If undertaking electrical projects around the home, there are certain tool box essentials to keep at the ready. While linesman’s pliers, wire strippers, and a good screwdriver can help you achieve pro-level results, having the best voltage tester on hand will speed up your workflow and help keep you safe from shocks.
Voltage testers allow you to check for power quickly, easily, and safely. Most are very simple to use: Press the on button and hold it near the wires in question. It will indicate whether or not it detects power, and you’ll be able to proceed accordingly. Voltage testers are real time savers, and they can help you avoid a painful and dangerous shock, but since there are different types of voltage testers, this guide can steer you toward the model best suited to your needs. Read on to learn how to shop wisely and find out why the following tools are among the best voltage testers you can buy.
- BEST OVERALL: Fluke 1AC-A1-II VoltAlert Non-Contact Voltage Tester
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Sperry Instruments STK001 Non-Contact Voltage Tester
- BEST FOR PROS: Fluke T6-1000 PRO Electrical Tester
- MULTIFUNCTIONAL FAVORITE: Klein Tools NCVT-4IR Voltage Tester
- BEST POCKET SIZE: Fluke FLK2AC/90-1000V Pocket-Sized Voltage Detector
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Voltage Tester
Here are the most important factors to keep in mind when choosing a voltage tester, including designs and functions.
There are three basic voltage tester designs: pen testers, outlet testers, and multimeters.
- Pen testers are roughly the size and shape of a thick pen or marker. To operate, simply turn it on and touch the wire in question. You can also place the tip inside an outlet to test for voltage.
- Outlet testers are about the size of an electrical plug and work by plugging directly into an outlet. They can test for voltage (and usually polarity, to check that the outlet is wired correctly), though they’re unable to test circuits outside of an outlet.
- Multimeters with voltage testers are the best of both worlds, though they’re significantly larger than pen or outlet testers. They have grooves or hooks to surround a wire and detect voltage as well as leads (the wires and points connected to the tester) for testing contacts like outlets and terminals.
In general, voltage testers are only useful for checking for alternating current, such as the electricity in a dwelling or commercial building. They aren’t helpful for detecting the direct current in a vehicle.
But that doesn’t mean that all voltage testers are one-trick ponies. Some pen testers have built-in features like flashlights, measuring lasers, and infrared thermometers. Many outlet testers can alert you if the outlet’s wiring is backward. Multimeters can test for AC and DC voltage as well as resistance, amperage, and more.
Each user’s individual needs will determine which functions are necessary in a voltage detector. To simply test a wire for power, a pen tester can do the trick without confusing buttons or switches. If tackling a variety of electrical projects, a multimeter might be a real asset.
Voltage testers aren’t compatible with every electrical device you might come across. Certain types of voltage, or voltages outside of the range the tester can detect, won’t cause the tester to alert.
Pen and outlet testers are excellent for testing electricity within the home, including switches, outlets, and fixtures, but they’re typically useless when it comes to checking for issues with a vehicle’s electrical system. Many pen testers also have voltage working ranges—such as 90 to 1,000V—so some may not be able to detect low voltages.
If taking on electronic device repairs (computers, drones, or televisions, for example) or working on a vehicle, look for a multimeter with a built-in voltage tester. A multimeter can switch between alternating and direct current as well as test for resistance and amperage.
For long-term use and durability, choose a voltage tester from one of the trusted manufacturers in the electrical tools industry. These companies specialize in creating electrical tools for pros, and their products are top-notch—many pros still use meters and testers they purchased decades ago.
Battery life is also a consideration. Many of the best voltage testers have automatic shutoff functions. If they don’t detect voltage within a certain amount of time (usually around 15 minutes), the tester will automatically shut off to prolong battery life.
Our Top Picks
Now that you know a little more about what goes into choosing the best voltage tester, you’re ready to start shopping. Below, you’ll find details about some of the best voltage testers on the market—all from trusted brands that produce quality electrical tools.
Check out Fluke’s 1AC-A1-II VoltAlert Non-Contact Voltage Tester—a quality pen tester from the leader in the electrical testing industry. This tester can detect voltage between 90 and 1,000 volts while fitting comfortably in a tool pouch or your pocket. When it detects voltage, the tip glows bright red as an alert.
The 1AC-A1-II features a continuous self-test indicator that flashes red to alert that it’s working. It also has a loud audible beep to indicate it’s detecting power, but there is a disable function for quiet environments. It runs on two AAA batteries, and it features an automatic shutoff to save battery life.
- Simple and reliable detection system
- Long-lasting battery life
- High sensitivity may not identify individual wires
For a reliable, value-minded voltage tester, the STK001 Non-Contact Voltage Tester from Sperry Instruments is worth a look. This pen tester comes with a plug-in outlet tester, allowing you to test wires and outlets with one kit.
The pen tester detects voltage between 50 and 1,000 volts. When it detects voltage, it will beep loudly, and a clear plastic that houses the bulb will flash red. It runs on one AAA battery, and it has a low-battery indicator to ensure you’ll know it’s working. The outlet tester will alert you to voltage as well as open grounds, open neutrals, open hots, and reversed polarities. It can also test Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets to ensure they’re working properly.
- Tests both wires and outlets
- Also tests GFCI units
- Too sensitive to trace wires
Often, electrical professionals need a fast way to test a wire and take a measurement without finding a junction or outlet. The Fluke T6-1000 PRO Electrical Tester multimeter’s Field Sense setting not only detects voltage, but it also measures that voltage without disconnecting connections to test an outlet. Simply slide the testing fork over the wire, and the T6-1000 will report on that wire’s condition.
The T6-1000 features all the other common settings you’d expect from a multimeter, including both DC and AC, amperage, and resistance measurements. It comes with alligator clips, swappable test leads, and a holster to keep it close at hand.
- Multiple settings and readings
- Reads AC and DC values
- Also measures resistance and frequency
For electrical work around equipment that runs a bit hot, such as boilers, furnaces, or industrial equipment, the NCVT-4IR Voltage Tester from Klein Tools is a smart choice. In addition to detecting voltages within a range of 12 to 1,000 volts, this model features a built-in infrared thermometer. The thermometer can detect temperatures between -22 and 482 degrees Fahrenheit, providing safe, hands-free temperature checks.
The pen tester features a two-color LED system: white to indicate that it’s working and red for when it detects voltage. The infrared thermometer has a built-in laser pointer that makes precise measurements easier to achieve. Both functions run on two AAA batteries, and there’s a built-in shutoff to preserve their life.
- Also an infrared thermometer
- Built-in laser pointer for measurements
- Automatic shutoff to preserve battery life
- Plastic clip prone to breaking
While most pen testers clip to a pants pocket or fit inside a shirt pocket, some are too large to actually fit comfortably in those pockets. That’s not the case with the FLK2AC Pocket-Sized Voltage Detector from Fluke. This pen tester measures just 5¾ inches long and ¾ inch thick, allowing it to slide into a pocket with ease. It also weighs just 10.6 ounces, meaning it won’t be uncomfortable to keep clipped to your shirt.
The FLK2AC detects voltages between 90 and 1,000 volts, and it glows red and beeps to indicate it detects voltage. It runs on two AAA batteries, and it features an automatic shutoff to help avoid accidentally draining the batteries.
- Compact unit
- Long battery life
- Accurate readings
A great overall voltage tester to consider is the Fluke Non-Contact Voltage Tester, which features a compact design and is easy to use. For shoppers looking for added versatility, pick up the Klein Tools Voltage Tester and enjoy several tools in a single unit.
How We Chose the Best Voltage Testers
The best voltage testers are small enough to be easily carried around, provide accurate readings, and reliably and clearly let users know whether or not there is a voltage present. Our list of recommendations provides several choices for shoppers to consider, which range in price and additional features to suit a range of requirements—from budget-friendly options all the way up to professional tools capable of measuring temperature, frequency, voltage, and resistance.
We made sure to only include lightweight and compact units in our top picks, since we know that such a routine test should not involve cumbersome equipment. The products listed above are lightweight and pocket-size for convenience, and they boast long battery life and intuitive design to ensure users are kept safe and know that their voltage tester is working correctly.
Those who still have some questions about choosing or using the best voltage tester should consider the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about these tool-kit essentials. Find more vital info here to make an informed purchase.
Q. Is a voltage tester the same as a multimeter?
No, voltage testers and multimeters are not the same, though some multimeters feature voltage testers. Voltage testers indicate only the presence of voltage. Multimeters can test the amount of voltage, amperage, or resistance in a fixture or circuit.
Q. Are voltage testers safe?
Yes, voltage testers are safety tools, and they’re safe to use. They have insulation to protect against current transfer so the tester can’t transfer electricity to your body.
Q. How do I know if the tester is functioning?
Most voltage testers feature battery indicators that automatically alert you to advise that the tester is working. Others might require you to activate the battery test. If you’re unsure, check an outlet you know is working to ensure the tester is functioning.