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Using COVID-19 antigen tests

Antigen tests are an extra measure to help protect yourself and others from COVID-19 (coronavirus).

You do the tests yourself. You use a swab to take a sample from your nose. Unlike a COVID-19 PCR test, the test sample does not have to go to a lab. You usually get your result in 15 minutes.

Types of antigen test

Only use an antigen test that has a CE mark with a 4-digit number on the packaging.

Image of the CE mark logo
CE mark

A CE is a quality standards mark for products sold on the European market. It means the product conforms to European safety standards and performance.

How to do an antigen test

Follow the instructions that came with the test. The instructions may vary from test to test.

The general steps involved in doing an antigen test
  1. Wash or sanitise your hands.
  2. Put all the items in the test kit on a clean surface.
  3. Open the tube and place it in the holder - some tubes are prefilled with liquid and some you need to fill with a vial of liquid.
  4. Blow your nose.
  5. Open the swab wrapping - only touch the swab at the handle, do not touch the soft pad at the tip.
  6. Insert the swab into your left nostril until you feel resistance, this is usually about 2cm to 4cm.
  7. Roll the swab 5 times inside the nostril.
  8. Using the same swab, repeat this process in your right nostril.
  9. Insert the swab into the tube until the soft pad is in the liquid.
  10. Stir the swab around for about 1 minute to make sure the liquid has a chance to absorb the sample on the swab.
  11. Squeeze the tube with both fingers and gently pull the swab out of the tube.
  12. Place 1 of the small plastic nozzle caps provided on top of the tube.
  13. Drop 4 drops of the liquid into the testing device.
  14. Wait for the recommended time on the instructions leaflet - usually in 15 minutes.
  15. The result will appear on the test device.
  16. When you have finished with an antigen test, put it in a plastic bag and put the bag in your bin.

Children aged:

  • under 4 should not do antigen tests
  • 4 to 12¬†should do antigen tests with help from a parent or guardian
  • 13 to 16 should be supervised by a parent or guardian when they are doing antigen tests

Read how to do an antigen test with your child

Antigen test results

There are 3 types of antigen test results:

  • positive (detected)
  • negative (not detected)
  • invalid

COVID-19 test results

Limitations of antigen testing

An antigen test is quicker but less reliable than a PCR test. In some cases, it may not detect the virus.

Page last reviewed: 29 March 2023