Can You Use An Expired At-Home COVID-19 Test?

Rapid at-home COVID-19 tests have increased in popularity in recent months — and for good reason. For many, they're a safer and easier alternative to waiting in line to get tested in-person for COVID-19 infection. The at-home tests also offer much faster results. However, you may want to check the packaging of your test before you use it. As it turns out, at-home COVID-19 tests actually have an expiration date.

Reports the Philadelphia Inquirer, rapid antigen tests contain a liquid reagent and customized antibodies, which are painted on the test strip. These components are what allow the strip to change color if you have COVID-19. They also start to degrade over time, especially if the tests are stored at extremely cold or hot temperatures. As a result, rapid tests usually only have a shelf life of up to 12 months. The exact expiration date, however, should be located anywhere on the front or back of the packaging.

Don't use an expired COVID-19 test

While at-home COVID-19 tests won't instantly go bad the day the test is set to expire, using them past their expiration date is not recommended. According to Verywell Health, expired tests start to lose their accuracy over time. In fact, using an expired rapid antigen test could give you a false result, which could be dangerous.

"Depending on the design of the test, it might give you either a false positive or negative test [result]," Dr. Sheldon Campbell, an associate director of clinical microbiology lab and professor of laboratory medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, told Verywell Health. He advises explicitly not to use an expired at-home COVID-19 test kit. "Don't do it. A wrong test is worse than none at all." If you get a false negative, you could unknowingly infect those around you. That's why those who are symptomatic or unvaccinated are urged to test again after receiving a negative result, especially if they previously used an expired COVID-19 test.