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COVID-19 home tests: How to store and use your kit safely

Close-up of hands holding a COVID-19 test indicator.

April 4, 2022—At-home COVID-19 tests play an important role in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. But for safety’s sake, you should take care when storing and using them, reminds the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Just why is that? To be sure, COVID-19 test kits are safe when used as directed. Most COVID-19 home test kits include a swab and a vial. You usually place the swab into the nostrils and then mix the test swab with the liquid in the vial. The chemical reaction gives you a positive or negative test result.

But the liquid in many test kits contains a preservative called sodium azide that may be harmful if the tests aren’t used correctly—or if kids get into them. There isn’t enough sodium azide in most test kits to poison adults, the National Capital Poison Center reports. But even the small amount present in a kit may cause irritation if you get it in your nose or on your skin.

How accidents happen

Problems may arise when people use the test kits in the wrong way—such as placing the swab in the vial before placing it in their nostrils.

Since the vials may look similar to eye drops, some people might mistakenly put the liquid solution in their eyes. This has happened on at least one occasion, according to poison control center experts. It caused irritation that cleared up after the person rinsed their eyes.

And if vials are left out, children may find and swallow the liquid solution, which might poison them due to their smaller size.

Safety tips

Experts offer these tips for storing and using a COVID-19 test kit at home:

Store your test kit in its box until you’re ready to use it. Keep the box that holds the kit and all of the test parts out of the reach of children and pets.

Read the instructions that came with your test kit before you use it. This will help ensure safe and accurate results. Follow any warnings. For example:

  • Swab your nose before you place the swab in the test solution. The liquid is not supposed to touch your body.
  • Keep the liquid solution away from the skin, nose, mouth and eyes.
  • Use only the swab in the test kit to collect a nasal sample.

Dispose of your used test kit right away. Follow the instructions for how to do this.

Wash your hands with soap and water after you dispose of the test kit. Also wash your hands before and after you collect a nasal sample for your test.

In case of poisoning

If someone in your home ingests or touches the liquid in a COVID-19 test kit, what then? You can call the poison control center hotline at 800.222.1222 to learn the next steps.

Check out this infographic to learn more ways to keep poisons away from kids.

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