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How to do a rapid lateral flow test

Rapid lateral flow tests are for people who do not have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). The tests give a quick result using a device similar to a pregnancy test.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you'll need to do a PCR test. There's separate information on how to do a PCR test.

Important: Always check instructions

There are different types of lateral flow tests. The test you have might be different to one you've done before.

Read the instructions that came with your test kit before you do the test, as they have different waiting times and tests require either a:

  • throat and nose swab
  • nose swab only

Before doing a rapid lateral flow test

If you're doing the test at home:

  • try not to eat, drink, smoke or vape 30 minutes before doing the test as this may affect the result of some tests
  • read the instructions carefully
  • clean the surface you're putting the test on
  • check that nothing in the test kit is damaged or broken
  • start the test within 30 minutes of opening the test kit

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 every day, 7am to 11pm. 119 provides support in 200 languages.

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

Main steps for doing a rapid lateral flow test

If you're doing the test at a test site and need support, a trained helper can guide you.

Before taking the swab:

  • read the instructions in the test kit
  • wash your hands with soap or use a hand sanitiser
  • lay out all the items in the test kit on a clean surface
  • if your test does not come with a pre-filled tube, fill the tube with the liquid provided and close the lid
  • place the tube in the tube holder
  • blow your nose
  • wash your hands again

Taking the swab

If your test requires a throat swab:

  • 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 2.5 cm up or until you feel some resistance)

If your test requires a nose swab only:

  • put the swab inside your nose (about 2.5 cm up)

Completing the test:

  • put the end of the swab into the tube so it's in the liquid
  • 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

It is important you report your result, whether it is positive, negative or void:

Read more about reporting a rapid lateral flow test result.

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.

Important

If you're doing a throat and nose swab on someone else and cannot swab their throat, you can swab both nostrils instead. The test result may be less accurate than a throat and a nose swab.

Page last reviewed: 16 September 2021
Next review due: 30 September 2021