How to get a COVID test at home the right way

key takeaways

  • When swabbing the nose for a quick home COVID-19 test, a sample must be collected from the cells in the nasal wall.
  • Obtaining good samples is necessary to obtain accurate test results.
  • Performing a test incorrectly can lead to false negatives, which can put others at risk.

People are increasingly opting for a rapid COVID test at home due to the convenience and quick turnaround time. You can even order free test kits from the government now.

It is critical to wipe the nose properly to minimize the chance of error and possible false negative tests. But these at-home testing instructions can be complicated and difficult to navigate.

Here are the things to keep in mind when testing for COVID-19 at home.

How can I tell if a COVID test is fake?

How to perform a nasal swab

Before you start, make sure the test is FDA-authorized and has not expired, then read the user manual.

“Proper technique is critical to ensuring more accurate results, so it’s important to follow the testing instructions given to you,” Christopher Scuderi, a family physician at the University of Florida Health in Jacksonville, told VigorTip. “Some of the more popular tests may have online demonstration videos to help.”

Antigen tests usually require a swab inserted into the nostril. In general, specimen collection methods are as follows:

  • Insert the collection tip of the swab about one-half or three-quarters of an inch into the nostril.
  • Rotate the swab about four to five times to collect the specimen from the nasal wall.
  • Remove the swab and repeat the process with the other nostril.

“Instructions vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer,” Dr. Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, told VigorTip. Follow the directions exactly and follow your own test instructions exactly.

Should you wipe your throat while taking a COVID rapid test at home?

What specimen should you collect?

To get accurate results, you must get good samples. The test is designed to extract certain proteins from the virus, so the goal is to swab the cells that live on the walls of your nose.

“You’re looking for an active virus,” Gronvall said. “Viruses need to get into your cells to replicate themselves. They get in, they replicate a lot of themselves, they open up the cells, and they infect more cells. When you swab your nose, you’re looking to see if there’s a virus there that’s replicating.”

If the rapid antigen test only requires a nasal swab, it is best not to take the sample from anywhere other than your nose, such as your throat.

“The accuracy of the test depends on the quality of the sample you get, so follow the nasal swab instructions exactly as instructed by the manufacturer,” Scuderi said.

If you have a cold and get mucus on the collecting tip of the swab, that’s okay, but your target should still be the cells of the nasal wall. The test doesn’t care if you get a “snot” on a swab, Gronvall said, but you need to know if the virus is actively replicating in your nose cells. For better measure, blow your nose beforehand so you don’t collect old proteins in the mucus.

“In some studies, blood has been associated with unreliable results, so it’s best to avoid this if possible,” Scuderi said.

what does this mean to you

When swabbing the nose for a quick home antigen test, be sure to rub the collection tip of the swab against the nasal wall. Blow your nose beforehand to get a good sample.

What if you wipe incorrectly?

Nasal swabs can be uncomfortable but must be done correctly or the test will not give you accurate results.

“The risk of incorrectly performing a test will almost always result in a false negative,” Gronvall said. “You can be contagious and can put others at risk.”

If you are in doubt about the accuracy of the results, you can try repeating the test in the next few days, as your viral load may increase over the course of several days.

“A good rule of thumb is that if you have symptoms and a rapid test at home is negative, consider repeating the test or order a molecular PCR test to verify that it is indeed negative,” Scuderi said. “This is especially important if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and you are currently symptomatic.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.