Nasal Irrigation

Nasal irrigation is a safe and easy way to rinse your sinuses. It can help relieve symptoms related to a sinus infection, allergies, a cold or other upper respiratory conditions. Neti pots, rinse bottles and pre-filled containers are all excellent options if you want to try nasal irrigation.


What is nasal irrigation?

Nasal irrigation is an at-home treatment to rinse your sinuses. Your sinuses are air-filled, hollow cavities behind the bones in your face. Usually, they remain open so you can breathe easily. If your sinuses become irritated or inflamed, however, mucus (snot) can clog your nasal cavities.

With nasal irrigation, you flush away the clog using a saline solution (water and sodium chloride mix) with a neti pot or a rinse bottle. Nasal irrigation thins the mucus that’s causing the clog. It rinses away substances causing the swelling.

Which nasal irrigation is best?

You can buy the ingredients for nasal irrigation over the counter at most pharmacies or drug stores. All you need is a saline solution and a container to administer it. All containers sold for nasal irrigation purposes work equally well. Choose a container that’s most comfortable for you.

Containers include:

  • Neti pots that allow you to pour saline into your nostrils, as if you were pouring tea from a teapot.
  • Rinse bottles that you squeeze into your nostrils.
  • Containers with special applicators that contain a prefilled saline solution.

What is nasal irrigation good for?

Nasal irrigation clears mucus and flushes out pathogens, allergens or other debris. Pathogens include germs, like bacteria and viruses. Allergens include pollen, mold, dirt, dust and pet dander. When these substances get trapped in your nose, they irritate your sinuses and cause symptoms like:

  • A stuffy or runny nose.
  • Itchy feeling in your nose or sneezing.
  • Trouble breathing.

Nasal irrigation can help with symptom relief associated with allergies, sinus infections (sinusitis), colds, flu and COVID-19, among other conditions.

Who shouldn’t try nasal irrigation?

Nasal irrigation isn’t for everyone. You shouldn’t try nasal irrigation if you:

  • Have an ear infection.
  • Have pressure in one or both ears.
  • Have a nostril that’s completely blocked.
  • Have had surgery on your ears or sinuses.

Contact your healthcare provider if you have questions about whether nasal irrigation is safe for you.

What kind of water can you use to irrigate your nose?

It’s essential to use water that doesn’t contain substances that could irritate your sinuses or make you sick. Most water contains trace amounts of minerals, germs, pesticides and other substances. You don’t want to introduce these substances to your sinuses during nasal irrigation.

Instead, use:

  • Distilled or sterile water: Distilled water is purified. It’s gone through a process to remove materials that could irritate your nasal passageways and germs that may make you sick. Look for “distilled” on the water before buying it.
  • Boiled water: Boiling water kills harmful organisms, like bacteria. Boil water for five minutes to ensure you’ve killed all the germs. If you can’t use it immediately, place a lid on the container. Use it within 24 hours.
  • Filtered water: Certain water filters can remove harmful organisms so that water is safe to use. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers detailed guidance about which filters are safe for nasal irrigation.


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Procedure Details

How do you irrigate your nose?

First, wash your hands with soap and water. Wash the container if you’re using a neti pot, a nasal rinse bottle or another container that doesn’t contain a prefilled solution. Irrigate over a sink to make cleanup easier.

  1. Prepare the nasal irrigation solution. If you’re using a container that was sold with saline powder, follow the instructions to prepare the solution. To make a homemade solution, mix one or two cups of distilled boiled water with ½ to ¼ teaspoon of non-iodized salt. Avoid iodized salt, including table salt. If you’re using boiled water, boil for five minutes.
  2. Get the container ready. Pour the saline solution into the container you’ll use to rinse your nose. If you’re using boiled water, wait until it’s lukewarm (not too hot, not too cold) before using it.
  3. Get positioned. Lean over the sink, looking down. Turn your head to one side so that one ear is toward the sink (as if you were listening for a sound coming from the drain) and the other is toward the ceiling. Fine-tune your position by thinking of how you want the water to flow. Imagine water flowing from the top nostril and spilling out of the bottom one.
  4. Irrigate. Breathe through your mouth. Place the container’s tip or spout inside your top nostril until it forms a gentle seal. Tilt the container or squeeze the bottle so that water flows through your top nostril into your bottom one. You’ll feel the water trickle as it flows downward and spills into the sink. Keep going until the solution is gone.
  5. Blow your nose. Breathe air forcefully through your nose to get rid of any remaining solution or mucus. You can blow your nose over the sink or into a tissue.

Irrigate your other nostril by repeating these steps on the other side.

What should I do when I’m done irrigating?

Clean up afterward by throwing away the prefilled container or washing the neti pot or rinse bottle. Check the packaging to see if your container is dishwasher-safe. If it isn’t, you can wash it in the sink and let it air dry on a clean towel.


Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of nasal irrigation?

Nasal irrigation is an inexpensive, easy way to relieve unpleasant symptoms related to common upper respiratory infections and allergies. Many people who try nasal irrigation feel better after just one use. Studies have shown that children and adults with allergies who use nasal irrigation have improved symptoms for up to three months.

What are the side effects of nasal irrigation?

Usually, there are no side effects.

Some people experience burning or stinging in their noses after doing nasal irrigation. If this happens, reduce the amount of salt you use in your saline solution. Also, make sure that boiled water has cooled to lukewarm before you use it.

What are the risks or complications of nasal irrigation?

Nasal irrigation is safe when it’s done correctly.

There’s a slight risk of infection if you use contaminated water. Many people who hesitate to use nasal irrigation reference news stories about “brain-eating” microbes. An amoeba called Naegleria can cause a life-threatening brain condition called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) if you ingest it. Most people with PAM get it from swimming in water that contains the amoeba.

Most cases associated with nasal irrigation involve people who used untreated tap water. Using distilled or boiled water can protect you from Naegleria.


When should I see my doctor?

Schedule a visit with your healthcare provider if nasal irrigation isn’t helping your symptoms, if they’re getting worse, or if you develop additional symptoms, like a fever or headache.

Additional Details

Is it OK to do a nasal wash every day?

It’s OK to do a nasal wash once or even twice daily while you have symptoms. Some people without symptoms irrigate daily or a few times a week to prevent sinus infections or allergy symptoms. As long as you’re taking care to clean containers properly and use boiled or distilled water, nasal irrigation is a safe daily ritual.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Nasal irrigation can often provide relief when dealing with an irritating stuffy or runny nose. Take care to irrigate correctly. Use purified water (boiled or distilled). Choose non-iodized salt over iodized. And never attempt nasal irrigation if you have clogged ears or an ear infection. If you’re unsure whether it’s safe to try nasal irrigation, reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 10/12/2022.

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