Salt & Snails = Death: How Salt Kills Snails

by | Slugs & Snails, Snails

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You’ve probably heard that salt can be a very effective snail killer. But why do snails die from salt?

Snails die in minutes when enough salt is poured on them because salt dries them out. Salt mixes with the slime on a snail’s body and pulls water out of the body through its skin, in a process called osmosis. This process makes bubbles and even a hissing sound as the snail shrivels up and dehydrates.

Let’s take a closer look at how salt kills snails, how to use salt to quickly kill snails, and if salt is a cruel way to kill snails in your yard so you can make a decision about whether to use salt or not.

How snails die with salt

Photo of salt shaker and salt

A snail’s skin must stay moist all the time for the snail to stay alive. Its skin has many pores or tiny openings in it that let water flow easily in and out. This is how the skin regulates itself and stays moist.

A snail likes to live in or will crawl to places with a lot of humidity in the air so that its pores can absorb the moisture in the air.

But these pores also make it easier for water to leave the snail’s body, so a snail has found ways to protect itself from drying out. For example, snails climb house walls in search of humidity or sleep in their shells during the day when the sun is shining.

So what does this have to do with salt?

Salt absorbs moisture. This is why a salt shaker often gets clogged up with clumps of salt – the salt in the shaker absorbs moisture in the air and clumps together. And salt does the same thing to a snail’s skin.

When salt is sprinkled on a snail’s body, it sucks water out of the snail and absorbs it. The snail’s body tries to fight the attack and move the salt off its body by releasing slime and air through its skin. But the salt dissolves in the slime and continues to burn the snail.

The snail’s body starts foaming or bubbling as air and slime mix with the salt. It might make a hissing sound. And the delicate balance between salt and water in the snail’s body is destroyed.

The process of salt pulling water out of a snail’s body is called osmosis: Salt dissolves in the snail slime, making a solution that’s saltier than inside the snail’s body. The snail’s skin wants to create a balance but it is designed to pass water though its pores, not salt. So the skin moves water from the body to the salty outer slime to balance them out. The cells inside the snail shrink from water loss and the salty mucus increases on the snail.

After some time, depending on the size of the snail and if enough salt was used, the snail loses too much moisture too quickly and dies. All that’s left is a shriveled body and all the slime that the snail released to protect itself from the salt.

But if the snail pulls itself into its shell quickly and its body doesn’t come into contact with too much salt to pull all the moisture out, the snail might survive a salt attack. Though it may not be able to crawl or move around after this because it has lost a lot of moisture.

Macro photo of moist snail skin that gets dehydrated when salt is poured on it
This is a photo of an extreme closeup of a snail’s skin. See how moist it is? Snails must stay moist to stay alive, but salt dries out a snail’s skin and kills the snail.

How to kill snails with salt

It is not a good idea to sprinkle and kill snails in your yard with salt because:

  • Not all snails die from salt
  • Salt can be harmful to pets and other animals
  • Salt can damage plants, burning their leaves or flowers
  • Salt can disrupt the soil’s balance, making the ground too salty. When this happens, water is drawn out of plants’ roots through osmosis and kills them

If you still want to use salt to kill snails, take the following steps for the best results:

Choose a spot and wet the soil

Choose a spot in your yard where you plan to catch snails. The best place is close to where snails are eating your plants and you know they are active at night.

Spray water on the area to make the soil damp because snails prefer damp areas to dry ones. It’s best to do this in the afternoon so the soil doesn’t dry out before nightfall.

Put a board on the ground

Find a piece of cardboard or wood. Lay it down on some bricks or small rocks above the damp soil, so there’s enough space for snails to crawl under the board.

You want to create a hiding space for the snails so they feel safe there and choose to sleep there during the day.

Collect the snails in the morning

When you wake up, flip the board over and collect any snails that are sleeping under it. I suggest wearing gloves when you do this or using a scraper to gently scrape them off the board.

Worried about touching snails? Click here to find out if snails can bite you.

Sprinkle the snails with salt or drop them in salty water

Put the snails into a bucket or a disposable bowl. I suggest lining a bucket with these disposable bucket liners from Amazon, to make cleaning up easier (you don’t want to be washing sticky slime off the bucket after).

Sprinkle the snails directly with a lot of salt, making sure that you get the salt on their bodies and not their shells. You can get a bulk 25-pound bag of salt from Amazon for a good price that will kill quite a few snails.

If you don’t want to sprinkle salt on the snails drop them into a bucket of salty water: Dilute 1 part salt with 7 parts tap water in a bucket. Drop the snails into the salty water, seal the lid, and leave them in there for at least 48 hours.

If you don’t have any salt handy, you might get the same results with these products (links are to Amazon):

Throw away the bucket liner or bowl

Once the snails are dead, seal the bucket liner or bowl and throw it away with the trash.

You can remove the piece of wood from your yard when you are done collecting snails. If you use cardboard to catch snails, you might notice that the snails eat it or that it breaks down over time.

Is it cruel to kill snails with salt?

Killing snails with salt can be a cruel pest control method, especially when there are other quicker and more humane ways to get rid of snails in your yard. Even the experts don’t know how much pain snails feel or how much they hurt when salt is sprinkled on them.

Some say that snails cannot feel or process pain the way humans can. If this is true, then snails probably don’t hurt when they are killed with salt.

But others argue that snails have pain receptors so they must be able to feel pain. It has been shown that snails pull away or avoid painful stimuli. And studies on crabs show that crabs feel pain and remember it, which suggests that other “simple” creatures like snails probably feel pain too.

And the snails that are only dehydrated from salt but not killed are forced to lie there where they are, unable to move, waiting for death from a predator, the sun, or starvation.

Get rid of snails in your yard without salt

The following tips and products from Amazon will help you get rid of snails in your yard in a more humane way than sprinkling them with salt:

  • The quickest and most humane way to get rid of snails is to crush them with a rock or to stand on them. Go into your yard after sunset or rainfall and use a flashlight to find snails, or set a trap with a wooden board or a piece of cardboard on damp soil. Collect the snails, throw them on the ground and stand on them or crush them quickly.
  • If you can’t crush snails, sprinkle these organic snail killer granules around the area. The granules smell like food to snails, so they come out of their hiding spots to eat the poison. The granules are biodegradable, safe to use around pets, children, and wildlife, and work in all weather.
  • Another option is to keep the snails away rather than kill them. If you have a problem with snails on certain plants or in certain areas, spray the plant or area with this non-toxic snail repellent made with essential oils. It can be used indoors or outdoors, and even around the perimeter of your yard to keep snails out.
  • If snails are eating your potted plants, wrap copper flashing around the pots. A snail’s slime reacts with this flashing to give the snail a small electric shock, so snails won’t cross the flashing to climb up your pot and eat the plants inside.

I'm Monique. I love gardening and spending time in my backyard growing things. Here's where I share what I know about backyard pests and what to do about them, so you can enjoy your yard too.

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Monique loves gardening and spending time in her backyard, where she grows flowers, succulents, herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

Monique spends a lot of time researching how to protect her backyard from harmful pests and trying to attract beneficial insects and animals.

She shares everything that she learns and tests here at Backyard Pests.


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