Anecdotally, a "detox" bath has been hailed as a means to soothe aches and pains, open up congestion, and just generally make you feel better when you're running on low. However, a detox bath can only work to help cold-like symptoms but not treat a viral, chronic cold. In other words: This may help you feel better—who doesn't want a relaxing bath when they're not feeling their best?—but it's not a cure.
It's also worth noting there's limited research on this topic, so we can't draw any hard conclusions. However, there are certainly science-backed properties of a bath that could alleviate certain cold symptoms. And finally, as with any home remedy, check with your doctor before pursuing a regimen like this—especially if you're pregnant or have any heart or liver illness.
What you'll need:
- 1 cup Epsom salt
- ½ cup baking soda
- 4 tablespoons ground ginger
- Essential oils of choice (but we recommend lavender or eucalyptus)
Fill your bathtub with hot water—as hot as you can tolerate it. Once it fills about halfway, sprinkle in your ingredients and give it a few big stirs with your hand to help it all dissolve. Then when it's full, get in and submerge yourself to your neck. Soak for at least 20 minutes, but you can stay in as long as 40 minutes.
If you've never done this before, 20 minutes is plenty. Especially with the added ginger, the bath will cause you to sweat more than usual, and it will feel quite hot. Any longer might be too intense for a newbie. Also, don't feel bad if you can't stay totally submerged the entire time.
Once you're out, simply towel off and rest for about 30 minutes before showering. Do not do this detox bath every day. Since the bath will make you sweat excessively, it may make you feel dehydrated. Instead, try it out once or twice a week. You can build to three times a week from there if you want to do so.
Even after you get out of the bath, you'll probably continue to sweat for a period of time, so wear light clothing or a towel so you can easily change. And just like with any massage or sauna treatment, drink plenty of water afterward.
How does it work?
Because of the cocktail of ingredients, this treatment may work through a few pathways in the body.
There are plenty of research-backed benefits of Epsom salt baths—Epsom salts are actually made of magnesium sulfate, so the bath is a very mild form of magnesium therapy—and a few relate to common cold symptoms. For starters, there's evidence to suggest that an Epsom salt bath can boost your mood by increasing serotonin production1—it may not be a cure, but an improved mood while you're sick does certainly help your outlook. They can also soothe mild aches and pains2.
Depending on the essential oils you choose, they may have some therapeutic benefits as well. Above, we suggested eucalyptus and lavender because they have the most evidence to support cold relief. For example, eucalyptus oil has been found to reduce joint and muscle aches5, clear mucus from airways, and even has antibacterial properties. And lavender oil has been shown to support sleep quality6 and even ease headaches7.
Also take into account the heat: Studies show that heat therapy (like saunas or hot baths) can increase circulation in the body8. Improved circulation can help your immune system overall because it helps carry immune-supporting cells throughout the body. Also: Sweating is one of the best (and cheapest) ways to help support your body's natural detox systems.
Erin Motz is a writer, yoga instructor, and co-founder of Bad Yogi. She received her degree from the University of South Florida and her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post, and Yoga Magazine. She lives in Tampa, Florida.