What the Heck Is Oil Pulling?

First off, breaking up a tablespoon of solid coconut oil in ones mouth is a horrific and nauseating experience. It does not get easier, and starting with liquid coconut oil is only slightly better. But I’ve been doing this daily for a week, because Leandra and the Internet told me to.

Over the past month, my Facebook feed’s been saturated with posts either celebrating or snickering at the practice known as oil pulling. And while I rarely take my wellness cues from sites like Access Hollywood, in the name of science and Man Repeller, I stepped up.

The actual health claims for oil pulling include curing systemic diseases like diabetes and eczema, as well as oral concerns like bad breath and gum disease.  As someone who’s dealt with dry mouth and seems to get a sore tongue every winter (thanks to the irresistibility of clementines and my inclination to eat as many as possible in one sitting) it seemed reasonable to give this mythical if not disgusting sounding pulling-o-the-oil a go. The practice entails swishing a mouthful of oil (organic unrefined coconut or sesame seem to be the most popular) for five to 20 minutes in the morning, spitting it in the trash, and then brushing your teeth.

After a week, I eagerly surrounded myself with clementines, blood oranges, navel oranges, Sumo citrus (holy moly who invented this perfect fruit and how did I not know about it before?) and grapefruit to see if oil pulling cured my citrus woes. My tongue’s been sore ever since.

BUT! I do think oil pulling’s helped with dry mouth, and my actual tongue looks healthier (I tend to have a film on my tongue most of the time. Gross, I know, but we’re all friends here, right?) Granted, swishing anything aside from sugar water for twenty minutes is likely going to be good for your mouth, stimulating your gums and freeing food debris. But if you decide to use coconut oil, the anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal benefits from its lauric acid can’t hurt. In fact, lauric acid is used to treat fever blisters, cold sores and oral thrush. So horray. Triple threat.

A miracle cure for all that ails us, however? Very few natural remedies provide that immediate miraculous fix. And maybe it’s the over-zealous tone of these recent pop-health stories that frustrates me. Herbal or natural remedies often take months of consistent use to see a result…which is also why I’m carrying on with this oil swishing business for a few more weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes.

But in the mean time, what do you think? Have you tried oil pulling? Did it make you gag or clear your eczema? And if you do find these types of health tips online, shared with the frequency of an Upworthy Article, how many have actually made it into your daily routine?

Image via The Daily Mail

  • Amelia Diamond

    I’m taking the plunge and commenting first to let everyone know that last night, out of solidarity, I swished a mouthful of coconut oil around my mouth for 10 minutes and it was absolutely disgusting. BUT. My mouth felt clean after? Bravo Kate for withstanding a whole week.

    • Kate Barnett

      since you and leandra basically made me do this, i very much appreciate you trying it out.

  • Elizabeth Fuller

    I have been doing oil pulling for the past two weeks and couldn’t vouch for the process more. I had been having a stinging pain in my gums that has completely left me AND my significant other even said that my teeth looked whiter. winner winner chicken dinner.

    Oh also, I threw up the first time I tried to put the coconut oil in my mouth as a solid (it’s literally repulsive) so now I put my jar in a pot of hot water for about 2 minutes and let it melt and once it’s completely liquid I put it in my mouth and start the swishing. It makes the entire process much more palatable. like times 100.

    thanks for writing about this, Kate! I hope you stick with it!

    • Kate Barnett

      so pleased to hear it’s helped you! i know my neighbor has a really sensitive mouth and has been doing oil pulling for a while as it’s the only thing that’s helped. i’ll definitely stick with it for a while!

    • Amelia Diamond

      Oh I am a white-teeth junkie so now I’m sticking with it thanks to you

      • Elizabeth Fuller

        I can’t do crest white strips because they give me headaches AND I’ve seen better results with this anyway. Also way cheaper. Get into it and you’ll never look back.

        • Kate Barnett

          white strips are SO painful for me. i used the rebrant whiting toothpaste for a while, which worked, but each tube was too expensive. if this works for teeth whitening i will be THRILLED.

  • Eli

    I do it every morning while in the shower (actually that’s a lie, I’ve been slacking lately). I’ve always been a sufferer of sinus problems and had chronic eczema. I find that the oil pulling truly “pulls” all the gunk out of my sinuses that’s built up after a night’s sleep. Added bonus is that it definitely helps control plaque build up and freshens the breath.

    • Kate Barnett

      have you found that it’s helped with eczema??

      • Eli

        I can’t tell if it’s the oil pulling alone, or general environmental factors, but the eczema has improved. I would say overall redness has decreased, esp on my face.

  • Britt

    I started doing this about a year ago and it’s amazing. Whiter teeth, MUCH healthier gums – they’re so rosy and pink, i can’t stand it! – and it’s really cleared up my skin. I even started making my own toothpaste [coconut oil, baking soda, calcium powder and peppermint essential oil]. Six months later, my cavities are healing on their own. So awesome.

    • Kate Barnett

      hey britt! can i ask why you say your cavities are healing? i’ve heard of remineralizing but it’s my understanding that once tooth decay starts it needs to be drilled out so it doesn’t continue to spread, and once the decay is removed the rest of the tooth is safe. but i’m always interested to learn more!

      • Britt

        i was definitely skeptical too, but I had one really visible cavity I used that as my test to see if the oil pulling and toothpaste were working; it’s practically invisible now. I had also been told by my dentist I had 3 cavities, never filled them, switched to my “natural” routine, and when I went back a year later the dentist declared me cavity free. So i guess the possible conclusions are 1. my toothpaste is awesome or 2. my dentist is an idiot. either way commercial toothpaste is full of sulfates, parabens and other not so great ingredients, so even if homemade toothpaste isn’t a miracle product, i definitely prefer it to store bought. I used this recipe if you’re interested: http://wellnessmama.com/2500/homemade-remineralizing-toothpaste-recipe/

        • Kate Barnett

          fascinating. i’ll definitely make that toothpaste. right now I use one for sensitive teeth, but maybe the oil pulling will take care of that. thanks so much for sharing!

          • Kate Barnett

            i just realized i already have the ingredients! making it tonight!!

          • Tina

            I have started doing this 10 days ago because of sensitive teeth and it made eating both hot and frozen food painfree. It is better than the mouthwash for sensitive teeth and my mouth feels cleaner. I don’t think it is a miracle though. I’m pretty sure that keeping oil going around your mouth for 20 minutes makes the place rather rash for the bacteria…

  • WELL IF KATE IS DOING IT, I GUESS I AM TOO. I was nervous it would come to this. BUT I KNEW it would.

    • buying some after werk.

      • i keep pressing “post” too early, when i have more to say. iMpUlSiVE

  • Katherine

    honestly oil pulling sounds illegal.

  • This is the first time I’ve ever heard of this! I have a horrible case of dry mouth so maybe i’ll give it a try…i might gag tho. :O


  • Quinn Halman

    You’ve all convinced me to try it, except too bad for me because the coconut oil in my house is used to soothe my doggy’s paws. Thanks, street salt and Toronto’s weather for being a BITCH

    • Kate Barnett

      yay for using coconut oil on pets! i add it to my rescue cats’ food when i first take them in to build their immune system.

  • Keara Forward

    I’ve been doing this for about 2 months, I’m hooked. My teeth feel MUCH cleaner, look whiter and my skin has never been better in my whole 24 years on earth. I’m the biggest advocate, don’t even care if everyone I tell about this thinks I’m bat shit.

    • Amelia Diamond


  • Stefanie

    So wait… swishing the oil in your mouth improves the skin on your face? Could you just eat the coconut oil in a smoothie or something? Who has 20 minutes to do this?

    • Kate Barnett

      i’ve been doing it in the morning while showering, so probably not a full 20 minutes, but close enough. occasionally i feel like i’m drowning, but otherwise it works.

      For systemic stuff like acne, eczema, etc, the Journal of Ayurveda Integrated Medicine explains that “Ayurveda advises oil gargling to purify the entire system; as it holds that each section of the tongue is connected to different organ such as to the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine, similarly to reflexology and TCM.” The idea is that the bacteria and toxins in your mouth transfer to the oil, which is why you then don’t want to swallow it.

      • Stefanie

        Wow, that’s so crazy/cool! Now I have to try it…

      • Rebeka Osborne

        Ok yes, thank you for that explanation. For all the things I’ve read about oil pulling I’ve never head this explanation and it makes so much more sense than “it just sucks the toxins right out of your body.”

        • Kate Barnett

          me. too. which is why initially i was like “ok, this is bullshit.” i’ve started using google scholar to search this sort of stuff and find better sources.

          • A few years ago I had THE worst flu of all time and a nasty allergic reaction (hi face rash) to the medicine a doctor gave me. I found this little website about the “ancient Indian tradition of oil pulling” and used extra virgin olive oil, since it was the only thing in our apartment. My roommates thought it was absolutely crazy/gross. I did the oil pulling twice and literally the next morning I felt phenomenal – allergic reaction gone, flu totally subsided.

            From what I gathered on the website, the swishing for 20 minutes was super important because it gets ALL of your saliva cycled through the oil, and all of the bacteria goes into the oil to feed on it, then you spit it out. Which is pretty disgusting. And pretty effective.

  • Kaitlin Corr

    I’ve been tempted to try this! The only thing holding me back is that I’ve heard your mouth/jaw is so sore after swishing for 20 minutes. (I get tension headaches/have TMJ as it is, so I’m afraid this would make them worse!) Any input on this?

    • thebloginista

      Kaitlin, I heard that it’s actually supposed to be a very relaxing and “zen” experience. If your jaw is sore, you’re doing it too hard. It doesn’t have to be a rigorous swish.

      • Kaitlin Corr

        That’s good to know! Thank you!

        • thebloginista

          Sure! I mean, I personally don’t find anything relaxing about swishing oil in my mouth, but I know some people who say they look forward to it as a relaxing start to their day. Hope you like it!

    • Kate Barnett

      i also clench my jaw and actually feel like it relaxes those muscles instead of tightening them. i think of it as playing with the oil in my mouth rather than gritting my teeth and forcefully pushing it through.

  • thebloginista

    I tried it twice. Immediate results included a SUPER clean feeling in my mouth, pretty pink tongue/gums, and fresh to death breath (I should be a rapper). HOWEVER. Swishing it around for 20 minutes was really difficult for me. I just kept thinking about how disgusting the liquid in my mouth was becoming minute after minute… as it picked up all that bacteria and toxins. That made me want to gag. I need to try it for a longer period of time to tell if it actually has any other benefits.

    • Elizabeth Fuller

      I find that if I do it in the morning while I’m reading e-mails or watching like the news, I forget what I’m doing and the 20 minutes goes by really quickly. Definitely distract yourself, otherwise it’s an awful experience.

    • You could try swish for 10, spit, and start anew with fresh oil for the last 10!

  • Just HAD to try it out – right now (which is why my mouth is shut for a change) – feels OK, am excited about the results (I sometimes cook Ayurvedic food and love it, so I HAD to try this out, too). Yay for such interesting stuff! 🙂

    I’ve been thinking, I’ve been thinking … like, 10 days vegan food, first class ingredients, expensive, exciting, yummy stuff … that would be something I’d love to do.

  • leonorjr

    do I really need to do it for 20 minutes for it to work? how about 5? can I negotiate the amount of time that I have to do this to reap the benefits?

    • Kate Barnett

      some of the journal articles i read said five to eight minutes, other articles say 15 to 20 is necessary to reap the full benefits. i imagine you could start at five and work your way up? as long as i distract myself with other tasks the 20 minutes goes quickly.

  • meri

    I love how everyone in the comments tend to mimic the writing style of the authors

  • Chloe

    The coconut oil sensation is wayyyy better if you use unrefined coconut oil — it’s a little pricier, but it’s a) better for you and b) SO MUCH LESS GROSS. Do itttt.

    (I have been pulling for a week and all my breath issues have been solved. Very impressed.)

  • Andie

    My mind is blown. I read Shailene Woodley’s Into the Gloss and thought about picking it up, I’d read about it about a year ago when I first started using coconut oil for everything (minus toothpaste which I will definitely be trying!) I literally carry around a small containr full in case my lips or legs feel dry during the day. Thanks for the tips!


    I think this is the biggest question that have been getting mixed feedbacks.. Is oil pulling safe with amalgam fillings/root canals? Would it loosen the filling? Kate and Amelia, do you both have any fillings?

    • Kate Barnett

      hey jenny! i’ve had both fillings and a root canal. as far as the action of swishing disturbing either of those i haven’t had any issues and wouldn’t expect to. it’s not a hugely aggressive action. from what i’ve read, there are also claims that the oil pulling could be beneficial for people with amalgam fillings in countering the effects of those metals, as well.

  • Rose

    This is probably a stupid question but if you do it in the morning do you eat breakfast after? It seems counterintuitive to go through the stress of oil pulling for whiter teeth, better breath etc and then to ruin it all with coffee…

    • I did it after coffee (first time today, am going to do it like that from now on) – it helps remove the aftertaste and everything’s better.

      Anyone addicted to coconut oil pulling? Cause I think I already am … that was fast!

      • Jessica

        It’s best to do it first thing in the morning, before drinking or eating, as to avoid swallowing any toxins that have built up in the mouth during sleep. I find that it cleanses the palate before a meal.

        • THX, that sure sounds logical. As I have grown to love the taste/the feeling in my mouth after having had my coffee and pulled the oil 🙂 I may need some time to … re-educate my mouth on that matter.

  • Never tried it, and much like you, I was skeptical because of just how MUCH people kept talking about it.

    I’m curious, but we’ll see. Might try it this weekend for fun, and go from there. 🙂

  • In love, so many benefits – even made a 45 second how-to video on how to oil pull: http://bit.ly/1l8dOVw xx

  • Hannah Cavaciuti

    Don’t you just swallow loads of oil? Can’t be the most healthy breakfast!

    • Kate Barnett

      while i more or less eat loads of coconut oil daily anyway, for oil pulling you definitely don’t want to swallow it after swishing for 20 minutes. also, make sure you’re spitting it into the trash as opposed to the sink for the sake of your plumbing!

  • G-Unit

    I have found that my teeth are a lot whiter since oil pulling, I use virgin cocount oil and swish it aorund my mouth from 10-20 minutes is the morning. I then I scrape my tounge with a tooth brush and brush my teeth. People keep asking if I have gotten my teeth professionally whitened, I highly reccomend it .

  • Veronica Carr

    Fever blisters and cold sores are the same thing: oral herpes. Also oral thrush is a yeast infection. Let’s be real.