How do I Use Saline in a Nebulizer?

S. Waddell

It’s normally pretty easy to use saline in a nebulizer, though to get started you’ll want to be sure to read the instructions that came with the device so that you know what you’re dealing with; taking a few steps to ensure the right solution proportions and volume can be helpful, too. Most nebulizers can be used with saline or inhaled medications, often interchangeably. Saline is a good option for people who want to try something natural, or who want a break from their medication for awhile without losing the benefits of a clearer airway. In most cases, you use saline the same way you’d use a medication, which is to say that you pour it into the device’s fluid receptacle and wait for the vapor. You can buy prepared solution or make your own, and it's important to thoroughly clean the machine after each use to prevent build-up.

A nebulizer changes liquid into a vapor or mist.
A nebulizer changes liquid into a vapor or mist.

Identify Your Nebulizer

A nebulizer is a device that changes a liquid solution into a vapor or mist for inhalation, and there are usually two varieties: the compressor type and the ultrasonic type. The ultrasonic type is generally faster and more efficient since it has no air compressor. This also makes it much quieter when it is running, though it tends to be more expensive, too. The two varieties take liquid in similar ways, though they have nuanced differences when it comes to how much to use, as well as how and where to put it.

Table salt can be dissolved in distilled water to make saline for use in a nebulizer.
Table salt can be dissolved in distilled water to make saline for use in a nebulizer.

In either scenario, you will typically use saline the same way you’d use a liquid medication. Taking a look at the instructions that came with your particular model is usually the best place to start. Manufacturers usually give guidelines when it comes to how the liquid should be used and any precautions that you need to take. If you can’t find your instruction booklet, you may be able to find a copy online. Your doctor or health provider may also be able to help.

Tap water is a fine substitute for distilled for water if a person wants to make their own saline solution.
Tap water is a fine substitute for distilled for water if a person wants to make their own saline solution.

Prepare the Solution

Once you’ve identified the specifics of your device, it’s time to get the saline ready. Saline solution can be purchased in many pharmacies and health food stores, but many people prefer to make their own. It is easy to do by mixing 1 teaspoon (about 5 mL) of ordinary table salt or sea salt with 1 quart (about 1L) of distilled water. Regular tap water is often a fine substitute if distilled water is not available, though this depends to a certain extent on its cleanliness.

Nebulizers can help treat patients suffering from various lung conditions.
Nebulizers can help treat patients suffering from various lung conditions.

Check Volume and Placement Accuracy

Next you’ll want to actually pour the solution into the machine, making sure that you’ve used neither too little nor too much. The nebulizer will probably have a cap in which to put the liquid, and you’ll pour it in the same way you would a prescription drug. In most cases there will also be a tube that runs from the solution chamber to the mouthpiece or mask, and you should be sure that it is connected properly and securely since this is how the saline mist will make it to your throat and lungs.

The use of saline in a nebulizer is well regarded as a safe and effective way to treat breathing difficulties. Many people also like it because it doesn’t usually have the side effects associated with prescription medications. Saline can easily be inhaled through the device’s mask or mouthpiece and it goes straight to the lungs, where it breaks up mucus so that the mucus can be coughed up. It moistens the nasal cavity, too, and relieves excessive coughing. In most cases it’s the moisture that provides the most immediate relief, even with only saline and no medicine.

Regular Maintenance and Cleaning

While getting relief is the most important goal, it’s important to clean and maintain the machine between uses to make sure it will continue operating properly. In most cases your nebulizer will have to be cleaned and dried well after every use. Using only saline will make this work easier, but doesn’t usually eliminate it. Medicines can be sticky, but salts can build up as deposits over time that can clog the tubes and passageways. Areas that are left moist, even only with water, are often good breeding grounds for bacteria, too.

Nebulizers are most commonly used to deliver medicine into the lungs of children with breathing issues.
Nebulizers are most commonly used to deliver medicine into the lungs of children with breathing issues.

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Discussion Comments


Saline solution + nebulizer (especially battery operated smart one ).


I agree with the effectiveness of saline solution use in a nebulizer. However, there are two very important distinctions.

1) One must use distilled water, using sterile handling procedures, including a sterilized storage container.

Note: If you do use tap water, it must be boiled and again, use sterile handling and storage procedures, including sterilization of pot, tongs, storage container, etc.)

2) Use only non-iodized salt, which is readily available, and in most stores, located next to common iodized table salt. Just be sure to read the label.


Although I have been on Salbutamol four times a day now for just over a year, it wasn't until I invested a nebuliser, that things really started to improve for me, and though up to now I've only been using sterile water, and sometimes I find it very hard fighting for breath at times, I found it quite comforting to use a saline solution instead. The results are very remarkable indeed.

As anon357561 said earlier, he/she was very happy, as I am now. But, there is a shelf life, as with all medicines. I would advise the saline solution be discarded 48 hours after opening, as the salt content quickly falls, thereby making the effect less potent, also the nebuliser may be impaired.

So, after 48 hours, it's best to make up a fresh batch to keep refrigerated for when you need it most. I still use the ventolin when I'm out, but I find that I'm not using it as much as directed, and try not to rely on the 'saline solution' too much before seeking medical help. It's always best to be safe than sorry.


I was always prescribed ventolin and pulmicourt for use with my nebuliser regardless of the medical problem. After a six month cough and struggling to breathe, I changed doctors and was told to just use the saline. It brought up so much mucus but I was clear in less than two days.


I tried this and it was effective for asthma.


I have been using a nebulizer for about a month. I used the albuterol that my doctor prescribed and it helped quite a bit. However, I used homemade saline (purified bottled water and sea salt) last night (albuterol wasn't helping as much as it had). It made me cough quite a bit and I coughed up a lot of mucus. But then I felt markedly better and could breathe so much better than with the albuterol. I am going to try this again tonight.


@indmenifyme - I have a nebulizer too and the article is right, they are really hard to clean. I'm almost sold on this saline idea just for the easy clean-up!


I've had asthma almost my whole life and I've never heard of using saline in a nebulizer. It sounds like it would be a great solution though.

I actually do have a portable nebulizer for use at home so I think I'm going to consult with my doctor about this. I need a new prescription for the medicine that I normally use in the nebulizer so I have to pay her a visit soon anyway!

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