The first time I watched a YouTube video of someone using a neti pot, I — to use the technical term — freaked the fuck out. I was in my mid-twenties and experiencing my first-ever allergies; several people recommended I try a neti pot to relieve the pain, pressure, and itchiness that was happening inside my face.
The video started off fine; the woman demonstrating how the neti pot worked put the little teapot up to her nose and tipped her head to the side. She stared blankly, in a zombie-like state, tipped her head to the side a little further, and then appeared to DROOL from her opposite nostril. The thin stream of nose-drool coupled with the blank stare was too much for me, and the screams made the whole thing even more awful. (To be fair, the screams were my own.) I don’t know what exactly I thought a neti pot was or did — something with steam maybe? IDK?? — but it sure as hell wasn’t that.
Indeed, this is how a neti pot works: It’s all about the ~nasal irrigation~.
You mix saline into boiled (and cooled!!) or distilled warmish water (more on this in a second) in the neti pot, press the spout to your nose, and let the salty water run through your sinuses, picking up allergens, debris, germs, and mucus as it goes, before exiting through the opposite nostril. You use half the water on one side, then switch and repeat the process on the other side.
After watching the video, I swore I’d sooner die than give myself Ye Olde Nasal Enema. But as my colleague Casey Gueren once wrote, “when allergies are ruining your life, you'll shove just about anything up your nose to feel better.” And after OTC allergy medications didn’t offer much in the form of relief and I began to think I really might die, I finally caved.
After picking up a neti pot at the drugstore, I mixed up the solution, locked myself in my bathroom (HELL NO would I let anyone see me in this moment), and assumed the position: I let my eyes go glassy and let my mouth hang open slightly like I was a backup dancer in the "Thriller" video. I managed to stay this way for about two seconds before I was startled — not by the feeling of water running through my face, but by the soppy freak staring back at me. Who was this girl and why was she expelling seawater out of her face holes???
But I persevered and finished a few minutes later; when I was done, I felt...like I'd gargled inside my face? My throat felt a little sore and salty, but, like, in a good way? My face was less swollen and tender; it no longer felt as though I had a sunburn on the inside of my cheeks. And I was able to breathe through my nose instead of my mouth for the first time in several days. In short, I felt...better. Like, considerably. Damn it, neti pot. You got me.
Since then, I’ve come to understand that a neti pot is like a Pap smear: low-key violating, but also a smart move, health-wise.
It really does work. “I encourage it,” Dr. Robert Sporter, of ENT & Allergy Associates, tells BuzzFeed. “Essentially, it is rinsing all the junk out of your sinuses. The salt actually breaks up mucus a little bit.”
Sporter suggests using a neti pot daily if you are particularly prone to allergies, colds, and sinus infections, and said that he uses it twice a day when he feels like he’s getting sick. (I have also heard that doing it in the shower makes it considerably more pleasant, but that method has never really worked for me.)
“This is the best natural alternative [to a nasal spray],” Sporter says. “You can use it when you’re pregnant. Anyone can use it. Kids as young as 5 or 6 can do it if you teach them how.” (And, in fact, you can buy pediatric ones for this purpose.)
Now you may be thinking, OK, you’ve semi-convinced me...but I swear I’ve heard stories of a brain-eating amoeba that gets into your sinuses via neti pots and then kills you. What gives??
Well, here’s what gives: The brain-eating amoeba you’re thinking of is a parasite called Naegleria fowleri. “There’s a very small chance that your tap water is contaminated with it,” Sporter says, stressing that it’s a very rare bug. But! Even though it’s pretty uncommon, you should still take one of the incredibly simple steps he recommends to protect yourself from it.
“The easiest thing to do is boil water for one minute and let it cool,” Sporter says. “Or you can buy distilled or sterile water.” (I go the distilled-water route.) You can also filter your tap water — IF you use a 1-micron or smaller filter. (“A Brita filter isn’t adequate for this,” Sporter says.)
And even if you don’t plan to douche your nose daily, I’d still encourage you to purchase a neti pot now, in a time of health, before a really bad pollen day — or a cold or sinus infection or whatever — begins to run its course.
I learned the hard way (after moving to NYC and leaving my trusty neti pot behind) that if you don’t have one in your bathroom cupboard, you will eventually find yourself congested, desperate for relief, and too sick to leave your apartment, and will end up buying a neti pot that doesn’t even come with the saline packets at a 300% markup on Instacart. So then you'll have to walk to the drugstore anyway — only to discover that they don't sell the saline packets on their own, and so you'll buy another new neti pot just to get the damn salt. This is a real thing I did last fall. And I didn’t even like the one(s) I got!!!
This is actually how I ended up with this, my fourth nasal cleansing system: the Nasopure "Nicer Neti" Pot Sinus Wash System ($12.95 on Amazon).
Technically not a neti pot, this ~sinus rinse~ has has very good Amazon reviews and works perfectly well; one cool feature is the lines on the side that show you the exact angle at which to hold it to get the water into your nose. But I also really liked my original porcelain neti pot ($19.99 on Amazon). And this modern ceramic one ($20.57 on Amazon, with salt packets sold separately for $5.69) has good reviews as well. And I, for one, am ready for the beautiful rose-gold hipster millennial neti pot that will surely be popping up on Goop any day now.
But honestly, it doesn’t matter to me which one you use. I’m just here to tell you to buy yours now, when you’re not stuffed up and begging for the sweet release of death. You’ll thank me later.