At-home COVID-19 tests have risen in popularity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and many American households are eagerly awaiting their free kits.
But while self-test kits are a quick and easy way to check your health status, getting a sample can be tricky.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved dozens of at-home or self-test kits. Some are traditional molecular, or PCR tests, while others are antigen tests, which are less sensitive. Some kits require patients to drop off samples at laboratories, while others produce instant results at home.
Most of the self COVID-19 tests approved by the FDA require a type of nasal swab. The FDA says it’s important to carefully follow the instructions on self- or at-home tests, because failing to properly swab or handle the sample could lead to an inaccurate result.
Here’s what you need to know about properly swabbing yourself using an at-home COVID-19 test.
Free COVID-19 rapid tests ordered through the federal government’s are seen after delivery by the United States Postal Service at a North Texas home on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. The program provides 1 billion rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests to families. Each address is limited to one at-home COVID-19 kit, which includes four individual rapid antigen tests and is shipped for free.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)
Wash your hands and follow instructions
Before you collect the sample, make sure you disinfect the area where you will open the test kit and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Be sure that you’re reading and closely following the instructions on your test kit. Health experts say not all tests are created equal, and some have different tips or requirements for accurately collecting a sample.
Some self-test kits also require a person to perform multiple tests in order to get accurate results.
You can find a list of the at-home kits that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration here.
Tests using anterior nasal swabs
Some tests work by taking what is known as an anterior nasal swab – that means the Q-tip won’t go that far into your nose during the test.
Once you take the swab out of the packaging, don’t touch the end that is going to enter your nose.
Take the swab and enter it no more than three-fourths of an inch (just over a centimeter) into your nostril. Rotate the swab while gently pressing against the inside of your nostril for at least 15 seconds. You should complete at least four circles around each nostril, the CDC says.
The CDC says you should try and get as much discharge on the cotton swab as possible.
Tests using mid-turbinate nasal swabs
Other tests work by taking mid-turbinate nasal swabs. These types are generally a little more uncomfortable.
For these, insert the swab just under 2 centimeters into your nose, or until you feel some resistance.
You should gently rotate the swab along the insides of the nasal passage several times in each nostril.
Should you also swab your throat?
Health experts are currently divided on whether you should add a throat swab to your at-home COVID-19 test.
Some say it may improve the sensitivity of your test, while others say there isn’t enough evidence to support an additional swab.
The FDA has said that at-home antigen tests should only be swabbed in the nose.