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Top MD: This Salt Water Gargle Can Help You Avoid Getting Sick This Winter — And It’s So Easy + Cheap

Plus, it'll help you feel better faster if you do catch a bug!

Of all the home remedies out there, from eating chicken noodle soup to heal a cold to snacking on prunes to ease constipation, perhaps none is as easy — or inexpensive! — as gargling with salt water to soothe a sore throat. But it turns out a salt water gargle does more than ease throat pain. You may not be familiar with some of the surprising benefits of gargling with salt water. We talked to top doctors to find out exactly what a salt water rinse does. Keep scrolling to learn how to do it — and how it can help you heal a host of health problems.

How to make a salt water solution

First things first: How can you make a solution to reap the health benefits of gargling with salt water? It’s incredibly simple: Just pour ½ teaspoon of salt into 1 cup of warm water — warm water is more comfortable to gargle with than cold water, says William Li, MD, author of Eat to Beat Your Diet: Burn Fat, Heal Your Metabolism, and Live Longer. Then simply mix it together and gargle the solution in the back of your throat for at least 10 to 15 seconds before spitting it out.

Aim to do this two to three times a day unless a medical professional directs you otherwise. If you have high blood pressure or are on a low-sodium diet, double-check with your doctor before you start gargling with salt water.

6 benefits of gargling salt water 

closeup of woman gargling: Benefits of gargling with salt water
AndreyPopov/Getty Images

Adding a daily salt water gargling and overall rinsing regimen to your oral care routine can improve your health in a number of ways. Here’s how your body reaps the benefits of gargling with salt water:

1. It eases sore throat pain

Doctors (and Dr. Mom!) often recommend a salt water gargle for a sore throat. The reason? It can reduce the inflammation in a scratchy throat caused by bacteria and viruses. “The salty water can pull fluid out of inflamed tissue and decrease swelling and reduce pain,” explains Dr. Li. Salt water also kills harmful bacteria that might be living in the mouth or throat.

“Through osmosis, salt water can reduce swelling by drawing out excessive fluid from inflamed tissue, which helps minimize swelling and discomfort,” explains Michael Kosdon, DDS, Cosmetic Dentist at SmilesofNYC. Salt water also reduces the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth that can cause inflammation. What’s more, the act of gargling will help to break up thick mucus in the throat, according to Dr. Li.

Related: The Right Throat Lozenge Can Help End Everything From Coughs to Dry Mouth

2. It can eliminate bad breath

Rinsing with warm salt water is a natural and cost-effective way to improve your oral health. That’s because salt water rinses help neutralize the acidic environment in the mouth that most oral bacteria thrive in and this leads to a reduction in the number harmful bacteria that cause gingivitis and bad breath, Dr. Kosdon says. In fact, in a 2002 study published in the journal Advances in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, researchers found that saltwater rinses were just as effective as commercial mouthwashes at killing bacteria in the mouth. The result? A cleaner mouth and fresher (read: better-smelling) breath.

One caveat: Gargling with salt water only helps if you do it repeatedly, says Dr. Li. “The bacteria rapidly build their numbers back up — within hours —  so this has to be repeated multiple times each day,” says Dr. Li.

3. It reduces your risk of catching a bug

If you’re surrounded by people who are sick, consider a salt water gargle: it can reduce your chance of catching it. In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers followed nearly 400 participants who were gargling with either plain water or a salt water solution for 60 days to see how it might impact their ability to contract upper respiratory tract infections. The results? Those who gargled with the salt water solution were less likely to get sick. And those who used the salt water solution and still got sick experienced reduced symptoms. How it helps: Gargling flushes out invading viruses before they can attach to the mucous membranes in the throat.

Gargling with salt water may also be a secret weapon in the fight against COVID-19, according to research presented at the 2023 Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. In the study, people with COVID who gargled with salt water were significantly less likely to end up in the hospital compared to those who didn’t gargle.

4. It can treat canker sores

Gargling with salt water can help with canker sores and mouth ulcers by decreasing the swelling in the issues around the areas and temporarily rinsing away bacteria, says Dr. Li. What’s more, the antiseptic properties of salt water can also ease some of the discomfort caused by mouth sores, and by reducing inflammation, the solution can help a sore clear up faster. Indeed, lab studies have shown that rinsing with salt water can stimulate faster healing in the mouth and support healthy gums.

Related: Dentists Say These 6 Tips Help Stop Bleeding Gums Naturally

5. It minimizes plaque in the mouth

Salt water rinses can not only inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria that is found in both gingivitis and periodontitis, but it a study published in the Journal of Indian Society of Pedodontics & Preventive Dentistry found that salt water rinses help reduce plaque that is found in both diseases.

“It’s best to swish the solution around in your mouth to [move] the salt water to areas where plaque tends to build up, the surface of teeth enamel,” says Dr. Kosdon. “By raising the pH in the oral cavity, salt water can help minimize the growth of bacteria found in plaque.”

Related: Dentists Finally Settle the Debate on Using Mouthwash Before or After Brushing

6. It can speed healing after oral surgery

“I always strongly advise our patients to rinse at least twice daily with warm salt water after any oral surgery procedure,” says Kosdon. In addition to keeping the area clean of bacteria, the salt water helps speed the healing process by reducing inflammation, which also minimizes pain and discomfort.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

Click through for more ways to feel your best this winter:

Catch Every Cold, Feel Tired & Crave Salty Snacks? This ‘Cocktail’ Can Help

Hugs Have Been Proven To Boost Immunity & Lower Stress But Only If They Last *This* Long

Ginger Shots Are One of Nature’s Best Immune-Boosting Tonics, Say Experts — Don’t Brave Sick Season Without Them

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