Bathroom Scales

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Bathroom scales became popular in the early 1900ís as people became increasingly weight-conscious. Since then, counting calories has become big business. We talk to the experts about which scales are the best on the market.


The Basics

  • When buying a scale, consider what you need it for. High-end varieties may measure weight to the decimal, but who really needs that much detail?

  • Most common bathroom scales can’t distinguish between fat, fluid, or muscle. Since muscle weighs two-thirds more than fat, you could be lean, but the scale reading may make you think otherwise.

  • Barometric pressure or eating too much salt can affect how much water you retain and may also cause the scale reading to be slightly higher.

  • Women’s weight changes up to 5lbs throughout the month due to hormones.

  • There are a few different types of scales on the market, each with advantages and disadvantages:

    • Mechanical/analog scales (spring scales) are the most common bathroom scale. The user’s weight is distributed to levers that connect to a plate at the end of a spring and various interior mechanics turn the dial. These scales don’t need batteries but occasionally need to be professionally reset. If the scale is turned upside down, the spring can be damaged.

    • A mechanical-digital scale uses the machinery of the mechanical scale and translates it to a digital LED display, so require batteries.

    • Strain gauge/digital scales rely on electronic sensors with no moving parts. The force created by the weight of the load placed on the scale is measured and converted to a signal that displays a number on an LED or LCD screen. These scales work faster than other kinds of scales and usually provide more accurate readings. Since there are no moving parts, they wear well. Most use a conventional 9-volt battery

    • Body fat or BMI scales look like a regular bathroom scales but use a technique known as BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis) to gauge body composition. You stand barefoot on the scale and a harmless electric current is sent through your body. The electrical current passes more easily through lean muscle than fat. A microchip in the scale measures how long the signal was impeded, and translates that into your body fat percentage. The technology relies on the body’s water content so will be less accurate if you are dehydrated or over-hydrated. These scales are pretty pricey. People with pace makers should not use these scales.

  • There are a number of important features to check when buying a scale:

    • Accuracy of the readings is the key. Good Housekeeping tested 16 scales for accuracy using 3 volunteers of different weights. Digital scales were found to be more accurate.

    • Consistency is also important. The same scale can give you a different reading just by stepping on and off. If you consistently get different readings, you may need a better scale, or a new battery.

    • A clear display pad is also helpful. Look for easy-to-read numbers.

    • Rubber feet and pads help the scale stay put and not scratch the floor.

    • Make sure your feet fit on the scale from toe to heel, and that they don’t cover the display.

Other Considerations

  • Follow these tips from the experts for your weigh-in:

    • Weigh yourself only once a week, on the same day at the same time, after you’ve emptied your bladder.

    • Wear the same clothes each time to ensure consistency.

    • Stand still. Shifting your weight can affect the readings.

    • Judge your body on how healthy and energetic you feel, as opposed to how much you weigh.

Be Aware

  • Though handy, the bathroom is the worst place for a scale. Condensation rusts metal mechanisms and shorts electricals. Try the laundry room, bed room, or an area near the kitchen instead.

  • Do not use your scale on carpet. Readings are more accurate on a smooth, hard, level floor.


We wanted to find out if some scales are more accurate than others. We tested these four scales against a jockey’s accurate scale:

  • Analog: $30
  • Digital: $60 (lithium battery powered, meant to last 10 yrs)
  • Digital: $125 (larger digital readout, same features as $60 scale, nicer glass design)
  • Weight and Body Fat: $109.99

Weigh-in Test

  • The Analog was least accurate, off by 5 pounds. However, it was the easiest to use.

  • Both of the Digital scales were the most accurate, only off by about a pound.

  • The Weight and Body Fat scale was a bit tricky to use.


Since accuracy can make a difference to your morale if you’re watching your weight, we think digital is the way to go. Both digital scales we tested worked well. The less expensive digital at $60 is our top pick.


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