- Salt water gargles help reduce the inflammation and pain of sore throats and mouth ulcers.
- It helps stop bacteria growth, prevents upper respiratory infections, and dislodges food particles.
- You can make this home remedy by combining ½ teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of warm water.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Gargling with salt water is a common home remedy that generally helps with sore throats, colds, and mouth ulcers. Salt water gargles can help relieve throat pain and irritation by reducing inflammation and preventing the growth of bacteria.
“An advantage of salt water over, let’s say, alcohol-based mouthwash, is that salt water is less abrasive or irritating to the mucosal lining of the throat. Also, salt is inexpensive and natural,” says Michael Lerner, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology at the Yale University School of Medicine.
Here’s when and how to use a salt water gargle and how to make one at home.
Benefits of gargling salt water
The benefits of salt water aren’t just an old wives’ tale. In fact, rinsing the mouth with a saline solution is one of the best ways to disinfect oral wounds, especially after having dental surgery, because it works as an antiseptic and it inhibits bacterial growth.
Four benefits of gargline with salt water:
- Reducing throat inflammation and clearing nasal passageways: Conditions like sinus infections, congestion, and tonsillitis can cause inflammation and a sore throat. But, “warm salt water gargles can help thin mucus, reduce swelling, and reduce the load of infection or allergens responsible for the inflammation in the first place,” says Lerner.
- Preventing upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs): “I would recommend warm salt water gargling to anyone suffering from symptoms of sore throat, but especially to those whom I suspect are suffering from a viral upper respiratory infection or viral pharyngitis,” says Lerner. Even gargling with water alone may reduce inflammation in the airways and prevent URTIs, like common colds or the flu.
- Decreasing harmful bacteria in your mouth: Gargling with salt can reduce the number of bacteria in your mouth and lower the risk of tooth decay, gum inflammation, periodontitis, and gingivitis. “Rinsing with salt water is generally considered helpful for oral and gingival (gum) health,” says Lerner, because it keeps the mouth clean and also reduces discomfort from mouth sores.
- Dislodging remaining food particles: Similar to mouthwash, a salt water gargle can remove loose food particles in the mouth after eating and reduce dental plaque, the colorless or yellow film of bacteria on the teeth. “Gargling with salt water after meals can help rinse food debris out of the tonsils, which could sometimes prevent the formation of tonsil stones,” says Lerner.
Children below six years old might not be able to gargle properly yet, so a salt water gargle isn’t recommended.
How to make salt water for gargling
All you need to make a salt water solution are salt and water. It’s best to use purified, filtered, or distilled water because tap water may have contaminants. You can also buy saline solutions over-the-counter from local pharmacies.
“When we say ‘salt’, we mean the chemical sodium chloride (NaCl), which is available at any grocery store in the form of canning salt, pickling salt, kosher salt, or sea salt,” says Lerner.
“There is no hard and fast rule as to the appropriate concentration for salt water gargles, but I recommend dissolving 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup (or 8 oz) of warm water.”
Some people choose to add ginger, lemon, or honey to improve the taste, but there’s no data on whether it can affect the health benefits of a salt water gargle.
How to gargle with salt water
- Take a large sip of the salt water, just enough to swish it around your mouth comfortably.
- Tilt your head back a little and gargle the saline solution for about 10 to 15 seconds.
- Roll the water around your teeth and gums before spitting it out.
- Repeat the process until you finish the entire glass.
- Rinse your mouth with tap or drinking water after your salt water gargle.
- Repeat the entire process two to three times a day, as needed.
- Remember not to swallow the salt-water.
“I tell my patients that gargling warm salt water is safe and can be continued as long as it is providing symptomatic relief. However, if symptoms worsen or progress, it is important to seek medical evaluation,” says Lerner.
A salt water gargle can reduce inflammation, minimize the likelihood of viral upper respiratory infections, and improve dental health. All you have to do is dissolve 1/2 tsp of salt in a glass of warm water, but you can add other ingredients to improve its taste, and gargle it for about 10-15 seconds 2-3 times a day.
“Gargling with hypertonic saline [aka a salt water solution with a higher concentration of salt] is safe, although ingesting too much salt or sodium chloride can result in elevated blood pressure and altered electrolyte balance in the body,” says Lerner. Be careful not to put too much salt to avoid swallowing or ingesting large amounts of hypertonic saline solution.
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