The Safe Way to Use a Neti Pot

Q. I’m thinking of trying a neti pot to open up my clogged sinuses. Does this method really work?

A. A neti pot, which looks like a small teapot with a long spout, is used to rinse out the nasal passages and clear mucus and other congestion. To use it, you tilt your head sideways and insert the spout into the top nostril so the water flows in and drains out through the bottom nostril.

A recent study of nearly 900 people with chronic or recurrent symptoms of sinusitis, such as nasal discharge or blockage, found that those who regularly used a neti pot with a saline, or salt-based, solution reported decreased symptoms at three-month intervals and significant improvement after six months compared with those who used steam inhalation or over-the-counter drugs.

If you decide to try a neti pot, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautions that tap water that is not filtered, treated, or processed in specific ways is not safe for use.

What’s safe? Bottled water from the store labeled as “distilled” or “sterile,” or boiled and cooled tap water (boil for 3 to 5 minutes, then cool until it is lukewarm). Previously boiled water can be stored in a clean, closed container for use within 24 hours.

Another alternative is water that has been passed through a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller, which traps potentially infectious organisms.

Finally, don’t forget to regularly clean your neti pot using sterile water.