Some people find it hard to produce enough spit (saliva) for the DNA test kits from Ancestry or 23andMe. I’ve gathered twelve different suggestions from people who managed to overcome their difficulties in getting enough spit into the vial. One of these may work for you!
1. Massage your Cheeks
This is one of the suggestions from Ancestry to stimulate spit for their DNA test: rub your cheeks “from the outside”. Some other sites get a bit more specific: a good place to focus on is the area just behind your back teeth.
The CDC has advice on producing samples of saliva, and they suggest massaging for 30 seconds.
2. Sugar on the Tongue
Take a tiny portion of white table sugar, and place it on the tip of your tongue. Use just enough that you can taste it, about a quarter of a teaspoon will do.
Interestingly, this is also apparently a remedy for when you’ve burned your tongue. Although you’d need more than a sprinkling: this article recommends dipping your tongue into a bowl of sugar! Don’t do that when you’re taking a DNA test.
3. Hold Sour-Smelling Foods Under Your Nose
Smell the aroma of one of these items before starting to spit into the DNA test tube:
- An open bottle of vinegar
- An open jar of mustard
- A cut lemon
- Pickle juice?!
I’ve listed these in order of which is most likely to be in your house right now! Personally, I’d have to go buy a lemon.
Someone mentioned in a social media forum that smelling pickle juice worked beautifully. They didn’t elaborate, so I’m not sure if that was through slicing a pickle or just using a bottle of pickle juice. Bottled pickle juice? I didn’t even know that was a thing.
4. Use the Smell of a Favorite Meal
I saw this ingenious solution in a Facebook group. This person cooked their favorite meal of steak and pepper sauce the night before they planned to do the DNA test. But she didn’t eat the meal.
The following morning, she heated the meal in a microwave and set it tantalizingly on the table. The aroma was literally mouth-watering.
Once she’d finished spitting into the DNA test tube, did she eat the steak for breakfast? She didn’t say. I hope she chowed down on the breakfast of champions!
5. Think About Sour-Smelling Foods
If you’re helping an elderly relative, you may not want to waft a jar of mustard under their nose. Or give them a juicy steak for breakfast (they might start expecting this on a regular basis).
But if you ask them to imagine that you are doing so, the saliva may flow. Hopefully, this is enough to fill the DNA test tube with spit.
6. Think of a Favorite Meal
This one worked for me. I try not to eat fries too often – “chips” is what we call them on my side of the Atlantic. But I had a good long think of a bag of chips laced with salt and vinegar. You may have more cultured tastes – do what works for you!
7. Watch Videos of People Sucking Lemons
This was a suggestion in a Facebook group. So I went to see what videos were on YouTube, and the top results are adorable baby reactions from their first encounter with a lemon. These are more likely to make you smile than drool enough spit for your DNA test.
There’s also a lot of teenagers doing the silly stuff that teenagers do, and I don’t want to link to that.
But “Lemons for Leukemia” seems like a great charity cause, and here is a sturdy fellow sucking on a lemon as a challenge for this charity cause. He’s a tough-looking dude reduced to cringing like a kid. Hopefully, you’re cringing (and salivating) too.
8. Watch Recipe Channels for your Favorite Meals
You’ll probably have less trouble finding recipe videos than the lemon idea. And they also will be a bit longer, thus giving you more time to drool. Plus you can plan your next meal while dropping spit into the DNA test tube.
9. Delay Swallowing for a Brief Period
This is a simple trick, but the person who suggested it had some bonus advice: tilt your head sideways!
Hey, it worked for her.
10. Assume the Zombie Position (While Seated)
The actual instructions for this tip were to sit forward with your head hanging down and your mouth open. This apparently causes drooling. Now, you gather the spit into the DNA test tube.
Making zombie noises is optional.
I tried it for a little while, and I think you might need to combine this tip with one of the others e.g. thinking of your favorite meal.
11. Make Chewing Motions with your Mouth
Simulate that you’re chewing food. For added effect, try to look like an agitated sports coach watching his team from the side of the field.
On a serious note, some people suggest that you actually bite the insides of your cheeks. That shouldn’t be necessary. In fact, 23andMe warn against doing this. They want the white blood cells in your saliva, not the epithelial cells from cheeks.
12. Give Reluctant Spitters some Privacy
If you’re helping an elderly person, be mindful that women, in particular, may not be used to spitting. Doing it in public with someone watching may increase the mental discomfort.
One commenter on social media noted that her mother seemed to be having difficulty in producing saliva. But when she left her in private and came back after a while, the job was done.
13. Dealing with Spit Bubbles
You needn’t worry unduly about spit bubbles in the tube, as long as they are above the marked line. If you see that much of the contents are frothy, then you may not have enough actual liquid.
You can tap the side of the vial to let the liquid settle, and separate the bubbles toward the top. Then, keep spitting until you’ve got saliva to the marked height.
14. Ancestry Testers Can Make Multiple Attempts
Ancestry says explicitly that you can take up to a week to get enough spit into the tube. It’s important to refrigerate the tube between your attempts. Stand it upright in your refrigerated unit. But don’t take longer than a week before you have completed the process of mixing your saliva with the stabilizing fluid.
23andMe has different instructions. They want you to complete the process within 30 minutes. They do have some extra advice if you can’t produce enough saliva within that time frame. It’s worth reading before you’ve started the process.
15. Last Resort: Use an Alternative DNA Test That Uses Cheek Swabs Instead of Spit
You may have been surprised to find that Ancestry DNA and 23andMe expect you to fill a tube with saliva. That’s not how DNA tests are done on CSI, right? It’s: “open your mouth while I jab you with this q-tip.”
There are other DNA testing sites that are similar to Ancestry and 23andMe but use cheek swabs instead. The main options are MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA. Both these sites offer ethnicity reports and a DNA matching service that compares your DNA with the other testers in their database.
If an ethnicity breakdown is the primary reason that you want to test your DNA, then I don’t see a big disadvantage in switching to either MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA. The ethnicity breakdowns are going to be different at all four sites anyway.
If you’re primarily interested in genealogy research through your DNA matches, then the main drawback is that the databases of MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA are much smaller than Ancestry and 23andMe. As of September 2020, Ancestry reported 18+ million testers and 23andMe reported 12+ million testers.
In contrast, MyHeritage reported 4 million tests earlier in 2020. FamilyTreeDNA doesn’t report their numbers, but they are in fourth place behind MyHeritage in terms of numbers.
Transferring DNA Between DNA Sites
If you test with MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA, you can transfer your DNA results to the other site. Unfortunately, you can’t upload from either to Ancestry or 23andMe.
In contrast, you can test with Ancestry or 23andMe and transfer to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA. This gives you access to more DNA matches for genealogy research.
MyHeritage has a nice little video showing a young woman using a cheek swab. She actually performs the action twice, as the kit includes two cheek swabs. The advantage here is that the lab has a fallback option if there is a problem with one of the swabs. With Ancestry and 23andMe, you have to take another test.
Similarly, FamilyTreeDNA also provides two cheek swabs. Their company page links out to a YouTube video made in 2009 by Brad Larkin. Strangely enough, the linked video says that it isn’t endorsed by FamilyTreeDNA. And the description underneath the video says there is an updated version here from 2017.
The later version of the video reflects a difference in how you put the swab into the vial, so stick with this version.
16. Doing an Ancestry or 23andMe DNA Test Without Spit
There is a YouTuber who has experimented successfully with completing the Ancestry DNA test without spitting into the tube. This is her video with full instructions on how to proceed.
The technique involves mixing up a saline solution, taking a cheek swab, and dunking the swab into your “artificial spit”. It’s a little complicated, but she’s got a lot of comments reporting success.
The YouTuber didn’t try it with 23andMe, but other people have left comments reporting it worked with 23andMe.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other questions that crop up concerning Ancestry DNA and 23andMe kits.
Can you drink water before a DNA saliva test?
You shouldn’t drink water within thirty minutes of starting to spit into the DNA test tube.
However, the CDC says that staying hydrated well before you start the test can help produce saliva later. If you typically wake up in the morning with a very dry mouth, then time your DNA test to later in the day, and drink water as normal.
Just be sure to keep to the time window, and take no water within that time frame.
Should you brush your teeth before taking a DNA saliva test?
This question seems to stem from thinking that our mouths should be clean before we take the test. And it’s a good idea to minimize contamination by food parts. But the general rule is not to put any substance into your mouth within 30 minutes of the test. This applies to toothpaste and mouth wash.
Don’t brush your teeth within the thirty-minute time window of taking the DNA test.
What happens if you sent your DNA sample without enough spit?
The testing lab may not be able to extract enough DNA from your sample. Both Ancestry and 23andMe give you an online report as to the stage of processing of your DNA.
If your kit fails to process, you’ll be sent a second kit.
What are the reasons your DNA saliva test might fail?
Puritan is a manufacturer of swabs and other medical products. They say that the most common reason for test failure is not enough saliva in the tube.
What if you spill some of the blue stabilizer liquid?
This happened with my Ancestry DNA kit – I spilled a few drops of the stabilizer fluid. It processed with no problem (other than me worrying). Other people have reported similar with 23andMe.
If the solution spills completely, you’ll need to get a replacement kit. Ancestry is pretty liberal with giving free replacement kits. 23andMe may have a limit on the number of times you can request one.
How long do unused Ancestry or 23andMe DNA kits last?
Ancestry says their kits can be used up to at least a year after purchase. But it’s not clear when these kits actually expire i.e. become unusable. A Redditor reported success after a two-year wait with an Ancestry DNA kit.
Some people get cold feet and put away their DNA kit for several years, before deciding to take the plunge. If you’re in that position, you could use the kit and send it in. See what happens.
How long will I be waiting for my DNA results?
Here is our article on how long the current waiting time is for 23andMe results.
And this is our article on the turnaround time for Ancestry DNA to show your results.
What did Napoleon Bonaparte say about his island exile? Able was I ere I saw Elba. Well, he didn’t…but it’s a marvelous palindrome. It reads the same backward and forward.
So does “Spit Tips”. I was so tempted to title the blog post solely by these two words. But I’d feel sorry for little kids looking for advice on best techniques on shooting spit across the road.
Bonus Tip: Things to Do While Waiting for your DNA Test to Process
So, you’ve sent off your DNA test sample, hoping that you’ve produced enough spit. There’s a few things you can do to get a head start for when your results come in.
Take a look at our YouTube channel with video walkthroughs of researching your DNA matches.
Have a browse through our articles. Check out this one on building a wide family tree on Ancestry that will help you identify your connection with DNA matches.
And sign up for our weekly newsletter for a summary of new articles we drop.