Coronavirus (COVID-19): How to do a PCR test at home

If you have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) you should isolate immediately and book a PCR test.

You may be able to get a PCR test to do at home, depending on availability.

What’s in a PCR test kit?

Home test kits contain:

  • a swab
  • a vial containing a small amount of liquid – this must remain in the tube
  • a clear zip-lock bag with an absorbent pad
  • a bag with a QR code
  • 3 stickers
  • a box

Step by step instructions

You’ll need to swab both your throat and nose. If you’ve had a nosebleed in the last 24 hours, swab the other nostril or wait 24 hours from when the nosebleed stopped.

If you have a nose piercing, swab the other nostril. If you have a piercing on both sides, remove the piercing on the side you’re going to swab.

The fabric tip of the swab should not touch anything apart from the inside of your throat and nose.

Follow these steps if you’re doing a PCR test at home.

  1. Read the instructions that come with your test kit.
  2. Before you begin, blow your nose.
  3. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser.
  4. Place your test kit on a clean surface such as a table.
  5. Remove the swab from the packet from the stick end. Do not touch the fabric tip (soft part) of the swab or let it touch anything else.
  6. Using a mirror, take a look at the back of your throat, at your tonsil area. It’s important that you don’t let the swab touch your teeth, tongue or gums.
  7. Holding the stick end of the swab, open your mouth and rub the fabric tip of the swab over your tonsils for 10 seconds. It’s normal to find this a bit uncomfortable. Remove the swab carefully without touching anything else inside of your mouth.
  8. Now put the same swab up your nostril until you feel it can’t go any further. This is usually about 2.5cm (1 inch). Once inside, rotate the swab for 10 to 15 seconds inside your nose.
  9. Unscrew the cap off your sample tube and insert the swab fabric end first into the tube.
  10. Snap off the stick at the break point. This helps to make sure no germs from your hands mix with your test.
  11. Screw the cap onto the tube tightly.
  12. Clean your hands again.
  13. Put the absorbent pad into the zip-lock bag then place the tube pad in the same bag. Seal the bag.
  14. Put the zip-lock bag into the biohazard bag. Make sure the barcode on the plastic tube matches the barcode on the biohazard bag. Seal the bag using its silver seal.
  15. Assemble the return box, following the instructions on the box.
  16. Put the biohazard bag into the box and close the box. Apply the security seal as directed on the box.

Test results

The test will confirm if a person has the virus. It won’t confirm whether they have had it and recovered.

Results are sent by text or email to whoever booked the test within 48 hours.

Positive result

If you test positive you should follow all the guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection.

If you have symptoms, you and your household must self-isolate for 10 days from the day your symptoms started.

If you have had a positive test but have had no symptoms, you and your household must self-isolate for 10 days from the day your test was taken. However, if you develop symptoms in the days after your test, you should re-start your own and your household’s isolation from the day your symptoms start.

Someone from the Test and Protect contact tracing service will contact you to help identify who you’ve been in close contact with.

Contact tracing will begin when you receive a positive test result.

Negative result

Even if you have had a negative result, it’s important to still apply caution.

You can end isolation and return to work after a negative test result if:

  • everyone in your household with symptoms receives a negative test result too
  • you are well enough and have not had a fever for 48 hours

You should discuss your return to work with your employer, and should only return to work if you cannot do your work from home.

You cannot return to work after a negative test result if you have:

  • been told you are a close contact by the Test and Protect service
  • returned from overseas and are still within your 10 day self-isolation period
  • a negative test but someone in your house has a positive test, or has symptoms and has not been tested yet

If, after returning to work, you develop symptoms you should follow our self-isolation guidance.

Close contacts

All close contacts must still isolate for 10 days, whether their test result is positive or negative.

As a close contact you cannot leave self-isolation if your test comes back negative. A test provides a point in time assessment of whether someone had coronavirus when the test was taken. It cannot indicate whether someone is incubating the virus, and therefore may go on to develop it after a test is taken. It’s for this reason that close contacts must complete the required 10 days of self-isolation.

Test could not be read

You may have had a ‘could not be read’ test result. This means it’s not possible to say if you had the virus when the test was done. You’ll need to get another test as soon as possible.

You must continue to isolate if you:

  • have, or develop, symptoms of coronavirus
  • have been told you are a close contact by the Test and Protect service
  • live with someone who has symptoms or has had a positive test result

Repeat testing

Repeating testing to show you no longer have coronavirus is not currently recommended for the general public.

The test can stay positive for several weeks after you’ve had coronavirus. This doesn’t mean that you are still infectious. You may end self-isolation after 10 days as long as you feel better and have not had a temperature for 48 hours.

If your employer has told you that you need to be re-tested, you should follow their advice on when you can return to work.

It’s not yet known how much immunity people will develop following infection, or how long any immunity will last. If you recover from coronavirus and you later develop new symptoms, you still need to follow all the advice about self-isolation and household isolation again. 

Further information