How to use a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator

Since little ones can't blow their own nose, it's your job to ease your baby's congestion with a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator. These snot-sucking devices gently remove mucus in your child's nasal passageways.

cleaning a baby's nose with a bulb syringe
Photo credit: Anna Palma for BabyCenter

How can I suction my baby's stuffy nose?

Babies with colds seem especially miserable, but the good news is there are ways you can relieve your little one's congestion and help them feel better.

When adults get colds, we can blow our noses, but babies and toddlers don't know how to do this yet. So you'll need to help them with a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator. Clearing that stuffed-up nose will make it easier for your little one to breathe, eat, and sleep.

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Many new parents get a rubber bulb syringe in their newborn supplies from the hospital, and it generally works pretty well. Other parents prefer to use a nasal aspirator, which may be even more efficient at removing mucus from a stuffy little nose.

Start by squirting a little nasal saline into your child's nose to moisten and loosen up any hard or dry boogers before you try to suction them out. You can buy saline at pharmacies or make it easily at home by dissolving 1/2 teaspoon of non-iodized salt and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water. Make a fresh batch each day and store it in a clean, covered glass jar. (If you get your water from a well, it's a good idea to boil the water first to sterilize it.)

Lay your child down with their chin tilted up slightly. Place two or three drops of saline in each nostril with an eyedropper (or squirt once or twice if you're using a saline spray) and try to keep your baby's head still for about ten seconds. Wipe the dropper clean after each use.

The saline itself may ease your child's congestion. But if their nose is still stuffy after a few minutes, you can break out your favorite suction device.

How do I use a bulb syringe?

Squeeze the air out of the bulb of the syringe to create a vacuum. Then gently insert the rubber tip just a bit into one nostril. Slowly release the bulb to suction out mucus. Remove the syringe and squeeze the bulb forcefully to expel the mucus into a tissue. Wipe the syringe and repeat the process for the other nostril.

If your baby is still congested after five to ten minutes, repeat the process: Apply saline drops and suction again. Don't suction your baby's nose more than four times a day, though, or you'll irritate the lining. And don't use the saline drops for more than four days in a row because over time, they can dry out the inside of the nose and make matters worse.

Bear in mind that this should be a gentle process. If you end up suctioning too aggressively, the nasal tissues can become inflamed (or even bleed), which can make the congestion worse. If your baby resists vigorously, let it go for a while and try again later.

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How do I use a nasal aspirator?

Nasal aspirators consist of a nozzle that you position at the opening of your baby's nostril, a long piece of soft tubing in the middle, and a mouthpiece on the other end.

Most nasal aspirators are parent-powered – you use your mouth to pull mucus out of your child's nose. Because nasal aspirators have a long tube with a filter, there's no danger of bacteria, mucus, or germs getting into your mouth.

A nasal aspirator may cost a bit more than a blub syringe, but some parents find them more effective and easier to use.

Some nasal aspirators are electric or battery operated, with different tip sizes and levels of suction.

How do I clean a blub syringe or nasal aspirator?

Bulb syringe: Clean it well with warm, soapy water after each use. Squeeze the bulb with the tip in the soapy water to clean the inside, too. Shake the soapy water inside the bulb before squeezing it out.

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Rinse well by repeating the process several times with clear, warm water. Suspend the syringe, tip side down, in a glass to dry.

Nasal aspirator: The device can be taken apart and washed with soap and warm water. Some types of nasal aspirators can also be sterilized by placing them in boiling water for five minutes.

Other ways to help clear your baby's nose

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends steering clear of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for children younger than 4 years old, but there are other ways you can help your baby breathe easier when they have a cold.

Here are some tips for clearing your baby's nose:

  • Turn on a cool mist-humidifier. Cool mist helps moisten the air and makes the fluids in your child's nose thinner. Be sure to clean the humidifier daily to prevent the growth of bacteria or mold.
  • Keep them hydrated. Hydration also helps make mucus thinner and easier to remove from your child's nose. Nursing or formula-feeding more frequently can help your baby feel better. If your baby is having trouble nursing with a cold, pumping and offering milk in a bottle might help.
  • Let them rest. Some babies with colds are more restless at night, since they have more trouble breathing and getting comfortable. Other babies sleep more when they're sick. Either way, encouraging your little one to rest will help their body fight off the infection and recover.
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Learn more:

Safe home remedies for your child's cold

Age-by-age guide to kids' fever, cough, and cold medicine

Follow your baby's amazing development

BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

American Academy of Pediatrics. 2022. Caring for your child's cold or flu. a new window [Accessed January 2023]

American Academy of Pediatrics. 2022. Coughs and colds: Medicines or home remedies? a new window [Accessed January 2023]

Cincinnati Children's Hospital. 2022. Suctioning the nose with a bulb syringe. a new window [Accessed January 2023]

University of Michigan Health System. 2021. Saline nasal sprays and irrigation. a new window [Accessed January 2023]

Nationwide Children's Hospital. 2022. Suctioning the nose with a bulb syringe. a new window [Accessed January 2023]

University of Rochester Medical Center. Take care with nasal sprays. a new window [Accessed January 2023]

Erin Heger

Erin Heger is a freelance journalist who writes about health, parenting, and social issues. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, HuffPost, Business Insider, and Rewire News Group. Born and raised in Kansas, she lives just outside Kansas City with her husband and three kids.