Popular DIY pregnancy tests use items like toothpaste or sugar. (Say, what?!) Here’s what you should know about their accuracy and safety.
The first at-home pregnancy test, e.p.t., became commercially available in the 1970s, but women had been using their pee to predict their pregnancy status long before that point. In ancient Egypt, women would observe how their urine affected a plant’s growth, and in medieval Europe, they’d consult “piss prophets” (really) to make the call based on the shade of their pee, according to the National Institutes of Health. (See: 6 Things Your Pee Is Actually Trying to Tell You)
Now, virtually every drugstore and many websites offer pregnancy tests, yet there’s a growing interest in homemade methods. Searches for “DIY pregnancy test” have steadily increased in recent years, according to Google trends. Blog posts present homemade pregnancy tests as a way to save money, avoid embarrassment (if you’re nervous about purchasing one publically), or get an answer before you’re able to make it to a store. (Related: How the Chances of Getting Pregnant Change Throughout Your Cycle)
So, if you came here wondering whether there are any viable at-home options, you’re not alone. That said, it doesn’t look promising, according to experts.
A lot of the top search results claim that certain household items chemically react to human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the hormone present in pregnant women’s blood and pee that pregnancy tests are designed to detect. Popular options include peeing on white toothpaste to see if it turns blue and bubbles (positive) or stays white (negative) or adding pee to bleach or shampoo and observing whether or not the mixture fizzes. Another recommends pouring your morning urine over some plain white sugar to see if it clumps up, indicating a positive result. But can these really be legit? And even if they are legit, can you realistically rely on your own two eyes to judge whether something is “fizzing” or “bubbling” or “clumping up”?
While there’s plenty of info online about how to make your own pregnancy test, it’s harder to find what exactly is in these household items that react to hCG.
“I can’t find much science,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., ob-gyn at Yale University. “When I first heard about this—which, it’s relatively new that this is getting popular—I really couldn’t find the rationale. I don’t know how they think these things are picking up hCG.” (Related: Women Are Using Menstrual Cups to Get Pregnant Faster and It Might Work)
“It’s not clear to me how they work,” echoed Carmen Wiley, Ph.D., a clinical chemist and president of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry in Washington, DC, when speaking with Parents. The reactions probably have to do with the urine’s pH rather than the presence of hCG, she added. (Related: There’s Now a Wearable Tracker for Fertility)
And even if the chemical reaction is scientifically founded (which it’s not!), the “results” aren’t exactly clear. How do you know if you’re correctly interpreting “fizzing” or “bubbling” or “clumping up”?
Store-bought tests are thought to be accurate around 99 percent of the time, which is a pretty important factor in testing something as potentially life-altering as pregnancy. “I do not recommend relying on the DIY tests,” says Adeeti Gupta, M.D. founder of Walk In GYN Care. “Until we have proper clinical randomized controlled trials comparing the various methods, I would not rely on them.”
If you’re experiencing any of these common signs of pregnancy but want to take a test privately, you have options—no need to resort to peeing on toothpaste.
“Certainly, you can get a test anonymously,” says Dr. Minkin. “You can just walk into a store and pay cash, and they’re not that expensive.” Or to avoid the risk of running into someone at a store, you can buy a test online through Amazon or a service like goPuff which delivers convenience store items in 30 minutes or less. By going with a commercial test, you’ll get a much more definitive answer.
If you think you may be pregnant and, for whatever reason, none of these test options are feasible for you, know that you can always see your doctor for help. You can also head to Planned Parenthood for tons of online resources or to chat with an expert via their hotline or online chat.