How to do a COVID Test at Home - A Step-by-Step Guide

Whether you’re doing a PCR or rapid antigen lateral flow test, it’s important to get an accurate result. Our step-by-step guide will show you how to do a COVID test at home.

Dr Alasdair Scott MBBS FRCS PhD

February 28th, 2022

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While it’s no longer mandatory to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus in England, it’s useful to know whether you have the virus as it could compromise your ability to travel abroad or to do your job.

So, if you need to get confirmation of whether you are positive for COVID-19 and are wondering how to do a COVID test at home, this article is a step-by-step guide to help you take your COVID test accurately and safely to get a reliable result.

We’ve also addressed a number of commonly asked questions regarding COVID testing at home, such as ‘can you eat before a COVID test?’.

When Would You Need to Take a COVID-19 Test?

There are a few circumstances where you might need to carry out a COVID-19 test at home. In order to travel to some countries, you need to show proof of either a negative lateral flow or PCR test result.

Please note that these rules fluctuate across countries, so it’s best to check the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) travel advice page.

You may also be taking an at-home test if you’re showing symptoms of COVID-19 to determine whether or not you have the virus.

Woman checking her temperature

How Do COVID Tests Work?

COVID tests identify the presence of coronavirus in a sample of mucus taken from either the throat or nose. Lateral flow tests detect fragments of the virus, called antigens, directly on a small test cassette which you can use at home.

PCR tests are different and detect the presence of viral genetic materal called RNA. These test need to be done in laboratories by specialists and are more sensitive to the presence of coronavirus in a sample. This means that PCR tests can often detect virus in an earlier stage of infection than lateral flow tests.

How to Do a COVID Test at Home

The next section is where you can find step-by-step instructions on how to do a COVID test at home – from start to finish.

Step 1: Check Your Test

Whether you’re taking an at-home PCR test or a lateral flow test at home, the first step is to check the contents to make sure you have all the right components in the kit. Most of the time, your COVID test will arrive with all the correct items inside, but it’s always best to check.

What your rapid antigen lateral flow test kit should contain:

  • Swab for testing
  • Extraction tube containing liquid and a lid
  • Coronavirus test cassette
  • Waste disposal bag

What your at-home PCR test kit should contain:

  • Swab for testing
  • Sample tube
  • Sample bag or case
  • Shipping bag with labels

Step 2: Read the Instruction Manual

No matter how many times you’ve done at-home tests, it’s important to always read the instructions. And while most test kits function in the same way, there can be slight variations across testing providers.

The biggest difference between lateral flow test kits is whether you need to take a sample from your throat and nose, or just the nose. There could also be variations in terms of how long to leave the swab in the testing liquid – and how many drops of the solution to use on the testing device. This information can be found in your rapid antigen lateral flow test instructions, inside the box.

If you’re doing an at-home PCR test, it’s equally important to read the instructions included because you’re taking a sample to be tested in a lab. If your sample is contaminated in any way, it could result in an inconclusive test.

Woman reading instructions for COVID test

Step 3: Blow Your Nose

Make sure that your airways are clear so you can take a sample from your nose effectively. It’s advised to blow your nose gently – removing any excess mucus from your nostrils before taking the test.

Step 4: Sanitise Your Hands and Test Area

Before carrying out your test, it’s important to sanitise your hands and the area you’re doing your test in (such as table or worktop). This is to maintain the accuracy of your test and avoid any contamination.

Be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, and wipe down your test surface with an antiseptic spray or wipe.

Woman washing her hands before taking COVID test

Step 5: Prepare Your COVID Test

Next, you need to get all the necessary parts of the test out for when you take your sample. You’ll also need to open any packaging, such as the lateral flow test device and your swab, and place your test tube with the sample solution inside it, in the holder provided.

Step 6: Take Your Sample Swab

Depending on what your at-home PCR or rapid antigen test instructions say, you’ll need to take your sample by inserting the swab in your nostrils – and possibly the back of your throat – making small circular motions to gather a test sample of mucus for your test.

For lateral flow tests, you roll the swab in the extraction tube liquid around six times before leaving it in the extraction tube for about a minute, so the sample is well mixed in the testing solution. For PCR tests, you’ll need to snap off the swab tip in the sample tube and firmly close the lid.

Step 7: Add Sample to Your Test Cassette (Lateral Flow Tests Only)

After the swab has been taken, you can put the top on the extraction tube and drop a few drops of the solution onto the test. This is usually indicated by an ‘S’ underneath a small square or circle on the bottom of the test device.

Step 8: Pack Your Sample for Return to the Lab (PCR Only)

Once your PCR sample has been taken, you need to pack it correctly to send off to the lab. You’ll usually need to label the sample with your name and date of birth or perhaps a unique reference number. You’ll then place the sample in a protective wallet or bag and then pack everything in the return postal envelope. Make sure the shipping label is correct and visible on the envelope.

Step 9: Dispose of Your Test Waste

After you’ve completed the previous steps, you can dispose of any waste from your test. This includes:

  • Packaging
  • Extraction tube or swab (lateral flow only)

Step 10: Get Your Result

This will differ, depending on the type of test you’ve taken. For those taking at-home PCR tests, to get your test results you’ll need to send your sample off to a lab. Simply put your sample in the postal bag provided and drop it off directly to the lab or post in a Priority Postbox. Find your nearest Priority Postbox.

If you’ve taken a lateral flow test, then you’ll be able to get your result within 15-20 minutes of performing Step 7 (obtaining your sample, mixing it with the sample solution and dropping it onto the designated area on the test device).

Reading a COVID rapid antigen lateral flow test

FAQs for COVID Tests

It’s common to have questions when you’re taking a COVID test at home, which is why we’ve collated some frequently asked questions. You can also access our Help Centre for more support.

How do I get a COVID test for travel?

Simply order your COVID testing kit quickly and easily with us. We use an accredited laboratory to perform the analysis of your sample.

Can you eat before a COVID test?

If your COVID test kit includes a swab that needs to be taken in both the nose and throat, it’s recommended that you don’t eat for 30 minutes beforehand. This is because there is a small risk that food or drink could contaminate your sample and give an inconclusive result.

How long does it take to get a result?

This depends on what kind of test you’re taking. For PCR tests that you need to send off, you can expect a result with 24 hours of the lab receiving your sample. However, things are much quicker when it comes to lateral flow tests. These can be completely carried out at home and provide a result within 20 minutes – eliminating the need to send your sample off. It’s really important to give the lateral flow test the right amount of time to fully develop and provide the most accurate result – which can vary depending on the brand.

How Do I Get a COVID Test?

You can order both lateral flow tests and PCR tests from us at C19 Testing. We offer reliable, quick and trustworthy testing – with free express delivery when you order before 8pm during the week and 6pm on weekends. Order yours now.

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