A Beginner’s Guide To Neti Pots

While my focus is helping people and their health through better eating habits, there is so much more to overall health. Just like my eating habits have gotten better through a series of small changes, I am also doing the same with other aspects of my overall health.

A couple winters ago on The Wake Up Call, my co-host Gizelle hosted the topic of salt and the various aspects it plays in our health. One of the things that was brought up was the use of a neti pot, but we didn’t get much of a chance to explain just what it is or what it’s for. It’s something I’ve been thinking of trying for awhile now, and I finally have, so I thought I would share a bit about my experience.

Neti Pot

I’ve never had a lot of issues with allergies, but every winter the dryness really irritates my nasal passage, making they dry and sore. That is part of what led to me finally picking up a neti pot of my own. Neti pots are used for what’s technically known as “nasal irrigation”. The word neti is a Sanskrit word that means “nasal cleansing”, and the use of the neti pot comes from the Ayruvedic yoga tradition of India and is said to be more than 5,000 years old.

It’s also called a neti pot because it’s … well, you use a container that’s shaped much like a tea pot. But please, don’t use it for that. Actually, they come in all sorts of shapes, but the common elements are there, a “pot” and a spout… some have a separate handle, others are made in a way for you to just hold on to the whole thing. They’re not overly large, they only need to hold one to two cups of water.

In a nutshell, it’s used to rinse out your nasal passages. Really, that’s pretty much all there is to it.

Ok, there’s more to it than that, but let’s see if I can break it down a bit. Inside your nasal and sinus cavities you have these tiny, hair-like structures called cilia. When you get various irritants in your nasal or sinus cavities, your body creates mucus to trap it, then these cilia sort of wave back and forth to push that mucus either to the back of the throat where you usually end up swallowing it, or to the nose for it to be blown out. Basically, their job is to remove the allergens and other irritants that can cause various sinus problems.

So by using a neti pot to rinse out these passages, it thins out that mucus and helps flush it out of the nasal passages. But beyond that there’s evidence to suggest that the salt water can help increase the speed and improve the coordination of these cilia so that they can do their intended job more effectively.

Nasal irrigation is also going to help hydrate the tissues in there, a wonderful thing during the dry, winter months we get around Minnesota. And you know how your grandma would tell you to gargle with warm salt water when you were getting a sore throat, well it’s because salt has anti-bacterial properties, so it would help prevent bad bacteria from reproducing… and it works the same way when used in a neti pot – I guess it means it’s sort of like gargling for your nose…? And by getting rid of the irritants, it can also help with the inflammation they often cause, so a neti pot can be great if you are “stuffed up”.

The Neti Pot

Thanks to Dr. Oz and Oprah, using a neti pot has actually been gaining in popularity again in recent years, to the point you can pretty much walk in to any drug store and find at least one neti pot on the shelf. This is exactly what I did, picking one up under $15. You can also find them online in lots of different shapes, styles and sizes. The one I picked up holds just over a cup of water, is made from plastic, and looks like a little kettle. If you have a family, I do recommend getting a separate neti pot for each member of the family. Remember, you’re putting this thing in your nose, and while most are dishwasher safe, you are putting this in your nose and you may be using it at times you are in less than ideal health. Just as you wouldn’t be sharing a tooth brush, you probably don’t want to share a neti pot.

Besides the neti pot, you only need two things; salt and water. But it’s not as simple as turning on the tap and grabbing the shaker off the table.

The Water

First, the water. Do not, never, ever, under any circumstance, ever, no matter what, use water straight from the tap in your neti pot. Never. Don’t do it. Please.

Tap Water

See, even though the water coming out of your tap may be perfectly safe for drinking… if it’s municipal water, it’s likely treated with chlorine and other stuff. But that doesn’t get everything. And while it’s very very very rare, using straight tap water presents a very real and potentially deadly risk. Treatment of the water doesn’t kill everything, or sometimes at least not all of possibly harmful bacteria and such. It’s enough to make it fine for bathing, washing, even drinking, because our digestive tract has it’s own protective defences of sorts (our stomach acid for example). But the nasal passage is a different story. And just a couple years ago there were two deaths in the state of Louisiana that have been attributed to the use of tap water in a neti pot.

Louisiana state department health officials believe deadly brain-eating amoebas known as Naegleria fowleri, which can live in tap water, entered into the victims’ bodies through their noses, then made their way into their brains. The amoeba then infected each victim with a neurological disease called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which quickly destroys brain tissue, usually resulting in death in a matter of days.

Now don’t let this scare you off of trying a neti pot, because there’s some simple ways to cut this risk off at the pass.

The easiest, just buy some distilled water to use in your neti pot. I picked up a gallon for less than a dollar at my local grocery store. That’s 16 cups, that’s good for at least a week of neti pot use.

The next option is to use your tap water, but boil it (and then let it cool!) before using. Bring to a boil and let it boil at least five minutes so it not only kills off anything potentially harmful, but it takes about 5 minutes for it to get rid of the chlorine. Not that the chlorine will cause you health issues, but it can irritate the nasal passages more than help them.

You also want to keep the temp of the water in mind. So far, I’ve kind of liked the soothing coolness I’ve been getting from using room temp water has offered. But not everyone will like it as much. For those, try putting your neti pot in the microwave, once you’ve filled it, for about 30 seconds, this should heat it up to a comfortably-warm temp. But be sure to test it before using it! Think of how warm you’d want the liquid for a baby bottle and shoot for that.

The Salt

Ok, aside from water, you also need salt. Well, sodium at least. Store bought neti pots will tend to come with pre-measured packets of sodium bicarbonate and sodium chloride. The sodium chloride is table salt. The sodium bicarbonate is baking soda. It’s used to help reduce irritation that can be caused by the the sodium chloride.

Salt Crystals

For beginner’s, I recommend buying the pre-measured packets. Yes, you can make your own saline solution for using with your neti pot, but there are a number of things to consider, not the lease of which include just what sort of salt to use, making sure there’s no irritants in it, and more. When you’re starting out through, keep it simple. Besides, your store bought neti pot likely had a starter supply of these salt packets anyways.

Using Your Neti Pot

While the process sounds really weird, using your neti pot is rather simple.

While standing at your sink (or over a bucket or similar device), drop your chin towards your chest so you are essentially looking straight down. Bring the spout of the neti pot to your nose, pressing it in to one nostril to form a fairly tight seal. Don’t shove it, we don’t want to go causing any damage here.

Once you have it in place, tilt your head about 45 degrees so that the neti pot is on the “top”, then start tilting the pot so the water will start flowing from the spout… where it then flows in to your nasal cavity from one side and out the other… draining in to the sink.

You would think it would feel rather uncomfortable, or at least odd. It’s always rather disturbing to have water rush up your nose when swimming, for example, but this was nothing like that. In fact, I would say I really didn’t feel much of anything. The big trick here though is to keep your mouth open slightly so you can continue to breath – because it will take about two minutes or so to empty your neti pot.

If you start to feel some of the water flowing down the back of your throat, you may need to tip your head further down. Otherwise it flows fairly easily in one nostril and out the other. Once you’ve finished, simply repeat the process with the other nostril, tilting your head the other direction, etc.

After words, you’re going to have water… and more… dripping from your nostrils for a bit. You’ll want to blow your nose to get as much of that water and mucus out of there as you can, but be careful. You don’t want to pinch your nose closed at all when you are blowing as it could force some of the water in your nasal cavity in to the ear canals where they cross over with the nasal passages.

Instead, what I’ve been doing is just blowing as much of it out right in to the sink, then using a few layers of tissue, but instead of putting it right up against my nose it’s more even with the top of my lip as I finish blowing the rest of the water out. And even then, no matter how much blowing you do, you’ll likely have some water dribble out here and there over the next 10-20 minutes or so, so keep a few tissues handy.

Most neti pots seem to use about one cup of water, it’s up to you if you want to split this across both nostrils, or use a full pot for each side. Everything I’ve read so far though, suggests using a full cup for each side. When you first start, or if you are feeling a sinus issue come on, use a full pot per nasal passage, and do so daily for a bit. Once you get through the worst of it, you can try cutting back both in using one pot for both sides as well as in how often you use it.

After your done, give your neti pot a good rinse using some distilled or previously boiled water, inside and the spout, then let it air dry. If your neti pot has a lid, leave it off so it can fully dry. I turn mine upside down on a clean cloth on the shelf in the linen closet in my bathroom…. which is where I also keep the jug of distilled water I’m using.

Every few days I’ll be washing the neti pot with soap and hot water before rinsing it with the distilled water again. And most neti pots are at least top rack, dishwasher safe. So figure out what you need to do to make sure your neti pot is kept clean.

This video shows a clip from an Oprah show with Dr. Oz where they did a bit of a follow up, and it gives a little more info on what the whole process is doing.

This should be enough information for you to decide if you want to give the neti pot a try for yourself and down the road towards better sinus health. If you currently use a neti pot… or if you end up trying one, I’d love to hear about your experience, just leave me a comment below. Or if you have any questions, ask away and I’ll see if I can help!

Oh, and I need to put in a few disclaimers here… If you are suffering from any disease, infection or blockage condition consult your health care practitioner and follow their directions as to whether you should be, and in what manner you should be doing nasal irrigation. You should not do nasal irrigation if your nasal passages are obstructed or clogged to the point of preventing the flow in one side and out the other, or if you are suffering from any infection of the nasal, sinus or ear passages or have recently undergone ear or sinus surgery of any kind.

21 Responses

  1. Excellent Rob! thanks for following up with that!

  2. alicia says:

    Do you ever find using the neti pot irritates the interior lining of the nostrils creating crust-like sores?

    • Rob Portinga says:

      Hmm.. no.. I have not run in to that. Actually, it’s when my nasal passage is feeling dry and such that I step up in using mine to help fix that.

      I wonder if it could be the saline you’re using? If it persists, you should have it checked out…

    • Sue says:

      The company that makes neti pots has a nasal moisturizer.

  3. Megan Whipple says:

    Yea, I need to know how to clean it after use.

    • Rob Portinga says:

      For regular use, wiping down the nozzle with some hand sanitizer is what I do. Then once in awhile I would think using a regular dishwasher would get it clean enough. If you don’t have one, try boiling water. Though I haven’t felt a real need to clean out the inside beyond a regular hand washing here and there.

  4. Rachael says:

    I have made sure that it is room temperature but I still find it burns my nose I’ve read the directions and I don’t think I am doing anything wrong but I am not sure

  5. Madeline Vann says:

    Hi there! I am working on an article for Everydayhealth.com (29 million readers monthly!) about managing sinus congestion. I was hoping you or someone you know might want to share with our readers about whether the Neti pot or any other strategy you have tried has been particularly good at helping reduce your congestion? Or if you could circulate this so others who have had some success could get in touch, I’d appreciate it.

    • Rob Portinga says:

      I haven’t used it for just regular “every day” congestion, because it’s not something I tend to have. I mainly try to use it when I feel the first signs of a cold, etc. I can’t say for sure it makes a difference, but I do believe it does. When living in MN I would also use it on a regular basis in the winter to combat being in the dry indoor air all the time. This last winter being in the PNW, I did not seem to have nearly as much of a problem with that.

      I’d be happy to share more of my personal experience, but I’m not sure if that’s on track with what you are looking for or not.

  6. Sue says:

    The instructions with my neti pot says you should keep the boiled water in the fridge for a week. Does distilled water need to be refrigerated after opening to prevent growth of mold or bacteria? Is it subject to the “use within one week” rule?

    • Rob Portinga says:

      I guess I’ve never heard anything in that regard. I know if you use boiled water you want to let it get back to room temp before using it. And I wouldn’t try to cool it in the fridge as that can raise the temp in the fridge and cause issues for the rest of your food. I suppose.. there’s a slight risk of any open container of water being exposed to things in the air that could eventually cause issues…? I’ll have to see if I can find any more info on that.

      • Rita Giordano-Lombardi says:

        today I used my neti pot…..I washed it with very hot water and soap….I boiled the distilled water for about 5 minutes and just ran that through my neti pot…Let the distilled water cool and then I rinsed…….Is this sanitary enough?? I did use the correct water to rinse??? Im assuming there is no harm in heating distilled water?? I am so nervous after reading about the deaths from using the neti pot….

        • Rob Portinga says:

          There should be instructions that come with it that will help you. Also, if you’re nervous about it, there is a sort of squeeze bottle version that recommends you replace at regular intervals, that might be an alternative.

  7. revathy says:

    Is it ok if we swallow that water? I have started trying it from yesterday since am new I guess swallowing few water when breathing through mouth

  8. Kristen says:

    I’m wondering the same about swallowing water I’ve tried it a couple times and I seem to be swallowing some because I’m not positioned correctly is it ok? Also does any one else’s ears pop or go funny when doing this?

  9. Nico says:

    Hello. The only distilled water I can purchase is in a 4L jug. If I open the jug, use 2 cups for the Neti ritual, then store the closed jug until the next time, will any bacteria grow in the jug in the meantime? Thank you for any advice that you can give.

    • Rob Portinga says:

      All I can really say is I’ve never had a problem. Store it somewhere “clean”, don’t touch the mouth of the jug if you can help it… and likely will be ok.

  10. Lucas says:

    Hello, I used it for the first time last night and it seemed to work. Only thing is I know have salty taste in my mouth. Maybe I used to much salt or swallowed some water? Anyone ever experienced this?

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