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What Does Gargling Salt Water Do?

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 09/17/2023

Saltwater gargles have been used for centuries to manage throat pain, sinus infections, and canker sores. But what does gargling salt water do?

Saltwater has potent antimicrobial properties that help eliminate bacteria, viruses, yeast, and fungi. 

Learn how to make a saltwater gargle and discover why it’s one of the best home remedies to keep you healthy during cold and flu season. 

Pink salt and water glass

What does gargling salt water do?

When gargling salt water, the chloride ions in the solution react with peroxidase enzymes in the throat to form hypochlorous acid and sodium hydroxide. 

Hypochlorous acid is a natural acid and powerful oxidizing agent that can oxidize and damage cellular components of harmful bacteria, viruses, and yeasts. 

Rinsing the oral cavity with salt water increases the concentration of hypochlorous acid, which may prevent harmful microbes from moving into your lungs or nasal cavity, where they can cause respiratory tract infections and sinusitis. 

Research published in Osteopathic Family Physician found that saturated saline rinses are an effective strategy to lower the risk of viral respiratory infections, including influenza and COVID-19.

Woman holding water in her mouth

Benefits of gargling salt water

“Saltwater gargles have been used for centuries to alleviate various oral and throat-related discomforts, manage respiratory infections, and promote oral health,” explains Dr. Berg. 

Here are four reasons why you should consider regularly gargling with salt water.

1. Combat microbial infections 

Because of its potent antimicrobial properties, gargling salt water is an excellent home remedy for combating infections.

Microbes such as bacteria and viruses typically start to reproduce and replicate within the cells lining the nasal and oral cavity before potentially infecting other parts of the respiratory tract. 

Saltwater gargles can inhibit microbial proliferation and eliminate potential harmful pathogens before they migrate into the lungs, nasal cavity, or sinuses, which explains why it’s such an effective remedy to prevent infections. 

In fact, research published in Elsevier found that a saturated saline rinse can reduce viral replication in the throat and significantly lower infection risk or severity. 

The SARS-CoV-2 virus predominantly replicates within the throat, and the study concluded, “Throat gargling, a virtually cost-free modality, might benefit the general population during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

2. Strengthen immune defense 

Saltwater gargles may boost your immune defenses.

Hypochlorous acid can enhance the activity of neutrophils, a type of immune cell that can detect and eliminate potentially harmful microbes.   

3. Loosen mucus 

Gargling with salt water has been found to loosen and thin mucus in the throat and respiratory tract, which makes it easier to clear congestion and alleviate coughing.

This may be particularly beneficial for individuals with seasonal allergies, chronic sinus congestion, postnasal drip, and persistent cough. 

4. Promote oral hygiene

Regular saltwater gargles can help maintain good oral and gum health by reducing potentially harmful bacteria in the mouth linked to dental plaque and periodontal disease. 

woman gargling with water

How to gargle salt water

Saltwater gargles are a simple but highly effective natural remedy you can easily make at home. Here’s how:


1 tsp sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, or table salt 

8 oz warm water 


Add salt to water and stir until fully dissolved. 

While you can prepare saltwater gargles with cold water, using warm water helps the salt dissolve faster and has a soothing effect. 

Gargle the saltwater solution in the back of your throat for 10 to 15 seconds and swish the salt water around the mouth and teeth before spitting it into the sink. 

Be careful not to swallow salt water after gargling in case of an active infection, as this can potentially introduce infectious microbes into the digestive tract.

Watch the video below to learn more about the amazing benefits of saltwater gargles.

When should you gargle salt water?

Gargling salt water can help relieve symptoms and ease pain linked to bacterial and viral infections in the upper respiratory tract, such as strep throat, sinusitis, and the common cold. 


Saltwater gargles can also be an effective natural alternative to medicated mouthwash often prescribed for mouth ulcers or oral yeast infections and may be used to minimize the risk of catching a cold or flu. 

While saltwater gargles can be used to manage mild infections, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider if you show signs and symptoms of a severe or persistent infection, such as fever, chills, malaise, or a rapid heartbeat. 

Woman with sore throat symptoms

How often should you gargle salt water?

If you are using saltwater gargles to prevent infection or promote oral health, it’s recommended to gargle once to twice daily. 

To manage symptoms of a sore throat, flu, or other respiratory infection, it's safe to gargle with warm salt water every two to four hours or as needed. 

Regular saltwater gargles are often recommended after oral surgery or dental procedures. Follow the instructions of your healthcare provider to promote healing and reduce the risk of oral infections.

Is a salt water rinse safe for anyone?

Saltwater rinses are generally safe for most people, including children, if supervised while gargling. 

However, some individuals have to limit salt intake, and it’s best to discuss saltwater gargles with your healthcare provider if you have high blood pressure or kidney disease.

It’s also important to avoid swallowing saltwater rinses. Drinking too much salt water can increase the risk of dehydration, kidney stones, and calcium deficiency.

Different types of salt

Key takeaways

What does gargling salt water do? Salt water has potent antimicrobial properties that help eliminate bacteria, viruses, and yeasts.

Saltwater gargles are a simple but highly effective natural remedy that can help manage sore throat and sinusitis symptoms and may lower the risk of respiratory tract infections, including the common cold, flu, and COVID-19.


1. What are the benefits of gargling with salt water?

Saltwater gargles can help prevent or manage oral and respiratory tract infections, canker sores, and sinusitis and have been found to promote oral hygiene by eliminating potentially harmful bacteria in the mouth.

2. Does gargling salt water draw out infection?

Gargling with a salt water solution can help fight viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. 

When salt ions come into contact with peroxidase enzymes in the throat, they’re converted into hypochlorous acid. This natural acid is a powerful oxidizing agent that can damage and eliminate pathogenic microbes.

3. When should I gargle salt water?

You can gargle with salt water to manage symptoms of an active infection, use it as a preventative measure to lower your infection risk during cold and flu season, or incorporate it into your daily routine to promote oral health. 

4. How long should I gargle salt water?

It’s typically recommended to gargle salt water for 10 to 15 seconds. 

5. How often should I gargle salt water?

If you use saltwater gargles to lower your risk of infection, it’s recommended to gargle twice daily. 

To relieve throat pain or other symptoms of a respiratory infection, you can safely gargle salt water several times daily as needed.

6. Does gargling salt water heal sore throat faster?

Yes, a salt water gargle can help heal a sore throat faster. Its potent antimicrobial properties have been found effective against eliminating microbes, including influenza and Streptococcus, the main culprits of throat infections.


7. Can salt water gargling help kill viruses?

Due to salt water’s antiviral properties, salt water gargles can help lower the risk of viral infections, including influenza and COVID-19. 

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