Determining the temperature of something hot, specifically items with dangerous temperatures, is a dangerous task. There are items out there to help you along the way, but the latest tool to reach markets is the laser thermometer. There's a bit more to it than the simplicity of its name suggests, so we're here to fill you in on all the info.

What Is A Laser Thermometer?

a person holding an infrared thermometer

Laser thermometers (which are technically called infrared thermometers) are tools that let you safely measure temperatures from a distance. They work particularly well when you're dealing with dangerous temperatures, which would be found on grills or working with larger machinery.

The science and technology behind this contraption is quite complicated, but we'll do our best to break it down. Essentially, objects give off heat and the thermometer calculates the difference between the infrared rays coming off said object and its surrounding environment to determine the surface temperature. Despite what its title says, the laser isn't the piece that tells you how hot something is. The laser is merely for accuracy.

Why Do People Use Laser Thermometers?

Well, as we've said, there are some objects in the home or on the job that we really don't want to come in contact with. For example, if you've ever cooked something on the stove or waited for grills to preheat, you've wondered what the temperature of each item was. An infrared thermometer answers that question while keeping you at a safe distance.

a laser thermometer in action

Common uses for an infrared thermometer include checking for hot spots in electrical panels, checking grill temperature, and identifying hot spots in there home to determine the efficiency of insulation. Firefighters can also use them on the job in certain situations.

They're also great for a number of other tasks including:

  • Accuracy. As opposed to ballparking temperature in the kitchen or on the job, this tool gives you everything you need to know about what you're dealing with.
  • Durability. Obviously, when you need to rely on a thermometer for an important job you want to ensure it'll be safe against the elements or hanging around in your toolbox. Most models will be able to withstand a few bumps and scrapes here and there.
  • Safety. This is arguably the most important thing your infrared thermometer can offer. Not only will it keep you a safe distance away from hot objects but it offers you temperature readings from hard to reach places.

Infrared thermometers can be purchased from department stores like Walmart and electronics stores like Best Buy. They can also be found online or in hardware stores like Home Depot. Prices range from $30.00 - $250.00 depending on the model.

How Do I Use A Laser Thermometer?

someone pointing a laser thermometer at the wall

Working an infrared thermometer is really easy. All you need to do is approach the item you want to measure, point the thermometer at it, and pull the trigger to view the temperature reading. The laser will point you in the right direction and you should stand as close as safely possible to the object for a more accurate reading.

An important thing to be aware of when using a laser thermometer is the distance-to-spot ratio. What this ratio conveys is how close you can stand to a hot item while still getting an accurate reading. You'll be able to see the ratio on your particular model. Grainger explains with their breakdown of the formula:

"If the target you are measuring is six inches in size, and your handheld infrared thermometer has a D/S ratio of eight to one, then the maximum distance at which you can reliably measure the temperature of the target is 48 inches (8:1 x 6 = 48)."

Something else to keep an eye out for is the emissivity of a certain object. Plainly put, emissivity is how much thermal energy a surface emits. Laser thermometers will have trouble reading the temperature of materials with high emissivity, like steel or aluminum due to the reflection.

Should I Be Concerned When Using Them?

a person using a laser thermometer

You should be careful to protect yourself when handling any tool in a potentially dangerous situation. Just because the infrared thermometer can take a weight off your shoulders, that doesn't mean you can use it willy-nilly. It also doesn't mean that it's a perfect product. There are a few risks and concerns involved:

  • Accuracy. While your thermometer can give you a good reading, the thermometer may also be affected by the elements. If an item has frost, smoke, or moisture on it then the surface temperature reading may be a few degrees off.
  • Versatility. We mentioned that you can use this tool to measure the heat of your ovens or cookware, but you can't use it on food. These thermometers don't tell you the internal temperature, only surface, so substituting meat thermometers for these ones is a bad idea.
  • Obstacles. You may have thought these thermometers can tell you the internal temperature of your ovens, but it's more complicated. Infrared thermometers can't read through glass, so if you don't open your oven door to get the temperature then you're not going to get an accurate reading. As we mentioned, these tools only calculate surface temperature so it will probably only tell you the temperature of the oven walls rather than the internal number.

Final Notes

a woman holding a laser thermometer at a pot on the stove

While there are some flaws to the technology, laser thermometers are an important addition to any toolbox. They can provide accurate surface temperatures and keep you safe from heated objects. Remember that they won't give you internal temperatures, so keep them away from ovens and don't swap them in to replace food thermometers. You can find laser thermometers just about anywhere and they range from moderate prices to more expensive models depending on what you need them for.

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