Skip to main content
Does Gargling Salt Water Help a Sore Throat?

You are listening to Health Library:

Does Gargling Salt Water Help a Sore Throat?

Jan 31, 2019

One of the more common home remedies for a sore throat is gargling salt water. Is this actually true? Dr. Tom Miller discusses whether or not this folk remedy is useful and examines a few other possible ways to alleviate the symptoms of a sore throat.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Does gargling salt water when you get sick actually do anything? We'll find out next on The Scope.

Announcer: Health information from experts supported by research. From University of Utah Health, this is

Interviewer: Dr. Tom Miller, so there's kind of this rumor thing out there. My mom tells me, my wife tells me, when I start, like, talking about how I'm getting a tickling in my throat, I feel like I'm getting sick, they say, "Oh, you got to gargle salt water. You got to gargle salt water." And I'm like, "I don't want to gargle salt water," but I do because, you know . . .

Dr. Miller: Because you don't want to get in trouble.

Interviewer: I'm an obedient son/husband. But does it actually really do anything? Does it shorten the duration? Does it actually prevent something from coming on? Give me the . . .

Dr. Miller: Well, it depends. Let's talk about does it actually do something. I think, you know, gargling salt water, for some, might soothe that tickle in the throat or that little bit of pain in the back of the throat due to a virus. But in terms of will it shorten the length or duration of that illness, no it won't do that. But it's perfectly fine to gargle with it. I wouldn't swallow the salt water. That has its own implications. But if you find that it soothes the back of your throat, you could go ahead and gargle. And the same is true with mouthwashes like Listerine or Scope if that tends to make you feel better for a little while. That's fine, but it's not going to shorten things, or it's not going to make that virus go away.

Interviewer: So that salt's not getting back there and causing a toxic environment? Are there other things that people do that really they think is going to shorten the duration, but it really doesn't? Just it kind of soothes things . . .

Dr. Miller: Throat lozenges, you know, and things for cough that come along with that tickle in the back of the throat. They soothe the back of the throat. they make you feel better, but it's not going to change the duration of the illness or the intensity.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Miller: You know, throughout the day.

Interviewer: And zinc tablets, what about those? That's another one I hear.

Dr. Miller: It hasn't been proven to really reduce the length of the cold, but it's not going to hurt people.

Interviewer: So if you want to do it, then go ahead. It's not . . .

Dr. Miller: Yeah, it's fine. I don't say to people that it's going to make a difference, but I tell them if they think it's going to make a difference or if they've tried it and they feel like it's made a difference, I'll tell them scientifically there's not a lot of evidence for that, but it's available over-the-counter. If they want to use it, they can.

Interviewer: All right, sounds good. So if you want to use those things, you can if it brings you some sort of relief or comfort. Don't expect it to really shorten the duration. And maybe you do it just to keep your mom/wife happy.

Announcer: Have a question about a medical procedure? Want to learn more about a health condition? With over 2,000 interviews with our physicians and specialists, there's a pretty good chance you'll find what you want to know. Check it out at