PCR tests are mainly for people with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). The swab is sent to a lab to get the results.
There's separate information on how to do a rapid lateral flow test, the type of test you usually do if you do not have symptoms.
Before doing a PCR test at home
If you do the test at home, you must do the following before you do the test:
The main steps for doing a PCR test
You'll be given detailed instructions with your test kit. If you're doing the test at a test site and need support, a trained helper can guide you.
These are the main steps for doing a PCR test:
- Wash your hands with soap or use a hand sanitiser.
- Lay out all the items in the test kit on the clean surface.
- Blow your nose and wash your hands again.
- Open your mouth wide and rub the swab over your tonsils (or where they would have been). Avoid the end of the swab touching your teeth, tongue and gums.
- Put the same swab inside your nose (about 2.5cm up or until you feel some resistance).
- Put the swab facing down into the tube and screw the lid tight.
- Put the tube in the bag provided.
Taking a sample may be uncomfortable and make you gag, but it should not hurt.
Doing a test on someone else
If you're doing a PCR test on someone else, it might help to:
- talk them through the steps
- try to remain calm
- get another person to help you
- use a torch to see their tonsils (or where they would have been)
- get them to say "ahhhhhhh" loudly so you can see their tonsils
Stop doing the test if the person becomes distressed.
It's important to use a separate test kit for each person.
If you cannot swab their tonsils, you can swab both nostrils instead. The test result may be less accurate than a nose and a tonsil swab.
Sending the test to a lab
If you do the test at a test site, they will send the swab to the lab.
If you're posting a home test kit, you should only post it in a Royal Mail priority postbox. Do not take it to a Post Office or post it in a non-priority postbox.