What to Know About Saline Solution for Children

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 06, 2022
4 min read

Rinsing your child’s nose with saline can help keep their nasal passages open by clearing out thick or dried mucus. It can help relieve symptoms of allergies, sinus infections, or colds. You can purchase saline solution over the counter or make it at home.

Saline solution, also called isotonic solution, is a mixture of table salt and water. Normal saline includes 0.9% salt — this salt concentration is similar to that in your tears, blood, and other body fluids.

Saline solution has many medical uses, including dehydration and wound treatment. However, it's primarily used for nasal irrigation.

Rinsing your child's nasal passages can help keep them clear of any dried, crusty, or thick mucus. It also helps the cilia — which are tiny, hair-like structures lining the nose — in your child's nose perform better, and as a result, clear their sinuses effectively. 

Nasal irrigation can help prevent sinus infections and reduce postnasal drip — secretions that drain down the throat — caused by allergies and colds. If your child’s nasal membranes are dry, nasal irrigation can keep them moist, making your child feel more comfortable. 

Saline can also be used for: 

  • Rinsing the mouth to help a sore throat
  • Cleaning cuts and scrapes
  • Rinsing the mouth after losing a tooth
  • Cleaning a new piercing

Making your own saline solution at home is easy as you probably have all the saline solution ingredients on hand already.  

Supplies. You'll need the following:

  • A clean glass jar or bottle with a lid
  • A pot with a lid
  • Non-iodized table salt
  • Baking soda (optional, but it’ll make the solution less irritating)
  • Tap or distilled water

Procedure. It's quicker to make a saline solution with distilled water, but you can also use tap water. 

If you're using tap water, you can use the following process to make your saline solution:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before you begin. 
  • Pour 1 cup of tap water into a pot with a lid. 
  • Boil for 15 minutes with the lid on. 
  • Remove from heat, and let the water cool to room temperature. 
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda to the water. 
  • Stir to dissolve, and your saline solution is ready.
  • Pour this solution into the clean jar, and tightly close the lid. 
  • Refrigerate it for storage, and use it within 24 hours. 

If you're using distilled water, mix 8 teaspoons of salt into 1 gallon of distilled water. Refrigerate and use it within 1 month.

You can use your saline solution to clear your child’s nasal passages in one of the two following ways: 

As nose drops. Although nose drops aren't usually enough to treat heavy nasal discharge or congestion, they can keep your child's nasal passages moist and help them adjust to nasal irrigation. Nose drops can also be used with nasal suction in children who’re too young for a saline rinse. 

Follow these steps when you want to use give saline solution as nose drops to your child:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water. 
  • Lay your child on their back. 
  • Pour some of the saline solution into a clean, small bowl.
  • Use a nose dropper to put 3 to 4 drops of saline solution in each nostril. 
  • Hold the child with their head back for about 1 minute — this gives the saline solution time to thin the mucus. 
  • Use a bulb syringe to suck the mucus out of the nose. 
  • Clean the nose dropper and bulb syringe thoroughly. 

As a saline rinse. To do a saline rinse on your child, follow these steps: 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water. 
  • Fill a neti pot, a large nasal syringe, or a squeeze bottle with your saline solution. 
  • Stand your child up with their head over the sink. 
  • Insert the tip of your nasal syringe or that of the spout of your neti pot or squeeze bottle into your child's nostril, aimed toward the back of your child's head, and gently squeeze. 
  • The saline solution should run out of your child's other nostril or mouth. 
  • Ask your child to blow their nose after the rinse. 
  • Repeat this on the other nostril, and do a saline rinse before you use any other nose drops — it’ll help your child’s nose and sinuses absorb the medicine better. 
  • Clean the instruments you used for the rinse thoroughly. 

Saline nasal rinses may feel awkward for your child, so make sure to prepare them ahead of time. These tips may help you with that: 

  • Explain what you're going to do in simple terms your child can understand. 
  • Start with a nasal spray or nose drops so that your child can get used to the feeling of the insides of their nose being wet. 
  • When your child gets used to the nasal spray, move up to saline rinses. 
  • The first few saline rinses may seem to cause a slight burning sensation. But most children will get used to that feeling over time. 

Take these precautions when using homemade saline solution: 

  • Never drink your homemade saline solution.
  • Never rinse your eyes with homemade saline solution or use it for storing your contacts.
  • Throw away the saline solution if it looks cloudy or dirty.
  • If you are using your homemade saline solution, make sure it’s freshly made or less than 24 hours old.
  • Only use clean equipment that’s been through a full cycle of the dishwasher or has been sterilized by boiling for 10 minutes.
  • Throw away any unused saline solution and wash the container.
  • Don't put anything into the container of saline solution. Instead, pour the amount you need into another container and dip from that.