An old wives tale to consider: gargling with salt water [edited title]

Today I woke up with a cold, and I took all the cold medicines that I usually take this morning and in few minutes I am going back to bed. I did one other thing, though. Since I was a little boy, my mother taught me to gargle with salt water to ease my sore throat. While I trusted her back then, today I do it “just in case.” So the question is does this actually work? Will salt water kill the germs in my throat that are causing the sorness, or will it promote healing in some other way?


Good question. My dad is a doctor (now retired), he always had us gargle salt water at the first sign of a sore throat. I think there is something to it, but damned if I know what it is. I think it has allowed me to dodge a couple strep throats.

Salt sooths inflammed mucus membranes and helps break up thickening crud, thus helping to reduce bacterial colonization.

As to killing bacteria, I don’t know.

I had thought the salt gargle was to loosen up the phlegm and give some relief for a sore throat. Sort of like drinking tea or taking a lozenge. I didn’t think it had any effect on preventing the cold.

I gargle with listerine when I have a cold, maybe its just a placebo, but I love the thought of billions of germs awash in a sea of minty death.

Try pouring the salt water up your nose! :eek:

I gargle with hot water and horseradish when I have a sore throat; it’s surprisingly effective.

Another thing about salt water is that if you gargle as hot and salty as you can stand just before you go to bed, the next morning you won’t have dragon breath.

It works best if you don’t rinse completely and leave a little salty taste.

Wow. What a cool tip. I will try that (though I hate salt)

Perhaps this is TMI… but… I do this every day (sometimes twice)
after my sinus surgery. (Doc calls it irrigation) It’s not a really pleasant thing but light years better than the sinus headaches I used to have; enough to start affecting my vision. And being able to breath does have it’s benefits!

The organisms that cause throat infections cannot tolerate a change in the salt composition of the throat. They cannot survive a salty environment and thus die. Of course, you’ll have to gargle a lot more than just once per day to get better results, but yea, gargling with salt water does kill germs (at least the Strep. strains).

I have edited the thread title. In the future, please try to choose more descriptive titles.

moderator GQ

I used to be plagued with sore throats before I got my tonsils out, and gargling with salt water does help. It gets some of the crud out and feels soothing. It also helped me to heal after the surgery by keeping the area clean.

I also had sinus surgery and was told to irrigate with salt water. I only did it a few times but it is very effective. This one’s not just a wives’ tale, it actually does work.

My mother also used to tell me to gargle with salt water to relieve canker sores. I used to get them a lot, especially in high school when I had braces. I usually didn’t, sad to say, because it stung and I was a weenie.

Recently I got a big one, though, and my pharmacist declined to sell me anything and instead backed up Mom bigtime. Told me the salt water would kill the bacteria and thus speed healing, and he was right! I gargled once that night and by the next day it was well on the way to better. Much faster than usual.

Off-topic, Dad’s ‘old wife’ was also right about cranberry juice! [if you don’t know, I won’t tell you]. Moms. :cool:

I’ve used the salt-water gargle many times for both sore throats and canker sores. I’ve always found it very effective…more so than lozenges even.

I’ve pumped enough salty water up my nostrils and sinuses and gargled it in the back of my throat in the last month to preserve my mucous membranes like beef jerky. It is nice to rinse the nasal sewage away, and it does lessen the pain and reduce coughing.

My memories of basic biology say that, given the hypertonicity of the salty water, it also draws water out of the tissues, which, given their swollen condition, is probably also a good thing.

As I posted in the cold sore thread, the environment of the mouth is a terrible place for anything to heal. You know how your doctor tells you to keep a cut cool & dry after he finishes bandaging it? Well, cool & dry are two things the mouth almost never is.

If the sore is inside the mouth, I’ve found that a salt water gargle just before bedtime helps speed the healing process of almost any oral affliction (I assume the salt helps dessicate the tissues of the mouth & throat as well as provide a non-habitable place for cooties to grow).

My doc also says the salt crystals help to sand-blast the tonsils, which have a porous surface somewhat like a strawberry and tend to collect crud.

I’ve tried salt water for a sore throat, but it only helped briefly. One day, though, I happened to drink some Welch’s 100% grape juice, and my sore throat went away. It lasts longer than salt water and even longer than real medicines like Chloraseptic. Plus, when it does wear off, I just drink more.

For the record, there is a difference between a “wive’s tale” and a “folk remedy.” Gargling with salt water is no wive’s tale. Doctors always recommend it. The warm water dilates the blood vessels in the throat allowing more blood and white blood cells to get to the area. The salt gets rid of “used” saliva (that which is already filled with inflammation-inducing proteins) and stimulates the production of fresh saliva. I could be wrong on this but I didn’t think the purpose of the salt was to create enough of a diffusion gradient to kill bacteria but rather just enough to get saliva to wash it away.

As I noted earlier in this thread with a quote from (presumably) a doctor…

“The salt water kills the one-celled bacteria by making them explode. Unlike antibiotics that bacteria can develop an immunity to, salt water gargling will always work.”