27 Best Practice Guidelines on Saunas & Steam Rooms

Make sure you follow these best practices for designing a new sauna or steam room or maintaining an existing one.

Jari Ristola, president of ThermaSol, and Paul Hackett, a chartered safety & health practitioner, OSHCR registered consultant, and a member of the IHRSA-led experts group who developed the key considerations and risk assessment tools to help clubs reopen and stay open, contributed to this article.

Adding a sauna or steam room to your fitness facility can help differentiate your business from your competitors and be a fantastic member benefit! Saunas and steam rooms have been around for centuries and are popular in many cultures and countries. While providing essential relaxation and recovery after a workout, saunas and steam rooms also provide some health benefits, including:

  • Clearing congestion,

  • Improving skin health,

  • Improving heart health,

  • Lowering blood pressure,

  • Improving circulation,

  • Lowering joint stiffness, and more.

You will need to follow best practices when designing, constructing, cleaning, and maintaining your sauna or steam room. And, of course, follow the appropriate temperature guidelines.

This article is one in a series of 28 Best Practice Guidelines for Operating a Fitness Facility.

Best Practices for Operating and Maintaining a Sauna

We’ve divided these guidelines into two parts and will first discuss saunas. When it comes to saunas, there are five essential best practices:

  1. Follow Temperature Guidelines

  2. Ensure an Efficient Design for Your Sauna

  3. Choose the Right Materials

  4. Pay Attention to the Heating Elements

  5. Follow Proper Cleaning and Maintenance Protocols

Follow Temperature Guidelines

1. Follow all local and national health guidelines for temperature range, typically 165-203 degrees Fahrenheit/74-95 degrees Celsius—there are varied recommendations internationally, hence the wide differential.

Ensure an Efficient Design for Your Sauna

2. Ensure adequate insulation—i.e., absolute minimum of R12 for walls and R16 for ceilings. In some countries, much higher minimum levels of insulation are required by law.

3. Design for energy efficiency with an optimal ceiling height of 84 inches/213 centimeters, not to exceed 96 inches/244 centimeters. Lower ceiling heights save energy and heat the room faster.

4. Install two vents for airflow, one 4 inches/10 centimeters off the floor behind the heater and a second vent 6 inches/15 centimeters from the ceiling on any of the other walls.

Best Practices for Saunas Steam Rooms Sauna Column Width

Choose the Right Materials

5. When choosing flooring, select tile, sealed concrete/cement, or heavy-duty vinyl. Avoid wooden flooring as it absorbs perspiration, discolors easily, and is impossible to thoroughly clean.

6. Be sure to install a floor drain.

Pay Attention to the Heating Elements

7. Select a sauna heater where rocks are in direct contact with the heating elements.

8. Place rocks around the heating elements so they are completely covered. Rocks store heat and produce steam when water is ladled onto them.

9. Use the rocks specified by the manufacturer. They must handle high-temperature fluctuations without disintegration and should be large enough to allow air to circulate, yet coarse enough to hold water, and should not produce any type of odor.

Follow Proper Cleaning and Maintenance Protocols

10. Clean benches with a mild soap applied with a wet cloth or soft brush.

11. Sand benches lightly with 120 grit sandpaper annually or to remove perspiration stains.

12. Require customers to lay or sit on towels to preserve benches.

13. Mop the floor daily.

14. Do not paint or varnish any of the interiors. Softwoods need to breathe and paint or varnishes could produce odors and make the benches hotter.

15. You can use polyurethane finish on the door handles, which reduces cleaning maintenance.

Best Practices for Operating and Maintaining Steam Rooms

Steam rooms are a unique service that, when properly designed and cared for, provide value for your facility. To ensure a high quality experience for your members, be sure to follow these three best practices when operating a steam room:

  1. Follow Temperature Guidelines

  2. Ensure Proper Design and Construction

  3. Follow Proper Cleaning and Maintenance Protocols

Best Practices for Saunas Steam Rooms Tile Column Width

Follow Temperature Guidelines

16. Follow all local and national health guidelines for temperature range, typically 110-120 degrees Fahrenheit/43-49 degrees Celsius.

Ensure Proper Design and Construction

17. Construction necessitates waterproofing and vapor-proofing, which you can achieve using multiple “behind the tile” methods—e.g., Wedi Vapor 85 Building Panels or equivalent. This should be lightweight and able to fasten directly to the framing. Materials should be easy to cut with a utility knife or saw and should not require a separate topical coating. Products should be fully integrated with vapor-proofing throughout the entire assembly.

18. Build benches on-site using 2 inch building panels or select prefabricated benches based on your desired configuration.

19. Install a center or linear drain and pre-sloped flooring panels on the floor.

20. Cover walls and ceilings with water-resistant, non-corrosive materials.

21. Install a steam generator within 50 feet/15 meters of the steam room and connect via a copper pipe to a steam head within the steam room. Locate the steam head safely away from any seating position. Never install the steam generator inside the steam room or outdoors in an area that is susceptible to freezing.

22. Commercial steam generators are three-phase electrical. The voltage is either 208/240 volts or 480 volts. In Canada, you may find 600 volts, but not all manufacturers make 600 volt units. Generator size and kilowatts are determined by the cubic footage of the room, each manufacturer has its own sizing method and recommendations.

23. Design for energy efficiency with an optimal ceiling height of 96 inches/244 centimeters or less.

24. Avoid vents or fans within the steam room, but install exhaust in the vicinity of the steam room door.

25. Consider adding a fragrance dispensing system. Pump systems add the fragrance through the steam line and standalone systems atomize the fragrance.

Best Practices for Saunas Steam Rooms Column Width Listing Image

Follow Proper Cleaning and Maintenance Protocols

26. Prop the steam room door open anytime your facility is closed.

27. Spray an antibacterial cleaner on the walls and all seating areas and let sit for several minutes. Scrub down the walls with a brush or firm sponge. Mop or use a scrub brush on the floor using the antibacterial cleaner. Hose down the room to give it a complete rinsing. Leave the door open and the steam generator off upon completion to allow the room to air out.

This article is part of the 28 Best Practice Guidelines for Operating a Fitness Facility series, where we’ll cover topics like Spa Services, Facility Layout & Design, Nutritional Counseling, and more in upcoming articles.

Additional Sauna & Steam Room Resources:

Pool, Hot Tub, & Sauna Safety During COVID-19 - IHRSA experts share pool, sauna, and steam room safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This article includes statements and infographics from the World Health Organization (WHO), which reiterates that swimming pools are safe.

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This article was a team effort by several IHRSA experts.