Do Cheap Pregnancy Tests Really Work? Accuracy and False Results

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If you’re currently trying to get pregnant or think you may already be pregnant, you’ve probably spent a decent amount of time looking into finding the best pregnancy test to give you the most accurate results. There are plenty of options available, but are all pregnancy tests created equal?

Cheap pregnancy tests can be just as effective as expensive ones – accuracy has nothing to do with price. The FDA regulates all U.S. pregnancy test sales. You’ll know how good a test is by checking its sensitivity to Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone produced by pregnant women. 

For this article, we’ll delve into the accuracy of results of less expensive pregnancy tests along with the results of the more expensive, name-brand tests to see if there really is any difference between the two. Let’s get started!

Do Cheap Pregnancy Tests Work? How Accurate Are They? 

Home pregnancy tests have come a long way in the last several decades, and they’ve certainly improved since ancient Egyptian women urinated on barley or wheat seeds to detect pregnancy over 3,000 years ago (source: Harvard University Science in the News). 

Today, home pregnancy tests, whether expensive or inexpensive, measure the hormone Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG). Some tests measure at a volume of 50 units per liter, but the best, most sensitive ones can measure hCG at 25 units per liter or less.

That means that most in-home pregnancy tests can accurately predict pregnancies between three and four days after implantation (source: National Library of Medicine). 

Most at-home kits, despite their prices, should be able to accurately predict a woman’s pregnancy up to seven days after fertilization with a success rate of 98%. If a woman receives a negative pregnancy result after a week following a missed period, she is almost certainly not pregnant. 

Because all at-home pregnancy tests use the same basic method for detecting pregnancy, they should all be similarly effective, regardless of whether they are Clear Blue, First Response, or a one-dollar Assured test from Dollar Tree. 

So why do people continue to assume the more expensive tests work better? 

In general, it’s because of the additional. However, before we consider that aspect, let’s check out how pregnancy tests work. 

happy woman holding pregnancy test

How Pregnancy Tests Work

Although there may be a few variations between tests, most at-home pregnancy kits work the same way. A prospective mother urinates on a specific part of the stick, and the test goes to work trying to detect the presence of hCG. If it does, a positive result will be displayed. If not, the test will show a negative result. 

It’s the simplest set-up in the world, so why are some tests so much more expensive than others? As is the case with most things, the more “bells and whistles” a product has, the more expensive it’s going to be. 

Why Some Tests Are More Expensive

The simplest pregnancy tests will display a positive pregnancy result with two straightforward, horizontal lines. Others may use a more easily recognizable “plus sign” instead. However, the more expensive brands go above and beyond, actually giving a visible, digital read-out that says “pregnant” or “not pregnant.” 

All these different features will factor into the final cost of a test. However, if you’re purchasing a test in the United States, you can be confident that all the tests should work effectively.

This is because sales of pregnancy tests are regulated by the FDA and have a 99% accuracy rate when used correctly, no matter the brand (source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration). 

When it comes right down to it, you’re going to pay more for name-brand products. No matter whether you’re purchasing pregnancy tests, cell phones, clothes, or a new SUV, this is fundamentally the same concept. However, as you probably already know, paying more for something doesn’t necessarily make it better. 

But let’s take a look at some of the extras you may be paying for when you pay more than a few dollars for a test:

  • Early detection: Not always possible – it’s better to wait until you’ve missed the first day of your period to take a pregnancy test
  • Digital read-out: Clearly reads “pregnant” or “not pregnant” to remove any confusion from the tiny lines
  • Shorter wait times: The result comes quicker after peeing on the stick, and you don’t have to sit and wait as long for an answer
  • Sturdier construction: Things like plastic handles, caps, and other features make the process more convenient, easier, and less messy 

Why Some Cheaper Tests May Seem Not To Work As Well

If you’ve had a poor result with a cheaper test in the past, chances are the test was actually fine. However, since the cheaper ones can be harder to read or use, there’s sometimes a higher chance for error. 

For example, you can pee directly on the stick with many kits, which is a bit easier for some women. For others, though, you’ll have to collect your urine sample in a cup and drop just a few drops of urine onto the stick using a pipette. 

When the process becomes more complicated, there’s a greater room for error, and as a result, some women have had issues with the less expensive, more complex tests in the past. 

cheap pregnancy test in a shopping cart

Good Places To Buy Cheap Pregnancy Tests

These days, you can buy a cheap pregnancy test practically anywhere, including the gas station on the corner. If you’re looking for somewhere with reasonable prices and plenty of variety, you may want to check out one of the following locations:

  • Amazon: Starting at around $1.99 and up – view the cheapest ones here
  • Walmart: Starting at less than $1 and up
  • Target: Starting at about $5.99 and up
  • Dollar Tree: Everything is $1
  • Dollar General: Starting at $1 and up

Other locations include mass merchandise retailers, gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies, and even grocery stores.

Can Cheap Pregnancy Tests Give False Positives?  

When used correctly, pregnancy tests are usually about 99% accurate. However, both cheap and expensive tests can give false positives from time to time. The most common cause of false positives on pregnancy tests is an evaporation line.

It doesn’t matter how much you spend on your at-home pregnancy test – evaporation lines can happen regardless of the test. Essentially, this is a small line that shows up as the urine on the test dries.

Although the lines are colorless and faint, many women see these evaporation lines and think they’re the “double line” that proves they’re pregnant (source: Healthline).

Evaporation lines will happen. However, if you follow all the instructions carefully and read your test within the designated time (instead of waiting too long), you’ll be less likely to be fooled by evaporation lines.

Additionally, if the second line appears to be extremely faint, you may want to take a second test to confirm the first one wasn’t an evaporation line. 

(Again, this is unlikely to happen as long as you check your test within the recommended window of time.)

woman holding cheap pregnancy test with false negative

Can Cheap Pregnancy Tests Give False Negatives? 

Any pregnancy test can give a false negative if used improperly. Additionally, some women get false negatives if they take the test too soon or if the test picks up on a degraded form of hCG instead of an active form. This is rare but can happen (source: Washington University School of Medicine).

Despite its rarity, according to an interview conducted with Ann Gronowski, Ph.D., a professor of pathology and immunology, and of obstetrics and gynecology, and medical director of core laboratory services at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, false negatives associated with degraded forms of hCG do occasionally happen. 

In an interview with Washington University School of Medicine, she explained the process by saying, “The amount of the degraded form, called hCG core fragment, goes up as pregnancy progresses.

The more of the fragmented hormone that is around, the more likely the first antibody will accidentally capture the fragment instead of the intact hormone.” 

This can result in a false negative for pregnant women (source: Washington University School of Medicine). 

However, the most often cause of a false negative is because you have taken the test too early. Although some tests can detect early pregnancy, it’s best to wait until after missing at least a day of your expected period to take the test; doing so will give you the most accurate results (source: Women’s Health).

Not following the instructions on taking and reading a test can also result in false positives, so be sure you follow all instructions on your test as written. There’s no evidence to suggest that cheap tests are more likely to result in false negatives than expensive tests. 

cheap pregnancy test and marked date on calendar

How Early Do Cheap Pregnancy Tests Work? How Soon Can I Take One? 

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I want to emphasize that price isn’t an indicator of how good a pregnancy test will be. Because the FDA regulates all pregnancy tests in the United States, each should work just as well as the others, assuming you use them correctly. 

However, knowing when to take a pregnancy test is essential. Check out the hCG sensitivity on the kit you purchase. The lower the number, the earlier a test should accurately predict your pregnancy; that’s because the hCG in your urine will increase as time goes by.

If you’re looking for an early result, you’ll want to use the most sensitive test you can find. 

According to most results, First Response is the most sensitive test and can measure 6.5 mIU/ml (source: CBS News). 

Unless you genuinely need to know about pregnancy as early as possible, it’s best to wait until after the first day of a missed period to take a test. Doing so will ensure the most accurate results, no matter which test you take.

Final Thoughts

If you’re sitting at home agonizing over which pregnancy test to buy, hopefully, this article has helped set your mind at ease. The sensitivity of the test and the timing of when you take it are far more important than how much you spend on it. So, take a breath, wait for that first missed period day, and pick any test you like.