Spa Manners 101: Etiquette for Modern Spa-Going

By now everyone should know that the spa is a place for rest, relaxation and recuperation but sometimes it’s hard to know what the protocol is for modern spa-going. Many spas don’t have their policies in plain view, and more often than not, spa etiquette guides are not exactly readily available once inside the spa.

But there are also some other common-sense rules that spa-goers should abide by, as a common courtesy to other spa-goers and the spa staff.

Minding your spa manners will help everyone find their bliss. Getting looked after does not mean you are entitled to behave like a diva (or divo) in the spa – remember, others are there for solace and healing too and are counting on all areas of the spa to be a place of Zen.

The International Spa Association (ISPA) has a code of conduct for spa-goers which is a great basic primer for spa-going, and helps you to understand how to behave in general at spas around the world. But we think that modern spa-goers need an updated set of rules to go with the times.

First, a short look at the difference between manners and etiquette and why spa manners matter:

Manners refers to ways of behaving politely, to a set of prevailing social standards. Manners involve general behavioral guidelines, such as treating people with respect and courtesy and how to behave in a variety of situations.

Etiquette involves specific rules of conduct and formal requirements for social behavior or ceremonial matters. Etiquette used to be about decorum and propriety in elite societies, and was a set of unwritten rules about appropriate behavior among people in a certain profession or polite society.

We think that spa-going requires following basic spa etiquette so that everyone going to spas knows what to expect from a spa and how to conduct themselves in general while there. But modern spa-going now seems to require a return to some good old-fashioned manners. Common courtesy and respect are absolutely essential to unplugging and unwinding from a digital society that feels like it moves at the speed of the fastest broadband connection (and right now that’s 65.4 megabits per second!).

Spa etiquette guides (including ours) will advise you on what to wear, how much to tip, when to arrive — basic common sense stuff. But we want to take spa etiquette a step further to include some good old-fashioned basic manners. Spas are places that facilitate healing and well-being through professional mind-body services, and as such, being well-mannered fosters a positive, peaceful energy in these places of healing and renewal. This energy is the only kind of energy that can heal and help people find peace.

The Spa Manners Spa Etiquette and Manners Guide covers the following topics to help you find your way to bliss while at the spa:

  1. Time
  2. Mobile devices
  3. Quiet Please
  4. Clean Up After Yourself
  5. Clean Yourself
  6. On the Table: Be Appropriate
  7. Children and/or Pets (Really?)
  8. Sharing Spa Space
  9. Nudity
  10. Tipping 
1. Time

First rule: you should arrive at the spa with plenty of time to get checked in, sign any paperwork, get changed, enjoy the spa facilities, hit the restroom and unwind before a treatment. If you are rushing or late for your appointment, it’s just plain rude to rush the staff or other spa-goers in order to work around your lateness.

Be on time for your appointment by being in a designated waiting area at least 5 minutes before your treatment is scheduled to begin. Being late for your appointment will just cut into your treatment time and you won’t get the full benefits of your treatment.

Pro tip: Schedule a good chunk of time before a therapeutic massage to decompress. Therapeutic massages like full-body Swedish, deep tissue and sports massage work best on muscles that have been warmed first, so spending a few minutes in the sauna or hot tub before your massage is a good idea. (There are some caveats to this however, especially if you are injured, so always consult with your healthcare professional before going into a hot spa area if you are unsure.)

The International Spa Association (ISPA) recommends arriving at least 30 minutes early to check in and begin unwinding.

2. Mobile Devices

Understandably many of us have become attached to our smartphones and tablets, but really, the spa is not the place for you to use them, unless you can use them silently and without the threat of injury to yourself or others.

So please be courteous to others and silence your cell phones then put them away in your locker. If you must communicate with the outside world (like you’re a doctor and somebody might literally die if you don’t take a call), take your calls outside or silently text (no ding! text notifications) inside the locker rooms. Talking on the phone inside the spa is disruptive to a serene environment, and really, nobody wants to hear your conversations.

We shouldn’t be surprised, but we are unfortunately also seeing more incidents of people using their phones inside the sauna, steam rooms and hot tubs. This is what we meant by “threat of injury to yourself or others.” Although the jury’s still out on the safety risks of using a mobile device inside a hot tub, steam room or a 160-degree sauna, do you want to risk electrocution in the spa because of sheer arrogance and stupidity?  If you want to harm yourself in your own home that’s one thing, but please don’t put others at risk by using electronic devices in environments that were not meant for them. So not only is it highly inappropriate to be using your iPhone in a spa’s hot/wet areas, but it’s not the smartest or safest thing to do either. (We should also mention that you could damage your phone with water or extreme heat, but you should know that already)

Spa Manners 101: Mobile Devices

And then there’s the privacy issue: you could be texting about dinner plans, checking Facebook while in the sauna or taking selfies in the hot tub but how do I know you’re not taking photos or video of me without my consent? The fact is, you don’t have permission to take photos or video in the spa as a spa-goer and you definitely don’t have the right to invade anyone else’s privacy by recording them, intentionally or not. The only way to avoid confusion about what you’re doing is by not using your device in the spa at all. Please be considerate and kind, and leave your device in your locker.

3. Quiet Please

In addition to not chatting on your phone, if you have to chat with others physically near you, conversations in the spa should be in hushed tones (your “spa voice”), even in the locker room. Why? Well, often times if you chat loud enough, you can still be heard in other quiet zones. The spa is not your backyard or a gym locker room. It’s still a place of tranquility, even if it’s outside the confines of a treatment room.

If there is a room designated as “The Quiet Room” and has a sign that reads “No Talking Please” then please be respectful by adhering to that.  It really does mean no talking so it’s not OK to even whisper to your friends in here because this is a place of silence.

Spa Manners 101: Quiet Please

While getting a treatment, usually the therapists leave it up to you about how much you want to talk. It is, after all, your treatment and your time. You can talk in your spa voice or be as still as you please. However, if you are quiet and for some strange reason your therapist is chatty, you are perfectly within your rights to say something like: “I’d like to have some quiet time for a while” and they should get the hint. (We discuss being quiet on the table more in #6 below)

The time to be outspoken is when or if you have questions or concerns about your experience. If the pressure of the massage is too much or too little or if anything else is uncomfortable, it is only to your benefit to say so. The therapist will not be offended, they are there to make sure you are getting what you want.

4. Clean Up After Yourself

Yes, all the great spas have spa attendants that are there to make sure that the spa is clean and constantly stocked with all the amenities. That does not mean that you should be a slob in the spa.

The spa attendants can’t be everywhere at once, so if you leave things laying around, chances are that other spa-goers will have to work around your mess. Please be courteous to others, use common sense, and do your best not to leave things for other people to deal with.

Items like dirty washcloths, towels and sandals should be placed in hampers. Used razors should not be left out in the shower, they should be disposed of properly. Used hair brushes should also be placed in appropriate areas so they cannot be used again accidentally by someone else. Your robe should be hung up on a wall hanger or generally left out of the way of others when you are not using it. Used beverage cups should also be thrown out when you’re done with them. Put trash in waste bins (duh) — yep, this also applies to spa-going!

5. Clean Yourself

By this we mean take a shower with soap before your treatment or going into the hot tub. Taking a shower before you hop into the hot tub or pool ensures that very little oil, lotion, sweat, dirt, bacteria, hair product or deodorant gets into the water that you and others will be relaxing in.

After spending time in the pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, or steam room it’s a good idea to rinse off before you hop onto the massage table. If you are going to get a wet treatment like a bath or scrub, then it’s not entirely necessary to rinse off.

Also, brushing your teeth or gargling with mouthwash before a treatment is also nice for both you and your spa therapist/technician if you’ve eaten any time before your treatment. Nobody wants to smell your lunch on your breath for an hour while you are getting a treatment.

6. On the Table: Be Appropriate

We’ve heard an alarming number of stories from massage therapists these days about people who are blatantly inappropriate on the massage table — everything from oversharing to groping attempts and happy ending requests.

First, try to relax on the massage table. This means that aside from giving your massage therapist directives on pressure and injuries, just be quiet. It really does help with a more effective massage if you are relaxed. Your massage therapist should not have to hear about family drama or the latest in office politics. Mention something only if it pertains to an injury or the quality of your experience. Anything other than that is oversharing, and a massage is not the time nor the place to blabber.

Close your eyes, let yourself melt into the table, and get into a meditative space. You don’t need to help your massage therapists physically. They will lift your arms, move your head or raise your legs without needing you to move a muscle.  That is their job, let them do it.

Spa Manners 101: Be appropriate

Being appropriate also means knowing what the boundaries of propriety are at a spa. When we refer to spas on this site, we are talking about places devoted to overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body and spirit (thank you for that excellent definition, ISPA). We are not talking about massage parlours that offer not-really-legal sexual services as part of a body lotion application. A spa is not the place to ask for sexual release. Don’t insult a professional massage therapist and risk getting kicked out of a spa (or worse, getting arrested) by asking a spa professional to engage in sexual activity, making sexual comments, engaging in solo sexual activity on the table (that includes moaning!) or touching your massage therapist with sexual intentions.

7. Children and/or Pets (Really?)

The spa is a place to get away, a little alone time, lots of quiet time. Maybe your kids and your dog are quiet and well-behaved but really the spa is no place for children under 16 or pets. You cannot guarantee their best behavior or their impact on other spa-goers. Usually spas have strict policies on this, but if they don’t, please use common sense. (And if spas don’t have a policy on this, then perhaps you should rethink going to that spa in particular)

Teens 16 and over should only have the privilege of visiting the spa if they can mind their spa manners. Can they be clean, quiet and respectful? Then by all means, let them enjoy the spa and escape the stresses of being a teenager for a while.

8. Sharing Spa Space

Personal space and hygiene are key when sharing the spa. Everyone has a right to their own personal space in the spa, so be courteous and don’t take up multiple locker spaces’ worth of square footage, an entire bench or counter with all of your stuff.

In the sauna or steam room, it is proper etiquette to bring in a towel and sit on that instead of directly on the wood or tile – especially if you are doing so in the buff. And if those rooms are small, share the space: don’t lay down and take up one whole area when others come in and want to enjoy the facilities as well. If you are alone, by all means take advantage of the space, but as soon as others join you, let them enjoy the space as well.

It’s more hygienic if you wear the sandals provided to you by the spa inside the spa. This way, you are not trekking in outside dirt into areas other than the locker room, and foot bacteria is confined to the sandals. This is especially true for inside the showers – while the attendants do their best to keep the showers clean, you never know what the person before you did inside the shower and you don’t want to be walking barefoot in it. More importantly, it could be slippery in there, and sandals are the best way to prevent slips and falls. They are provided for your safety, so wear them!

Since you will be in very close proximity to others and the focus is on rest and relaxation, it’s best never to wear perfume or cologne while in the spa. It’s just not the place for it. Others could be allergic or sensitive to perfume or cologne, and it could actually interfere with others’ ability to relax. If you come into the spa wearing perfume or cologne, clean yourself before enjoying the facilities.

9. Nudity

Stripping down into the buff is a source of anxiety for many spa-goers but you don’t have to do this if you aren’t comfortable with it. On the flip-side, if you like being naked in the spa, it can be the perfect environment to let it all hang out (in the appropriate areas of course) but just be sure to be hygienic about it by sitting on a towel and wearing sandals. We think it’s more hygienic to actually wear swimsuits or bikinis (especially in the hot tub) but some Nordic and European countries firmly believe that wearing a swimsuit in the sauna is unhygienic. Wearing a lined swimsuit in a pool or hot tub is actually more sanitary than being in the buff because it protects your privates from debris and other funky floating things.

In North American spas, spa therapists and technicians go to great lengths to ensure you are always comfortable with the amount of undress inside the treatment rooms. They will leave the room while you disrobe, give you disposable undergarments to wear while getting a treatment, and strategically cover/uncover parts of you while giving you a massage so that you are never over-exposed.

Around the world, however, modesty and nudity in spas is different depending on where you are. In some countries, nudity is really not an issue at all (hello Germany and Scandinavia!), and other countries will be really good at making sure you are modestly dressed while at the spa. Check out this international modesty scale courtesy of spafinder.com to see how different countries rate in terms of spa nudity.

10. Tipping

Tipping is always at your discretion, but some spas will add it automatically to your final bill as a convenience. You should always be free to change that amount.

A decent baseline amount for a tip is 15% of the treatment price. That is standard for good service. If you get great service, a 20% tip is what you should put down. If your therapist goes above and beyond, be generous and leave them 25% or higher. If there are two therapists and only one cost, like for a couples’ massage, it is standard to leave a percentage gratuity and have them split it.

Tipping can get kind of tricky when you receive discounts, mainly when you get regular member discounts. Some people will leave a percentage on the member price, others will leave gratuity on the original price.  It’s really up to your comfort level and generosity, but just be sure to specify when checking out and the folks at the front desk are always more than happy to do the math for you.

If however you are getting a discount because of a promotion or online deal (like LivingSocial or Groupon) you should definitely leave gratuity based on the original, full cost of the treatment.

Frequently overlooked are the spa attendants. They can be tipped as well, and those who go above and beyond should definitely receive gratuity. One time a spa attendant felt so much compassion for me after a horrible experience in the sauna that she brought me a plate of fruit. I of course wanted to thank her for her generosity and compassion so I left her a $5 tip. Looking back now, that probably wasn’t enough.

 

Do you have any spa experiences that had a lesson in manners? Any manners you think should be added to this guide? Let us know in the comments below!

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About the Author

Spa Pro
This spa-loving mystery woman has been going to the spa for 10+ years, and has had therapeutic treatments like massages for over 20 years. Her ideal spa day would include stretchy time in the sauna, a sugar scrub, followed by 2-hour massage and ending with some meditative time by the ocean.

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