Epsom salts: Miracle medicine or placebo?

I deal with horses in my spare time, and it’s fairly common for them to step on something that injures a foot (OK, no barbs that it’s really a toe–I know).

The common practice is to pull or cut out the foreign object (if it is still lodged in) and soak the foot in Epsom salts–because it helps “draw out any infection.”

I have a couple of ideas on this:

  1. People have been known to soak their feet, so it must be good for a horse, too. (But I think most of the therapeutic value in foot-soaking for people is that the warm water feels good–not because of the salts)

  2. The salinity does discourage bacteria growth (for the 15 minutes that the hoof is immersed).

Are either of these even close? These same people also bring out chiropractors twice a month or so to “adjust” the horses’ backs.

The Merck Index lists its Therap Cat (VET) as: “externally (in strong solns) in local inflammations, infected wounds”.

It doesn’t say exactly what it DOES, though, which is sort of unusual.

My mother used this as a home remedy, as did her mother before. Whenever a cut or scrape got infected it was time for a soak in a big bowl of hot water and Epsom salts. I don’t recall any spectacular instances where it actually performed a miracle cure, but it felt good.

I agree with MJ that the hot water probably does more than the salts. In my experience, Neosporin does even more. (My mother pronounces it “neo-sperm”, for some reason, which is probably why she prefers Epsom salts.)

p.s. In dilute solution isn’t it also used as a purgative?

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham

This is a total SWAG, but I believe as was alluded to that the salt does kill at least some of the wee beasties (bacteria) that inhabit a cut or scrape. I have always heard that going into the ocean or in a swimming pool would help a cut heal, I believe it is the same concept.

Less bacteria, the faster the cut heals.


Yes. I only listed the external uses. The full monty:

THERAP CAT: Heptahydrate as anticonvulsant; cathartic. Dried magnesium sulfate in aperients.

THERAP CAT (VET): Purgative, in general anesthesia, in hypomagnesemia; externally (in strong solns) in local inflammations, infected wounds.

“Less bacteria” in a swimming pool or the ocean? 50 years ago, maybe…

I was kind of meaning the salt from the ocean and the clorine from the swimming pool.


Well, I got eaten alive by some kind of insects a few years ago, and like an idiot was making them worse by scratching them. Stuck around for at least a month because of it. 3 days of soaking my legs in epsom salts and the bites were gone, and they didn’t itch all that much after the first night.
So they work… don’t really care how.