Sauna Relaxation

What To Wear in a Sauna. A Guide to Sauna Etiquette

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Are you feeling stiff and stressed out? Sweaty after a solid workout at the gym or pool? Step into a sauna and feel the tension melt away as the hot steam caresses your muscles and skin, and relaxes your mind.

But getting into a public sauna or gym sauna can be a little bit awkward, right? Do you wear clothes in a sauna? What about showering beforehand? What is the standard sauna etiquette for public sauna use?

This article will take a look at what to wear in a sauna, and give you a few tips on sauna clothes so that you won’t embarrass yourself or make a fool of yourself in the sauna.

What to wear in a sauna

From Finland to Gymland

The sauna is the best thing to ever come out of Finland. The Fins know how to work with wood, and if you ever visit the “Land of a Thousand Lakes” you’ll find saunas all over the country, typically next to an ice-cold lake. There are over 2-million saunas in Finland.

Considering the country only has a population of 5.3-million, that’s almost one sauna in every household.

Taking a red-hot sauna, and then jumping into an ice-cold lake while loaded up on platinum schnapps, is a popular past time in Finland. However, most don’t want to take it to this extreme. If all you want is to relax in the sauna after a hard workout at the gym, or a long day at the office, then the sauna can help you unwind.

Many gyms, fitness studios, salons, and the like now feature saunas. These are fantastic spaces that can help with recovery, restoration, and health. But as these spaces are public, getting the etiquette right is a little complicated.

Let’s dig into the details.

Sauna Etiquette

Sauna Bucket

If you’re heading to the sauna for a sauna bath, there are a few things you should know before you step inside the hot cedar box.

1. Shower before you get into the sauna

This is especially critical if you have just had a workout in the gym. Stepping into the sauna when you’re dripping sweat after a workout is disrespectful to everyone else enjoying the steam. No one wants to smell your sweat, and it’s unhygienic. 

Shower first.

No one wants to smell your sweat, and it’s unhygienic. 

2. Remove all of your jewelry

It’ll heat up fast and make your skin feel uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable and distracting.

3. Clean off any excess makeup

The last thing you want is your mascara running down your face as you’re trying to enjoy the experience of a hot sauna!

They were a Finnish pop band before they visited the sauna.
They were a Finnish pop band before they visited the sauna.

4. Choose the right clothing for the sauna

We’ll go in detail about this issue below. You’ll need to read the room and the sauna, but typically you’re not going to be going naked into a public sauna unless you’re in Scandinavia.

Typically you’re not going to be going naked into a public sauna unless you’re in Scandinavia.

5. Knock gently before entering

People inside may be meditating, relaxing, recovering, and are in their own heads. Alert them to your incoming presence.

6. Shut the door quickly after you enter the sauna

Every second with an open door will lower the temperature of the sauna. This can really impact the sensation and overall timing of a sauna bath. Try to enter as quickly as possible and shut the door behind you to keep the heat in.

7. Sit on a towel

You’ll want the towel as a cushion and separation from the hot wood, and a towel is a hygienic solution to seating. Even if you are in a naked sauna, you still should be sitting on a towel.

Even if you are in a naked sauna, you still should be sitting on a towel.

8. No need to shout

Don’t speak too loudly in the sauna, even if you are in with friends. The chamber is often echo-y, so keep the volume down.

When it comes to conversation with people you don’t know, you’ll have to read the room. If those inside are sitting quietly, they probably want silence. If there is a conversation, feel free to join in. No need to discuss politics, it’s hot enough in there as is!

9. Don’t Stare at people

Yes, there may be an attractive person in the sauna who isn’t wearing much clothing. No, you shouldn’t be staring or leering at him or her. Give space.

10. Leave the technology in your locker

No tablets, no phones in the sauna. Use your time in the sauna as a chance to recover and restore, and keep the technology away. Your phone could be damaged by the temperature and humidity, and no one else in there wants to hear your conversation, or hear your youtube videos.

Also, people can be quite aware of the fact that there are cameras on all these devices, and people don’t want to get photographed in a sauna.

11. Don’t Exercise in the Sauna

Usually, you should not be exercising in a sauna. Yes, there are some exercise programs that encourage exercise in the sauna, but these shouldn’t be done in a public sauna.

No in-sauna yoga, no weight lifting, no Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (especially on unsuspecting people!).

What to Wear in a Sauna

So, what do you wear in a sauna? In an ideal world, you would wear essentially nothing in a sauna, with the exception of a towel to sit on. You’ll get the best sauna experience au-naturale.

But if you’re not in a home sauna or a private sauna, wearing no clothes is almost certain to be inappropriate, and just a bad idea.

What To Wear in a Sauna at the Gym

Assuming you’ll be spending your sauna time in a gym sauna or other public sauna space, you’ll need to follow Gym Sauna Etiquette, particularly when it comes to clothes. Here are your options for sauna clothes:

1. A Towel

When taking your sauna bath, all you need is a cotton towel. A towel covers your private parts and provides you with a barrier against the hot seating. Oak and other forms of wood are resistant to heat, but when regularly exposed to temperatures over 180-195°F, the wood can get quite warm.

Wrap the towel around your waist or chest, and you’re ready to go.

You may also want to take in an additional face towel and drape it over your head. The steam collects under the towel, cleaning and opening the pores in your face. It’s quite refreshing.

2. Sandals

Most gyms and private saunas keep a regular sauna cleaning and maintenance schedule. However, you can never be too careful when stepping into a wooden box with many people coming and going in and out of it during the day. And they are all streaming, sweating like a sinner in church.

Wear a pair of cheap rubber and plastic sandals or flip-flops.

3. Swimsuit

Some people like to go naked in the sauna, while others prefer just a towel. Regardless, that’s not an option when you’re visiting a gym sauna or co-ed sauna, and it may be unhygienic as well. Wearing a swimsuit helps you cover up and keeps people from looking at you with a judgmental glare for ruining their sauna experience (and yours, too!).

Choose a loose-fitting swimsuit made from natural fibers if possible. Natural fibers breathe better than synthetics, letting all of your skin absorb the hot steam.

Bikini-style swimwear is a better choice for women than a one-piece. The bikini exposes more of your skin to the steam, increasing the benefit of your session.

However, if you do choose to wear a swimsuit, be sure to take along a towel to sit on during your session. The towel keeps your bum away from the hot seat while providing a barrier against any germs.

What Not to Wear: Your Sweaty Gym Clothes

Sweaty Clothes

Whatever you do, never wear your sweaty gym clothes in a public sauna. If you step into the sauna wearing your sweat-soaked clothing, without showering – then you can bet someone is going to call you out for it.

And rightfully so!

Take off your shoes and socks as well. Shoes collect germs from the gym floor and the street, and bringing them into the sauna is a big no-no. Remember to adhere to the principles of sauna etiquette we discussed earlier.

Final Thought – What to Wear in a Home Sauna

For those of us lucky enough to have a built-in sauna or steam room at home, you’ll be able to take advantage of the therapeutic properties of the sauna every day.

In this case, we recommend you follow the lead of the Scandanavians and wear nothing inside the sauna. The more of your skin you can expose to the steam, the better the health effects.

Remember to take in a towel to sit or lay on during your session, as the seat can burn your buttocks and make you feel uncomfortable when switching positions.

Relax, add some steam to breathe in, clear your mind, and drift off into physiological and psychological bliss.