Gargling Saltwater - What's The Deal With This Popular Remedy?

Acquiring a soar throat or mouth sores is a pretty common ailment that most people experience at some point in their lives. Saltwater gargles have been a long-time cheap, safe, and seemingly effective way to alleviate some of the pain and symptoms caused by a soar mouth or throat.
While pharmacies and retail stores widely sell medicated mouth rinses and other similar products, people have stuck with saltwater gargles as their go-to home remedy for years but what does this technique actually do? Is it really as effective as our grandma has insisted? We've decided to dig into this popular treatment and see what conditions it can help treat and prevent. We also advise you in how to use a saltwater gargle as well as risks and things to consider. 


What Is A Saltwater Gargle?

This regularly used remedy has been around for some time and is often used to treat sore throats and other causes of mouth pain. Normally these solutions are simply comprised of a mixture of water and table salt. It has been known to be a cheap and effective alternative to medicate or in-store mouthwashes. 

Saltwater solutions have never been well-studied though. A small studio from 2010 that surveyed 45 children investigated into the effectiveness of saltwater gargles and a mouthwash brand. The researchers reported that the children who used the saltwater gargle twice daily for 21 days had higher reduced levels in bacteria compared to those that used the placebo. Although the saltwater gargle was not nearly as effective at reducing bacteria as the mouthwash brand. 

What Is It Used For?

Saltwater gargles can be effective in treating mild discomfort, pain, or tingling sensations in the mouth and throat. 

Sore Throat

The Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement and the American Cancer Society (ACS) have suggested gargling with salt water to soothe sore throats. According to the ACS, regular use of saltwater gargles can help keep the mouth clean and prevent infections, particularly in people undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Canker Sores

Canker sores are painful ulcers that can develop in the mouth, along the roof or floor, or alongside the gums. Gargling with salt water may help ease pain and promote healing of the sores.

Respiratory Infection 

Respiratory infections are typical and include the flu, common cold, mononucleosis, and sinus infections. Some research suggests that gargling with salt water can alleviate symptoms and even help prevent upper respiratory infections. By treating the pain of the sore throat it can help alleviate large symptoms caused by respiratory infections. 


Allergies have a tendency to cause swelling in a person's nasal passages and throat which can be very uncomfortable. Though gargling with salt water does not treat or prevent the effects of allergies, it can help alleviate some of the discomfort caused by it. 

How Effective Is It?

Saltwater may kill a small amount of bacteria when gargled but it does not kill all of the bacteria within your throat and mouth. However, solutions of salt can help bring bacteria to the surface of the gums, teeth, and throat, making them easier to target.  Once the bacteria is brought to the surface, some of it washes away when a person spits the salt water out. It's a best practice to rinse with regular water after performing a saltwater gargle for this reason. 

Things To Consider

Although this mild remedy for throat and mouth discomfort is just that, mild, there are some items to consider before making it your go-to method with your family. Gargling with saltwater is overall considered safe for both children and adults however, people who struggling with gargling should not use a saltwater gargle. 

Some younger children may also not be able to gargle effectively and must be monitored until they're more comfortable with this act. Pediatricians and dentists can help advise you if and when your child is ready to gargle. 

Saltwater gargles are safe to use throughout the day, several times a day if desired and there are no side effects. People who have higher blood pressure or those who have medical conditions that don't allow for a lot salt in their diet should speak with a doctor or dentist before trying to gargle water. People that don't like the taste of saltwater solution can try adding honey to improve the flavor as well. 

How To Gargle Correctly 

First let's get your saltwater solution just right with the following ingredients:

  • 1 glass of water (1 qt)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt 
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda 
    (Not required but recommended)

To use the saltwater gargle:

  • Take as much of the solution into the mouth as is comfortable.
  • Gargle the salt water around the back of the throat.
  • Rinse around the mouth, teeth, and gums.
  • Spit out the solution.

A person should try to gargle the saltwater solution for as long as possible. Although the saltwater solution is generally safe to swallow, it is best to spit it out.

For maximum effectiveness, a person should gargle with salt water or their mouthwash of choice once or twice a day. If you opt for mouthwash, we recommend using a fluoride-free product that contains an extra boost like nano silver technology to  be as effective as possible when it comes to ridding your mouth and throat of bacteria. 

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