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Best Home COVID Tests

Yes, you should still be testing for COVID. Here are some of the best home tests on the market.

Amanda Capritto
Jessica Rendall Wellness Writer
Jessica is a writer on the Wellness team with a focus on health news. Before CNET, she worked in local journalism covering public health issues, business and music.
Expertise Medical news, pregnancy topics and health hacks that don't cost money Credentials
  • Added coconut oil to cheap coffee before keto made it cool.
Jessica Rendall
5 min read

Editor's note, March 7, 2023: The recommendations in this article are out of date and will not be updated going forward. Should you feel sick, we recommend talking to a health care professional. Please refer to the CDC and WHO, linked above, for current guidelines and information regarding COVID tests.

To test or not to test -- that's still the COVID-19 question. And if you're in the position where you're considering it, the answer is probably "yes."

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend you take a test if you have symptoms of COVID-19. According to a Dec. 2023 report from Zoe, a health company that's been tracking how COVID-19 symptoms change, the top five reported symptoms of COVID-19 around that time last winter were sore throat, runny nose, a blocked nose, sneezing and cough. 

But you should also take a test if you were exposed to COVID-19, about five days after the exposure if you don't have symptoms, per the CDC (testing too early can give you a false negative). And, perhaps equally as important, you should consider taking a test if you plan to spend time with a person at higher-risk of death or serious illness from COVID-19, including older adults. (And of course, avoid close contact with people at higher risk if you're feeling sick, even if your test turns up negative.)

OK, so you're looking for a test. Which one should you choose? The best answer may be the one you have at home, or the one you can get for free, so long as your test isn't expired. As a general rule, lab-based or molecular tests, which include PCR tests, are more accurate than rapid antigen tests (most of the at-home tests we've become familiar with), which means you're probably more likely to get a false negative result with an antigen test than you would be with a PCR test. 

But while there are some at-home, lab-level tests available, they are more expensive than rapid antigen tests and require you to ship in a sample. So in a pinch, what you have available -- and what you can afford -- may be your best option.

Fortunately, even though the virus that causes COVID-19 has mutated many times since the beginning of the pandemic, recent changes to the virus don't seem to have caused significant differences in home test effectiveness, at least when changing from omicron subvariant to omicron subvariant

Here's a round-up of some of the best, most straightforward COVID-19 tests available now to assist in your search. 

A Binax test
Navica on the App Store
  • Where to buy it: CVS, Walgreens, Amazon and other pharmacies
  • Collection method:Nasal swab
  • Get results in: 15 minutes

Abbott's BinaxNOW COVID-19 test is one of the more common home tests, so you might recognize the purple-and-blue box. Like most other home tests on the cheaper side, it's a rapid antigen test that'll give you results within 15 minutes at home. The kit comes with two tests. 

Jessica used this test when she had COVID-19 in Sept. 2022. She tested positive with it the day after she started to feel sick, and again days later, though the positive result was much fainter. 

However, if you take this test while you feel sick and test negative, that doesn't necessarily mean you're in the COVID-19 clear. BinaxNOW is an antigen test, which is a less accurate type of test than those that are molecular or lab-based. That's why the FDA recommends you take at least two antigen tests over a period of a few days if you have COVID-19 symptoms. Still, some people have reported never testing positive even though they have some COVID-19 symptoms. 

  • Where to buy it:CVS, Target, other pharmacies 
  • Collection method: Nasal swab
  • Get results in: 15 minutes

While the Flowflex antigen test is a one-test-per-box package, it's sold at a lower $10 price. Like many home tests, results come within minutes after you properly follow all instructions. (Make sure your FlowFlex test is FDA-authorized, and not a counterfeit test.) It's a swab, swirl and drop method. 

Jessica also used this test, and got a positive result, after it was confirmed she had COVID-19 on another home test in Sept. 2022. 

Amanda Capritto/CNET
  • Where to buy it: LetsGetChecked.com
  • Symptom screening: Yes
  • Collection method: Nasal swab
  • Get results in: Three days after the lab receives your sample

If you want lab-level accuracy without a doctor's visit, this might be the test for you. The swab sample is sent to a laboratory and the analysis will include either PCR testing or transcription-mediated amplification. While lab tests like this one from LetsGetChecked are pricier than your standard rapid antigen test, you can feel more secure in their accuracy.

Negative test result on iHealth COVID 19 rapid at home test
Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Where to buy it: Walmart, Amazon, CVS and more 
  • Collection method: Nasal swab
  • Get results in: 15 minutes

You can't go wrong with your standard two-pack of rapid antigen tests (which you may have also received free in the mail from the government). If you'd like proof of your negative COVID-19 test result prior to an indoor gathering, for example, the iHealth test is one of the home tests that has an app you can pair your results with. 

On/Go Covid Test
  • Where to buy it: On/Go, Best Buy, Walmart
  • Collection method: Nasal swab
  • Get results in: 15 minutes

On/Go tests have the classic swab, swirl, repeat collection method of rapid antigen tests, but you can buy these tests on On/Go's website in bulk. You can buy a standard two-test kit for $20, or 100 tests (50 boxes) for $840 -- or an even bigger bulk order. As Healthline reports, this may be ideal for people who have to test frequently for work. Or, if you're planning a wedding and want everyone tested beforehand, for example.

OraSure Technologies, as found on Walmart's website
  • Where to buy it: Walmart 
  • Collection method: Nasal swab
  • Get results in: 10 minutes

All rapid home tests should be relatively easy to use -- that's the point of them, to get you results quickly. But the InteliSwab, as Verywell Health reports, is even easier. To use it, swab both nostrils, and swirl the stick in the tube, then just wait for your results

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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.