How to Use a Salt Water Gargle for Your Sore Throat


Here's why you might want to try a salt water gargle the next time you have a sore throat.<p>iStock</p>
Here's why you might want to try a salt water gargle the next time you have a sore throat.


If you've ever had a sore throat (ahem, all of us?) you probably have a go-to solution like hot tea, cough drops, or even over-the-counter pain relievers. But what if we told you that you might have a proven sore throat pain reliever in your pantry or spice rack?

Now that we're in the thick of cold and flu season, we have some good news for you: It turns out that salt water can be used for more than just cooking pasta; a saltwater gargle can help ease a sore throat, whether it is a symptom of allergies or the common cold. But why does it work, and what’s the perfect recipe to get the ultimate benefits? Here's what to know about gargling with salt water—and the right ratio of salt to water to use—to ease the pain of sore throat. Get ready to start mixing, because even though it might not taste great, you'll get relief before you know it!

Related: The Best Foods for a Sore Throat

Causes Of a Sore Throat

Most of us have had a sore throat at one point or another. But what actually causes it to happen?According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sore throats are most commonly caused by viruses (often the same that cause a cold, flu or, yes, coronavirus). They can also be caused by bacteria group A strep—which causes strep throat—allergies, smoking or secondhand smoke and, according to Dr. Anthony Zabel, MD, a primary care physician at Indiana University Health, even acid reflux. The good news is that most sore throats can be treated at home (the CDC highlights most sore throats don’t require antibiotics).

Related: How to Conquer the Common Cold

“It is reasonable to treat sore throat symptoms at home with ibuprofen or acetaminophen,” explains Dr. Zabel. “Home remedies such as honey tea and salt water gargles are also effective.”

Of course, this is true when talking about sore throats specifically; Dr. Zabel notes that if you have a fever, chills or difficulty swallowing, it may be a sign of more serious illness and you should consult a doctor. This is especially true with the COVID-19 pandemic, as sore throat is a common symptom. “If someone develops a new sore throat, they should stay home and consult their physician for further recommendations to help prevent further community spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Zabel stresses.

The Science Behind Salt Water Gargles

If your sore throat is treatable at home, salt water gargles are a widely-shared remedy. But does it work? If you’ve sworn by salt water for a sore throat, you weren’t just imagining things—it's a proven pain reliever. In addition to over-the-counter pain medications, gargling with salt water is a common treatment recommendation in medical literature and studies have been conducted that ultimately prove its efficacy.

Related: How Long Does the Flu Last?

For example, a study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medical Research in September 2019 determined that gargling with salt water is a natural and harmless at-home treatment option, finding that it reduced pain and other sore throat symptoms in patients who had a sore throat caused by a virus (versus bacteria that would require antibiotics). Another study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published in November 2005 found that gargling with salt water actually helped prevent upper respiratory tract infections when done regularly by healthy individuals.

So, why does it work? According to Penn Medicine, gargling with salt water not only kills bacteria in the throat, it also loosens mucus and offers pain relief. Dr. Zabel likens this to a local anesthetic effect.

Related: 17 Immune-Boosting Health Habits

Salt Water Gargle Recipe

Before you make gargling with salt water a regular part of your routine, Dr. Zabel notes that salt-water gargles don’t need to be regularly performed if you're healthy, unless a doctor instructs you to do so. If you are ready to add it to your at-home treatment plan, however, try pairing it with over-the-counter medications and even honey tea.

Dr. Zabel provides the following “recipe” for your gargle:

“A half teaspoon of table salt dissolved in 8 ounces of warm water can be used as frequently as needed for pain relief,” he instructs. Easy enough, right?

Next up, read up on how to choose the right over-the-counter medication for your cold