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Are Expired At-Home COVID Tests Still Accurate? Here's What to Know

Each box of COVID-19 tests should have an expiration date stamped on it. We'll tell you what that means.

Covid-19 at home Rapid Test Kit
Are your COVID-19 tests still OK to use?
Sarah Tew/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

With travel season ramping up, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending everyone get tested before leaving for their trip. This includes those who are fully vaccinated and those who haven't received the COVID-19 vaccine. But if you've been storing your test kits for months now, how do you know if they'll still give accurate results?

If your summer trip isn't coming up any time soon, you can order eight more free COVID-19 tests from the government to use. But if you've had the same test kits since the beginning of the year, the expiration date could be coming up soon, or even have passed. 

I'll explain what those expiration dates mean and whether or not the test kits are effective based on information from the Food and Drug Administration. For more, here's how to determine if your at-home COVID-19 test is real.

What does the COVID test expiration date mean?

The expiration date listed on your box of COVID-19 tests is the final day the test is expected to perform effectively. Generally, the FDA authorizes at-home test kits with a shelf life of about four to six months, but the shelf life could be extended if the manufacturer finds more data that shows the tests are still accurate past the expiration date.

Can I use a COVID test kit past its expiration date?

No. The FDA doesn't recommend using expired at-home COVID-19 tests. Here's why: The COVID-19 test parts could degrade or break down over time, leading to inaccurate or invalid test results. 

Again, it's possible the expiration dates for at-home COVID-19 test kits could be extended as more data is collected, but for now, you shouldn't use a test that's expired. If your box of test kits shows a past expiration date, check this FDA list of extended expiration dates to see if it's OK to use yours (more below).

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How do I know if the shelf life of my COVID tests has been extended?

If the manufacturer finds that the shelf life is longer than the expected four to six months, it can request that the FDA authorize an extended expiration date. Once that happens, the manufacturer may notify customers of the new expiration dates. However, if you didn't buy the tests via the manufacturer, you likely won't receive any notifications.

If you haven't received any notices and want to know if the expiration date on your COVID-19 test kits has been extended, you can check the FDA's At-Home OTC COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests webpage.

From there, scroll down to the search box and type in the name of your at-home test kits. For instance, I have a box of iHealth COVID-19 test kits with a use-by date of July 26, 2022. After checking the extended expiration column, I saw the expiration date had been extended to Oct. 25, 2022.

For more details, here's how to pay for home COVID tests with your FSA or HSA.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.