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Sitting in the one of the best home saunas or steam rooms provides many health benefits, but it’s also a great way to pamper yourself after a tough workout, hard day at the office, or just because you deserve it!
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to have a relaxing sauna experience if you’re sharing the sauna with someone who’s acting inappropriately. Maybe they were “raised in a barn” or maybe they’re just ignorant of proper sauna etiquette. After all, some sauna rules aren’t really written anywhere.
Until now, that is! We’re laying down the sauna law by listing 10 rules for proper sauna etiquette, so you won’t land yourself in hot water during your next session. We also consulted with Sydney Lappe, a registered dietitian, for advice on how to use a sauna.
10 Rules for Sauna Etiquette
The specific rules for each sauna you visit may vary, so look for posted rules or consult the staff. Our rules, however, should work to provide a baseline for standard sauna etiquette.
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Rule 1: Make a Quick Entrance
It doesn’t matter if you’re entering a traditional Finnish sauna or Turkish bathhouse, the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that hot air flows towards cold air. That means the longer you hold the sauna door open, the more hot air and/or steam you’re letting escape.
If you want a literal warm welcome, enter and exit the sauna quickly.
Rule 2: Dress (or Undress) to Impress
Some public saunas post the dress code for the sauna, letting folks know if nudity is accepted or encouraged on the premises. Others explicitly prohibit nudity, even if the sauna or steam room is located in the locker room area where other guests change and shower publicly.
If you’re not entirely sure of the expectation, ask the staff or follow the example of the other sauna users. It never hurts to sport a swimsuit until you’re totally sure that nudity is allowed.
Rule 3: Slip on Some Flippies
Footwear is another hot topic when it comes to sauna dress code.
On the one hand, it’s nice to feel totally unencumbered while soaking up dry sauna benefits, but going completely barefoot could be the reason you wind up with athlete’s foot.
To ensure you’re fully protected, slip on a pair of flip flops before entering the sauna.
Rule 4: Don’t Forget to Bring a Towel!
So, you’re going to go au naturale in the sauna! It’s a celebrated part of sauna culture in Finland, where the sauna was invented and remains ubiquitous today.
It’s still good etiquette to lay down a towel before planting your bare cheeks on the bench. Not only is this hygienic, but it provides a buffer between you and the hot wood, which might save your glutes from becoming a rump roast.
Plus, it’ll soak up your sweat as you reap the benefits of a sauna after a workout, which everyone will appreciate.
Rule 5: Ask Before Pouring Water on the Rocks
Traditional saunas use dry heat, which is generated by a wood-burning stove or electric heater that heats rocks. Some people like pouring water on the rocks to release a soothing burst of steam every now and then.
Others aren’t so keen on steam, so, for that reason, you should ask everyone if it’s okay before dousing the stones with water. If even one person is not on board, just don’t do it.
Rule 6: No Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy has increased in popularity over the years, but not everyone enjoys the often potent fragrances of essential oils and plant extracts.
So, you’re certainly not doing anyone a favor by drizzling your favorite oils and extracts over the sauna rocks. The odors are often seriously off-putting to some, and the cleaning staff might struggle with getting rid of the smell after you’ve long concluded your session.
Unless it’s your own personal sauna at home, don’t add anything to the sauna environment. Diffuse those essential oils later.
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Rule 7: Don’t Adjust the Sauna Temperature Without Asking
Some owners of public saunas know that people like to tinker with the settings, so they keep the temperature control locked up so no one can manipulate them. Other places are more trusting and leave the temperature settings to the users’ discretion.
The optimal temperature for a dry sauna is between 160 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit, while steam rooms fall between 110 and 120 degrees. So long as the setting is between these parameters, there’s no reason to fiddle with it.
If you really feel you must make some adjustment, check with everyone else in the sauna before touching the dial. You can tweak the settings if everyone is in agreement, but don’t make a unilateral decision about the sauna temperature.
Rule 8: Respect the Silence
You don’t have to be perfectly silent in a sauna. Quiet conversation can enhance the experience and, who knows, you may make a new friend to schedule regular sauna sessions.
While saunas aren’t strictly silent, they’re often quiet to promote a relaxing environment for everyone. That means you refrain from the following:
- Loud conversation
- Making phone calls
- Using speakerphone
- Playing music
- Streaming video
The only exception we’d make on this one is if you’re streaming something that everyone is into and they’d want to watch with you. There’s no reason you can’t turn that sauna sesh into a viewing party if everyone’s on board.
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Rule 9: Don’t Treat it Like an Extension of the Gym
Most people prefer to finish their squats before popping a squat in the sauna, but that doesn’t stop some folks from treating the space like a place for calisthenics.
At best, you’ll be in everyone’s way and they’ll have to awkwardly navigate around you, but, at worst, you could slip and fall or be the reason that someone else slips and falls.
Save the hot yoga for an actual yoga studio.
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Rule 10: Make Room for Others
It’s a good practice to make room for others who would like to come in and, after you’ve had your time, to leave and give up your spot for others.
“Generally, you do not want to exceed 20 minutes in the sauna anyway,” says Sydney Lappe, registered dietitian. “Twenty minutes is enough time to receive the health benefits associated with sauna use without overdoing things.”
Additional Considerations for Sauna Etiquette
As they say— location, location, location. Rules of saunas in commercial gyms, for example, may differ from the sauna rules at the spa or in your own home.
Here are a few additional considerations for sauna etiquette based on location.
If you’re using a home sauna, it’s no-holds-barred.
It’s your home, your property, and your sauna, so you can get in there wearing whatever the heck you like, blast your music, do yoga, pour essential oils on the rocks— so long as what you’re doing is sanitary and safe, the sky’s the limit.
You get the final say regarding sauna etiquette in your own home.
Most gym sauna-goers come straight from a sweaty workout, so there are a few unique considerations to keep in mind when using the gym sauna.
- Rinse off: Sure, you’re going to sweat some more in the sauna, but rinsing before bringing your sweaty, stinky self into the sauna is hygienic and courteous.
- Lose the shoes: Your sneakers are not welcome in the sauna, even if you never wear them outdoors. Take them off and slip on some flippies instead.
- It’s not a drying rack: The heat of the sauna is perfect for drying out your sweaty gym clothes before cramming them into your gym bag, but that’s not what it’s designed to do. It’s unhygienic and selfish to lay out your stinky clothes in the public sauna.
The risk of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance is also greater at the gym, since you likely were sweating during your workout, so it’s important to take ten minutes for a cooldown and drink plenty of water before hopping in the sauna.
“Replace electrolytes by drinking one of the best electrolyte drinks or coconut water, or refuel by eating electrolyte-rich foods such as bananas, watermelon, avocado, and oranges,” says Sydney. “Drinking a post-workout smoothie is never a bad idea either!”
Sitting in the sauna at the spa is a great way to pamper yourself, but there are some additional considerations here as well.
For example, if you’re coming fresh from a massage, you’re likely covered in massage oil. It’s a good idea to rinse that off before sweating it all over the sauna benches.
The spa is all about relaxation, so you’ll want to be extra conscious of your manners while among other spa guests. Keep conversations to a minimal volume and silence electronics if you really can’t go without them for the duration of your stay.
Better yet, leave the phone out of the sauna. You’re there to relax, not catch up on work emails or mindlessly scroll through your social media. Save it for after your sauna session.
Types of Saunas
The most common type of sauna you’ll encounter is the traditional Finnish dry sauna, which uses hot stones to raise temperatures between 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Traditional saunas usually contain no more than 20% humidity, but sauna-goers can produce steam by throwing water on the rocks.
A steam room is quite the opposite. Instead of extreme temperatures and low humidity, the steam room tends to be much cooler, approximately 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, while using hot steam, nearly 100% humidity, to create a humid environment.
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It’s relatively easy to find a dry sauna or steam room at your local gym or spa, but the newest addition to the sauna family is much harder to find.
In the late 20th century, a Japanese doctor invented the world’s first infrared sauna, which, instead of heating the air around the user as a traditional sauna does, uses infrared waves to directly heat the sauna bathers. The result is a more efficient version of the traditional sauna.
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Sauna Etiquette: Final Thoughts
Sitting in a sauna provides numerous benefits to your health and wellness, but it’s hard to relax when you’re sauna bathing with someone rude, selfish, or unhygienic. Don’t be that person!
Follow our rules for proper sauna etiquette so you and your fellow sauna users can all enjoy a relaxing experience together!
Sauna Etiquette: FAQs
What is the etiquette for public gym saunas?
The specifics may vary depending on your gym, but abiding by our rules is generally good practice for public gym saunas:
– Know the dress code and abide by it
– Wear flip flops
– Don’t leave the door open for too long on entry/exit
– Bring a towel
– Ask before changing the temperature or pouring water on the rocks
Do you wear clothes in a gym sauna?
Some saunas are more relaxed with the dress (or undress) code in the sauna, but, generally speaking, the gym sauna is still a public place. For that reason, keeping covered with a towel or sporting some swimwear may either be required or advised.
Can I bring my phone in a sauna?
On the one hand, taking your phone provides you with some entertainment while you sit and sweat, but, generally speaking, you shouldn’t bring your phone in the sauna. Here’s why:
– Heat may damage your phone
– The backlight could distract others
– Your phone may ring and disrupt others
– Phones have cameras, which may concern other sauna-goers
If you must have your phone and there’s no explicit rule against it, you can do it, but we would recommend setting it aside while you’re sauna bathing.
How long should you sit in a sauna?
The Finns reputedly sit for lengthy periods of time, but we advise against overdoing it, especially if it’s your first time in a sauna or steam room.
We recommend starting out with shorter sessions, approximately 10 minutes initially, and scaling to no greater than 20 or 30 minute sessions as you grow accustomed to the heat.
Including a 5-minute cool down between longer sessions, in which you can take a breather and drink some cold water, are a great idea, too.
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