How to Use a Neti Pot

Benefits and Instructions

neti pot
Valery Rizzo/Photolibrary/Getty Images

A neti pot is a ceramic container that is used as a tool for nasal irrigation. A type of self-care practice used for allergies, postnasal drip, sinus infections, and colds, nasal irrigation involves using a salt water rinse to clear the nasal passages. When performing nasal irrigation, the neti pot serves as a vessel for the salt-water rinse.

Resembling a teapot or a "genie's lamp," the neti pot has long been used in ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India and Southeast Asia). In recent years, the use of neti pots has also gained popularity in North America and Europe.

How to Use a Neti Pot

Today, nasal irrigation kits are widely available in stores. However, you can also make your own salt water rinse as long as you use sterile water and equipment. If you don't have a neti pot, you can perform nasal irrigation with a nasal bulb syringe.

Sources such as the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) suggest the following ratio of salt, water, and baking soda for saline rinses in adults:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 teaspoon non-iodized salt (e.g., canning or pickling salt with no preservatives or additives)
  • 8 ounces sterile room temperature water
  • 1/3 teaspoon of baking soda

Instructions:

Based on a report published in American Family Physician and the AAAAI recipe, here are typical guidelines for using a neti pot:

  1. Mix the ingredients together in a sterile container.
  2. Stand over a sink. Position your head so you are looking at the sink basin, then rotate your head so that one nostril is above the other nostril.
  3. If you are using a sterile neti pot, place the spout into your nostril. Be sure to avoid pressing against the septum (the middle part dividing the two nostrils).
  4. Breathing through your mouth, raise the handle of the neti pot, allowing the solution to enter the upper nostril and drain from the other nostril. If you are using a sterile bulb syringe, tilt your head down and place the syringe into one nostril. Give it a gentle squeeze so that the water comes out the other nostril.
  5. Continue this process until you've used about half of the salt water rinse.
  6. Repeat for the other nostril.
  7. When you are finished, gently blow your nose using a tissue and/or gargle with water.

If any stinging or burning sensations occur, reduce the amount of salt by half and decrease the frequency of use.

Benefits of the Neti Pot

To date, few studies have looked at the potential health benefits of using a neti pot. However, a number of studies suggest that nasal irrigation, in general, may help with certain health conditions.

For example, in a 2003 report published in Canadian Family Physician, scientists note that nasal irrigation is a "simple, inexpensive treatment that relieves the symptoms of a variety of sinus and nasal conditions, reduces the use of medical resources, and could help minimize antibiotic resistance."

Here's a look at other key findings from the available research on nasal irrigation:

Chronic Sinusitis

For a 2007 report published in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, scientists analyzed eight clinical trials evaluating the use of nasal irrigation in the treatment of chronic rhinosinusitis (an inflammation of the sinuses that typically causes congestion, postnasal drip, and other symptoms). Results revealed that nasal irrigation helped improve chronic sinusitis symptoms. The study's authors also found that minor side effects were commonly associated with the use of nasal irrigation, but note that the benefits appeared to "outweigh these drawbacks for the majority of patients."

Upper Respiratory Tract Infections

In another report published in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, researchers looked at three clinical trials assessing the use of nasal irrigation for the treatment of acute upper respiratory tract infections (such as the common cold). Published in 2010, the report found "limited evidence" for the benefits of nasal irrigation. The report's authors concluded that more research is needed before nasal irrigation can be recommended in the treatment of acute upper respiratory tract infections.

Neti Pot Side Effects and Risks

There's some concern that the use of a neti pot may trigger the spread of bacteria and other potentially harmful organisms. In a 2010 report published in the journal The Laryngoscope, for instance, researchers followed 11 people with chronic sinusitis who were already using nasal irrigation to manage their symptoms. Every two weeks for a period of six weeks, the nasal irrigation bottles were examined, and participants continued with new bottles. The researchers found that 97 percent of bottles had bacterial growth, and were commonly contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus. In their conclusion, the study's authors state that certain cleaning methods could reduce contamination of the bottles.

Additionally, in 2011, two adults in Louisiana died after using tap water in a neti pot and becoming infected with Naegleria fowleri (commonly referred to as the "brain-eating amoeba"). While Naegleria fowleri is usually found in warm freshwater such as lakes, ponds, mud puddles, hot springs, and rivers, in untreated swimming pools and spas, and in untreated well or municipal water, there was another death from amebic meningoencephalitis from Naegleria fowleri infection involving the use tap water for nasal rinsing.

Another report, published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2018, reported the death of a 69-year-old woman who had a chronic nasal skin rash, focal seizures, and a cerebral ring-enhancing lesion (an abnormal sign on an MRI or CT scan) after a year of improper nasal irrigation. The cause of death was a Balamuthia mandrillaris brain infection.

Given the risk of infection, you should speak to your doctor before using a neti pot (or any other type of nasal irrigation device). What's more, all individuals should take care to use the recommended sterile water or saline solutions when performing nasal irrigation and to follow the instructions carefully. Tap water and untreated water should not be used.

In some cases, using a neti pot may result in gagging or ear pain. If you experience either of these problems, it's likely that you're performing the technique too vigorously.

Using a neti pot may also cause fluid to drain down the back of your throat, which can lead to coughing.

It's important to note that self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences.

Where to Buy It

Neti pots are available in many natural-food stores and some drugstores. They're also widely available for purchase online.

The Takeaway

If you're considering the use of a neti pot for a health problem, consult your doctor first. Your doctor may be able to help you determine if a neti pot may effectively and safety treat your symptoms, and give you instructions on how to safely perform a nasal irrigation.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources