While on a recent trip out of state I found myself in need of an Epsom salt bath to help resolve a mild injury.
Not knowing the town very well, I checked for some at a nearby health food store.
I was shocked to see that a small, one pound container cost a whopping $30. At home, I normally pay $2.99 for a 4-pound bag!
On the label, the words “Pharmaceutical Grade” were boldly emblazoned. This got me thinking about whether the kind I’ve been buying at the supermarket all these years was inferior stuff. So, I decided to investigate.
Here’s what I found out! I think you will be delighted as I was.
Where to Buy Epsom Salt
Figuring out where to buy Epsom salt is a relatively easy process in the United States. Supermarkets, pharmacies, and health food stores all typically carry it in sizes ranging from 1-6 pounds (1/2 – 2.7 kilograms).
You can also find it at many feed stores and nurseries for animal and agricultural applications, respectively.
In other countries I’ve visited, it seems a bit trickier. In the Netherlands, for example, I could only find a very small container in a nichey health food store. The supermarket and pharmacy nearby didn’t even know what I was talking about when I asked about it.
Different Grades of Epsom Salt
Like many substances such as vegetable glycerin, azomite, and diatomaceous earth, Epsom salts are available in different grades. While all contain the two naturally occurring minerals of magnesium and sulfur, there are different ways of manufacturing and packaging it.
These various processes are necessary for different applications. Some are for human use (both external and internal) and others are for agricultural applications.
What is the Difference?
According to the Epsom Salt Council, magnesium sulfate that is suitable for human use is identifiable in the following way.
Any package that has a “drug facts” box or that’s labeled “USP” has been manufactured, tested and certified to meet stringent regulatory standards of the FDA and the United States Pharmacopeia, and is deemed safe and acceptable for human use. For human use, the Epsom Salt Council recommends only Epsom salt with the USP designation.
This means is that a bag of Epsom salts from Walmart is essentially the same as the container from the health food store.
Both are equally safe and effective whether you plan to use magnesium sulfate crystals for internal or external use.
In other words, there is no need to spend 10 times as much for a container stamped “pharmaceutical grade”.
The inexpensive bag of Epsom salt with a “drug facts” box on the package or labeled “magnesium sulfate USP” is just as good!
The most inexpensive way to buy it is in bulk bags if you use it a lot in your home like we do (this brand is great and includes free shipping).
Epsom Salt for Plants
Magnesium sulfate for plants is typically available at hardware stores and nurseries because it makes excellent fertilizer. Feed stores also sometimes carry it.
This type of Epsom salt is of technical or agricultural grade and not for human use. It tends to be a bit cheaper and can be purchased in bulk (such as this brand).
How to Use Epsom Salt at Home
Once you’ve sourced a container of magnesium sulfate marked “USP” and/or the package has a “drug facts” box on the label, feel free to use for foot soaking, cleansing detox baths (particularly good for mild bruises or sprains), and as a safe, mild laxative.
If you are sensitive to the sulfur and/or on a low FODMAP diet, try magnesium bath flakes instead.
“Pharmaceutical grade” Epsom salt, however, is not necessary. Such labeling seems to be nothing more than a ploy to charge (a lot!) more.