Neti Pot Dangers & How to Avoid Them

Oddly enough, most neti pot dangers are caused by dangerous neti pot users, meaning neti-potters who are doing something wrong. But never fear, with some neti know-how and nasal irrigation experience, even neti newbies can tame their wildest neti pot fears.

The Goal: A Safe, Comfy, and Danger-Free Neti Pot Experience. To keep your nasal irrigation experience danger-free, let's review the most common mistakes, discuss what will happen if you make them, and reveal how to correct them in the future -- netting you a a safe and comfy neti pot experience.

Never use water straight from the tap for your nasal irrigation solution. Instead, boil the water and let it cool, or use distilled water. Remember, pure enough to drink isn't the same as pure enough for your sinuses.
Photo Credit:
Ok to use with attribution & link back to this site.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Regardless of whether or not you've ever experienced problems with your neti pot, make sure your neti pot water is pure. Never use neti pot water straight from the tap.

"Safe for drinking" is not the same as "safe for nasal irrigation."

This is an important point, because while other neti pot dangers are more like neti pot inconveniences, ingesting impure water into your nasal passages can be deadly, as evidenced by very rare, but very tragic neti pot deaths caused by some seriously contaminated water. It's not worth the risk.

And now, onto more common problems...

An Obvious Danger Sign: "It Buuurns!"

Using a neti pot should never give you a burning sensation. If it's burning, stinging, or making your eyes water like you've just watched "Terms of Endearment," chances are you made one of these common neti newbie mistakes, which are easy to correct.

Problem: Wrong Water Temperature

Yes, this is obvious. But it's worth pointing out that the water temperature in your neti pot should be lukewarm, about the same temperature as a bottle you'd give a baby. If the temperature of your neti pot solution would make a baby cry, chances are it can make your nasal passages cry too.

Occasionally, I'll neti with water that's slightly colder to give myself a "cooling sensation", but even in such cases, the water should not be icy-cold. The bottom line, temperature extremes are one of the most obvious neti pot dangers.

Remember, boiling your nasal passages is bad, and freezing your nasal passages is also bad. You want the temperature juuuust right, like Goldilocks and her porridge.

Problem: Wrong Amount of Salt

This might be the most common of all neti pot dangers. Sadly, it's also one I've made personally as a neti newbie. And I'll tell you, it's pretty darn unpleasant.

If you're using a neti pot that came with premixed neti packets: Here, the solution is easy -- follow the directions carefully. Don't get fancy-schmancy in second-guessing the instructions. Don't add extra salt, pour in extra water, or use half-packets to save a few pennies. Your sinuses are very smart. They can tell the difference.

If you're making your own neti pot solution with water and salt: Here's a classic neti pot recipe, and the one that I use when I'm blending my own:

Neti Pot Recipe
1/4 (slightly heaping) teaspoon of pure, non-iodized salt
8 oz of pure, lukewarm water
Blend until the salt is dissolved

Every once in a while, I'll hear someone say, "I reduced the salt, because I was worried it would hurt, and – " Guess what? It DID hurt. And here's why. Because there wasn't enough salt to mimic our body's natural composition. Silly, silly neti newbies – and yes, I was one too.

Fear of salt-induced neti pot pain is understandable, because we all know it stings to rub salt into an open wound. But salt plays a totally different role in irrigating our nasal cavities. The salt in the water is what enables the neti pot solution to mimic our tears and sweat, and thus NOT hurt.

But remember, don't overdo it on the salt either. Too little is bad. Too much is also bad. When it comes to salt, what you want is just right.

Problem: Wrong Kind of Salt

To avoid neti pot dangers, your salt should be pure. But what does this mean? Let's review the basics.

If you're using neti "salt" packets that came with your neti pot: This one's the easiest. Again, simply follow the directions. When mixing your neti pot solution, the neti salt (often called "sinus rinse") packets that came with your pot will suffice. The salt's already in there. Don't add more. Keep it simple, and your sinuses will thank you.

If you're mixing your own neti pot solution: Make sure the salt is non-iodized and free of anti-caking agents. (For more details and pictures, please see the neti pot salt overview page.)

Of these five types of "salt", only two are pure enough for nasal irrigation. If you read the fine print, you'll see that the other three have sneaky additions that might irritate your sinuses.
Photo Credit:
Ok to use with attribution & link back to this site.
This criteria makes most table salt unsuitable for use in your neti pot, because chances are your average table salt not only has iodine, but anti-caking agents. Companies like Morton's add these agents to keep the salt from, well, caking, meaning clumping together. This is very useful when you're shaking salt over your popcorn, but totally unwanted in your nasal cavities.

And, it goes without saying that seasoning salt is a huge neti pot danger. It might be festively orange and tasty, but trust me, you won't feel the least bit festive if you try to put that stuff up your nose.

Problem: Impure Water

When health officials designate tap water as "safe," they generally mean safe for drinking and bathing – not necessarily for nasal irrigation.

If your tap water doesn't have enough chlorine, or hasn't been purified enough, you could be facing some serious neti pot dangers, because this is one of the riskiest things you could do as far as nasal irrigation is concerned.

In fact, in very rare instances, this could be a fatal neti pot mistake. Sure, water contaminated with an obscure parasite might be incredibly rare, but it's still not worth the risk.

Even terrific tap water usually has more chlorine than is good for your sensitive nasal passages.

The main point is, even if you have decent water to begin with, you still need to take extra steps to purify it before putting it into your neti pot.

If nothing else, boil your water for at least five minutes to kill any impurities, amoebas, or other dangers. Such drastic impurities might be rare, but why take a chance? Plus, even if your water isn't prone to these types of serious problems, boiling it anyway will release the chlorine into the air, and out of the water.

Or, if you absolutely refuse to boil your water (and wait for it to cool to a nasal-friendly temperature, of course), if nothing else, at least run your tap water through a good water filter (such as a Brita pitcher) to help reduce the chlorine and impurities. It's not as safe as boiling, but it's better than nothing. Personally, I generally do both. I run the water through my Brita filter, and THEN boil it too.

And, if your tap water is really iffy, you'll want to use distilled water and avoid the tap entirely. (For more details and pictures to help you pick the right water for your neti pot, please visit the neti pot water overview page.)

Problem: Skipping or Reducing the Salt in Favor of "Special" Non-Salty Ingredients

Many people add special things to their neti pot mixture, and I've tried a good bit of them. Common additions include Alkalol Nasal Rinse or a few drops of hydrogen peroxide.

When mixing your neti pot solution, neti pot dangers include skipping the salt in favor of a non-salty addition. Remember, if you add anything (non-salty) to your neti pot solution, it doesn't take the place of the salt or sinus rinse packets -- no matter what the hydrogen peroxide might like to think
Photo Credit:
Ok to use with attribution.
Should you give hydrogen peroxide a try? Well, that depends.

Adding hydrogen peroxide isn't something I'd recommend for your FIRST nasal irrigation experience, and in fact, there's a lot of conflicting information on whether or not this is such a great idea for your second or third time either.

Some neti pot users believe that hydrogen peroxide can irritate your sensitive nasal passages, while others swear that adding a few drops of hydrogen peroxide is great for fighting infections.

Since there's no concrete consensus on what's best, I wouldn't advise you either way, but I will say this -- if you DO decide to use hydrogen peroxide, don't reduce or skip the neti salt. Simply, mix your neti pot solution how you normally would (whether with salt or sinus rinse packets), and THEN add the special ingredient.

Remember, those extra ingredients will make the neti pot experience more intense, and even moreso (and not in a good way, mind you) if you mistakenly believe that the special ingredient can substitute for salt.

It can't.

To recap, the solution in your neti pot must be a saline (salty), even if you're adding a bonus ingredient.

An exception to this rule: Of course, if the "bonus ingredient" is a special neti pot salt, sinus rinse packet, or a saline (salty) solution, you're likely covered. If, however, the bonus ingredient is NOT salt or salty, you'll need to add some, if only for your own comfort.

Neti Pot Danger: Ear Weirdness, Wetness or Infection

In our bodies, the ears, nose, and throat are connected in ways only a medical guru could diagram. There's a reason some medical specialists are called, "Ear, Nose, and Throat" doctors.

But for us neti users, we must remember that all these things ARE connected, and we need to be extra-careful of straining or infecting our ears during the nasal irrigation process. Below are common mistakes that lead to neti-induced ear problems.

Problem: Blowing Your Nose Incorrectly

When you use a neti pot, the nasal irrigation process is terrific for watering down and thinning out the mucus so you can have cleaner, healthier sinuses and nasal passages. However, if you blow your nose incorrectly, this newly thinned mucus can be "blown" into your ear cavities, where it could linger and cause ear weirdness, crackling, or even potentially an infection if you get really unlucky. This is a neti pot danger you'll definitely want to avoid.

So here's a tip. When you blow your nose as part of the nasal irrigation process, don't plug either nostril while blowing, or even pinch the bridge of your nose. (For more details, see this article about nose-blowing neti pot dangers.)

Problem: Positioning Your Head Incorrectly

When using a neti pot, the simplest method is to lean sideways over the sink, giving the water a clear path nostril to nostril. If you feel any pressure on your ears, you need to adjust your position.

The Good News About Neti Pot Dangers

The vast majority of people who take the neti plunge do it successfully, with no neti pot dangers. Why? Because the process is actually quite simple and easy, especially once you've done it a time or two.

Because in truth, you're a lot more dangerous than your neti pot.

Related Neti Pot Reading

More Warnings & Tips. Now that you're familiar with potential neti pot dangers and how to correct them, here's a quick recap of six nasal irrigation mistakes to avoid.

So, Your Neti Pot Only Works On One Side? If one nostril is resisting the nasal irrigation flow, it might be time to explore potential causes and solutions.

Back to Home Page:
Return to Netti Pot: The Neti Pot Newbie's Guide to Nasal Irrigation

Chances are, you're more dangerous than your neti pot. For more tips on using your neti pot safely, check out these popular pages.

How to Neti. To help you take the netti pot plunge,here are step-by-step neti pot instructions.

How to Buy Neti Pot Salt. You can find neti pot salt in your baking aisle for just pennies a "serving." Here's what to look for and what to avoid at all costs.

What Kind of Water Is Best for Your Neti Pot? Choices abound! Tap water? Boiled? Filtered? Distilled? Opinions vary on what's best, so this article covers the basics of each.

Neti Pot "How To" Video. This home video shows the basics of sinus irrigation, with the added "bonus" of useless subtitles.

Want to know what's really dangerous?
Driving with this thing on. Oh sure, your sinuses will be happy, but how will you dial your cell phone or eat french fries? Safety first, people!
Elasto Gel Hot / Cold Sinus Mask