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The unwritten rules of sauna etiquette

Everything you need to know about how to avoid a sauna faux pas

Barrel sauna inside
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Have you ever walked into a sauna and felt like a foreigner? You’re not alone. Sauna etiquette can be confusing, and the last thing you want is to commit a sauna faux pas. Fret not, dear reader, because we’ve got you covered. In this post, we’ll take you through the unwritten rules of sauna etiquette so you can avoid any awkward situations. 

We’ll review everything you need to know about sauna etiquette, including what to wear in the sauna, how to use the sauna and other frequently asked questions like whether you can bring your phone (spoiler alert: It’s a horrible idea). 

Green towels on a stool
Denny Müller/Unsplash

Why is sauna etiquette important?

Saunas are typically shared spaces where people come to relax, unwind, and detoxify. They are often in gyms, spas, and health clubs and are used to enhance the benefits of a workout. Because of this, it’s important to remember that you’re not the only one using the sauna. Your local steam room could serve many people daily, so following etiquette will ensure that the space remains hygienic and scandal-free. 

The inside of a sauna
HUUM/Unsplash

The rules of sauna etiquette

Many public saunas have rules in front of the door, so you might be familiar with some. However, a lot of these signs leave much to be desired. Let’s look at some standard rules and then move on to the unspoken ones.

Shower beforehand

Before entering the sauna, a shower is essential to rinse any sweat, dirt, or other contaminants. Not only is this more hygienic, but it also helps prevent the sauna from becoming dirty or smelly. Many saunas have showers located nearby, so be sure to take advantage of them before entering. But don’t think that showering beforehand is just about politeness! It also clears your pores, which enhances the skin-rejuvenating benefits of the sauna.

Always sit with a towel or a robe

In many Nordic countries, taking a sauna in the buff, with just a towel to sit on, is common. However, if you’re in a public sauna, you probably don’t need me to tell you that it’s not socially acceptable. When using a gym sauna, it’s essential to wear comfortable clothing that allows easy movement.

Many people prefer loose-fitting clothing, such as a bathing suit, athletic shorts, or a tank top. Others may choose to wear a towel or robe, which can provide additional privacy and comfort. Whatever you wear, be sure it’s clean and appropriate for a shared space. That means don’t wear your sweaty gym shorts. Wearing the correct clothing in the sauna helps prevent sweat from direct contact with the bench or floor, which can help keep the sauna clean. 

Respect others’ privacy and personal space

Respecting others’ privacy and personal space is essential when using a sauna. Avoid staring at or making eye contact with others, and be mindful of where you sit to avoid invading someone else’s personal space. Generally, sitting as far as reasonably possible from others is considered polite.

Stay quiet to protect the zen

Many people use the sauna as a quiet and meditative space, so it’s essential to keep noise to a minimum. Avoid talking loudly, playing music, or engaging in any other noisy activity that may disrupt the tranquility of the sauna. Remember that others can even hear whispered conversations in the small, enclosed space, so try to keep conversations to a minimum. Step outside the sauna if you need to make a call or have a conversation.

Can you bring your phone into the sauna?

Nope, this is a tech-free zone! You should stash away your handy-dandy cellphone or wristwatch in the dressing room and place your phone on silent. The heat and steam can end the life of electronics, even if they have waterproof coatings. It’s also important to note that using your phone can be disruptive to others. Step outside the sauna if you need to make a call or send a message.

Be considerate of time limits or lines

If there is a line to use the sauna or a time limit, be considerate of others and follow these guidelines. Don’t overstay your welcome or cut in line.

Clean up after yourself

Leaving a mess behind in the sauna is a big no-no. After all, no one wants to sit in someone else’s sweat or trip over discarded towels. When your sauna session ends, take a moment to tidy up after yourself. This means wiping down any sweat from the bench, backrest, and other surfaces you may have touched. Don’t forget to dispose of used towels in the designated areas and leave the sauna ready for the next person. Taking a few extra minutes to clean up will mean the world to the next person.

How to leave the sauna safely

While in the sauna, monitoring your body and avoiding overheating is important. You probably should have left about 5 minutes ago if you feel lightheaded or dizzy. Most people can handle around 10-20 minutes in the sauna, but listen to your body and exit earlier if necessary.

When you’re ready to leave the sauna, slowly stand up and exit. In this state of extreme relaxation, you may quickly lose your balance. Go slow and steady, watching your feet to ensure no obstacles are in your way. There’s no shame in sitting outside the sauna for a minute or two while you cool down. Rinse off in lukewarm water to gradually lower your body temperature back to normal, rehydrate, and you’re good to go.

Birch vihta hanging in a Finnish sauna.
Finmiki / Shutterstock

Final thoughts

Don’t sweat sauna etiquette! A little attention goes a long way. Ultimately, use your common sense and confidently enjoy the bliss the sauna offers. Following these guidelines can help create a peaceful and comfortable environment for everyone.

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