wikiHow to Gargle Saltwater

Three Methods:Gargling with SaltwaterUsing Additional Home Care Methods to Treat Your Sore ThroatSeeing a Doctor about Your Sore Throat

A sore throat can be that painful, irritating, and sometimes itchy. This scratchy feeling in your throat can make it difficult to swallow. Sore throats are very common and can be a symptom of a viral or bacterial infection (pharyngitis). A sore throat can also be a symptom of allergies, under-hydration, muscle strain (screaming, talking, singing), gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), HIV infection, or tumors. Most sore throats, however, are caused by viruses (the common cold virus, the influenza (flu) virus, mononucleosis (mono), measles, chickenpox, and childhood croup) or by bacteria (strep throat caused by the streptococcus bacterium).[1] Luckily, gargling saltwater is an easy and effective home remedy for soothing sore throats of various causes.

Method 1
Gargling with Saltwater

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    Add one teaspoon of either table salt or sea salt to eight ounces of water. Saltwater can reduce swelling in your throat by drawing the water out of the tissues of your throat. Salt also acts as a basic antibacterial agent, which is why salt is used to cure some foods from spoiling by preventing the growth of bacteria.[2]
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    Gargle with the solution for thirty seconds. To gargle, take a deep breath and pour two or three ounces of the solution into your mouth without swallowing. Tilt your head back (roughly 30°), keep the back of your throat closed, and gargle for a full thirty seconds before spitting out the solution.[3]
    • For children, try having them gargle with regular warm water first. The only age restriction to this treatment method is a child’s ability to gargle without swallowing, which is usually around three or four years of age. To make them do it for the entire thirty seconds, you can turn it into a game where the child tries to sing something like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as he or she gargles.
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    Repeat the process until you’ve gargled all eight ounces. Depending on how much of the solution you pour in your mouth, you should be able to repeat the process three or four times with the eight ounces of solution. Take a deep breath and gargle for thirty seconds each time.
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    Try other solutions if you can’t gargle saltwater. Some people may have a difficult time gargling saltwater simply because of the intense taste of the salt at the back of their throats. You can try gargling with other solutions or simply adding essential oils to the salt to mask the taste. Options include:
    • Adding apple cider vinegar. The acid in apple cider vinegar can kill bacteria the same as saltwater. You can add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the saltwater to add additional antibacterial properties and to mask the flavor of the salt—though, you might not like the vinegar taste much better.
    • Adding one or two drops of garlic. This essential oil has some antibacterial and antiviral properties.[4]
    • Adding one or two drops of burdock. Traditional Chinese medicine commonly uses burdock to treat sore throats.[5] However, scientific studies on burdock are minimal.
    • Adding peppermint. You can also add one or two drops of peppermint, which has traditionally been used to soothe sore throats.[6]
    • Adding one or two drops of marshmallow. This herb (not the fluff) contains mucilages, which are gel-like substances that can coat the throat to help relieve sore throat pain.[7]
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    Repeat as necessary. You can use all of these gargles once every hour (or more often) as needed. The important step is simply not to swallow the saltwater since it can dehydrate you the same way it dehydrates the tissue in your throat.[8]

Method 2
Using Additional Home Care Methods to Treat Your Sore Throat

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    Drink plenty of water. This prevents dehydration and keeps your throat as moist as possible to minimize the discomfort.[9] Most people prefer room-temperature water, but you can drink cold water or hot water if it makes your throat feel better.
    • Drink at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water each day and more if you have a fever.
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    Humidify the air around you. Keeping the air around you moist will also help to keep your throat from over drying.[10] Use a humidifier if you have one. You can also set bowls of water throughout your living room and bedroom if you do not have a humidifier.
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    Get enough sleep. Whether your body is fighting a viral or bacterial infection, plenty of sleep is one of the best ways to boost your immune response. Try to sleep a full eight hours a night, especially while you’re sick.[11]
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    Eat soft foods without a lot of spice. Drink lots of soups and broths. The old tales of treating colds with chicken soup are true. Studies have shown that chicken soup can slow the movement of specific types of immune cells, and that the slower movement of these cells make them more effective. Chicken soup also increases the movement of tiny hairs in the nose that can help reduce infections.[12] Other soft, spice-free foods include:
    • Applesauce
    • Rice
    • Scrambled eggs
    • Well-cooked pasta
    • Oatmeal
    • Smoothies
    • Well-cooked beans and legumes
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    Take small bites and chew your food well. The smaller and more moistened your food, the less likely it is to cause additional throat irritation. Cut food into very small pieces and chew it thoroughly to allow your saliva to moisten it before you swallow.

Method 3
Seeing a Doctor about Your Sore Throat

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    Know when to see your doctor. A sore throat can easily be a symptom of another illness, such as a viral or bacterial infection. If your sore throat lasts longer than a week (or more than three days while gargling saltwater regularly), or if you also develop any of the following symptoms, then it’s time to see a doctor. Additional symptoms include:[13]
    • Any difficulty swallowing
    • Any difficulty breathing
    • Difficulty opening your mouth
    • Developing joint pains
    • Earache
    • Rashes
    • A fever above 101°F (38.3°C)
    • Blood in your saliva or phlegm
    • A lump or mass in your neck
    • Hoarseness lasting longer than two weeks
    • Note that for children, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that you take them to a doctor for any overnight sore throat that doesn’t go away by hydrating or if the sore throat is accompanied by difficulty swallowing, breathing, or odd/unusual drooling.[14]
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    Submit to diagnostic testing. In order for the doctor to diagnose the reason for the sore throat, he or she will run a few tests, including a physical examination where the doctor uses a light to examine down your throat.[15]
    • Additional tests include a swab of your throat in order for the doctor to run a culture to determine if the cause is a bacterial infection (and what kind of bacteria). If this test comes back negative, then the infection is likely viral, especially if a cough is present. Although, your doctor may also order allergy testing and a complete blood count (CBC) to measure your current immune response.[16]
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    Take antibiotics for a bacterial infection. If the culture determines that your sore throat is due to a bacterial infection, then the doctor will likely prescribe you a course of antibiotics to help combat the infection. If you are prescribed antibiotics, take them for the prescribed length of time, even if you are beginning to feel better.[17] If you don’t, some bacteria (the antibiotic-resistant bacteria) may survive and can increase the population of antibiotic resistant bacteria, as well as increase your risk of complications and recurrence of the infection.
    • If you are prescribed antibiotics, eat yogurt with active cultures to replace the normal gut bacteria that are also killed by the antibiotics. You have to eat yogurt with active cultures because this yogurt contains bacteria. Pasteurized or otherwise processed yogurts do not. This is recommended to prevent the diarrhea that is sometimes associated with antibiotic use and can help maintain the normal gut bacteria that are vital to keeping you (and your immune system) healthy.[18]
    • Watch out for unusual diarrhea while on antibiotics. Unusual diarrhea may signify another illness or infection.
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    Rest if the infection is viral. If your doctor determines that your sore throat is due to a viral infection (such as a common cold or flu virus), then he or she will likely recommend lots of rest, water, and a healthy diet. These can all help boost your immune system, which in turn will help your body beat the infection.[19]
    • Some studies have shown that increasing your Vitamin C intake may boost your immune system and help you fight a viral infection.[20]


  • If you're left with an unpleasant salty taste in your mouth, gum will help you to get rid of the flavor.


  • Do not swallow the saltwater.

Things You'll Need

  • A Glass
  • Water
  • Salt
  • A Spoon

Sources and Citations


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Article Info

Categories: Sore Throat Care