Skip to content

How do I perform a saline nasal irrigation?


While it may sound intimidating, a saline nasal irrigation is really nothing more than running a gentle saline solution through the nasal passages and sinuses. Most people find that it only takes a short time before they are comfortable irrigating their nose.

The nasal and sinus cavities are normally able to clear mucus on their own. However, when tissue is swollen due to allergy, irritation, or infection, the nasal and sinus cavities are not able to clean themselves. In these cases, irrigations (nasal flushing or washing) are used until the lining of the nose and sinuses can recover and begin performing normally again. Nasal irrigation cleans the passages of your nose where particles get trapped. Nasal irrigation will also help stimulate cilia movement—which is needed for the sinuses to clean themselves.

Typically, if you do not have sinus problems, your noses and sinuses are naturally able to clean themselves. However, if you have chronic allergies or chronic rhinosinusitis, this is not the case.

Swollen sinus passages prevent drainage, creating a perfect environment for an infection.

This is why it’s so important to regularly do saline rinses and nasal irrigation. Think of it as helping your sinuses “clean house.”


Do you understand the process for saline rinsing? Don’t worry, we’ve got all the information you need to get you started on this healthy habit.

When you do irrigate your nasal and sinus passages, here’s some important information to remember:

1. Consider a nasal irrigation system that works for you

There are several on the market. We typically recommend NeilMed sinus rinse bottle or Netipot. (Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat does not have a financial relationship with the companies or manufacturers of these devices.)

The specific device does not really matter as long as it delivers a high volume of saltwater through one side of your nose and out the other.  This is why a nasal irrigation device is much more beneficial than a mere mist or saline nasal spray.

2. Follow instructions carefully—particularly for sterilization

This means to be sure you are using distilled, sterile water. Do not use well water or tap water as this can put you at risk for diseases. In a few cases, the use of unsterilized water led to amebic meningoencephalitis, also known as the “brain-eating amoeba.”

Failure to properly sterilize could lead to a rare but life-threatening infection!

If you do use tap water, it has to be sterilized before use. Perhaps the easiest way to sterilize tap water is by using a UV light such as the SteriPen (~$50 on Amazon). (Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat does not have a financial relationship with the companies or manufacturers of this device.)

The manufacturer of the device you choose will provide instructions on the best ways to keep the device clean. These bottles should also be replaced every three months based upon scientific and manufacturer recommendations.

3. Prepare the salt solution according to instructions—or create your own

For those who would like to make their own solution, we have a “recipe” for you:

Add 1/4 teaspoon kosher (non-iodized) salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda to the water.

Or, make a 1:1 mixture of salt and baking soda and store in an empty jelly jar, then add 1/2 teaspoon of this mixture to the water. The amount and ratio can be adjusted per your preference.

4. Begin your sinus rinse

You do this by leaning over the sink at a 45-degree angle, tilting your head and placing the tip of the device at the opening of your nostril. Then gently pour the solution into your nose.

See a video demonstration here.


  • Holding your head down while irrigating can help you reach the sinuses that are located at the top of your nose and your forehead.
  • Avoid leaning your head back.
  • Hold your breath or breath through your mouth while flushing.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough, stop the rinse.
  • It’s important that you do not swallow or speak when you’re flushing your sinuses. If you do, it could change the pressure in your ears and actually cause the infectious material to flow farther into your sinuses.

At first, you may have an aversion to doing the irrigations (much like touching the eye when first learning to wear contact lenses.) After a while, this will subside, and you will be able to tolerate irrigation quite easily.


You should clean the irrigation device and solution container daily with soap and water to ensure that bacteria are not reintroduced into the nasal cavity when you irrigate. This is one reason why we suggest using two containers (so one can be cleaned while the other is in use.) Sterilization may be performed once a week with a weak solution of Betadine (available in pharmacies) or a diluted solution of bleach and water (1 part bleach and 100 parts water). Allow the device to completely air dry before using again. Last but not least, visit for more information.

Recent studies recommend replacing the irrigation device with a new one every 3 months to avoid bacterial contamination of the nose and sinuses.

IMPORTANT – There is a very small risk of developing severe, life–threatening infections with the use of saline nasal irrigations if proper hygiene measures are not followed. Sterile, boiled, or distilled water should be used for the saline mixture. Tap water should not be used.

You may find more sinus information at


Do you have additional questions about nasal irrigation? Don’t worry, we’ve compiled a complete list of everything you need to know in a recent article on saline rinsing. It also includes useful tips including how to travel with your irrigation system, FDA recommendations for sterilization and more about the benefits of the process

Working together, we can help ensure that your sinuses are healthy and guide you to take advantage
of nasal irrigation benefits.