11 natural cough and cold remedies for kids - Care.com Resources

11 natural cough and cold remedies for kids

Learn easy ways to help sick kids feel better. Check out our expert-backed list of natural remedies for coughs and colds in kids.

It starts off subtle for kids — a little sniffle, the errant cough — but if you’re a parent or caregiver, you know what’s coming: A cough. A cold. Or, more likely than not, a combination of the two … Generally speaking, coughs and colds in kids aren’t anything to worry about, but they can make little ones uncomfortable; and because of this, it’s smart to have a few homemade cold treatments or natural cough remedies for kids at the ready.

“Having little kids with a cough or cold is so challenging because most over-the-counter medication is not for them and has not been studied in kids under 6 years old,” says Dr. Catherine Mims, an internal medicine and pediatrics specialist at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health. “That said, there are a few natural remedies that are dependent on the child’s age. But keep in mind, babies under the age of 1 are different from all other children because they cannot have honey.”

“Having little kids with a cough or cold is so challenging because most over-the-counter medication is not for them and has not been studied in kids under 6 years old.”


While nothing can dissipate a cold instantly, there are a number of ways to make kids more comfy while they’re suffering. From a natural cough suppressant for kids to decongestion tips, check out our list of expert-backed natural cough and cold remedies. 

1. Honey

Natural remedy for: cough, sore throat

Note: Honey can only be given to children 1 year and older, as it’s been linked to infant botulism. However, for older kids, it can be an effective natural remedy. 

“Honey helps to coat the throat to reduce pain and cut down on coughing by thinning the mucus,” explains Dr. Emily Wolfe, a pediatrician with Orlando Health Physician Associates. “Pure honey works just as well, if not better, than store-bought medications. And if you’re unable to find honey, corn syrup works, as well.” 

“[For children over 1 year] Pure honey works just as well, if not better, than store-bought medications” 


Mims adds: “You can give kids a spoonful or a small amount in a syringe, if they will take it like that. Otherwise, mix it in a small amount of their favorite drink.”

2. Humidifier

Natural remedy for: cough, congestion

“Using a cool mist humidifier in the bedroom while kids are sleeping is good for coughs and congestion,” Wolfe says. “It helps loosen the mucus and congestion.”

However, notes Dr. Jennifer Kusma, a pediatrician with Ann and Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and instructor of pediatrics at Northwestern University, make sure to consider safety issues with humidifiers.

“Have them out of reach of small children and make sure to clean them per their guidelines,” she notes. 

3. Steam shower or hot bath

Natural remedy for: cough, congestion

“I always make sure my kids take extra long, warm baths when they’re sick with a cold since it calms them down so much,” says mom of two Jennie Cho of Middletown, New Jersey. “When they were babies, I would shut the door and run the shower on super hot and just sit on the floor of the steamy bathroom with them.”   

For older kids, Sammie Mancine, a registered nurse and certified holistic nutritionist, suggests running a hot bath with Epsom salts, which can help promote sleep, as well. 

However, if your child is still in the drinking-the-bath-water stage, this should be avoided since Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) are a laxative.

4. Hydration

Natural remedy for: cough, cold, congestion

“If your child has a cold with cough and congestion, be sure to encourage a lot of liquids,” notes Kusma. “Liquids help thin out the mucus and also help keep your child from getting dehydrated. Liquids include drinking breast milk or formula for infants.”

And if your child isn’t one to chug a sippy cup full of water, it’s perfectly OK to improvise, says Dr. Katie Lockwood, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Since hydration is so important when kids are sick, I encourage parents to get creative and offer ice pops or foods that contain more water like soup, applesauce or watermelon in order to get their child to take more fluids.”

5. Saltwater

Natural remedy for: sore throat

According to Wolfe, “warm saltwater gargles can help reduce inflammation in the throat and relieve pain.”

That said, saltwater gargles work best for older kids when a sore throat is a cold symptom. “Usually at around 8 years old, kids can gargle with warm saltwater to help clear mucus from the back of their throats and soothe their sore throat,” says Lockwood. For temporary relief of a painful throat, the Mayo Clinic suggests using 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water. 

6. Elevation of head

Natural remedy for: congestion

Giving older kids who sleep in a bed an extra pillow when they’re congested can help them breathe easier at night since a slight incline will help drain the sinuses, according to the pediatricians behind Children’s MD. For babies who are still in a crib, try placing a blanket or thin pillow under the mattress to give them a little lift — but only do this if the mattress is firm; do not attempt with a portable crib, such as a Pack ‘n Play.

7. Warm liquids

Natural remedy for: sore throat, congestion

Tea, anyone? “Warm drinks can be incredibly beneficial for soothing sore throats that often come with coughs,” says Dr. Syeda Amna Husain, a pediatrician in Marlboro, New Jersey. “Plus, the steam helps open nasal passages.” 

“Warm drinks can be incredibly beneficial for soothing sore throats that often come with coughs. Plus, the steam helps open nasal passages.” 


Husain notes that, for kids who don’t like tea, warm cocoa or soup is just as effective. A favorite of Mancine’s is miso soup, which is rich in B vitamins and vitamin C and aids with digestion.

8. Saline rinses

Natural remedy for: congestion, runny nose

“Nasal saline is super helpful for congestion and runny noses,” says Mims, adding that she prefers a mist over drops. “Nasal saline can be purchased in the adult nasal spray aisle, and you can buy a mist, like Arm & Hammer Simply Saline Nasal Mist or a similar brand. The spray is more even, and kids splutter on it less.”   

Mims also adds that “using nasal saline prior to suction helps to prevent dryness and nosebleeds.”  

Parents and caregivers can also make their own natural decongestant for kids. For older kids who can use a neti pot or who can “just splash warm saline solution into the nose,” Wolfe says a homemade saline rinse is just as effective. 

To make your own saline rinse, Wolfe recommends: “Mix 1/2 teaspoon noniodized salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 1 cup of warm water.”

9. Suction 

Natural remedy for: congestion, runny nose 

The peanut butter to saline spray’s jelly? Suctioning. “Suctioning can be a beneficial complement to saline, but just make sure to go easy,” notes Husain. “Suctioning or using a bulb syringe too much can cause some trauma into those small nostrils and actually increase swelling. It’s helpful, especially with babies, but try not to overdo it.”

10. Sleep

Natural remedy for: cough, cold, congestion

One of the best — simplest — natural remedies for cold and cough? Good old-fashioned shut-eye. “When kids or adults are sick with a cold or cough, rest and sleep are absolutely key,” says Mancine. “When we’re sleeping, the body is working its immune-boosting, virus-fighting magic.” 

“Rest and sleep are absolutely key. When we’re sleeping, the body is working its immune-boosting, virus-fighting magic.”


According to the Mayo Clinic, the immune system releases proteins called cytokines when we’re sleeping, some of which need to increase when we have infections. Additionally, infection-fighting antibodies decrease when we’re not getting enough sleep — the perfect reason to turn in early.

11. Heating packs

Natural remedy for: cough, cold, congestion

According to Husain, heating packs can be a huge hit for kids during a cold. She says: “While they don’t help the throat heal faster or make the body get over the virus quicker, they can be a great source of comfort, in addition to cuddles with mom and dad.”