Looking for At-Home UTI Remedies? Here’s Why That Could Do More Harm Than Good, According to a Urologist

Photo: Stocksy/Deirdre Malfatto
That stinging sensation that creeps up as you’re peeing has got to be one of the worst feelings. “Oh no, do I have a UTI?” you wonder. Cue the dread and panic and furious googling of at-home UTI remedies.

Now, it makes sense that you'd want to find a solution. But according to David Shusterman, MD, chief physician and founder of New York Urology, there are no sound at-home remedies for a UTI. If it’s a true urinary tract infection, antibiotics are needed to kill the bacteria in your urethra and urinary tract that's causing the infection in the first place.

Experts In This Article

While some home techniques and strategies can help prevent UTIs, they are not effective treatments for active infections. And, Dr. Shusterman explains that, if left untreated, UTIs can lead to painful bladder or kidney infections, which could potentially send you to an ER.

So if you think you have a UTI, make an appointment with your doctor ASAP to make sure that's what it actually is (since burning pee can have other causes, too), and get the medicine you need to get some relief.

About that cranberry juice...

“One of the most persistent myths about UTIs is that drinking cranberry juice can cure them,” says Dr. Shusterman. "While cranberry juice may help prevent UTIs, it is not an effective treatment for an active infection. It just creates an environment where you drink more water, which causes you to urinate more frequently." Peeing more often is good for a UTI because it means you're flushing out the area where there's an infection. However, beyond that, cranberry juice isn't doing much for you, which means sipping it instead of getting medical care can lead to a worse infection down the road.

Another common myth is that all UTIs cause painful urination. Though this is a typical sign of a UTI, it’s not always the case. Some UTIs can cause other symptoms, like fever, back pain, and/or abdominal pain. The only way to know for sure if it's a UTI or not is to have a healthcare provider take a urine sample.

How can you prevent UTIs?

The good news: If you know you're prone to getting UTIs, there are some at-home tips and tricks you can follow to help prevent them. (Just remember that they don’t have the power to treat a UTI once you get one.)

1. Drink up

“Drinking plenty of water helps to flush out bacteria from the urinary tract, and studies have shown that increasing water intake can reduce the occurrence of UTIs by up to 50 percent in premenopausal women with recurrent UTIs,” says Dr. Shusterman.

2. Wear breathable, clean, cotton underwear

Choosing breathable cotton underwear (and changing into a clean pair regularly) can help to keep UTIs at bay, according to Dr. Shusterman. That's because undies that trap moisture can cause bacteria to increase and invade where it shouldn't.

3. Load up on probiotic foods regularly

Dr. Shusterman says that foods that support a healthy gut microbiome can also help a healthy urinary tract. Probiotic foods contain a lot of the "good" bacteria your body loves to keep around, which can help you out if your balance of bacteria is off. So fill up your diet with things like kefir, miso, and yogurt, and fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi.

Side note: Does cranberry juice itself help you poop? It actually can, thanks to its sugar called fructose, which serves as a gentle, natural laxative.

4. Try to pee after sex (and not before)

Like many urulogy experts, Dr. Shusterman recommends peeing after sex. This works to flush out any bacteria from the urethra from that got pushed near that area during intercourse.

An addition that Dr. Shusterman includes in this advice is to try to avoid peeing before sex. Sure, having sex with a bladder that feels like it will burst is not ideal. However, one problem some folks have with the advice of “always pee after sex” is simply not feeling like they have to go. But if you hydrate regularly and generally avoid peeing before sex, going afterward is less likely to be a challenge.

5. Avoid feminine washes

Feminine pH washes aren't entirely necessary in Dr. Shusterman’s eyes. This is because you have a vaginal and vulvar microbiome with both good and bad bacteria—and taking a pH soap to the area will wipe out both. This typically throws off that ecosystem and can even allow the bad bacteria to populate more than the good bacteria. Gentle soaps that don’t aim to mitigate odor or alter your pH are best for the area.

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