What Are the Benefits of a Salt Water Gargle?

Medically reviewed by Carissa Stephens, RN, CCRN, CPN on December 11, 2017Written by Adrian White on December 11, 2017

What is a salt water gargle?

Salt water gargles are a simple, safe, and frugal home remedy.

They’re most often used for sore throats, viral respiratory infections like colds, or sinus infections. They can also help with allergies or other mild health imbalances. Salt water gargles may be effective for both relieving infections and preventing them from getting worse as well.

Making a salt water gargle is quite easy. It requires only two ingredients — water and salt — and takes very little time to make and apply. It’s also completely safe for children over 6 years old to use and for those who can gargle easily.

Since it’s also a fairly natural, affordable, and convenient remedy, it’s considered a standard go-to home treatment for some ailments.

Why should I use a salt water gargle?

Salt water gargles have become a popular standby for some nonserious discomforts. They’ve also been used successfully as alternative treatments since before modern medicine.

In fact, research and modern medicine still support salt water gargles today as an effective approach for certain mild health issues. Salt has been scientifically proven to help draw water out of oral tissues, while creating a salt barrier that locks out water and harmful pathogens from getting back inside.

This makes salt water gargles valuable for blocking viruses and bacteria, reducing the chance of infections in the mouth and throat, and relieving inflammation in certain health imbalances. These include:

Sore throat

While they’re very old home remedies, salt water gargles are still recommended for throat pain by doctors in clinical settings, noted in a 2011 clinical inquiry.

They’re especially effective for colds or flus that cause a mild sore throat — but they can relieve severe sore throats better with the help of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).

Sinus and respiratory infections

Studies also show that salt water may help reduce infection severity, whether it’s from a viral or bacterial infection. This includes:

A 2013 study on nonmedical flu prevention methods found that salt water gargles were perhaps even more effective for preventing reinfection than flu vaccinations. That is, when subjects were in contact with quite a few people.

Allergies

Since inflammation of the throat can also occur with certain allergies — such as pollen or dog and cat dander — salt water gargles may also help with uncomfortable sore throat symptoms due to allergic reactions.

Dental health

Salt water can draw out water and bacteria while protecting the gums, so gargles may be effective for improving gum and dental health. They may also help prevent gingivitis, periodontitis, and cavities.

A 2010 evaluation found that using salt water gargles on a daily basis helped lower harmful bacteria counts that are found in saliva.

Canker sores

Along the same lines as sore throats, salt water gargles could alleviate canker sores, also known as mouth ulcers. They may do this by easing the pain and inflammation these sores cause.

Salt water gargles were a top recommendation for children with mouth sores in a 2016 review.

The best ways to gargle salt water

Making a salt water gargle at home is very easy and straightforward. Children and adults of all ages can use it. However, it’s generally not recommended for children under the age of 6, or anyone else who could have a difficult time gargling.

How it’s made

The Mayo Clinic recommends mixing about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt to every 8 ounces of water.

The water may be best warm, since warmth can be more relieving to a sore throat than cold. It’s also generally more pleasant. But if you prefer cold water, it won’t interfere with the remedy’s effectiveness.

Warm water may also help the salt dissolve into the water more easily. Better dissolving of salt might be ideal if you’re using coarse sea salts or kosher salts instead of finer iodized or table salts. You can use any type of salt for salt water gargles.

How it’s done

Gargle the water in the back of your throat for as long as you can handle. Then, swish the water around the mouth and teeth afterward. Spitting it out into a sink is recommended when you’re finished. However, it can be swallowed.

In the case of infections, spitting out salt water is considered better at keeping the infection at bay. Be careful if doing multiple mouth rinses per day and swallowing too much salt water, as it can dehydrate you. Drinking too much salt water can also have health risks, such as calcium deficiency and high blood pressure.

Gargling at least twice a day is recommended. You can safely gargle many more times than that, too.

If you’d like to improve the taste, try adding:

These can be added as teas, tinctures, or essential oils. Keep in mind that there aren’t many studies on how these additions make salt water gargles more effective.

The takeaway

For children and adults who are comfortable with them, salt water gargles can be great and successful home remedies.

They’re especially supported by doctors and clinicians to help with pain and inflammation of a sore throat. As an extra, they could help prevent and relieve certain oral bacterial and viral infections, colds, flus, and strep throat.

Marginally, salt water gargles could also be helpful for allergies, canker sores, and improving oral health. Best of all, salt water gargles are shown to be very safe and time-honored treatments. They’re also very easy to prepare at home.

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