A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an umbrella term that encompasses infections of the upper urinary tract—which possibly includes the kidneys (pyelonephritis)—as well as of the lower urinary tract, which possibly includes the bladder (cystitis). The term UTI is most commonly used interchangeably with those infections involving the lower urinary tract, which generally present as causing mild to moderate pain or discomfort. These UTIs can cause burning sensations while urinating, a sense of urinary urgency or frequency, and pelvic pain; more severe infections may cause flank pain, fever, nausea, and/or vomiting. While medications can treat UTIs quickly, many people also find relief from their UTI symptoms with home remedies. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular home remedies for UTIs.
15 home remedies for UTIs (urinary tract infections)
When bacteria enter the urinary tract system, it can cause a urinary tract infection. Bacteria, and specifically Escherichia coli (E. coli), is the most common cause of UTIs, but dehydration, holding urination for a long time, certain health conditions, and hormonal changes can also cause a UTI or increase your risk of infection. The average UTI can last anywhere from a few days to more than a week. Some UTIs will go away on their own, but more severe cases (like those infections involving the upper urinary tract) require medical attention. With antibiotic treatment, many people with severe UTIs start to feel relief within a couple of days. For mild UTIs, home remedies may help alleviate symptoms, and/or prevent infections from developing.
Here are some of the most common home remedies for UTIs:
- Wipe correctly
- Wear cotton underwear
- Don’t douche
- Switch soaps
- Change menstrual pads, tampons, cups frequently
- Avoid spermicides
- Apply heat
- Drink cranberry juice
- Urinate often
- Eat more garlic
- Eat less sugar
- Supplement with probiotics
- Try herbal remedies
- Use essential oils with caution
1. Wipe correctly
One of the best things to do to prevent UTIs at home is to stay as clean and dry as possible. Wiping from front to back after urinating or a bowel movement will help keep bacteria from entering the urethra and traveling up the urinary tract.
2. Wear cotton underwear
Wear underwear made from natural fibers to ensure that the urethra stays as clean and dry as possible to prevent bacterial entry. Wearing clothing that’s too tight can block airflow to the urethra. Without airflow, bacteria can gain entry and breed an environment that allows the development of a UTI. Wearing clothes made from synthetic fibers like nylon can trap moisture, allowing bacterial growth.
3. Don’t douche
The presence of any bacteria in the urinary tract does not mean the presence of infection; “good” bacteria is present and is important for maintaining a healthy equilibrium. In addition to “bad” bacteria, douching can eliminate this “good” bacteria and change your body’s pH balance. Ultimately this may allow the “bad” bacteria to flourish. The vagina cleans itself via discharge. If you still feel the need to wash up down there, use a pH-balanced formula, like Summers Eve.
4. Switch soaps
Your bubble bath, body wash, and other cleaning products could be the culprit to your UTIs. Use sensitive formulas that are dye- and fragrance-free.
5. Change menstrual pads, tampons, or cups frequently
Low-absorbency pads made of synthetic materials can expose your vulva to bacteria and increase your risk of infection. Using tampons can encourage bacteria to develop faster, so it’s important to change your tampon regularly. Tampons and menstrual cups may increase your risk of getting or worsening a UTI if it’s not positioned correctly. If it pushes on your urethra and traps your urine, bacteria can spread to the bladder. Changing the size or shape of a menstrual cup may help prevent recurrent UTIs.
6. Avoid spermicides
Spermicide is a type of birth control that is inserted into the vagina before sex to kill sperm. Spermicides may cause irritation, removing natural barriers of protection from bacterial invasion (and ultimately infection). Avoiding spermicides while experiencing a UTI is recommended. Additionally, urinating before and immediately after sex can help prevent UTIs.
7. Apply heat
Having a UTI can cause discomfort or pain in the pubic area. Heating pads or hot water bottles can help soothe pain in that area and are easy to use. Applying heat to the pelvic area for about 15 minutes can make a big difference. Making sure the temperature isn’t too hot and that the heat source doesn’t directly touch the skin will prevent any irritation or burning. Taking a warm bath may sound like a logical solution to relieve UTI pain, but most healthcare professionals advise against bubble baths. If you do take a bath, eliminate the soap and suds and limit the amount of time you soak.
One of the best home remedies for UTIs is to drink lots of water. Drinking plenty of water helps flush bacteria out of the body. Harvard Health recommends that the average healthy person drink at least four to six cups of water daily.
9. Drink cranberry juice
When bacteria attach to cell walls in the urinary tract, this can cause a urinary tract infection. Proanthocyanidins, which are the active ingredient in cranberry juice, can help prevent bacteria from attaching to urinary tract walls, which could help prevent UTIs. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information says that cranberry juice reduces the number of UTIs a person can develop over 12 months.
Drinking unsweetened cranberry juice to treat UTIs is highly debated in the medical community. While drinking the juice might help some people, it may not work for others. It’s ultimately up to each individual to decide whether or not cranberry juice has a place in the treatment of their UTI.
10. Urinate often
Urinating often while experiencing a UTI will help flush bacteria out of the urethra. Resisting the urge to pee can keep bacteria that’s in urine trapped in the bladder, which could make UTIs worse. Urinating before and after sexual intercourse will also help minimize the amount of bacteria that enter the urethra.
11. Eat more garlic
Consuming garlic is a great way to boost your immune system, and garlic is well known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Allicin, one of the compounds in garlic, has antimicrobial properties that have proven to be effective at killing E. coli.
12. Eat less sugar
“Diet can be huge in the prevention of UTI since it is caused by a bacterial infection,” says Sarah Emily Sajdak, DAOM, a doctor of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine in New York City. “Bacteria love sugar, so the more sugar you eat, the more you’re feeding the infection.”
13. Supplement with probiotics
Probiotics are supplements of “good” bacteria that help support a healthy gut and immune system. They can help keep harmful bacteria from flourishing and help treat and prevent recurrent urinary tract infections. The probiotic lactobacillus has proven especially effective at UTI prevention for women.
There are many different types of probiotics available for purchase at grocery stores or health food stores. If you’re interested in taking them for UTIs and don’t know which kind to get, speak to your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
14. Try herbal remedies
Uva ursi is an herb that has anti-inflammatory, astringent, and urinary antiseptic properties. Uva ursi has shown to be effective at treating and preventing UTIs. It can be purchased from health food stores and should be taken as directed by a nutritionist or healthcare professional.
In addition to uva ursi, Sajdak recommends the following natural supplements to prevent UTIs:
D-mannose is a type of sugar that can help keep bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract wall. Some studies show that taking D-mannose powder with water can help prevent UTIs, especially for people who get them frequently.
All herbal supplements should be taken in consultation with a healthcare professional, as they may interact with other medications you are taking for other indications.
15. Use essential oils with caution
Oregano essential oil is well known for its strong antibacterial properties. Studies have shown that oregano oil can be very effective at killing E.coli, but it should be noted these studies are generally done in vitro—meaning in a lab using scientific techniques, not performed in humans with infections. Lemongrass oil and clove oil may also be a home remedy for UTIs because of their antimicrobial properties, but both have been studied against harmful bacteria in similar experiments as Oregano oil.
It’s important to take care before using essential oils as a treatment. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy advises against ingesting these oils. Instead, essential oils may be safely used topically with a carrier oil or inhaled from a diffuser.
If home remedies aren’t helping your UTI, you may need an over-the-counter or prescription medication. “Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as Advil, Motrin, and Naprosyn [provide] symptom relief,” says David Samadi, MD, the director of men’s health and urologic oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. “There are also OTC medications such as AZO Urinary Pain Relief or Uristat tablets whose main ingredient is phenazopyridine, which can help reduce irritation in the urinary tract, but it won’t treat the cause.”
Prescription UTI treatment typically involves taking a course of antibiotics, which work by killing bacterial infections within the body. Popular antibiotics for UTIs include amoxicillin, Cipro, and Bactrim.
The number of days that someone will take antibiotics to treat a UTI will vary. It’s imperative to take the entire prescribed dose of any antibiotic, even if you start to feel better. Stopping a course of antibiotics early might not kill all of the bacteria, which could cause antibiotic resistance.
Some people who have recurring UTIs may benefit from antibiotic prophylaxis, a treatment option where antibiotics prevent an infection rather than treat one. The same medications used to treat UTIs can also be used for prevention, though doses will vary. A healthcare professional can determine the proper dosage and form of medication on a case-by-case basis. See this article to learn more about UTI medications.
When to see a doctor for a UTI
“Always go to your primary care physician immediately if there is blood in the urine, if you have a fever, and/or low back pain with your UTI symptoms,” Sajdak advises. “UTIs can move fast, so it’s better to go … sooner than later.”
Although natural remedies can be beneficial for alleviating UTI symptoms and preventing recurrent UTIs, they may not be effective in treating the infection.
“If symptoms still persist after three days then it is time to move on to antibiotics,” says Ivy Branin, ND, a naturopathic doctor in New York City who specializes in women’s health. “I often recommend a patient to see their doctor for a UA (urinary analysis) and a prescription for antibiotics just in case and to fill it if they have no improvement after three days.”
Leaving a UTI untreated can cause additional health problems. Bacteria can reach the ureters or kidneys and cause kidney infections. Untreated UTIs during pregnancy can also potentially cause early labor and low birth weight. Seeking treatment for UTI that isn’t going away—or one that keeps coming back—is always a good thing.