How Accurate Are Home Drug Tests Compared to Lab Tests?

A man with unbuttoned jeans while holding an empty jar preparing for urine test

A drug test is never 100% accurate, and the majority of at-home tests are no exception. Many people believe that it’s more reliable when they go to a lab for a drug test, but that may not be the case.

I conducted some research and tried home drug tests and lab tests to determine which was more accurate. 

Here’s what you need to know about them.

Quick Summary

  • An instant drug test gives you results right away. This usually happens within a few minutes.
  • Laboratory testing can provide a lot of useful information about a person’s specimen.
  • A home test kit can detect drugs if any are above the cutoff level.

Home Drug Test vs. Lab Drug Test

A doctor pouring urine into another jar in a laboratory

Although no drug testing test is foolproof, laboratory tests may be more accurate than most because they use cutting-edge technology; however, they do come with a price.

On the other hand, home drug testing kits are CLIA-waived for many organizations because they’re significantly cheaper than lab tests and can produce accurate results if used correctly.

What Is an At-Home Drug Test?

An at-home drug test is a type of instant drug test that you can do at home. A cup or cassette with several strips for each drug is used in these tests. The strip includes reagents, which are chemicals that react to metabolites produced by the drug in your system.

An instant drug test gives you results on the spot where it is collected. Most times, this occurs within a few minutes. The drug test result is either negative (not present) or non-negative. An instant drug test cannot give an official positive test result.

What’s a Lab-Based Drug Test?

A doctor holding a test tube filled with urineA lab-based drug test is a type of laboratory screening. Drug testing at a lab may be carried out in various ways. Sometimes, a lab may utilize the same reagents as home drug tests. 

A professional lab is managed by experts and regulated by organizations such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. A Medical Review Officer (MRO) reviews the drug test results.

The main reason to send a sample to a lab is that a laboratory drug screening involves using sophisticated equipment resulting in significantly fewer false positives. These tests can tell you how much of the drug is in the sample.

Laboratory drug testing is most accurate when using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. This combination first separates and then accurately measures the metabolites present in a sample.

Laboratory-based drug tests provide a lot of information about a person’s sample. This information can be very helpful for healthcare providers, for example, to figure out if someone has been using drugs regularly or only occasionally. 

However, based on my experience, I discovered a few differences in their functionality, accuracy, and time. Let me discuss each point in detail.


An image of a home multi drug test kitA home drug test works when you submit a sample on a tiny absorbent substance, usually concealed under an adhesive film or paper tab. This sample will then react to the chemicals in it and change color. The colors or lines in the instructions will show whether certain compounds are found or absent.

Home tests have been designed to give accurate results with similar sensitivity as lab-based testing methods using professional equipment. They work by examining small samples you collect and checking the results yourself after a prescribed amount of time.

Lab drug tests work by sending a urine sample to a certified laboratory for an initial screening test. Suppose the results of the initial test are positive.

In that case, confirmatory testing is performed to determine if drugs (e.g., cocaine, marijuana, and amphetamines) or other specimen validity issues (e.g., tampering) are present in the sample.


Because of how simple and quick they are in comparison to lab tests, drug test kits have grown in popularity. It is possible to take an at-home drug test and receive the results in 5 to 10 minutes, on average. 

Lab drug test results are generally available within 24 to 72 hours. In certain circumstances, expert analysis can be completed within 24 hours.

Drug Test Accuracy

A doctor inspecting a jar filled with urineHome drug tests are not 100% accurate. They have their limitations and can only indicate the presence of specific drugs.

Furthermore, other elements might impact the test’s accuracy. The time required for drug testing after using over-the-counter drugs, for example, varies depending on which drug was used.

A home test kit can reveal any drugs above the cutoff level if they are present. It’s conceivable that the quantity of a chemical detected by the device isn’t enough to trigger a negative result (depending on the cutoff level).

Lab-based drug tests are more accurate because they use more sophisticated testing methods than home drug tests. Furthermore, the drug test results of lab drug tests are verified by a second test, which improves accuracy.

Based on my experience, the lab’s drug test results have fewer false positives and negatives. These urine drug tests are more rigorous and require more details [1].

In my opinion, if you’re worried about accuracy, it’s better to take a lab test. But if you’re concerned about cost, at-home drug tests are probably your best bet.

“If a company has safety-sensitive jobs or needs rigor and the ability to defend itself in a court-type setting, then lab testing is the way to go. But if speed is more important than so-called “accuracy,” instant testing probably makes more sense.”
Scott Mogensen, Drug and Alcohol Testing Program Manager

Also Read: Drug Screening vs Drug Testing


If You Pass a Home Drug Test, Will You Pass a Lab Test?

If you pass a home drug test, you may not pass a lab test because between 5-10% of all lab tests may come back as false positives, while approximately 10-15% may be false negatives.

What Is the Most Accurate Way to Test for Drugs?

The most accurate way to test for drugs is through a blood test. However, blood tests are known to be the most expensive option.

What Are the Different Types of Lab Drug Tests Available?

The different types of lab drug tests are 5-panel urine drug test, 10-panel urine drug test, and 12-panel urine drug test.

 Are Home Drug Tests Accurate? 

Yes, home drug tests are accurate if you use them correctly. 

Should You Take an At-Home or a Lab Test?

When it comes to home drug testing vs. lab drug testing, in most cases, a home drug test is a right tool for the job. If you need confirmation on a false positive drug test result, need to quantify the presence of drugs, or need the most accurate option, a laboratory drug test in a controlled laboratory is always available.

I’d suggest taking a look at PreScreen Plus Mini review. This home drug testing kit is straightforward to use and has an accuracy rate of over 99%. With a shelf life of 18 months, you’ll only need to purchase one package, and you’ll be good for a long time.



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