A Beginner's Guide to Using a Neti Pot to Clear Your Sinuses

This post is part of our Home Remedy Handbook, a tour of the landscape of home remedies from the iffy to the doctor-approved. Read more here.Read more...

A Beginner's Guide to Using a Neti Pot to Clear Your Sinuses

This post is part of our Home Remedy Handbook, a tour of the landscape of home remedies from the iffy to the doctor-approved. Read more here.

If you’ve ever seen a neti pot in the drugstore, you might be wondering just what it is, and why people use it. A neti pot, which looks like a teapot mated with a genie lamp, is a device that is used to wash out the sinuses, clearing away any stagnant mucus. The mechanics of a neti pot are pretty simple: You fill the pot with a saline solution, then stick the nozzle into one nostril, letting the liquid flow through the sinuses, where it comes out the other nostril.

In the process, the saltwater solution clears out all of the gunk stuck in your sinuses, helping you breathe freely again. If you’ve ever been clogged up for a week due to allergies or a sinus infection, the relief from using a neti pot can feel like a small miracle.

Although this is a simple enough concept, it can be intimidating in practice, as “it’s not a natural thing to be forcing a lot of water up your nose,” said Mas Takashima, an ENT specialist at Houston Methodist Hospital. With a little practice, though, using a neti pot at home gets easier—and there are a number of benefits, including helping to ease allergy symptoms, getting rid of congestion, or mitigating an active respiratory infection.

The benefits of a neti pot 

The primary benefit of a neti pot is that it clears out the sinuses, making it easier to breathe and reducing the amount of stagnant mucus, which can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria to grow. “The whole goal of the nose is to filter the air for your lungs,” Takashima said. Just as with any other filtering device, it’s important to keep that filter clean. A neti pot “keeps the opening of the sinuses open and aerating well,” Takashima said.

This is especially beneficial when your sinuses are congested from a number of conditions, from allergies and congestion to an active respiratory infection. An added benefit is that during an active infection, “that addition of the salt water makes the environment less conducive for the bacteria to grow,” Takashima said. There is a also some evidence that irrigating the sinuses with a saline solution can offer some modest benefits in reducing either the severity or duration of an upper respiratory infection.

How to use it 

To use a neti pot, you will need to make a saline solution: You can either buy a premixed packet from most drugstores or you can make your own, using a mixture of salt and baking soda. To make the saline solution, you will want to use either distilled or boiled water. Although it is very rare, there have been some documented cases of serious, sometimes fatal infections from using tap water, which contains very low levels of microorganisms. To prevent that, the FDA recommends using either distilled water or tap water that has been boiled for three to five minutes, then allowed to cool.

In terms of technique, it helps to watch online tutorials on the proper use and to be patient when trying it out. As Takashima notes, although using a neti pot can feel awkward in the beginning, if it hurts, that’s a sign something is wrong. In his experience, the most common mistake people make is using plain water, rather than a saline solution, which can be painful. Another issue that might cause discomfort or pain is if you have a deviated septum. If you feel you are having to unnecessarily force it, or it just doesn’t feel right, that’s a sign to stop.

An alternative to a neti pot is a squeeze bottle, where instead of pouring the solution into your nose, you squirt it. There are also battery-powered kits available, if that is a more comfortable option. If you’ve been sick, it’s a good idea to either thoroughly sterilize your neti pot or get a new one, as there is the risk of getting reinfected from a dirty one.