course, those symptoms can also occur with other illnesses or injuries that don’t affect oxygen levels.) The best pulse oximeters let you check your levels to monitor your health or get to the bottom of your symptoms.  

For home use, pulse oximeters can be separated into two broad categories—personal use and infant/baby (children). There’s some variation in design within those two categories. For example, most designs fit over the tip of the middle finger, but some are a ring that fits on the finger like a piece of jewelry. Some infant pulse oximeters have a band and sock that fit around the leg and foot. Smart pulse oximeters have become more popular and readily available, connecting to an app and offering advice, charts, and graphs to help you analyze data. We can help you decide which type is right for you. 

Accuracy is the most important factor with pulse oximeters. Factors like a thick layer of nail polish, cold hands, or a poor fit can cause a reading that’s abnormally low, making the choice in model an important one. We sifted through the pulse oximeters on the market to find the most reliable and accurate. Our list includes pulse oximeters of different designs for children and some with smart features. The list wouldn’t be complete without a value pick to save a few dollars and the best overall that balances accuracy, features, and price.

How We Picked the Best Pulse Oximeters

Methodology

We started with accuracy. Pulse oximeters use light to measure blood oxygen levels, which means they need a good fit to get an accurate reading. The accuracy of PI (perfusion index, which indicates the pulse strength) was also important, since these readings can indicate whether or not you’ve got a good fit. Any extra readings like heart rate and pleth (a graphic representation of the PI) were bonuses and helped to land some of the pulse oximeters on the list. We looked for connectivity, memory capacity, and ease of reading the display. Those that performed well made

The Best Pulse Oximeters: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Innovo Deluxe iP900AP Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

Impressive Readings and Display

The Innovo Deluxe’s multi-directional display and added PI and pleth (a graphic representation of the PI) readings provide accuracy and reassurance.
Innovo

Check Price

Specs:

  • Display: Multi-directional
  • Readings: SpO2, pleth, PI
  • Alarm: Yes—auditory

Pros:

  • Bright, multi-directional display
  • Displays pleth and PI
  • PI lets you know if the pulse oximeter is incorrectly placed

Cons: 

  • Some people have a hard time getting a good fit

The Innovo Deluxe iP900AP Fingertip Pulse Oximeter offers a wide range of readings with consistently accurate results. It monitors blood oxygen, SpO2 (blood oxygen level), pulse rate, and PI. In this design, the PI acts as an indicator of pulse strength and can help you know if the pulse oximeter is placed correctly. 

This model also features a multi-directional display that rotates as you move so that you can read it at various angles. The Innovo comes equipped with an alarm that can be set to go off when the SpO2 and/or pulse rate are below or beyond set limits. On the downside, some people have a hard time getting a good fit.

Best Smart Pulse Oximeter: Wellue Pulse Oximeter Fingertip Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor

Shareable Information

This Wellue offers on-finger readings and can store up to 10 hours of data at a time with exportable reports. Wellue

Check Price

Why It Made The Cut: This fingertip pulse oximeter is compatible with Bluetooth and allows you to record and track your readings over time. 

Specs:

  • Display: Single direction/on phone through app
  • Readings: SpO2, PI
  • Alarm: No

Pros:

  • Reads and displays PI
  • Pulse oximeter saves 10 hours worth of readings for overnight monitoring
  • Unlimited storage of historical data through app
  • Works with or without the app

Cons: 

  • May not stay on for long-term readings

The Wellue Pulse Oximeter Fingertip Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor includes accurate oxygen saturation readings as well as SpO2 and PI. Together, you get a good picture of what’s happening with your heart rate and oxygen. 

The Wellue connects to the app via Bluetooth, though the oximeter can be used with or without the app. When the app is open, the monitor can save readings for up to 10 hours. However, there’s unlimited access to averages and historical data through the app, which you can use to create exportable reports. One drawback: Some users have a hard time getting the Wellue to stay on for long-term use. 

Best for Kids: Zacurate Children Digital Fingertip Pulse Oximeter Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor

Big Accuracy, Small Size

A cute, animal-themed device that’s sized for kids gets readings from wiggly patients. Zacurate

Check Price

Why It Made The Cut: The Zacurate includes a pleth waveform, SpO2, and pulse rate in a package meant for children age two and up, making it our best pick for kids.

Specs:

  • Display: Multi-directional display
  • Readings: SpO2, pleth
  • Alarm: No

Pros:

  • Easy-to-read, multi-directional display
  • Takes quick readings
  • Fits those two years old and up

Cons:  

  • May take inaccurate readings as the battery runs out

The Zacurate Children Digital Fingertip Pulse Oximeter Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor puts everything you need to get accurate blood oxygen levels in a small package. It’s designed for children ages two and up and includes a fun, kid-friendly, polar bear design. This monitor includes a pleth waveform to give you a visual on blood flow. 

A multi-directional display makes it easier to read from different angles, which helps with wiggly kids. It includes a carrying case and lanyard, so it’s less likely to get damaged or lost. This model is designed for sports and aviation use and is not considered a medical device by the FDA.

Best Ring: Wellue WearO2 Wearable Health Monitor Pulse Meter

Comfortable Accuracy

The Wellue Wear02 Wearable Health Monitor stays in place while you sleep or work, takes accurate readings, and includes unlimited in-app information storage. Wellue

Check Price

Why It Made The Cut: This ring pulse oximeter takes accurate readings and stays in place while you sleep, standing out as the best ring pulse oximeter.

Specs:

  • Display: Single direction
  • Readings: SpO2 
  • Alarm: Yes—ring vibration

Pros:

  • Unlimited data storage through app
  • Comfortable enough for nighttime wear
  • Integrates with Apple Health

Cons: 

  • Doesn’t take accurate readings if there’s a lot of movement

The Wellue WearO2 Wearable Health Monitor slides over the finger like a ring, where it can take SpO2 readings while you sit or sleep. It’s a comfortable way to take longer-term readings, like overnight. The battery can last up to 16 hours, the maximum time it can be worn. 

The Wellue connects to an app, where you get unlimited data storage. The app also syncs with Apple Health if you want to integrate all of your health information. If SpO2 levels drop too low, the app sends a notification and the ring vibrates to alert you of the change. The downside with this one is that too much movement, like walking around, can cause inaccurate or lost readings. 

Best Value: Zacurate 500BL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor

Simple Display

This Zacurate pulse oximeter offers basic, accurate readings on a simple display. Zacurate

Check Price

Why It Made The Cut: The Zacurate is simple, but it’s accurate, and that’s really all you need from a good value pulse oximeter.

Specs:

  • Display: Single direction
  • Readings: SpO2
  • Alarm: No

Pros:

  • Gets readings in a little as 10 seconds
  • Fits fingers for people age 12 and up
  • Comes with lanyard

Cons: 

  • Feels flimsy

The Zacurate 500BL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor provides the very basics you need to monitor your blood oxygen, namely the SpO2 percentage and pulse rate. There’s no pleth waveform, app, or exportable graphs. But this model is simple to use and offers accurate readings when properly placed. A SMART spring system in the finger chamber helps get a good fit on those ages 12 and up. The only thing that might make you think twice is that it feels a bit flimsy.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Pulse Oximeter

What the Device Measures

At their most basic, pulse oximeters detect the amount of oxygen carried by red blood cells. However, they can offer much more information than that, which can help you make informed decisions about your health. Two of the most helpful readings include a plethysmograph and perfusion index. 

A plethysmograph (pleth) displays a SpO2 waveform with the wavelength and amplitude. Consistency in length and height (amplitude) can indicate that everything is functioning normally. If the waves are inconsistent, it could contribute to poor oxygen levels. Consistency can also indicate that the pulse oximeter is getting an accurate reading. The perfusion index (PI) provides information on the strength of the pulse. A PI value of less than 0.2 percent lets you know that your hands are too cold or that the pulse oximeter is not getting a strong enough reading.

Why You Need a Home Pulse Oximeter

Pulse oximeters read the saturation of peripheral oxygen (SpO2) in the blood, which should be between 95 to 100 percent. The U.S. Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) can clear pulse oximeters as a medical device, giving them a class II rating. Models with a class II rating can be used as a medical device but are typically obtained by prescription only. Some models are FDA cleared as 501(k) exempt, which means the manufacturer does not need to provide further assurance of safety and effectiveness for the use of the device.

However, the vast majority of over-the-counter (OTC) pulse oximeters are not FDA cleared, nor are they considered medical devices. The manufacturers clearly state that the products are designed for sports and aviation. However, just because the pulse oximeter doesn’t have FDA clearance and isn’t designated a medical device doesn’t mean it isn’t reliable. But it does mean you should talk to a doctor about further monitoring if you have concerns about your SpO2 levels.

Extra Readings

At their most basic, pulse oximeters detect the amount of oxygen carried by red blood cells. However, they can offer much more information than that, which can help you make informed decisions about your health. Two of the most helpful readings include a plethysmograph and perfusion index. 

A plethysmograph (pleth) displays a SpO2 waveform with the wavelength and amplitude. Consistency in length and height (amplitude) can indicate that everything is functioning normally. If the waves are inconsistent, it could contribute to poor oxygen levels. Consistency can also indicate that the pulse oximeter is getting an accurate reading. The perfusion index (PI) provides information on the strength of the pulse. A PI value of less than 0.2 percent lets you know that your hands are too cold or that the pulse oximeter is not getting a strong enough reading.

FAQs

Which pulse oximeters are FDA approved?

FDA-cleared pulse oximeters generally require a prescription. To receive clearance, these models have undergone rigorous testing through desaturation studies conducted on healthy test patients. Over-the-counter (OTC) pulse oximeters aren’t meant for medical use. Instead, they’re marketed as sports or aviation devices. Pulse oximeters, even those cleared through the FDA, have a percentage of error. Certain factors like skin temperature, thickness, pigmentation, and even fingernail polish can affect readings. When using an OTC pulse oximeter, it’s best to average your readings over time to get a clearer picture of where your blood oxygen levels stand.

How do I choose a good pulse oximeter?

A good pulse oximeter will provide the information you want and need in an easy-to-use design that fits well. Models with pleth waveform information give you more than the usual SpO2 and heart rate information. Smart models make it easier to track and export your information. Consider what you need to monitor and what you want to do with that information. While OTC pulse oximeters are not considered medical devices, you can pass along information to your doctor, who may recommend coming in and getting a more accurate assessment.

What are the two readings on a pulse oximeter?

Pulse oximeters, even basic models, show SpO2 as a percentage plus the heart rate. A consistent heart rate helps determine if you’re getting a strong, accurate reading. The SpO2 indicates how much oxygen is being carried by the red blood cells.

Final Thoughts

The best pulse oximeters get a good fit on the finger or thumb and provide consistent, accurate readings. All pulse oximeters have a range of error, so it’s best to average the SpO2 levels over time to get a more accurate picture of your health. These devices can help you get a better idea of your health and make more informed decisions. The Innovo Deluxe iP900AP Fingertip Pulse Oximeter offers the most complete pulse oximeter package with an easy-to-read, multi-directional display and pleth and PI readings. However, if you want something fast and basic, the Zacurate 500BL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor can take the readings in ten short seconds.

MORE TO READ