How to Clean Your Baby’s Nose

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 18, 2023
4 min read

Nasal congestion is annoying at all ages, but babies are unable to take care of the problem on their own. Treating your baby’s nasal congestion is important so they can easily breathe through their nose, especially while breastfeeding. Thankfully, a variety of simple solutions allow parents to handle congestion quickly and with minimal objection from the infant.

Because some babies are resistant to congestion remedies, it's important to confirm that this is actually the issue before proceeding with a bulb syringe or aspirator. In most cases, you will quickly be able to determine if your baby's nose is blocked. 

Often, mucus will be visible to the parent, either within the nostril or surrounding the nose. Otherwise, nasal congestion can be detected based on noisy breathing, snorting, or general irritability.

A variety of common conditions and illnesses can cause your baby's nose to become blocked. These include.

  • Common cold or flu
  • Exposure to dry air
  • Allergies
  • Deviated septum
  • Exposure to pollutants

In general, babies are more prone to congestion than older children or adults, as their nasal passages are small and need time to develop. In most cases, congestion is mild and, while the nose needs cleaning, parents shouldn’t be overly concerned.

If the congestion occurs deeper in the baby's chest, worrisome issues such as asthma, pneumonia, or cystic fibrosis could be the cause. Monitor congestion and get in touch with a medical provider if the problem does not respond to the home remedies outlined below.

Whatever the reason for your baby's nasal mucus buildup, it's important to clean the nose to promote comfort and make breastfeeding easier. 

How you clean your baby's nose matters, however, as some techniques that are typically safe for older children and adults can be harmful or deadly for infants.

These steps will help you clean your baby's nose safely and relieve the discomfort that accompanies congestion.

Promote moisture with a humidifier. Like adults, babies are more prone to stuffy noses during the winter, when the cold causes the nasal cavities to expand. This promotes mucus secretion and can lead to congestion.

A humidifier can increase moisture levels within your home to limit or break up mucus. This will make your home more comfortable for both you and your baby. Also, it will limit your need for using more invasive options such as syringes or aspirators. 

While humidifiers marketed for babies and children aren’t required, it helps to choose one that doesn’t need to be refilled or adjusted in the middle of the night. If you don't have a humidifier, breathing in steam from a hot shower can also help.

Use a saline nasal spray instead of decongestants. Never give cold products such as decongestants or antihistamines to babies. These can prompt life-threatening complications in children under age four. Due to concerns such as the potential for overdose, manufacturers have voluntarily stopped producing and selling over-the-counter cough and cold products intended for children under age two.

While many parents rely on tools such as bulb syringes and aspirators, saline spray can sometimes be used as a substitute or to make the remainder of the process easier. Place your baby in a reclined position with the chin tilted up and spray two or three drops into each nostril.

Try a rubber bulb syringe. Parents often use rubber bulb syringes to suck mucus out of their babies' noses. This can be used with or without saline spray. However, saline spray thins hardened mucus and makes it easier to remove.

When possible, use the bulb syringe when your baby is already relaxed. Be prepared for wiggling, as some infants are resistant to this technique. Consider teaming up with another adult to make the job easier.

To begin, squeeze all air out of the bulb to create a vacuum. Place the tip of the syringe in your baby's nostril before quickly releasing the bulb. This will suction mucus from the nose and clear the nasal passages.

Substitute your syringe with a nasal aspirator. Many parents find nasal aspirators more convenient to use than traditional bulb syringes. Often, older infants and toddlers resist bulb syringes, making it difficult for parents to fully clear away congestion. 

A typical aspirator involves a flexible tube, with one end placed within your baby's nostril and the other used for sucking. Depending on the type of aspirator you purchase, the snot that is sucked out may land in a tissue or a disposable filter.

As with a bulb syringe, you can initially use saline spray to loosen hardened mucus. Wait up to 30 seconds after applying saline before you follow up with the aspirator.

Whether you choose an aspirator or bulb syringe, both tools should be thoroughly cleaned with soapy water after you've finished clearing the mucus from your infant's nose.