Putting Salt on Wounds: Is it the Best First Aid?

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This article will look into the phrase “to rub salt into a wound” and explore its literal meaning in terms of actual injuries, as well as if it could be a first aid medicine in some instances.

We’ve all heard the expression “put salt in a wound.” As most people know, the phrase indicates making a bad situation worse.

If you’ve just lost your job and are cleaning up your desk, having a colleague come up to you and boast about his recent promotion, then that same scenario would be the best example of pouring salt in your figurative wound.

It’s not difficult to figure out the source of this idiom. If you’ve ever had saltwater in a new cut, you know how unpleasant it can be to have salt in your wound. It’s an excruciating, pulsating kind of pain.

However, you may remember that saline solution is used in hospitals all around the globe for wound irrigation. 

This liquid chemical got us thinking: it’s evident that putting salt in an actual wound hurts, but is it genuinely worsening the problem? Or, in the long run, can the salt improve the condition and prevent infection, making it a feasible strategy for survival medicine?

Let’s dive in and go over the information you need to address doubts and get further informed on putting salt on wounds.

Just to set the record straight, this article isn’t a full first-aid manual. It is still best to consult medical professionals to determine the medical care suited for your condition.

"Putting Salt on Wound" Idiom

rock salt on a wooden spoon

Before going to the fun stuff, we need to go through the boring stuff first. We need to take a few steps back to appreciate better what the idiom means and why salt became the main factor.

According to historical linguists, the term originated when salt functioned as an improvised antibacterial. “When England began creating its fleet in the early years, most sailors were compelled to serve. Punishment at sea was often lashing with cat-o-nine tails.” 

In addition, “The whippings would often tear the skin and apply salt to the area to avoid infection. “Salt in the wound” was a very literal, stinging expression in this sense.”

However, even though it was identified as an effective antiseptic back in the day, it does not indicate that it is still so today. After all, we don’t treat our illnesses with bloodletting, mercury, or lobotomies anymore.

Proper Wound Care

washing open wound with clean drinkable water

Now that we know salt was a reliable antiseptic in the early days, but it isn’t as safe to use for the same purpose today, then what do we do now? How should we take care of an open wound?

In 2006, a doctor at the University of California at San Francisco wrote for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Dr. Walter Sipe, M.D., clearly said that people should keep salt out of their cut.

He supported this statement further by adding that the most important thing people can do to treat a wound is rinsed it with a lot of clean water. And by water, he meant a filtered or chemically treated kind to clean enough to be drinkable.

Sipe also mentioned making a pressured water spray. People need to fill a bag with water, poke the bottom corner of the pack with a needle to make a small hole, and squeeze the bag. The water will then come out to wash the wound.

Scrubbing is also essential for dirty wounds stated further by the University of California medical graduate. This step is needed because you have to get rid of foreign bodies on an open wound.

It doesn’t work better than water to keep wounds from getting infected. Exposure to iodine, alcohol, peroxide and pure salt can also hurt the tissues. You can hold direct pressure on a cut or wound until the bleeding stops.

Saline Solution on Wound

dropping a clear liquid solution

You might be thinking maybe rinsing your wound by diving in seawater would help in the healing process in an emergency. Don’t go running on the beach just yet! You have to know upfront that seawater has bacteria.

Plus, many dangerous bacteria can handle a lot of salt and thrive in salty environments, like Staphylococcus aureus, which causes MRSA staph infections.

On the other hand, sterile saline solution, which has salt content, is used in many medical facilities. This solution has a minimal amount of dissolved salt and blends with your body’s natural state.

Many scientific studies have found that a solution of saline is not more effective at preventing infections than a solution of pure water or even water from the tap. Studies have shown that water may be better in some situations than other fluids.

Salt and Water Mix Fix

a woman holding a cup of water and looking like she is gargling

Now, we’ve established that saltwater isn’t a good idea on open wounded skin. But it’s good for mouth sores, throat infections, and some other stuff too.

Sore Throat

Some people may tell you to gargle with salt water to help with a sore throat or bleeding gums. It is simple, cheap, and a common practice for a long time. For one thing, it doesn’t have any side effects. Some studies say that gargling with salt water can help you get better if you have mild health problems.

Tonsillitis Relief

The tonsils are two lumpy tissues at the back of the throat that become inflamed due to bacterial or viral infection. Tonsillitis that is inflamed may make swallowing difficult. Gargling with salt water might provide pain relief and alleviate these symptoms.

Balance pH level

The salt and water mix aids in the neutralization of acids generated by bacteria in the throat. 

It helps maintain a healthy pH balance in the mouth, preventing the development of many bacteria like Streptococci. Other mouth-dwelling species are salt-aware, which means they can’t stand it. 

Nasal Congestion Relief

Gargling with salt water also helps remove mucus from the respiratory system and nasal cavity. The combination helps to alleviate inflammation and irritation in the throat. Apart from that, it washes out germs and viruses, which may cause congestion if left neglected.

Bad Breath Remedy

If you’re concerned about having foul breath, gargling with salt water may help you prevent it. It can wash away oral germs, which causes bad breath.

Irritated Gums and Aching Tooth

Warmed salt and water mixture also relieve bleeding and inflamed gums, which are the early indicators of bacterial gum disease. Using saltwater to rinse your mouth may help decrease irritation and combat microorganisms. Toothaches may also be relieved by gargling with saltwater.

Making Salt-Water Mix

tablespoon of fine salt and a glass of clear drinking water

Blending these two substances is simple. To make salted water, you can mix a teaspoon of table salt with 250 mL or eight ounces of water. Again, make sure the water is clean, clear, and drinkable.

Also, you don’t need to use boiling hot. For some cases, mixing salt with warm water is necessary. Hot water does not make salt more effective. It only makes the salt dissolve more quickly.

For gargling, take a large sip of the mixture and keep it in your mouth for a few seconds. Then, for approximately 30 seconds, tilt your head back and gargle the saltwater in your throat.

You can follow the same procedure over and over again until you feel the relief.

Last Words

When you hear “putting salt on wounds,” know that it is only a metaphor for “making an already bad scenario even worse.”

It cannot be taken and done word-for-word as the wound may become more inflamed, and the microorganisms might cause an infection instead of eliminating it. Wait until you get competent medical attention before using salt on your wounds. Instead, save the salt for your next meal.

For more helpful and informative survival articles, you can check the below posts.

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1 thought on “Putting Salt on Wounds: Is it the Best First Aid?”

  1. I’ve always thought putting salt on wounds is not good for an actual wound. But it shouldn’t do no harm to sore throats or mouth sores. I feel validated reading an article about this. Thanks!

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