S'not Your Average Review: Nose Bidets and Neti Pots

With coverage by the New York Times and Oprah, neti pots have had a surge in popularity recently. I find this both encouraging and strange at the same time. I was pretty reluctant to try the neti pot (or "nose bidet" as dubbed by Oprah) when introduced to it by my then girlfriend and now fiancée Gen. I made the mandatory snarky "eewww" comments and joked about using her neti pot as a gravy boat or for pouring coffee creamer. So, I can totally see how people would turn up their noses at the thought streaming saline through their nostrils. I guess it's a testament to the power of Oprah that people would look past the weirdness and semi-grossness of nasal cleansing.

Roughly two years ago, my own research, a second neti endorsement, and a bout with congested sinuses finally convinced me to give the neti pot a try. Shockingly (at the time), my sinuses felt a lot better and it sped up my recovery from that miserable cold. Now, I actually use a neti pot whenever my sinuses feel wonky and as a preventative measure whenever I come into contact with sick folks (which is a relatively common occurrence in the winter-time on public transit and at an educational institution). In my opinion, neti-ing is cheap, easy, and quite effective at keeping my nasal passages clear of bacteria, dust, and other unwanted gunk. More people should incorporate the neti pot into their regime for both personal hygiene and maintaining their health. I'm glad neti-ing is becoming more popular.

Neti pots come in different styles, with different designs, and can be made from different materials. However, they all work on the same principle and don't really have any significant differences. It's all a matter of personal preference. I have a slight preference to the ceramic tea-pottish variety, but I'll gladly use whichever neti pot is most easily accessible to me. I've tried several neti pots and offer my opinions on them below.

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The first neti pot, I inherited (i.e. stole) from Gen when she bought a new one (i.e. was forced to get another one). I'm not sure what brand it is, but I'm pretty sure there are plenty just like it stocked at your local health food store or from your preferred online retailer. I still use this neti pot regularly. It has a nice floral design on the side which I hadn't actually noticed until having to take a picture of it for my blog. The one thing I don't like about this particular style of neti pot is that it's longish shape means it has a slight tendency to tip while I'm holding it. I'm more likely to slosh and spill some salt solution if I'm not paying attention during the transition to nostril insertion. Since I'm usually perched over the bathroom sink with the neti pot, this is definitely a very minor and insignificant annoyance. If you're a weirdo neti-ing over expensive, saline sensitive items, this neti pot probably isn't your best choice. The pour spot is a little lower than the actual top of the pot, so I often overfill the neti pot by accident and spill water out of the spout (again, this is a fairly minor issue). Lastly, this particular style of neti pot is ripe for the same sorts of previously mentioned gravy boat/coffee creamer wise cracks from your smart-ass friends.

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The replacement neti pot which Gen bought was the NeilMed NasaFlo. It looks like a cheap teapot. I wasn't particularly crazy about the fact that it's plastic, but when I used it, it seemed just fine. It feels sturdy enough and seems like it can withstand some hot water and alcohol sanitation. I have no idea what type of plastic it is, so I can't comment on it's environmental impact or potential for leaching chemicals into your nasal passages. I imagine it's completely safe though since you don't let water sit in it for long periods of time and usually that water is only lukewarm. I will say that I dig the tapered pour spout; I think it makes fitting the spout to your nostril easier and more comfortable. I'm also a fan of the screw on lid. I learned to neti by tilting the crown of my head forward 90 degrees and turning my head so that one nostrils is on top of the other. I occasionally slosh and spill some solution because of this preference (if I fill the neti pot too high) and also because I'm just not very graceful during the neti process. It's not a huge problem, but the screw on cap of the NeilMed neti pot eliminates this issue completely.

The NasaFlo also came with packets of NeilMed Sinus Rinse--a pre-measured sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate mixture. The marketing claims that the mixture produces a saline solution that is "pH balanced" and produces "no burning or stinging" sensations. I'm a little dubious myself about this mixture being any better than just mixing a salt solution yourself. My frugal B.S. meter tells me it's a marketing claim meant to try to get you to part with your money. However, some people (including Gen) claim that the mix is gentler and indeed never burns like a regular salt solution sometimes can. There may be some truth to the marketing claims, but my frugal sensibilities tell me that you're better off just mixing your own. Why pay so much for salt (sodium chloride) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)?

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The "Ancient Secrets Nasal Cleansing Pot" is the final neti pot with which I have first hand experience. I actually bought this as a present for my parents since my dad suffers from allergies. I still have yet to convince him to use it, but with enough sinus agony, I'm sure he'll come around (Dad, resistance is futile). This neti is proportionally taller and less elongated than the neti pot I normally use. I haven't measured the amount of liquid that I could put into it, but it sure felt like I could load it up with more saline solution than my regular gravy boat neti pot. It was also a little easier to move around without sloshing and spilling water, though the NeilMed Nasaflo still has it beat with the screw on lid. As a final note, even though neti pots aren't all that expensive, Amazon had it for the cheapest price I could find on a neti pot (edit 1/7/08: I've since found this cheaper one). If you need to buy something else from Amazon (to make the $25 free shipping), it's hard to beat this deal.