Created for Greatist by the experts at Healthline. Read more
A salt water gargle (SWG) is a simple, safe, cheap DIY remedy for many common throat ailments. SWGs have been popular for ages, because they work and are accessible to most people.
Usually folks turn to salt water gargles when they have a sore throat or a pesky little bug like a cold or sinus infection. Many people with allergies or other mild respiratory conditions might find relief through SWGs as well.
Better still, SWGs may even prevent allergies and illnesses (or their symptoms, at least) from getting worse.
Making a salt water gargle is almost too easy. You need just two readily available ingredients. You guessed it: salt and water. (Quelle surprise!) In a few short moments you can whip up a batch and start gugguggugging away.
Because SWGs are made from totally natural ingredients, they’re generally considered safe for kids (with supervision, of course). How effective gargling may be for a particular person or health complaint could vary, but there’s really no downside when it’s done properly.
COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease)
Yeah, let’s address this elephant in the room (the one that’s hopefully masked and at least 6 feet away from you). To put it plainly: Gargling with salt water will not prevent or cure this disease. It’s not your common cold or flu, fo sho. So, time to stop wishing on this myth.
According to the World Health Organization, there are “no drugs licensed for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19.” Several sources clearly and definitively state that there’s no evidence gargling with warm, hot, vinegar-spiked, and/or salted water has any effect on the new coronavirus.
That said, sore throat can be a sign of the illness. Saline rinses may ease this symptom and leave you feeling a tad better. So, SWG: still a tool in your overall coronavirus symptom treatment kit.
Salt water gargles are tried and true. That’s why they’ve stood the test of time and continue to be a go-to choice. Folks can comfortably rely on salt water gargling to be effective for their minor throat complaints.
SWGs are also culturally accepted. Tons of studies show that gargling is a widely used oral health treatment. It seems to be especially popular in Asia and Africa and among African American and white older adults in the United States.
People are drawn to SWGs because they’re all-natural, easily accessible, and effective. (There’s a reason this traditional medicine has staying power!)
The medical community is even exploring how to include complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) techniques like salt water gargling in conventional care plans. A 2015 survey in Pakistan found that 62.8 percent of healthcare providers used CAM approaches to treat sore throat.
All that background info is fine and good. But why should you consider gargling salt water in your hour of throaty need?
A mountain of evidence indicates SWGs address certain mild health problems. Salt is a mighty mineral. It packs a one-two punch, drying out the tissues in your mouth while also blocking viruses and bacteria from entering your system.
All in, gargling with salt water may help:
- minimize your chances of infections in your mouth and throat
- reduce inflammation
- provide some relief to pain and aches
Here are some ailments that might benefit from a good ol’ gurgle-gurgle:
Sore or tickly throat
Doctors still recommend gargling with salt water as a soothing treatment for some throat issues. While the SWG won’t snuff out the virus causing the pain, it can soothe the irritation. And that’s somethin’.
SWGs are particularly helpful if you have a mild sore throat due to a cold or the flu.
Sinus and respiratory infections
Salt water may make some infections less severe, including:
One small 2015 study found that SWG did more than just reduce the amount of virus in people’s bodies (by stopping the virus from replicating so much). It actually increased the virus-battling capabilities of certain cells. Imagine happy, smiling throat and nasal passages. So nice.
You don’t have to rely on elbow grease alone to fight the bad stuff that’s trying to rot your teeth. Salt water rinses can bolster your brushing and flossing efforts.
In addition to fighting plaque, gingivitis, and periodontitis, SWGs may help reduce gum inflammation. And because they’re natural and alcohol-free, SWGs are OK for children and those wanting to nurture their voices.
Mouth sores suck. Fortunately, salt water gargling could reduce the pain and inflammation associated with these sores.
A 2016 article included gargling with salt water as a part of a recommended course of treatment for children with a variety of oral issues. Experts also suggest rinsing (not necessarily gargling) as part of a gentle self-care routine for mouth sores caused by cancer treatments.
Preparing and using a salt water gargle at home is super quick and easy. SWGs are an all-ages remedy, but you need to keep an eye on the kiddos to make sure they’re doing it correctly.
Salt + water = salt water
You don’t truly need a recipe to concoct your SWG. It’s literally just salt and water. But, as a point of reference, try mixing 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt into 8 ounces of water. Feel free to use any kind of salt for your gargle mixture.
Warm water may be your best bet. The salt will dissolve faster, and you can imagine how cozy a little heat will be on your sore throat. (If you prefer cold water, that’s OK too. It won’t impact the SWG’s effectiveness.)
Not a fan of the way salt water tastes? You’re likely not alone. To improve the taste, you can experiment with adding:
The flair you’re mixing in may or may not pack your SWG with more curative power. There’s not much solid info on whether added flavorings will change your salt water gargle. (After all, it’s not Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice, which needs its 23 herbs and seasonings!)
Swig, swirl, spit
You’re going to be a champion salt water gargler! No medals or ribbons for placing first here, though. Too bad. 🤷
Here’s how to gargle like a master:
- Take a decent-size swig of your salt water potion. You want enough so that you can maneuver it around your mouth and work some magic, but not so much that you’re gagging, choking, or having it run or spray all over the place.
- Gargle the seawater at the back of your throat for as long as you can stand it. (Aim for at least several seconds.) It may help to tilt your head back a little.
- Roll the briny cocktail around the front of your mouth and amongst your teeth.
- At LONG last, spit out the solution when you’re done.
- Repeat throughout the day or as recommended by your healthcare provider.
There’s no harm if you swallow the water you just rinsed with. But for infection control, it’s better to spit out the used salt water. Also, consuming too much salt can negatively affect other health factors, like your calcium levels and blood pressure.
Salt water gargles can be great home remedies. They’re cheap, easy to make, effective, natural, and safe. When it’s done properly, there aren’t really any drawbacks to this treatment.
Salt water gargling will not prevent or treat coronavirus disease (COVID-19). But SWGs may be helpful for common mouth and throat concerns like allergies, canker sores, and sore throat. While gargling won’t necessarily prevent illnesses, it can provide relief from bothersome symptoms.
Gargling with salt water has been practiced for generations by people around the globe. Doctors often incorporate SWGs into patient care plans along with modern approaches like antibiotics. Salt water gargling is likely here to stay. Try it!