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How to use an NHS rapid lateral flow test for coronavirus (COVID-19)

A rapid lateral flow test shows you the result on a device that comes with the test.

There's separate information on how to do a PCR test, the test that is sent to a lab to get the results.

Check the expiry date before you do the test

Rapid lateral flow tests have expiry dates so you know when to use them by.

Do not use out-of-date tests. Use a test from a box which is still in date.

You can find the expiry date on the back or the side of the box that the test came in. If you have severe sight loss, ask a friend or family member to find the expiry date.

What to do with expired tests

If the tests are out-of-date you should dispose of them.

Recycle what you can, such as the cardboard box and paper test kit instructions.

Put the rest in your general rubbish bin.

If you need help to do the test

Watch a video and find step-by-step guides to doing a test, including easy read and translated versions: GOV.UK: how to do a COVID-19 rapid test at home

You can call 119 (free from mobiles and landlines) if you need extra support.

Lines are open:

  • Monday to Friday (including bank holidays), 8am to 6pm
  • Saturday and Sunday, 9am to 1pm

119 provides support in 200 languages.

SignVideo is a free online British Sign Language interpreter service for 119.

You can use the free Be My Eyes app to get help from trained NHS Test and Trace staff. Download the app, go to Specialized Help and select NHS Test & Trace in the Personal Health category.

If you have severe sight loss, you might find it easier to get help to do the test from a friend or family member.

Give feedback about your test kit or report harm

If any part of your test kit is damaged or missing, do not use it. You’ll need to use another test kit.

If you’ve been harmed or had a reaction using the test kit, report it as soon as possible.

Find out how to give feedback about your test kit or report harm on GOV.UK.

Main steps for doing a rapid lateral flow test

Rapid lateral flow tests require either a:

  • throat and nose swab
  • nose swab only

The test you have might be different to one you've done before so it's important to read the instructions carefully before you do the test.

Before taking the swab:

  • wash your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitiser
  • clear, clean and dry a flat surface then lay out all the items in the test kit
  • if your test does not come with a pre-filled tube, fill the tube with the liquid provided
  • place the tube in the tube holder
  • blow your nose
  • wash your hands again or use a hand sanitiser

Taking the swab

If your test requires a throat swab:

  • open your mouth wide and rub the swab over both your tonsils (or where they would have been) at the back of your throat. Do this 4 times on each side
  • using the same swab, wipe the inside of your nose as set out in the test kit instructions

If your test requires a nose swab only:

  • use the swab to wipe the inside of your nose as set out in the test kit instructions

Completing the test:

  • put the end of the swab into the tube so it's in the liquid and swirl the swab around as directed in the test kit instructions, then close the lid
  • squeeze the liquid from the tube onto the test strip
  • check the waiting time in the instructions that came with your test kit
  • wait for the time shown in your test kit instructions
  • read your result

Do not leave it longer than the waiting time specified in the test kit instructions as this may affect the result.

Reporting your result

Report your result, whether it is positive, negative or void, every time you do an NHS rapid lateral flow test.

Report an NHS rapid lateral flow test result on GOV.UK.

Doing the test on someone else

If you're doing the test on someone else, it might help to:

  • talk them through the steps
  • try to remain calm
  • get another person to help you

If your test requires you to do a throat swab on someone else:

  • use a torch to see their tonsils
  • 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.

Page last reviewed: 1 July 2022
Next review due: 28 October 2022