How to Use a Neti Pot

Benefits, Risks, and Step-by-Step Instructions

The neti pot has long been used for centuries in Ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India) and offers a non-invasive means of treating nasal symptoms without drugs. The practice is also sometimes used for religious purposes.

A woman using a neti pot
Valery Rizzo / Getty Images

What Is a Neti Pot?

A neti pot is a container used to help clear nasal passages caused by allergies, postnasal drip, sinus infections, and colds. Salt water and other ingredients are dispensed into one nostril and released from the other.

Benefits

To date, few studies have looked closely at the benefits of using a neti pot. Much of the available research is either contradictory or inconclusive.

Among them, a 2007 review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that nasal irrigation proved effective in treating chronic rhinosinusitis and that benefits of treatment tended to "outweigh the drawbacks for a majority of patients."

A 2010 review, also published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, came to different conclusions and found "limited evidence" that nasal irrigation could improve symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.

By 2016, the Cochrane editors retracted the original 2007 review and replaced it with data suggesting that saline irrigation was less effective than an over-the-counter steroid spray. While large-volume irrigation—150 millimeters (5 fluid ounces) per day—showed promise compared to a placebo, the effect appeared waning the longer the procedure was used.

Preparation

Today, nasal irrigation kits are widely available in stores. However, you can also make your own saltwater 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.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology suggest the following ratio of salt, water, and baking soda for saline nasal rinses in adults:

  • 1/2 teaspoon non-iodized salt
  • 8 ounces sterile room-temperature water
  • 1/3 teaspoon of baking soda

Instructions

A neti pot is relatively simple to use, but one that can take time to adjust to. Some people find the sensation unsettling and unpleasant; others view it as cleansing and restorative. To perform nasal irrigation with 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. Place the spout into the upper nostril. 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 opposite nostril.
  5. Continue this process until you've used about half of the saltwater rinse.
  6. Repeat the steps for the other nostril.
  7. When finished, gently blow your nose and gargle with water.

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

Side Effects and Risks

Using a neti pot can cause gagging or ear pain. If you experience either of these symptoms, you are likely performing the procedure too vigorously. A neti pot can also cause fluid to drain down the back of your throat, causing cough. You can usually overcome both of these problems by pouring the water a little slower.

A larger concern is the risk of infection from the use of non-sterile tap water in neti pots. This was evidenced by a 2018 report published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases in which a 69-year-old Seattle woman died of a brain infection (caused by the amoeba Balamuthia mandrillaris) following a non-sterile neti pot procedure.

To reduce the risk of infection, never use tap water or water from any natural source. You can ensure water is safe in one of three ways:

  • Buy distilled or sterile water at stores in a sealed container.
  • Boil water for three to five minutes and then cool until lukewarm. Previously boiled water can be stored in a sterile, closed container for no longer than 24 hours.
  • Pass water through a filter specially designed to trap infectious organisms. The product label should read "NSF 53" or "NSF 58." Filter labels that read "absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller" are also effective.

Tap water should never be used for nasal irrigation as it may contain low levels of microorganisms—such as bacteria and protozoa—that are neutralized in the stomach but not in nasal passages. Introducing these into a nostril can lead to potentially serious infections.

A Word From Verywell

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

If you're considering the use of a neti pot for a health concern, consult your doctor first. Your doctor may be able to provide instructions on how to safely perform nasal irrigation or offer alternative treatments for your condition.

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Article Sources
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  1. Harvey R, Hannan SA, Badia L, Scadding G. Nasal saline irrigations for the symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jul;18(3):CD006394. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006394.pub2

  2. Kassel JC, King D, Spurling GK. Saline nasal irrigation for acute upper respiratory tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Mar 17;(3):CD006821. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006821.pub2

  3. Harvey RJ, Hannan SA, Badia L, Scadding G. WITHDRAWN: Nasal saline irrigations for the symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;4:CD006394. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006394.pub3

  4. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Saline sinus rinse recipe. Updated 2019.

  5. Pipera KJ, Foster H, Susanto D, et al. Fatal Balamuthia mandrillaris brain infection associated with improper nasal lavage. Int Infect Dis. 2018 Dec;77:18-22. doi:10.1016/j.ijid.2018.09.013

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parasites - Cryptosporidium (also known as "Crypto"): a guide to water filters. Updated April 3, 2015.

  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Is rinsing your sinuses with neti pots safe? Updated January 24, 2017.