Does Adding Salt to Water for Hydration Actually Work?

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Vanessa Gibbs

Published 04/29/2024

You might have seen the TikTok videos of people adding salt to water for hydration. But what does drinking salt water do? Does sodium help with hydration? We’re here to break down if you should add salt to your water — spoiler alert: probably not — and why you would even want to.

Sodium, the more formal name for salt, is an electrolyte. It helps regulate the amount of water in your body and keeps your muscles and nerves working properly.

If you sweat a lot, do endurance exercise or don’t drink enough when it’s hot out, you might end up with an electrolyte imbalance. A pinch of salt in water can replenish lost electrolytes and keep you hydrated.

But before you raid the kitchen cupboards, know that most of us get all the electrolytes we need from our daily diets. So, adding salt to your water could lead to you consuming too much sodium.

Below, we share the pros and cons of adding salt to your water and whether it could benefit you.

So, what does adding salt to water do? Because — let’s face it — it doesn’t improve the taste.

It mainly helps replenish lost electrolytes.

You lose electrolytes in your breath, urine and sweat. Most of the time, you naturally replenish those electrolytes in your diet, but sometimes that’s not enough.

Athletes exercising in hot weather can lose between 3,500 to 7,000 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily. 

Even more shocking? An amateur runner running a marathon in about four hours can lose a whopping 14,000 mg of salt during the race.

That’s a lot of salty water.

Sea salt contains sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium — all essential electrolytes — so adding some to tap water can top up your electrolyte levels. This can help you recover and avoid electrolyte imbalances.

But you don’t need to be running marathons to lose a lot of electrolytes.

You can develop an electrolyte imbalance if you:

  • Sweat a lot

  • Have severe vomiting or diarrhea

  • Drink too little water, especially in hot weather or when doing intense exercise

  • Drink too much water

  • Have heart, liver or kidney problems

  • Take certain medications

While salt for electrolytes might be a good option when you need help with rehydration, it isn’t your only option. Check out our guide on how to add electrolytes to water with natural options like lemon and strawberries.

Adding a pinch of salt to a glass of water sounds innocent enough, but there are some downsides.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should consume less than 2,300mg of sodium daily. That’s equivalent to about one teaspoon of table salt.

But 89 percent of adults get more sodium than this each day from their diets.

So, adding salt to your water — especially if you add it to every glass — may lead to you consuming far too much sodium.

Too much sodium can lead to:

  • High blood pressure

  • Stroke

  • Heart disease

Beyond the health risks, adding salt to water for hydration may not always be effective.

Research shows that adding electrolytes to water doesn’t always make it more hydrating than plain water.

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We’ll cut to the chase: most people shouldn’t add salt to their water.

You probably get all the electrolytes you need from your daily diet and don’t need any extra salt to make it happen.

You may benefit from adding salt to water if you:

  • Exercise for more than an hour

  • Exercise in very hot temperatures or at high altitudes

  • Have been sweating a lot

  • Have had diarrhea recently

  • Do manual labor in hot weather

There are no guidelines for how much salt to add to water, but thankfully, you don’t need to fill up your whole water bottle with salt. *Bleugh* Just one pinch may be enough.

Just remember to stay hydrated with plain ol’ water even if you don’t feel the need to add salt.

Despite the common eight-glasses-a-day rule, there are actually no set guidelines for how much water you should drink. It varies depending on how much physical activity you do, your climate and how much water you get from food.

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, women should aim for about 91 ounces of water a day, and men should aim for 125 ounces a day. That includes water from both food and drinks.

Another great reason to make sure you’re getting enough water? While it’s unclear if adding salt to your water could aid weight loss, drinking "regular" water can help you lose weight.

Water helps:

  • Suppress your appetite

  • Stimulate your metabolism

  • Promote lipolysis (the breakdown of fat for energy)

  • You consume fewer calories from other beverages

  • You stay hydrated during exercise — whether that’s a marathon or a walk

Learn more in our guide to drinking water for weight loss.

If you’ve never tried it, adding salt to water can sound a bit iffy. After all, you’ve probably heard you should avoid getting too much salt, so how does salt hydrate you? Well, there are some benefits of adding salt to water.

Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • We all need sodium. Sodium helps you maintain an ideal fluid balance in your body, which keeps you hydrated and healthy. You lose a lot of sodium when you sweat a lot, work out for long periods or have diarrhea.

  • Some people should add salt to water. The benefits of drinking salt water include replacing lost electrolytes and staying hydrated. So, adding salt for hydration can be helpful in some cases, like if you do endurance exercise. It’s unclear how much salt is needed in water for hydration, but a pinch is probably enough. Beyond salt, consider sports drinks, coconut water and watermelon for electrolytes.

  • You don’t need to drink salty water every day. Most of us get enough sodium to replenish lost electrolytes from our diets. Putting a small amount of salt in your water can add up and cause your salt intake to be too high. High sodium levels can lead to health issues.

If you’re looking into weight loss, putting salt in water probably isn’t the way to go. Drinking enough water in general is, though.

Beyond staying hydrated, opt for nutritious foods — including protein and healthy snacks — incorporate more steps and general movement into your day and get enough sleep.

Weight loss medication can also help.

You can learn more about weight loss treatments to find the best one for you.

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