Winter is fast approaching and during the seemingly endless winter months, a trip to the sauna can be the perfect escape: A place to hide out from the blustering cold, relax your muscles, sweat out toxins and strengthen your immune system. That said, the rules of sauna etiquette vary from country to country.If you want to avoid any social sauna faux pas the next time you’re in Europe, opt to rent a home or cottage with its own sauna
I think a lot of people fear the term “nude sauna” because of its implications. When talking with others about their willingness to go we are often met with an incredulous look and: “you get naked in front of other people and call that relaxing?” Well, when in Rome, right?
Nudity in a coed sauna takes some getting used to, but after a couple minutes it really feels like nothing is out of the ordinary. Plus, when you go with a partner, it’s really nice to spend time with that other person and not have to get split up into the gendered areas.
What are Unisex Saunas like Around the World?
If you are unused to being around the opposite sex while naked, there will be a transition period. In some parts of the world, it is totally normal to be in a coed sauna and in other parts: forbidden. It’s very important that you observe the rules and regulations of the country you are in and respect the local culture.f you are wondering what to wear in a sauna in Europe, bringing your own robe is not a bad idea as some spas will not have any. A towel is good plan as well depending on the spa.
Around the world you’ll find the sauna situation changes depending on the culture. What’s traditional in Turkey may be totally frowned upon in Finland. Some countries see the sauna as a shared experience while others are strict about making sure men and women sauna separately. The last thing you would want is to make any embarrassing sauna slip-ups, so we’ve put together this fool-proof guide. We’ve listed five countries that encourage mixed saunas and included some easy-to-remember etiquette tips.
SAUNA IN RUSSIA
Another country that does the sauna sans clothes is Russia. Men and women are not always separated. They wear hats called “Banjas” to increase sweat production, and often tap their bare skin with birch branches to stimulate blood circulation. The birch branch can also be soaked in a bowl of boiling hot water to fill the sauna with a fresh forest-y aroma. Be warned: When looking for a sauna in Russia, don’t blindly follow the sign that reads “sauna” – this often refers to an erotic establishment that has nothing to do with conventional sitting and sweating (instead, look for the word “banya”).
SAUNA IN SWEDEN
Toweled or nude – it’s up to you – in Sweden, where saunas are always separated by gender. In the case of the Swedes, the sauna is regarded as a place to socialize. Up to 50 people get together in one sauna – the more, the better. Business deals have been known to be made in the sauna, too.
SAUNA IN LATVIA
Towels are a no in Latvia. Instead, guests sit naked on a wooden or plastic board, and treat themselves to massages with bundles of branches (like in Russia, they do this to stimulate circulation). Guests must wear a wool cap, or refrain from leaning their head back – to do so is considered an unhygienic faux pas.
SAUNA IN AUSTRIA
Austrians also go to the sauna in their birthday suits. Because many of them take an Austrian coffee (known as a “mélange”) in between sauna sessions, they’ll bring a bathrobe with them to throw on when getting their caffeine fix. No photos – even selfies – can be taken in or near the sauna.
SAUNA IN FRANCE
Nudity is considered a very private matter in France. You’ll definitely need your swimming clothes for the sauna, here.
SAUNA IN ITALY
At 70 degrees Celsius, the temperatures in Italian saunas are much lower than that of saunas in Finland. Clothing is required here, though women and men are permitted to share the room. Only in South Tyrol will you find naked sweaters, (but many of them are actually tourists).
SAUNA IN SPAIN
Spaniards find mixed-gender bathing disreputable and inappropriate; for those saunas that do combine men and women, guests are required to wear swimming attire. Spaniards associate collective sweating with illness; as such, public saunas aren’t widely used in Spain, and only a few vacation rentals come equipped with saunas (as compared to other European countries).
SAUNA IN POLAND
In Poland, visits to the saunas require bathing attire, unless a sauna is explicitly labeled as clothing-free.
SAUNA IN UK
Here in the UK, you’ll encounter a mix of sauna cultures and etiquette. Some guests bare it all while others prefer to keep clothed. Regardless of what you decide, it’s considered courteous to bring a towel to sit on.
SAUNA IN TURKEY
In Turkey taking a sauna is serious business – the process dates back to the early days of the Ottoman Empire. Traditional Turkish bath houses are called “hamams” and there are several that encourage mixed bathing.First up you’ll be given a pestemal – AKA “bath robe” – that is used to cover yourself up. In most hamams men and women go topless, while rocking the pestemal on their bottom half.
Ladies, it may seem strange, but wearing a bra will actually make you stand out more. Typically you kick things off in the hot room – designed to make you sweat and loosen up. After this you can either opt for a massage, skin scrub or simply head to the cooling down room. The massage and wash is the most popular sauna-style in Turkey and it’s worth shelling out for. The attendant will scrub you down – but it’s on you to take care of your private parts.It’s expected you’ll tip all employees – a few Turkish Lira is fine – and it’s considered poor form if you fail to do so. Once you’re done detoxing you’re free to roam the bath and mingle – just make sure you keep your pestemal in place!
SAUNA IN HUNGARY
There’s a reason they call Budapest the “City of Spas” – bathing in Hungary is less of a pastime and more of a religion. In Hungary it’s all about thermal baths with water sourced from natural hot springs. The majority of complexes are mixed, which means men, women and children can all enjoy the healing powers of a hot bath. A thermal bath takes at least two hours – so make sure you plan accordingly. When you first enter you’ll be expected to shower – bring a bathing suit! The mixed aspect means you can’t be nude and – unlike Turkish baths – you may not necessarily be provided with a towel. Also if you’re not keen on being tagged as a tourist, leave the board shorts at home – most men will be rocking speedos. Hygiene and Hungary go hand-in-hand, so footwear is a must. Just pack some thongs for when you’re moving between baths. Once you’ve found the bath for you – relax! Any kind of swimming or splashing will result in some unimpressed looks from the locals. Much like Turkey, tipping is essential.
SAUNA IN JAPAN
If you’ve ever been to Japan you’ll know the people are polite and ordered. So it’s no surprise that when you bathe you must behave. Japanese saunas are called onsens and when you arrive you’ll be expected to scrub down on a stool. Be careful not to splash your neighbour – interrupting someone’s onsen is disrespectful.
Once you’re done, flip the stool over to indicate you’re ready to be shown to the bathing room. At a mixed onsen you must cover yourself with a towel while walking around but bathing naked is the rule. Do not let your towel go in the water – this is seen as a rookie error – instead leave it near the edge of the bath.While we’re on the subject of not putting things in the water – NEVER put your head under. It’s viewed as unhygienic and your fellow onsen-lovers will judge you. Unfortunately as much as you may love your tattoos, the Japanese will not. Body ink is a bathing no-no and you may be turned away. If it’s only a small tattoo, cover it with a water proof bandage and you should be fine.
SAUNA IN FINLAND
Finns bare it all in the sauna. Unlike most European countries, not even a towel (usually for sitting) is required. Because of the nudity, men and women are placed in separate rooms, though both genders partake in sipping beer and cider inside. Some Finns even use the sauna’s hot coals and open fires to grill sausages.
The Finnish love to sauna so much that they actually invented the word “sauna”. Traditionally men and women sauna separately but mixing is increasingly common. When you arrive at the sauna, it’s polite to knock and then enter. Once you get the all clear enter quickly and be prompt in shutting the door. Letting cold air in will earn you a tongue lashing in Finnish from the purists. We also advise taking a towel to stop the sweat flow. Finns love to have a chat in the sauna, but the correct etiquette is to keep the conversation light – go for pop music over politics. Finally if someone hands you a bunch of leaves, don’t freak out. This is called a “vihta” and you’re supposed to brush them over your shoulders – it helps blood flow.
SAUNA IN GERMANY
Germans are very comfortable with disrobing – though they always have towels in tow. Bringing bathing clothes is considered unhygienic. Germany also has a tacit “no sweating on the wood” rule. It’s totally acceptable for women and men to sit in the sauna together, though occasionally you’ll stumble across ladies-only saunas in some areas.
Whether you’re a Ger-man or Ger-woman, taking a sauna is all about loosening your inhibitions. In Deutschland they love to do it nude, so if you’re booking in a sauna session, be prepared to bathe in your birthday suit. The Germans call this Freikörperkultur or Free Body Culture and it’s been a part of their sauna-style since the 19th century. While being stark-naked is normal, staring is not! It’s considered rude to gawk – and even ruder to giggle. If you can’t handle a bunch of bare bodies around you, perhaps German-sauna ain’t for you.
Unlike in Finland and Hungary, taking a spa in Germany is all about self-reflection, so keep the chit-chat to a minimum. Don’t be afraid when a burly bath master barges in, throws waters on the rocks and whips their towel around in the air. This is just the Bademeister carrying out the Aufguss – it’s a part of the German tradition and helps create extra steam so you sweat more. You’re expected to clap after the Aufguss is done – as a way of saying, “thanks for making me super sweaty.”
So if you love taking saunas while travelling to loosen up your muscles, use this survival guide wisely to know just how to get through your next sauna session no matter where you are in the world. You’ll know exactly when to robe up and when to strip down!
Benefits of a Nude Sauna:
Going Nude is more Hygienic.
If you show up at a hot pool in a bathing suit, who is to say when the last time that suit was cleaned? What bacteria is in that suit?
When you’re nude, it is imperative that you take a shower before entering the gender separate or unisex sauna, this means no clothing clinging to you, and a chance to really hose off. There are no additional chemicals on your clothing, and no bacteria clinging to materials on your body.
Cleaning when nude is a great way to ensure that you are not a host to a lot of bad bacteria. Sauna etiquette dictates that you clean yourself.
An additional benefit to being nude is you don’t need to worry about the question: what to wear in a sauna? The answer is nothing!
Jackson with some local handmade soap in Morocco. This was very important for cleaning yourself, part of sauna etiquette!
You don’t Sweat Through your Clothes
Korean Spas in New York City will require you to wear a uniform when going to the coed sauna section of the spa. Men wear blue and women wear pink. There are several mixed sauna rooms throughout the area that will boast different healing benefits whether that be in the form of minerals or salt or temperature.
Different coed sauna rooms will vary in temperature and that’s where having a cotton uniform on can be annoying because you can sweat like a stuck pig and then come out 10 minutes later drenched in your own salt. Going nude will allow you a good towel off and chance to dunk in a cold bath no problem. Which leads me to my second point:
Transitions from Hot to Cold are Easier
In a Polish sauna, I went with a friend of mine and we sweated our sorry butts off in a room over 50C/122F. Lying down or sitting still is just about all you can do as you breathe deep and keep track of how long you are in the coed sauna.
If you are new to the sauna experience, it is recommended that you spend no more than 10 minutes in a hot room before leaving and going to cool off. At the Polish sauna, there was an ice bath that was a delight to step in after a couple minutes of 122F.
Spending time in a nude sauna meant I could go from the hot room to the cold bath without the song and dance of stripping out of my sweat soaked clothes and putting them somewhere. All I needed was a towel and voila! Cooled off.
I’ve been to some spas where the cold bath is really small, sauna etiquette dictates that you don’t hog this for too long. Just enough to cool off and then move on. Sharing is caring.
What to Wear in a Sauna
Depending on the spa, this can mean nothing. No clothes means no pockets for things to fall out of. All you really need is a towel. In some nude saunas we’ve been to, they’ll give you a bracelet at the reception that you wear to keep track of how long you’re spending in the spa. The bracelet is also a way to buy food or drink while you are there.
No clothes means fewer things to carry!
Also: some clothing can bleed in the steamy heat. Going nude means no worries about that!
You Reap the full Benefit of the Sauna Experience.
Being nude means your whole body gets exposed to the heat. You can sweat and steam and your epidermis gets the hits it needs. No one will care if you decide to be wholly naked (especially in Europe).
I’m Nervous About Being Naked in front of Other People
That’s ok. No one is asking you to be naked if you aren’t comfortable. If being nude is not your thing in a unisex sauna and you are wondering what to wear in a sauna a towel wrapped around your middle is perfectly fine. Some spas will provide robes as well.
In a robe in Germany in a mixed sauna
Culture also plays a role in how unclothed you’ll be in a coed sauna. Which brings me to the next section:
If it is your first time going to a nude sauna it is vital that you observe the rules and regulations of the spa you’re about to go to. You’ll have enough on your mind being naked in front of strangers for the first time, you don’t need to also worry about coming off like an idiot or insulting someone.
Always Have a Towel to Sit on
Nude saunas mean no undies which means hygiene is everything. You must have a towel to sit on at all times. It is incredibly unhygienic to not.
Towels will be provided for you at the reception when you enter. In Morocco, we needed to bring our own rags and soap to scrub with as there was nothing provided by the Hammam. I think you can get a lot of information about what might be provided if you ask around with the locals.
If you are unsure about the area you are in or what to wear in a sauna in that area, asking a local is a good idea. You can also call in on the reception wherever the spa may be and check in yourself.
Drink lots of Water
Being in hot rooms will make you sweat. You’ll need to drink plenty of water so you don’t dehydrate!
Don’t Worry About Being Naked
Odds are, wherever you are, you’ll be surrounded by naked people. Even in Morocco, when the ladies insisted I keep my underwear on, I saw plenty of naked everything. For people around the world, a sauna is a chance to relax and clean yourself. Part of the process is showering and scrubbing: you need to be naked to do that properly!
If you can help it, try not to wear any metal jewelry: it’s going to get hot and could be uncomfortable! What to wear in a sauna does not include rings, earrings or big necklaces!
Take a Shower/ Clean Yourself
When you walk in to a coed sauna or gender separate sauna, the first thing you’ll need to do is shower off. Odds are there will be soap provided and it is expected of you to give yourself a good clean. This is just good hygiene.
If you Feel the Spa is Dirty or Creepy: Don’t Go There.
This is all a matter of personal taste and first impressions. There should be plenty of options in a given area and if you don’t feel safe, or that the hygiene of a sauna is in question: don’t go. You should be under no obligation to put yourself through any kind of uncomfortable experience.
This also applies to a nude sauna feeling shady or creepy. So far, we haven’t had any creepy experiences in a unisex sauna (thankfully) but if you ever feel uncomfortable you can leave (and then please let the management and/or internet know about your experience so others can avoid!).
Never Take Photos Unless you are Given Permission
This is incredibly important! Taking photos of a nude sauna is a sure-fire way to make the place feel creepy. Everyone going to a nude sauna is hoping for a chance to relax without having to worry about winding up on the internet.
No Sex, please!
People are here to relax, usually with their partners, family and/or friends. Please don’t have sex. This should be a given.
Be Respectful of the Space You’re in
Coming to a unisex sauna means you will be mixing with the other gender. Don’t expect a sauna room to be only reserved for you and your girlfriends, which means being respectful of other people who come in and out of a room. This means keeping your voices down, and talking to a minimum.
When in a mixed sauna, it’s important you keep your voice down in general: this is just good sauna etiquette.
Cellphones are frowned upon. In our experience, it’s a good idea to leave the cellphone in the locker and go into the saunas sans phone. Plus, there will likely be a lot of steam, water, and heat: all things that are not good for a phone anyway!
Chill (or Sweat!)
Relax! Getting a body scrub, a massage, dunk in a cool pool, nap, or eat. Spending time in a mixed sauna should be a relaxing experience!
Lots of other people go to saunas to relax and unisex saunas can be a great place to chat with other people and soak up local culture or just shut off and zone. It’s totally normal to chat, a lot of people will go to the local sauna to gossip in low voices, all part of the sauna etiquette!
Close the Door
Whenever you enter a room, it is imperative that you close the door. Anytime a door is open, the temperature can change and affect the efficiency of the room, so please be respectful. Sauna etiquette is to always enter and leave as quickly as possible.
Tone down conversation.
Ask your therapist to explain treatments.
Confirm the spa’s policy; tips are either included in price of service or optional. Look for envelope at reception.
Last Things to Think about Before you Go to a Nude Sauna:
Nudism in a sauna is an experience that is common throughout the world. It’s ok to be naked!
Most mixed saunas will have different levels of seating. Generally, the hottest seat in the room is the highest, so bear that in mind when you enter a hot sauna! Sitting near the floor will be cooler!