Sauna Etiquette

Sauna Etiquette: What are the Do’s and Don’ts?

If you have a sauna at your gym, we hope you are using it! Using a sauna at the gym is a wonderful way to boost your workout and remedy things such as muscle soreness, recovery time, fatigue, and performance. Infrared saunas are the perfect companion for your health journey as they help you sweat, burn calories, and heal. Just be sure you use the sauna after your workout and not before to avoid injury.

Your fellow gym buddies are also soaking in the sauna health benefits, so it’s important to know the proper gym sauna etiquette to make it a pleasant experience for everyone.

We’ve all been there – you’re about to enjoy a lovely, cleansing sauna but you’re just not quite sure whether to hang on to your bikini, or bare all and take the plunge in your birthday suit. If you’re a Brit, however, the chances are that the thought of public nudity of any kind literally horrifies you. Frankly, you’d probably prefer if we could all go into the sauna fully clothed, thank you very much.

While there are many incredible saunas to enjoy around the world (and the many rituals that go alongside them, such as massages or, erm, beating yourself with rattan sticks), each country has their own rules when it comes to sauna etiquette. If you don’t want to risk a steamy faux pas, here’s a summary of the do’s and don’ts…

The trouble with unwritten rules is that, even if you don’t mean any harm, you could end up disrupting or offending someone without knowing you’re doing anything wrong. Owning a personal sauna means you might bypass some of these hidden conventions. Still, in an environment as intimate as a public sauna, hot spa, steam room or similar, we would always recommend that you fully understand how to behave respectfully.

So, we put together this go-to guide on sauna etiquette to help newcomers and veterans alike. We find we’re frequently asked the same questions over and over again too, so we’ll even address some of them directly while we’re here.

Sauna Dos

Do ask questions

Saunas are part of a tradition that could stretch back to the Native American sweat lodge, the Finnish lakeside sauna, and the Russian banya. People feel culturally connected to the practice and are usually happy to explain it to newcomers. So if, for example, you’re intrigued by the sight of a platza treatment—in which one person ‘smacks’ or bathes another with a bushel of eucalyptus—ask somebody about it (preferably not those busy with their platza treatments.) You’ll likely get an answer; you might get a cultural lesson, and perhaps you’ll get even a platza treatment.

Bring Three Towels

Even if you’re nude, you should have a towel on hand for sanitary sitting. Expect some pronounced frowns if you come in wearing street clothes or athletic wear (or, especially, shoes), which bring outside cooties into the warm, humid haven.

The optimal number of towels to bring to an American sauna room is 3 (the hotel or spa will provide them). You’ll wear your first towel while you’re in the sauna (if it’s not a naked sauna), you’ll sit or lay on your second, and the third stays outside because you’ll use it to dry off when you’re done.

Do drink your water

Before, during, and after, keep hydrated. The hot temperatures prevent sweat from evaporating, which means you’re losing fluid but not cooling down. Your body’s going to continue sweating indefinitely. Without water, you’re going to end up dehydrated fast.

Shower before you come in

There’s nothing worse than someone stepping in the steam room straight from a two-hour cardio workout, still dripping with sweat. Suddenly people become rather weary about the source of steam in the room, not to mention the ‘scent’. Have a shower please, it takes 30 seconds.

Keep the noise down 

We’re always tempted to sing our favourite anthems in the shower, but using a sauna is much more of a serene experience. Remember that it is a place known for silence and tranquillity, and you should always consider other people around you; so keep those conversations quiet. Unless it’s just you and your friend, and in that case, you can talk your heads off as long as it stays inside the sauna.

If you’re going to talk, keep the conversation quiet and don’t laugh or make loud noises that disturb others. If you’re listening to music, use a headset or earbuds, so nobody else hears. Feel free to tell somebody to turn it down if they break this rule.

While it’s polite to say a ‘Hello’ when entering and a ‘Cheers’ when leaving, conversation in the steam room should be kept to a minimum, and not forced upon an unwilling recipient, if their eyes are closed, it’s probably a good sign they want to be left alone. Gentleman, it is not a pub, do not use it as a venue to discuss your lurid stories from the night before, how well your job is going or divulge the inner workings of your ‘relationships’ – there’s a reason psychologists get paid. Comments such as ‘It’s hot in here’ are not required – we know it’s hot, that’s why we’re here.

Don’t Play music

It may be tempting to create an extra atmosphere in the sauna by playing music, but this is considered poor sauna etiquette.

Not only does everyone have different taste when it comes to music, but a sauna is also a quiet place where silence and soft talking is very much appreciated.

Dress Appropriately

You want to dress appropriately for your specific sauna type. In the United States, many public saunas are not naked saunas. This means you should either leave your towel on or wear a bathing suit underneath while you’re in the sauna.

However, if it’s a Scandinavian or a German sauna, it’s expected that people will go naked. Research or give them a call to make sure.

Leave Your Smartphone Outside

We all lead busy lives, and we can’t imagine a world where we’re not constantly online and connected.

But the sauna is a place to relax, and part of that relaxation experience is to disconnect. So please leave your phone outside and enjoy the serenity of the sauna.

Besides, most smartphones wouldn’t enjoy the temperature in the sauna very much, let alone the sweat and moist they may get exposed too.

Ask Before You Add Steam

This point goes back to a common respect for the other people that are sharing the sauna with you. If you want to change the heat or steam amounts, ask your sauna mates first if it’s okay to do so. Everyone wants to be comfortable.

Don’t take long entering/exiting the sauna 

Saunas are generally quite small by design so that the steam is more focused and condensed in one area instead of across a vast space. For this reason, you should take care when entering and exiting to not leave the door open for too long, as the temperature will lower and steam can escape.

People will understand, however, if you’re leaving to cool down and then entering again, as this is an essential part of learning to use a sauna. Just make sure the door shuts behind you!

Don’t be competitive

Saunas and steam rooms aren’t designed for competition. You may try to prove how tough and in shape you are by outlasting your friends or others in there, but if this is your objective, you’re failing to relax, and even worse, it’s not safe.

Book a massage or facial

Many, though not all, nude saunas offer spa-like amenities. King Spa offers massages, facials, and even V-Steams, but Rebecca didn’t know that at first. “So I turned the corner, already anxious, naked save for a one-square-foot washcloth—and nearly collided with a grandma in a Michael Myers sheet mask. It was all I could do not to shriek.” Rebecca had been nervous about the experience already, what with the washcloth square and all. “But after that? Nothing could freak me out.”

Respect everyone’s personal space.

It’s easy to get carried away in a sauna and get as relaxed as possible, but if there are other people in there with you, try not to sprawl yourself all over the seats. If someone is a little timid, they might see you taking up the seats, be too afraid to ask you to move and then not enter at all. Saunas are meant to be enjoyed by everyone!

Feel free to talk within reason

From the Hollywood screen to multi-lingual bathhouses, saunas have always been seen as a place for banter, bonding, and even making power-deals.

No one at a nude sauna is looking at your body—seriously. Scott adds that it’s important to remember that the sense of comfort and liberation you can feel from shedding your clothes is proportional to the comfort you allow others. Don’t stare—there’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and there are too few spaces in the world where we can feel free of shame and judgment.

Nudity might not be expected, anyway. Every sauna is different, so to maximize steam room etiquette, take a peek at what others are doing and follow suit (or birthday suit, as the case may be).

That said, it’s best to read the room. It might be less appropriate to talk loudly and openly in the spa-sauna, for instance, than the Turkish bathhouse. And regardless of where you are, remember that there are limits to sauna etiquette. Cursing and colourful language? Sure, go ahead, if the vibe calls for it. But remember this—being buck-naked with a bunch of strangers doesn’t mean they’re automatically cool with hearing about your exaggerated sexual conquests or questionable views of women.

If the steam room is almost empty, don’t sit directly beside the only person in there, it’s awkward – use the space. Much like Thomas Fink’s of the Man’s Book method of selecting the optimal Urinal; leave at least one space between you and the other person where possible. Trust me, and it’ll make for a more enjoyable steam room experience for all concerned.

Use the right terminology.

Sauna, originally a Finnish word, can refer to a room with wet or dry heat. Conventional saunas warm the air, while infrared saunas heat objects and surfaces, allowing the heat to emanate from those panels. Steam rooms, by definition, always use wet heat.

Sauna Don’ts

Over-Water the Rocks

If you over-water the rocks, you’ll get clouds of steam that can quickly overtake and fill the sauna. This can make it uncomfortably hot for everyone in the sauna, so it’s best always to ask before you add steam.

Don’t work out in the sauna.

There’s nothing silent or tranquil about the groans and grunts of someone working out. We live in a busy society and multitasking is an essential part of life for some people, but doing your squats in a sauna isn’t the same as brushing your teeth in the shower. You could slip and hurt yourself, or even someone else that just wants to spend the afternoon in a relaxed state of mind, and not in a busy A&E room.

It’s not an exercise room, and nobody wants you flinging sweat when you move around. If somebody breaks this rule, feel free to remind them.

It was the 90’s hip hop group, “House Of Pain,” that said, “Jump around, jump around, jump up, jump up and get down! Jump around!” But I’m pretty sure they weren’t talking about what to do in a sauna. Leave the jumping to the gym and the sitting to the sauna.

Now, I say this with a little caveat, since as a wrestler I’ve used the sauna to cut weight, and yes, it does help to do some stretching and even jogging in there to shed some more pounds. But unless you are there to make weight for your next MMA fight, I say, keep your butt on the bench. Most gym saunas are not that big–usually only meant for five or six people, so it’s not polite to stand in front of your fellow heat dwellers and bust out some jumping jacks.

Constantly moving around in the sauna is not only a distraction; it’s disgusting too! The only sweat I want on my body is my own, and the last thing I want is for you to splash drips of your sweat on my face because you want to make lunges.

If this happens to you, kindly ask the person if they wouldn’t mind waiting until others leave to do their exercising. Or let them know that their movement is shaking the sauna (which it does) and it’s making you nauseous (which it will).

People go into a sauna to relax and enjoy the quiet atmosphere. It’s not a place to work out because any noises you may make while doing so can be distracting. If you can’t sit still and enjoy the quiet, it’s best to leave.

Spit in the Sauna

This is more common sense, but we’re listing it anyway. Never spit while you’re inside of the sauna. This is considered very poor etiquette, and it is very unhygienic for your fellow customers and employees at the spa.

Don’t wear metal jewellery

It’s going to get hot! Take off all metal jewellery or hooks, or anything you might be wearing, which could hold in the heat and burn you. You don’t want to be thinking, for the whole time you’re in there, ‘ouch!’.

Bring Your Electronic Devices Inside

If you bring your electronics into the sauna, you run the risk of them getting damaged by the steam and the moisture. They’re also a quick way to annoy the other people in the sauna with the noise if you start playing games or talking.

Don’t apply water without asking.

Applying water to the sauna stones/stove will increase both the heat and the amount of steam in a sauna. However, while you may like it red hot, that doesn’t mean everyone else in there does. In your personal sauna, it is completely up to you to tailor the session; however, you want. Still, during a public sauna session, you should always clear it with the other patrons before you change anything in the sauna. After all, communication is the most important part of sauna etiquette.

Groom Yourself

A sauna isn’t a bathroom, and it is considered to be very bad sauna etiquette to brush your teeth, brush your hair, or shave while you’re in there. Again, it creates an unsanitary environment for the rest of the people in the sauna as well as yourself.

It’s disrespectful to others in the same sauna, not to mention the fact that it can also be quite unhygienic.

Be Vocal While You’re Relaxing

Everyone gets it, relaxing can feel wonderful, especially after a rough day. However, you shouldn’t groan, moan, or make loud noises while you’re relaxing. This is a very fast way to annoy other people.

Use a Sauna as a Personal Clothes Dryer

Yes, steam is a wonderful way to get stubborn wrinkles out of your clothing, and the warm temperatures work wonders for drying your clothing. However, hanging your clothing by the rocks is a safety hazard, and it’s just generally bad etiquette.

Any time you visit a sauna, you should consider that it is a privilege and not a right. If you routinely practice bad sauna etiquette, you can be thrown out. Public saunas have these general etiquette rules so everyone can be safe and relax in peace.

If you prefer relaxing alone and to the beat of your favourite music, consider getting your own personal infrared sauna at home. If you have the cash to spare, this can be a viable option for you, and you don’t have to worry about other strangers in a room with you.

Best for baring all

In Finland, you can let it all hang out. Full nudity is the order of the day, and saunas are separated by gender. You’re not even required to bring a towel to sit on – although you can bring some sausages or beer if you’d like to kick back with a drink or make use of the open fires within the sauna to make yourself a snack! Nudity is the norm in Russia too, with the exception of a hat, called a ‘Banja’, to increase sweating. Many Russians will also use birch branches to stimulate circulation. Whatever you do, don’t just follow signs for a ‘sauna’ in Russia, as this can refer to an, erm, erotic establishment. Look for the word ‘Banya’, instead.

The rules are pretty flexible in Sweden, where you can be either towelled or naked, but drop the towel if you’re headed to Latvia, where a wool cap (to prevent your sweaty hair from touching the wooden benches) is the only item of clothing you’ll be wearing! Germany is all for the natural look too – stepping a toe into a german sauna in anything other than your birthday suit is a sure way to get yourself told off for being unhygienic!

Best for a more modest approach

France and Italy, meanwhile, despite their oh-so-cool reputation, are more inhibited than you might think, and the sauna is a place to keep your bathing suit firmly on. It probably goes without saying that the Brits aren’t huge fans of hanging out in the nude either, so saunas in the UK are for clothed patrons only. There was a scandal during the ’90s when the German national football team visited a hotel’s sauna stark naked. It was even reported in The Sun newspaper, to the shock and horror of the nation! If only they’d asked Winerist to cover it.

And can you take a glass of wine?

Well, not exactly, but if you happen to be visiting any of these Argentinian Wine Spas, you can indulge in treatments which use the natural detoxifying properties of grape skins, or the antioxidant-rich resveratrol (also found in wine!), to keep you looking and feeling your best.

Regardless of where you are using a sauna and who you are using it with, be sure to keep the area clean and comfortable is key. Knowing what to wear in a sauna, how much time to spend, and what you can do to be mindful of other people’s experiences are all necessary for sauna etiquette. By practising proper sauna etiquette, you ensure an enjoyable sauna experience for everyone!

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