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Can Drinking Salt Water or Sea Water Kill You or Make You Sick?

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When the huge majority of water on earth is full of salt, it is common to wonder if it can be used, or even consumed. But even if you could get past the taste, would it be good for you?

Can drinking salt water kill you or make you sick?

And how will you know if you have consumed too much salt water or seawater? 

Can Drinking Salt Water Make You Sick

Depending on the amount and duration, drinking salt water or seawater can actually make you sick or even kill you. Small amounts of salt water or seawater that are consumed in one sitting or over a short period of time will likely just make you more thirsty, dehydrated, or slightly nauseous. Consuming large amounts of salt water or over long periods of time can cause nausea and vomiting, and if continued can eventually lead to severe dehydration and even death. 

The most important thing to remember here is to avoid drinking salt water whenever possible. Drinking any amount of salt water or seawater will severely dehydrate you.

This start towards dehydration will be even more damaging if you are facing an emergency and are running low on water, as the only way to flush the salt from your body and rehydrate is to drink fresh water. 

How Much Salt Water Can I Safely Drink? 

None! You really should not purposefully consume salt water in any amounts. But like most things, a little bit won’t kill you. So, if you happen to swallow some, don’t panic too much. 

The max amount of salt water that your body can tolerate is only about a few swallows. Any more than that and your body will try to reject it by becoming nauseous and vomiting. Your body is able to filter out a good amount of salt, but too much could affect your organs and cause some serious damage. 

If you are in an emergency situation and do not have access to fresh water, drinking salt water will leave you worse off than drinking no water! There is so much salt in the water that consuming it will technically leave you with a net loss of liquids in your body even though you are drinking water. So it is better to avoid it at all costs. 

For true emergency situations, there are ways to make salt water drinkable

Why Does Drinking Salt Water Make You Sick

Our bodies are only built to tolerate so much salt before we become dehydrated. Salt water or seawater has a much higher concentration of salt compared to freshwater and will dehydrate you very quickly.

Your body will respond to this extra salt by feeling sick to your stomach, nausea, vomiting, feeling faint, etc. 

What Are The Side Effects of Drinking Salt Water or Sea Water? 

Some possible side effects from drinking salt water could be:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling faint or weak
  • Dehydration
  • Delirium
  • Raised Blood Pressure 
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Diarrhea 
  • Dry Mouth

Another possible side effect of drinking too much salt can be salt poisoning. This can happen when you have an excessive amount of salt in your body over a longer amount of time.

If not treated, salt poisoning can lead to severe dehydration and even death. So make sure you call poison control or seek medical attention if someone has consumed too much salt. 

What Do I Do If I Drink A Lot of Salt Water? 

If you happen to accidentally drink a few swallows of salt water, don’t worry too much. This happens most commonly if you are swimming in the ocean or another body of salt water.  Most likely your body will be able to handle the extra salt. You may be sick to your stomach, but will generally be fine.

The best thing you can do to offset the salt water is to drink a good amount of fresh water. Drinking fresh water will dilute the salt water and balance out your body again. It will help you rehydrate from the excess salt. 

But, make sure you are careful to not end up drinking too much water overall. In order to completely offset the salt in the sea water, you would technically have to drink twice the amount you previously drank in fresh water. Depending on how much salt water you had initially, doubling that and drinking it could be dangerous if not impossible. In these cases, please seek medical attention. 

If you have consumed a large amount of salt water and are feeling sick, please seek medical attention as they will be able to help you rehydrate effectively. 

Can I Make Salt Water Drinkable? 

Yes, there are ways to make salt water drinkable. If you are facing a water shortage or other form of emergency, you have a few options to get the water you need and still avoid drinking salt water.

Can Salt Water Make You Sick? 

Salt alone is helpful and needed in our bodies. Water is crucial to our survival. But salt water or seawater is not a great option for drinking. Drinking salt water or seawater, even in emergency situations, can make you sick or even kill you. 

FAQ – Using Salt Water or Sea Water 

I have heard of a salt water flush for health reasons, can I drink salt water or seawater for that? 

I would definitely recommend speaking with a doctor about the pros and cons of this. They will help you decide what is best for your individual body and overall health. 

If I cannot drink salt water, can I cook or clean with it?

It depends on what you are making or trying to clean. If you are trying to cook with salt water, keep in mind that the salt will alter the taste of whatever you are trying to make. Pasta, for example, is best when boiled in salt water, but boiling potatoes or chicken will probably not taste quite as good with all of the excess salt.
Cleaning with salt water is possible but could dry out or damage the items you are trying to clean. For example, washing dishes works well with salt water if you can either rinse them in the end with fresh water or dry them with a towel. Washing clothing though will leave your clothes with extra buildup that can stain or damage them and they will not come clean. 

Can I filter salt water to make it safe to drink? 

It is possible if you have a high-quality filter that is meant for removing salt from water. You cannot use any old filter, as most are made for removing particles in the water whereas salt is dissolved into the water. If you are interested in filters for on the go, check out my post here about high quality straw filters.

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Hi! I’m David. For most of my life I have been interested in emergency preparedness. Over the many years things have changed a great deal. From freeze dried food, to LED lanterns, preparing for an emergency has never been easier. The continual research I have done over the years has become the basis for this website. Now it is one of the most trusted sources to learn about emergency preparedness.