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

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

You should also take a PCR test if:

  • you’re a close contact who isn’t fully vaccinated
  • you're self-isolating and intend to apply for the self-isolation grant
  • you’re in a high risk group prioritised for coronavirus treatments and have had a positive LFD test result
  • you’ve been asked to get a test by your local council, health protection team or healthcare professional
  • you’ve had 2 or more void LFD results

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.

The box is already labelled with a return address. It can be returned via a priority post box or by booking a courier by phoning 119.

Find your nearest Royal Mail priority post 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 individuals with possible coronavirus infection.

Contact tracing will begin when you receive a positive test result. All close contacts should also follow guidance for individuals with possible coronavirus infection.

Negative result

Even if you have had a negative result, you must self-isolate for 10 days if you're a close contact who is not fully vaccinated.

What does fully vaccinated mean?

A close contact who is fully vaccinated means you've received 3 doses of an approved vaccine at least 14 days before you last saw the person who tested positive. If you live with the person who tested positive, the 14 days is counted from the day their symptoms started, or 14 days before they tested positive if they don't have symptoms.

If you develop symptoms you should follow our self-isolation guidance.

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 self-isolate if you:

  • have, or develop, symptoms of coronavirus
  • have been told you are a close contact by the Test and Protect service