7 Safety Tips You Need to Know Before Using a Neti Pot
Whether you’re a frequent neti pot user or it’s your first time, these tips will ensure your sinuses are cleared out the right way.
Find the neti pot that’s right for you
There are a ton of different neti pots and squeeze bottle alternatives on the market or available at your local pharmacy. Some are larger, some are smaller, some are squeeze bottles, and some look just like a tea pot. So which one is right for you?
Zara Patel, MD, assistant professor and director of endoscopic skull base surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Connecticut, recommends using a squeezable neti pot. “The squeeze bottle is a high-pressure, high-volume irrigation, so it tends to be able to get into and out of areas a little bit better,” says Dr. Patel. “Since you’re the one squeezing it instead of just pouring it into your nose, you have little more control over the flow.” Neti pots have been around for ages as a treatment for allergies and colds—so have these natural home remedies.
Tilt your head the correct way
The whole point of a neti pot is to clear out your sinuses, and in order to do that, you want the solution to go through the nasal cavity completely. How you tilt your head matters a whole lot, especially for those of you who are wary about using the device for fear of drowning or choking.
“The head position that you rinse in is actually quite important,” says Dr. Patel. “It’s not just for getting it in and out of the sinuses best, but also so that you feel comfortable.”
She recommends tilting your head sideways to a head-hanging-upside position if you’re using a neti pot. Once you squeeze the solution up one nostril and it comes out the other side, you then tilt your head the other way and squeeze the solution up the second nostril. If you have a squeeze bottle, keep your head straight and lean forward. (While you're at it, make sure you're taking these supplements to get over your cold.)
Use clean water
Neti pots received a bad rap a few years ago after some people who used them died of a “brain-eating amoeba” known as Naegleria fowleri. While this sounds frightening, your chances of suffering from this fate are slim to none if you use the right kind of water. Scientists found that those killed by this amoeba had used neti pots filled with unfiltered tap water, concluding that the water, not the neti pot, was the culprit. That’s why, when you use a neti pot, it’s imperative that you use distilled or filtered water, or water that has been boiled for 3 to 5 minutes and allowed to cool to lukewarm or room temperature. (Here are more details about the proper use of neti pots from the Food and Drug Administration.)
There is a recipe to follow
While most neti pots actually come with a small packet containing the ingredients that are then mixed with sterile water to create the solution, you can also create your own using non-iodized salt and a little baking soda (which acts as a buffer). “You want a solution that…doesn’t burn the nose and is not uncomfortable,” she says. It’s important to know that the packet or home solution is mandatory when using a neti pot. You should never just flush regular water sans solution up your nose, as that may cause infection, and too much salt can lead to burning.
Don’t overdo it
Dr. Patel recommends that most people use a neti pot twice a day, every day. However, if you’re very congested or have a severe sinus infection, you can use it more frequently (three to four times a day), but consulting your doctor beforehand is a good and safe idea. (Also, it would be a good idea to call in sick.) While overusing a neti pot won’t necessarily harm you or make you sicker, it can dry out your nasal cavity, causing burning, itching, and pain. “You can rinse too much,” warns Dr. Patel. “It can be drying to your nose if you’re overly rinsing.” Like most things in life, overdoing it is never really beneficial.
Make sure you clean your neti pot
Cleaning your neti pot properly is necessary to avoid bacterial growth—after all, no one wants germs going up their nose. According to Dr. Patel, a neti pot should be cleaned at least twice a week. You can zap microwave-safe versions or place it in the top shelf of your dishwasher. “If you don’t have a microwave or dishwasher, you can just use hot water with soap.”
Consult your doctor
If you’re unsure whether or not you can use a neti pot, consult your doctor. If you’re using a neti pot and feel like your health isn’t improving, you might also want to consult your doctor. A neti pot isn’t the end-all, be-all of sinus infections, and you may need medication.
Medically reviewed by Michael Spertus, MD
Now that you've learned safety tips for using a neti pot, learn what you can do to recover from a cold faster.