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Why Salt Water Gargling Helps Your Throat

salt-is-not-needed.jpgAs home remedies go, this might be the most widely known/practiced/recommended.  But why does gargling with warm, salty water help soothe a sore throat?  Since I’m doing this multiple times a day–and since I feel like it helps–I decided to Google the gargle and attempt a better explanation than “because it does.”

First of all, gargling of any kind is helpful when you have a throat infection because it flushes the area and can encourage any lingering bits of phlegm to ride the wave and leave the premises.  For those who still have your tonsils (or who, like me, have big ones), flushing the throat with fluid helps loosen anything that gets stuck in there as well.  Alternatives to salt water gargling: cider vinegar, lemon juice, natural mint or cinnamon mouthwash, or just plain warm water.


But here are the main two reasons why salt water in particular are helpful for sore throats (information I learned here and here and here):

  • Salt sucks.  This is a phrase that I learned in 12th grade biology class, and I’ve come back to it again and again.  Salt draws moisture and promotes osmosis.  This is why salting eggplant or tomatoes makes them give up their liquid so they’re easier to cook with. In your throat, salt water “sucks” in two ways: it draws moisture out of any bacteria who have set up shop there, and it draws moisture out of your own swollen tissues, relieving inflammation.
  • Salt cleanses.  Not only does salt water flush out post-nasal drip and other bacterial material (just like any fluid would), a salty environment prevents bacteria from growing.  Just ask any medieval meat-eater how they kept their meat from going rancid, and you’ll recall that salt is a bacteria-fighter.

Fair warning, though – you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to salt water gargling.  First, do not swallow the salt – your body does not need the extra sodium, it needs to be well-hydrated in order to fight your infection.  Second, if the concentration of salt in your gargle is too high, it will dry out your throat membranes, causing them to inflame further.

A good rule of thumb is to use only enough salt so that the water tastes just salty, not WHOA, SALTY!  I usually do 3 10-second gargles in a row, 3-4 times a day when I have a cold. And for whatever reason, I usually feel better afterward.

Do you gargle?  Does it help?

  • Ron Weathers

    I’ve used warm water salt gargoling for a long time. It has always worked to make me feel better and to enhance healing. However, I have an even better method of solving throat problems as well as colds and the flu. It’s simple, but you would have to email me to find out. It has to do with garlic and ginger.

  • Karen

    I gargle with plain warm water everyday, twice a day. First thing in the morning afer brushing my teeth and the last thing before bed. I have large tonsils, and the warm water is so soothing. I used to wake up EVERY morning with a dry, sore throat and have found since I started gargling regularly this NEVER happens anymore. I only add salt when I have a cold or the flu.
    I think gargling regularly helps prevent a cold from ever starting as it flushes out any germs that may have gotten lodged there throughout the day. Case in point: a few weeks ago, I felt that scratchy tingly feeling in the back of my throat and just knew a cold was coming on. I had post-nasal drip and was starting to feel achy. After gargling at bedtime that night, I went to bed certain that I would wake up with a full blown cold. Imagine my surprise when I woke up the next day with absolutely no signs of a cold! Maybe it was coincidence, but I doubt it. I’ve read that people who gargle have 36% fewer colds.

  • Ben Dover

    You gargle chodes.

  • stowers

    I like the article about salt water gargling which I will try.

  • Kate

    I’m gargling right now!

  • Ken pasco

    I gargle when I google

  • Brittany

    I Got sick about 6 days ago, and went to the doctor today. There i was diagnosed with Strep Throat!!!! Which I already knew, but went anyways. I also have a wisdom tooth growing in and its a royal pain in my mouth…lol….But i have been gargling with warm salty water and amazingly the pain and swelling have gone down a lot. So this is no myth everyone who even for a second feels a sore or itchy throat coming on gargle like you’ve never gargled before…..IT REALLY DOES HELP!!!!!!

  • Joy

    Not only does salt water help with sore throats, it also helps an abcess tooth. I felt an abcess coming on last week and the pain was irritating. I decided to try to rinse the area with salt water. The pain IMMEDIATELY went away and did not become inflamed any further. I didn’t have to make a trip to the dentist to request antibiotics! This is my new remedy!

  • Alfred

    My doctor always recomended gargle with asprin or salt water. This was back in the 1960’s. Back then asprin was used more often than today.

  • http://comment Dominick J.

    I wanted to know HOW much salt to use in a glass of water to help get rid of a sore throat. I really didn’t need this long and tedious explanation. Besides, you have to be careful when using a salt gargle because Salt can DRY out your sinuses and cause more problems. SO HOW Much Salt would you use in a Glass of water and is every 4 hours an acceptable amount of time to use it?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Vongaro

    Dominick J, if you read the last paragraph of hrossi’s article it tells you how much to use. And far from being long and tedious, I think the explanation is very informative. No pleasing some people, I guess.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Faghri Haghir

    Hey guys, I tried to stick a rod in my hole but my cold got worse so I made some warm concoction in my rear and it felt so good. I think that’s what is best for a cold. Who wants to party with me.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Miss America

    Hey Dominick J.

    From what I’ve heard it’s 1 teaspoon of salt to every cup of water.

  • Sarah Bernheim

    Salt water gargling help in killing bacteria in your mouth. In the past, when toothpaste and toothbrush were not yet invented, salt gargling is the best alternative. Even now, this way is still being used, most especially for persons affected with mouth disorders or other illnesses.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Aaeza Kashif

    yes, I did it today and i’m only 11 !

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Bella

    This article was very helpful and informative. I used to have dry mouth since using s & w i find that my saliva production has increased. Would you recommend using daily in place of alcohol-based mouthwashes?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment dessi113

    Verry helpful i usually always get sore throat because prone to it and hav always used the honey method but this method is much quicker and workd instantly! Did this 2times aday and showd good results! Love science but medicine is not always the cure to everything sometimes remedies are!:)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment hascold

    Lol, this is science too you know :p

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  • nigelciera

    Thank you for writing about this on line so others can have the benefits of your experience and they’re not the guinea pigs with this medical issue!

  • Tim

    GoGargle! is the perfect solution to this problem. Mom’s have been say it for years “GoGargle!” and now it is the perfect blend of a salt water gargle in an effervescent tablet with ingredients like honey, aloe, zinc, chamomile and more and finishes with a minty fresh taste. Simply drop the tablet into 1/2 cup of warm water, let dissolve and gargle. It’s that easy! No more measuring and guessing. I don’t leave the house without it especially when I travel. You can find it CVS, Albertsons and many other stores. It works!!!

  • sami hani

    Yeah it does

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  • Denise Johnson

    I do this morning and night, along with plain nose spray. It flushes, and sucks all the nasties away. Going to be 60 this year. Been doing this for about 30 years.I dont get sick. No colds sore throats or sinus infections. Before I got into this routine I would have 4-5 bad sinus infections. So bad my neck would swell or my jaw so bad people thought it was a bad tooth or something else. I get lazy sometimes and I can feel like I have one coming on…..oh boy….I start flushing my nose, and gargle. Only had one get ahead of me in all these years because I was lazy. I am a firm believer of this. I just fit in into my morning and nighttime routines.

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  • Jony

    Also better is sea salt or even better, Himalayan salt is used.

  • Rob

    The comments here are convincing as well. Good article!

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  • NaCl gel

    I strongly agreE with this article. Even those branded gargles that endorse to relieve sore throat can’t beat the faster efFect of gargle saline. Even I, don’t realLy know how buT it realLy does something inside my throat! And it feEls realLy great and new. It doesn’t just relieve the pain it aCtualLy eases the pain.

    • GrammarPolice

      Why do you have so many random capital letters?! IT BURNS MY EYES!

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  • Suzan Khan

    High Profile Mumbai Female Model Agency


    salt, a real fighter against bacteria, hopefully ANY bacteria

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  • Yogi B

    It really does. How does the salt suck up the bacteria?? That’s what I’m wondering now. Also how does the bacteria get inside ones body?? How does it effect the throat?? What causes the bacteria in the throat to become sore??

    • kawipoo

      It draws moisture out of the bacteria and kills it. Cold bacteria enters through the art or via the hand contact around the mouth. The bacteria results in an immune response which inflames the throat. Cold symptoms are caused by the immune system fighting the bacteria.

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