LAST UPDATED: November 06, 2018

The Best Breathalyzers (Reviewed & Tested) in 2020

Best Choice bactrack BACtrack S80 Professional Breathalyzer
Premium Pick alcomate AlcoMate REVO Police Caliber Breathalyzer
Best Value alcohawk AlcoHAWK Slim Digital Breathalyzer

Drinking and driving is highly irresponsible and dangerous. If you consume a lot of alcohol and then get behind the wheel of a car, you put yourself and all other road users in danger. Responsible motorists make sure that they are below the legal limit before they drive. You can now do this by using your own personal breathalyzer.

These handy little gadgets use cutting-edge technology to test how much alcohol is in your breath, and this correlates with your blood alcohol level. It means that you can stay on the right side of the law and avoid fines and imprisonment. If you are thinking of buying your own device, here’s our guide to the best breathalyzers available so you know which alcohol breath tester to get.

The Best Breathalyzers

A dependable personal breathalyzer that meets all of the standards compiled for roadside law enforcement officers and medical treatment professionals. This product is approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a breath alcohol screening device. The FDA has also approved this device for personal use so you can have complete peace of mind when using this product.  

There is a fuel cell sensor which can detect alcohol over a range of concentrations from 0.000 to 0.400 per cent. Tests have shown the results to be repeatable and reliable. This accuracy is maintained over thousands of tests giving you long-term reliability. It’s simple to operate with a user-friendly screen.

Key Features
  • Approved by all major agencies
  • Reliable over 1000s of tests
  • Detects alcohol from 0.000 to 0.400 per cent
  • Easy to use
Specification
  • Brand BACtrack
  • Model BT-S80
  • Weight 5.6 ounces

With this device, you can convert your smartphone into a personal breathalyzer in seconds. The connection is via Bluetooth so there are no wires to worry about and the function is operated through an app. It’s suitable for use with any iPhone or Android phone and with Apple watches.

It works quickly to give you an estimated blood alcohol content figure. You can quickly measure if you are safe to drive a vehicle. As it delivers police-grade accuracy, you know you can rely on the results. Once your blood alcohol content has returned to zero, the ZeroLine technology will let you know. The device has a 1-year warranty.

Key Features
  • Smartphone device
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Police grade accuracy
  • One-year warranty
Specification
  • Brand BACtrack
  • Model BT-M5
  • Weight 4 ounces

This device uses the same technology as that used in hospitals and by law enforcement agencies. You can rely on the accurate and repeatable results to inform your decisions about driving. Accuracy is maintained over thousands of tests.

The built-in memory saves your last 10 readings in case you need to look back at them. The operation is simple and you can begin testing within seconds. A reassuring click tells you when enough breath has entered the alcohol sensor cell. In addition, there are a number of further features including a continuous check of temperature, warning levels that can be adjusted by the user and a mini-solenoid breath pump system.

Key Features
  • Same technology as that used by law enforcement
  • Accurate over thousands of tests
  • Quick and easy to set up
  • Several additional features
Specification
  • Brand BACtrack
  • Model BT-P3
  • Weight 3.04 ounces

You can be assured of the accuracy of this home breathalyzer as it has passed all the testing requirements required for a Breath Alcohol Screening Device. Also, every device is tested using USA Calibrations and Quality Assurance checks ensuring accuracy and consistency.

Inside the unit, there is a PT Core fuel-cell sensor which does not suffer from interference by acetone in the sample. This technology is considered to be more accurate than the older semi-conductor sensors. The device is used via a screen menu on a clear LCD display. Alcohol levels between zero and 0.400 per cent can be detected. The unit is widely used in the professional setting where it is valued for its accuracy and reliability.

Key Features
  • Complies with USA Calibrations and Quality Assurance checks
  • Clear LED screen
  • PT Core fuel-cell sensor
Specification
  • Brand AlcoHawk
  • Model AHPT500PKS
  • Weight 4.8 ounces

This is a personal breathalyzer which uses a new patented method of detecting alcohol in breath. It’s called PRISM which stands for Pre-calibrated Replaceable Intelligent Sensor Module. This is the height of innovation in alcohol testing. All units become less accurate with time due to residue buildup and functional degradation. The home breathalyzer does not require re-calibration so you don’t need to send the unit off regularly for checking. Instead, you replace the old sensor module yourself and the device is accurate right from the start.

These tests are approved by all major US enforcement agencies and are guaranteed accurate. The 4-digit results are displayed clearly on an easy to read LCD screen. The single-button operation makes it easy to use and the unit comes with a one-year warranty.

Key Features
  • New PRISM technology
  • You don’t need to send it away for calibration
  • Approved by law enforcement agencies
Specification
  • Brand AlcoMate
  • Model AL7000
  • Weight 9.1 ounces

This alcohol breathalyzer uses a patented technology called the BluFire Fuel Cell Sensor which is the same method relied on by law enforcement and medical agencies. It can be used on its own when the results are displayed on its bright and clear OLED screen. It can also be used with a smartphone via a Bluetooth connection and an app which will display your results on your phone.

You will get your alcohol level results as well as an estimate of how long it will be before your BAC is back to zero. It’s small and very portable and easily fits in a pocket or purse.

Key Features
  • Patented BluFire Fuel Cell Sensor  
  • Clear OLED screen
  • Stand-alone or via an app
Specification
  • Brand BACtrack
  • Model BT-C6
  • Weight 2.08 ounces

If you are looking for an alcohol breathalyzer that has a professional feel coupled with a sleek user-friendly design, this is the product for you. Its main feature is that it is slim and very compact so you can pop it in your pocket. The mouthpiece folds in to make it more compact.

It’s easy to use by just pressing a single button and blowing into the mouthpiece. The kit comes with multiple mouthpiece covers so that you can share it around with your friends without spreading germs. The back-lit LCD display is bright blue and displays the reading as three digits. Each unit is calibrated before dispatch and comes with a one-year warranty.

Key Features
  • Slim professional feel
  • Multiple mouthpieces
  • Clear LED display
Specification
  • Brand AlcoHawk
  • Model 3.36 ounces
  • Weight AH2701INV

This fuel cell breathalyzer uses superbly accurate technology to carefully read your breath alcohol level. It’s about the same size as a smartphone and can be stored discretely in your pocket. It’s operated via one button and gives fast, accurate results on a four-digit display. It comes with mouthpieces and a carry case.

The alcohol breath tester never needs to be sent away for calibration, you simply swap the sensor cartridge which takes less than a minute.  

Key Features
  • Accurate fuel cell technology
  • Compact design
  • Needs no calibration
Specification
  • Brand AlcoMate
  • Model B00K4IG51Q
  • Weight 15 ounces

Fully compliant with US enforcement agency specifications, this is a compact and sleek alcohol breath tester. It’s operated by pressing a button and blowing into a mouthpiece. The result is available within seconds.

Other mouthpieces can be fitted so it can be used by several people. It has a wide detection range of 0 % to 0.40% BAC and has a professional yet user-friendly feel.

Key Features
  • Fully compliant with enforcement agency specifications
  • Sleek and professional design
  • Multiple mouthpieces
Specification
  • Brand AlcoHawk
  • Model 4.8 ounces
  • Weight Q3I-2500

The advanced semiconductor sensor technology in this breathalyzer delivers your results in seconds so you can make informed decisions about your safety to drive. It comes with four mouthpieces so several people can use it and is compact in size.

The alcohol test is operated via a single button and has a three-minute auto power off function to preserve the batteries. It indicates a high alcohol level (over 0.08%) with an alarm and red light.

Key Features
  • Compact design
  • High alcohol alarm
  • Auto power off
Specification
  • Brand Oasser
  • Model B071NBQG8W
  • Weight 6.4 ounces

Best Breathalyzers Buying Guide & FAQ

What to Look for When Buying a Personal Breathalyzer

There are a number of things for you to look out for when you are choosing a personal breathalyzer.

  • What technology do they use? Most alcohol breath analyzers use fuel cells and these are very accurate. It may be best to avoid the semiconductor breathalyzers as these are really just toys and cannot be relied upon.
  • Do they need to be calibrated? All breathalyzers need to be calibrated to remain accurate. However, you obviously cannot use the device whilst it is back at the manufacturers being calibrated and this can be annoying. You can get around this by choosing a device that has a removable cell. You simply order another one and change them over. All units come ready-calibrated and ready to use.
  • How are the results displayed? Most devices have a four-figure digital readout. They usually have back-lit LED screens that are easy to read. It is important that you choose a device that gives fast results that are displayed clearly. The best breathalyzers give a result in 10-15 seconds.
  • Size of the device. The whole point of these devices is that they are portable. You must be able to pop it in your pocket or in your purse so that you can take it with you on a night out. It helps if the mouthpiece folds in and if the case is robust.
  • It would be good to look for a device that has multiple mouthpieces so that you can share your device with your friends without the risk of passing on germs.
  • Compatible with a smartphone. You may like the idea of using your device with a smartphone. All you have to do is download an app and the results will be displayed on your phone. Often the last 10 readings are also recorded.
  • Time to zero. Many devices will give you an estimate of how long it will be before your alcohol levels return to zero. However, you should always test again to make sure.
  • Approved by agencies. Look for devices that are approved by the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the FDA.

alco test

Why You Should Consider Buying a Breathalyzer Test

Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense in the US and is an irresponsible thing to do. When you drink and drive, you are risking your own life and the lives of others.

An alcohol breath analyzer is a very handy gadget to have around. Here are some of the main reasons that people buy them:

  • They save lives

Every 45 minutes a drunk driver kills someone in the USA. These devices can save lives.

  • They prevent fines

The average fine for drink driving is around $480 but this rises to thousands of dollars when fees and other fines are added. This will cause a serious dent in anyone’s budget. You could also end up in jail.

  • They tell you when you are sober

You may still be over the limit the day after drinking a lot of alcohol. These devices tell you exactly when it is safe for you to get back behind the wheel.

  • They remove the guesswork

No-one can actually tell if they are over the legal limit for alcohol without a breathalyzer. You may feel in control but your judgment is impaired after you have been drinking.

  • They are more accurate than counting units

You may think that you are fine to drive because you have consumed below the legal limit but everyone’s body is different. Your age, weight, body composition and gender all influence your blood alcohol levels. One person could be over the limit after one beer but the person sitting next to them will not. These devices give you accurate information.

  • They inform your decision

All states in the US currently adopt 0.08% as the legal limit for driving. However, you may prefer to avoid driving at a much lower level. This is a moral decision and these devices give you accurate results to inform that decision.

Types of Breathalyzers

Breathalyzer tests have undergone significant improvements since the early days of breath alcohol detection. There are now three main types available.

  • Electrochemical fuel cell analyzers

These devices use an electrical current to detect the alcohol levels in a breath sample. There are two electrodes with the cell. One is made of gold and platinum and this is where any alcohol in the sample is oxidized into acetic acid. The more alcohol there is, the more electrons will be produced by this reaction.  In turn, the more electrons there are, the greater the electric current that will flow to the other electrode.

The size of the electric current is displayed on a dial or as a digital display. The fuel cells are very small and require little power to make them work. Therefore, they are highly suitable for personal portable devices. Another advantage is that the result does not get influenced by contaminants such as acetone (an issue for diabetics), carbon monoxide or toluene. They also last for around five years. In terms of disadvantages, they are expensive to manufacture and cannot detect if the breath that has been tested came from deep in the lungs. You could possibly get a false positive if you have very recently drunk alcohol and the sample alcohol is therefore from your saliva and not from your blood.

  • Infrared optical sensor analyzer

This is essentially an infrared spectrometer. They identify chemicals within a sample of air by measuring the way that molecules absorb infrared light.

Ethanol (alcohol) molecules are known to absorb a certain wavelength of infrared radiation. The more of that wavelength is absorbed, the more alcohol in the sample. Then a photocell produces an electrical pulse which varies according to how much of that wavelength of infrared has been absorbed. A microprocessor matches the electrical pulse with BAC level and gives a reading.

This type of alcohol test is the most accurate breathalyzer and will not get confused by mouth alcohol. Because they are so accurate, they are used in court cases and will work for many years as long as they are calibrated. The disadvantage is that they are large and not portable.

Some breathalyzers used by enforcement agencies at their bases are both infrared and electrochemical sensors to ensure total accuracy.

  • Semiconductor analyzers

As the name suggests, these breathalyzers have a semiconductor inside them which produces a small electrical current. When alcohol reaches the semiconductor, it alters the resistivity and changes the current. The bigger the change, the more alcohol there is in the sample. The results can be variable though and they are sensitive to climate, altitude and cigarette smoke to name a few. On the plus side, they are cheap to make and have been widely used in personal breathalyzers.

alcohol device

How Do Breathalyzers Work?

When you drink alcohol (ethanol) it enters your bloodstream. As you breathe out, a small amount leaves your bloodstream, enters the air in your lungs and leaves the body in your breath. The more alcohol you have in your blood, the more ethanol there will be in your breath.

Breathalyzers used to detect the level of alcohol using a type of spectrometer which absorbs infrared radiation at different wavelengths. Alcohol has a particular infrared signature that could be detected. However, modern breathalyzers rely on an electrochemical process. It oxidizes the alcohol and makes an electrical current between two electrodes. The larger the current the higher the concentration of alcohol. The concentration of alcohol is usually displayed on a screen.

Best Breathalyzers FAQ:

Q:  How accurate are they?

A:  This depends on the type of portable breathalyzer that you buy. The semiconductor types are generally considered to be little more than a novelty toy. However, the fuel cell breathalyzers are highly accurate provided that they are calibrated properly.

If you buy a device that is approved by all the law enforcement agencies you can be satisfied that they will give you an accurate result.

Q: How do I use my breath alcohol tester?

A:  Full instructions will always be provided with the breathalyzer. Wait for at least 20 minutes after eating or drinking anything before you test. Do not use alcohol-based mouthwashes at this time and avoid testing in high wind or enclosed spaces. Never blow smoke into the mouthpiece, as it will damage the sensor.

The instructions usually direct you to attach a mouthpiece to the portable breathalyzer, press and release a button and when the unit is ready, blow into the mouthpiece. It takes around four seconds for most devices to collect enough air. They may indicate this with a sound. Within a few seconds, you will have a readout of the result on a screen.

Q:  Can I cheat a breathalyzer?

A:  The simple answer is don’t ever try to do this because it is dangerous. There have been various myths over the years that you can cheat a breathalyzer by drinking coffee or putting a coin under your tongue but these are false. There is some truth in the idea that hyperventilating before the test will work but that is not recommended.

Q:  How often should I calibrate my breathalyzer?

A: All breathalyzers will arrive calibrated and ready to use. The manufacturer will give instructions on how often they should be calibrated and you usually have to send the unit away to get this done. It is very important to ensure that the device is correctly calibrated to guarantee accuracy. Most need to be calibrated once every 12 months or more often if they are used very frequently.

Some models no longer need to be calibrated. Instead, you can order another precalibrated unit to fit into the device. The advantage is that you do not have to do without the device whilst it is being sent away.

alcohol test

Q:  Who invented the breathalyzer?

A:  It wasn’t until the large-scale manufacture of vehicles in the early 1900s that the issue of drinking and driving came to light. New York was the first place to introduce drink driving laws but measuring a person’s level of intoxication was difficult. All the police could do was make a guess based on things like bloodshot eyes, the smell of alcohol on the breath and testing if the driver could walk in a straight line. In 1927, a scientist called Emil Bogen started some research into detecting levels of alcohol in the air. This formed the foundations of breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) testing and relating it to blood alcohol concentration (BAC). By 1938, an early prototype of the breathalyzer called a drunk-o-meter had been invented by Professor Rolla Harger at Indiana University.

However, it was 1954 before another scientist, Robert Borkenstein, built on this early work to make a portable breathalyzer test. His basic design has been gradually improved over the years to reach the cutting-edge breathalyzer technology that we see today.

Sources:

  1. How Breathlyzers Work – How Stuff Works
  2. How Does a Breathlyzer Test Work – Forbes