- To use a neti pot safely, make sure you’re filling it with distilled or properly sterilized water to avoid possible infection.
- After filling the neti pot, tilt your head sideways and pour the liquid into one nostril and wait for it to exit through the other nostril, ideally carrying any excess mucous with it.
- Anyone can use a neti pot for nasal congestion from illnesses like the common cold, but it’s especially effective for people with chronic nasal problems.
- This article was reviewed by Graham Snyder, MD, MS, who is the medical director for the Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology branch at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
- This story is part of Insider’s guide for Treating the Common Cold.
A neti pot is a series of devices that you use to flush mucus or allergens out of your sinuses. Some versions of neti pots include bulb syringes, squeeze bottles, and pulsed water devices. But the most common shape is the teapot.
Doctors will sometimes recommend a neti pot to alleviate the nasal or sinus congestion that comes with a common cold, sinus infection, or allergies. Of course, there are other ways to alleviate nasal congestion, but neti pots are one of the older home remedies.
“Neti” — which means “nasal cleansing” in a historic Indian language — originates from a 3,000-year-old traditional Indian health system called ayurveda. Here’s what you need to know to use a neti pot.
How to use a neti pot
Here’s how to correctly use a neti pot in 3 simple steps:
1. Fill the neti pot with saline or sterile water.
2. Tilt your head sideways, pour the water through the spout, and into one nostril.
3. The water should drain out the other nostril, taking mucous and debris with it.
"It's like if you've got a slow flowing stream and you increase the amount of fluid going through the stream — it's going to get rid of a lot of the crud," says Noam Cohen, an ear, nose, and throat doctor with the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.
Neti pots are safe if used correctly
A 2015 review in the Cochrane Library on nasal irrigation showed that, beyond minor discomfort, neti pots have no serious side effects.
In general, neti pots are safe, as long as you use distilled or properly sterilized water. That's because non-sterile tap water can contain bacteria or amoebas that could lead to serious infections.
In one instance, in 2018, a woman who used contaminated water in her neti pot died after contracting a rare brain-eating amoeba. She had been using filtered tap water and had been clearing out her nostrils semiregularly for a month before she developed complications.
According to the FDA and CDC, the type of water that's safe to use with neti pots is:
- tap water boiled 3 to 5 minutes and then cooled until lukewarm.
- water purchased at a store and labeled "distilled" or "sterile."
- water passed through a CDC-approved filter designed to trap infectious organisms.
Yes, neti pots are effective
"The neti pot is very effective," Cohen tells Insider. "It's a low-risk, high-reward device that has a lot of efficacy."
Cohen, who specializes in sinus surgery, says that anyone can use a neti pot. But, he says, in his experience it's especially useful for people with chronic nasal problems.
"I tell all my patients, 'I can operate on you, but there's no use if you're not going to keep your nose clean using a neti pot," he says.
In addition to keeping your nose clean after an operation, neti pots have been shown to alleviate nasal and sinus symptoms from illnesses such as the cold and flu. Plus, they're inexpensive and easy to use, making the neti pot a convenient way to manage nasal congestion.
For patients with these symptoms, Cohen suggests using the neti pot as needed, while people with a sinus infection should use a neti pot twice a day.
Although more research is needed to develop guidelines for prescribing neti pots, most of the medical community has embraced the "nose toilet," says Cohen.
Related stories about the common cold:
- You're probably not washing your hands long enough, and it could be making you sick
- Does vitamin C help with a cold? Yes, but it won't help prevent it
- The common causes of a runny nose and how to stop it
- You're most contagious with the cold virus in the first three days of infection
- You can't sweat out a cold, and trying to could make it harder for you to recover
- Eat foods high in vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium when you have a cold