Spit or swallow?
February 25, 2009 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Is swallowing (just a tiny bit) of mouthwash a bad idea?

So, I'm trying to avoid a sore throat becoming a full-blown cough. I usually am lazy with my mouthwash routine, but I started doing the back-of-the-throat gargling with Listerine to try and kill any germs. The first time I did it, I accidentally swallowed a tiny amount, and as it went down my throat it was quite soothing.

I can see Listerine has the anti-bacterial thymol, and some other stuff. And of course the alcohol. This seems to answer almost exactly the same question, but I'd like something a little more reliable than the dregs of Yahoo Answers. Help me out Ask.Me, am I doing more harm than good?
posted by dnesan to Health & Fitness (19 answers total)
IANAD. You're fine. There should be a warning on the back of the bottle with something to the effective of "if you swallow more than is used for rinsing, see a doctor." It sounds like you swallowed less than that.
posted by thewestinggame at 6:28 AM on February 25, 2009

I've seen a fair number of bums swilling the stuff to get drunk. I think a little bit won't kill you.
posted by Netzapper at 6:29 AM on February 25, 2009

I looked it up on a toxicology database. The only thing of concern in the current formulation is the ethanol. (Previous formulations were made with boric acid, which you shouldn't ingest too much of.) Like most adults, you are probably very familiar with the toxicology of ethanol. They also included this note:
This product contains an amount of methyl salicylate (0.06%) that is not expected to cause salicylate toxicity after overdose ingestion. Ingestion of an entire 1.7 liter bottle would provide 1.02 mL or 1.02 g methyl salicylate. Acute accidental salicylate ingestions of less than 150 mg/kg can generally be managed at home with telephone follow up if necessary.
So don't drink the whole bottle if you weigh less than 15 lb.

To be honest, I still wouldn't do it. There are probably more effective ways to treat your illness, but I think it is unlikely to kill you.
posted by grouse at 6:43 AM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

IANAD either, but if Listerine were seriously poisonous it would say so on the bottle and I guarantee no parent would ever give their child Listerine... ever... With that said, its not designed for normal ingestion so I would think that the only thing you are risking is some ingredient might upset your tummy *slightly*. As such, avoid swallowing it, but don't worry too much about it accidentally happening.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:45 AM on February 25, 2009

It won't kill you. When I was 5, I drank half a bottle of Scope mouthwash. I was convinced that this would give me minty flatulence. I remember a LOT of vomiting. Otherwise, I turned out OK. *twitch*
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:51 AM on February 25, 2009 [11 favorites]

Don't drink Listerine to remedy a sore throat. Listerine contains phenol and will in fact irritate the throat tissue further.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:06 AM on February 25, 2009

There's a recent study linking prolonged mouthwash use and oral cancers. i wouldn't worry about using it occasionally to deal with a cold, I'd worry about regular usage.
posted by orthogonality at 7:17 AM on February 25, 2009

I accidentally swallowed a tiny amount, and as it went down my throat it was quite soothing.

This is because of the menthol present in Listerine. You should be able to get much the same effect by sucking on a menthol cough drop.

Listerine contains phenol and will in fact irritate the throat tissue further.

Listerine contains thymol and eucalyptol, which are members of the class of chemicals called "phenols". As far as I can tell, Listerine does not contain the actual chemical named phenol.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:24 AM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

The toxicity question has already been answered, but if you're still concerned, please try gargling Chloroseptic. It's meant to be swallowed, it has an actual oral analgesic in it, and it's the only thing that let me sip water without wanting to cry when I had the worst sore throat ever.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:32 AM on February 25, 2009

Can't you just add a few drops of peppermint extract to half a shot of vodka?
posted by glibhamdreck at 7:36 AM on February 25, 2009

I used to know a guy who had gotten a tongue ring and was required to use mouthwash every hour or so. Instead of spitting out the mouthwash, he would swallow it because he thought it would look cool in front of his friends. He never really got sick from drinking all that mouthwash, still, I don't recommend doing that.
posted by nikkorizz at 7:49 AM on February 25, 2009

IIRC the link between mouthwash and oral cancer was that the alcohol seemed to make oral tissues more permeable to carcinogens (esp. from tobacco), not that mouthwash is carcinogenic itself.
posted by onshi at 8:37 AM on February 25, 2009

Listerine contains phenol and will in fact irritate the throat tissue further.

Phenol is in fact an ingredient in some lozenges used to relieve sore throats. Which is not to say that sufficiently concentrated phenol wouldn't do damage, but I very much doubt that it's present at that concentration in mouthwash.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:48 AM on February 25, 2009

Can't you just add a few drops of peppermint extract to half a shot of vodka?

This. Mouthwash is mostly some kind of alcohol with some flavorings. I doubt swallowing a little bit would do much, but why not step up to the big leagues and really ENJOY your mouthwash! Also, from what I understand, most bad breath isnt so much due to stuff in your mouth (maybe your tongue) but has more to do with stuff deeper down your esophagus. So swallowing something that would take care of that (say, a cleansing alcoholic bedverage) would seem to be more beneficial. I could be wrong.
posted by elendil71 at 9:02 AM on February 25, 2009

I have some issues with my throat which occasionally cause me to accidentally swallow small amounts of mouthwash when gargling. I can most assuredly advise that it causes me no known after effects. Looking at this issue logically, one should keep in mind that in our litigious society a company would be suicidal to encourage putting something in the mouth that would cause serious injury if swallowed involuntarily in small amounts. That said, the warning is there for a reason and I therefore do not serve it as an aperitif.
posted by konig at 9:49 AM on February 25, 2009

I wouldn't have thought you'd be harmed by this small amount, but I wouldn't swallow any more than you can avoid swallowing, for the reasons given above.

As an alternative, why not try a small shot of (cheap) whisky, the juice of half a lemon and some honey in a mug, topped up with hot water? Same soothing effect, none of the dubious ingredients.
posted by altolinguistic at 10:18 AM on February 25, 2009

I was watching Intervention on A&E once, and I saw a woman who drank mouthwash instead of liquor due to the high alcohol content.

So, it might get you drunk in addition to any other ill effects.
posted by reenum at 12:33 PM on February 25, 2009

I often use Chloraseptic where there's no sink to spit it out, so I just swallow it. Hasn't killed me yet.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:33 PM on February 25, 2009

A friend who was a teacher in alcohol-free indigenous communities in Western Australia says it's really common for people to get drunk on Listerine. And that was just the teachers! So now we call it Loserine.

It won't kill you, but it really does irritate your throat if you have more than a little, and many brands are also full of sugar.
posted by indienial at 4:48 AM on February 26, 2009

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