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Do COVID-19 At-Home Tests Expire?

Still have kits stashed from last year’s surge? What you need to know before you swab

spinner image man performing an at-home covid swab test
Xavier Lorenzo / Getty Images

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations climbing once again, more people are returning to at-home testing to determine if their cough is indeed due to the coronavirus. But before you rip open a box and swab your nose, be sure to check the expiration date.

COVID-19 tests have a shelf life, and if yours has been sitting in the medicine cabinet for some time, you’ll want to make sure it’s as accurate as the day it was packaged. Many are good for between 12 and 20 months; some need to be used within six to eight months. And a handful have expiration dates that have been extended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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Here’s what you need to know before testing yourself for COVID-19.

Where can I find my COVID test’s expiration date?

The expiration date for FDA-authorized COVID-19 tests, which can vary by brand, is printed on the outside of the test’s box, much like how food expiration dates are posted on the outside packaging.

How is the expiration date determined?

Manufacturers do what’s called stability testing to determine the period over which the performance of the test is expected to remain stable while stored.

Stability testing takes into account varying temperatures so that at-home tests can be shipped in cold and hot climates. That said, your test could be affected by temperature if you use it while it’s still hot or cold, “such as being used outdoors in freezing temperatures or being used immediately after being brought inside from freezing temperatures,” the FDA says. To get the best results, make sure your test is at room temperature before swabbing. 

If my COVID test is expired, should I still use it?

The FDA does not recommend using a test that has expired. The various parts and pieces that make up the test may degrade or break down over time, the FDA says, and this could cause inaccurate results.

But before you trash your test, check to see if it was recently assigned an extended expiration. Because stability testing takes time — sometimes upwards of a year — the FDA typically authorizes at-home COVID-19 tests with a shelf life of about four to six months and then adjusts the expiration date as stability testing data comes in, the agency explains.

The FDA recently extended the expiration date of several testing brands, including the iHealth tests that were mailed out by the federal government earlier in the year. To determine if your test has been affected, check this FDA list of authorized tests and look in the far right column under “expiration date.”

I’m all out of COVID tests. Where can I get more?

If your stock is expired or depleted, there’s good news: The government just restarted its free home testing program. Every U.S. household is once again eligible to receive four free at-home COVID-⁠19 tests by mail. Shipping is also free. Find more information at COVID.gov/tests or by calling 800-232-0233 (TTY 888-720-7489).

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The new push to distribute free tests is part of a larger effort from the White House to curb a surge in illness from COVID-19, which along with flu and RSV is circulating in many areas throughout the country. Health officials are also urging updated COVID-19 boosters and flu vaccines to help keep Americans healthy. 

Need more tests? Medicare and private health insurance plans will cover the cost of up to eight FDA-authorized at-home tests per month. Many community health centers and rural clinics also have at-home tests available.

What if I test positive for COVID?

By now, most people know that it’s important to stay away from others if you have COVID-19 so you don’t infect them. But it’s also important for adults 50 and older to consider treatment the second that test strip turns positive, White House COVID-19 coordinator Ashish Jha, M.D., said in a recent news briefing. More than 90 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in people 50 and older.

“The truth is we have fantastic treatments,” Jha said. Oral antiviral pills Paxlovid and Lagevrio (molnupiravir) can help to keep a mild infection from progressing to something more severe in people at higher risk of developing COVID-19 complications. The same goes for the antiviral infusion remdesivir (Veklury). All three medications require a prescription, however, and are most effective the sooner they are started.

“Anybody over the age of 50, anybody with chronic disease should get evaluated. Personally, as a physician, I think it’s very clear to me that anybody in their 60s or above should be treated,” Jha added.

Another consideration after testing: Report your results to makemytestcount.org, from the National Institutes of Health, so the U.S. can continue to monitor infection levels.

“We don’t want this winter to look like last winter or the winter before,” Jha said. “If every American does their part, if every American goes out and gets an updated vaccine, if every American gets treated who’s eligible for treatment, we can have a very different winter ahead.” ​