Steam rooms are a popular way to relax, detoxify, and enjoy some pampering. But if you’re new to visiting a steam room, you may be wondering – what exactly should I wear in a steam room? From gyms to spas, there are certain attire guidelines to follow to get the most out of your steam session.
An Introduction to Steam Room Attire Controversy
There’s often debate around appropriate steam room attire. Some places allow swimsuits only, while others require total nudity. At some gyms or public facilities, you may see people wearing everything from full workout gear to barely there towels. The lack of consistent standards can lead to awkward situations or confrontations.
Part of the controversy stems from cultural differences in nudity and community bathing. In many parts of Europe and Asia, it’s perfectly normal to hang out nude in a steam room with strangers. Not so much in other parts of the world. Modern etiquette tries to strike a balance between these perspectives.
Steam Rooms vs Saunas: A Quick Comparison
Before getting into attire specifics, it helps to understand the differences between steam rooms and saunas. While they both use dry or wet heat, they have distinct structures:
- Steam rooms have tile walls and floors. They’re usually smaller and reach temperatures between 110-114°F. Steam is released into the air to create humidity up to 100%.
- Saunas have wood benches and flooring. They are often larger and can reach 195-220°F. The humidity is much lower at 10-20%.
Due to the intense heat, saunas typically require less clothing. Just a towel or swimsuit. Steam rooms have lower temps, so more coverage may be preferred.
Gym vs Spa: Steam Room Attire Standards Vary
One factor that influences steam room attire is whether it’s located at a gym or spa facility. Here are the typical standards:
Gyms Usually Require Swimsuits
At most gyms, there are rules posted requiring swimsuits to be worn in the steam room and sauna. This applies to both men and women. Reasons include:
- Maintain modesty between gym members
- Sanitary concerns sharing benches in swimwear
- Avoid liability issues
Many gyms prohibit even partial nudity in the locker rooms, including topless women. The swimwear rules help enforce that standard.
Spas Allow More Flexibility
At spas that offer steam rooms, nudity or “swimsuit optional” policies are more common. Here are some reasons why:
- Spa-goers often disrobe for treatments
- Demographic tends to be more comfortable with nudity
- Steam is sometimes considered part of hydrotherapy regimen
- Privacy – spa steam rooms are often individual or couples
If nudity makes you uncomfortable, call ahead about their steam room etiquette. But in countries like Germany, total nudity is the norm. When in Rome!
Don’t Forget Footwear!
While the steam room itself may legally require swimwear, you can’t walk around the locker room completely nude either. So footwear is a must.
Leave the Street Shoes at Home
It should go without saying, but you’ll want to take off your regular shoes or sneakers before entering the steam room. The heat and moisture will quickly ruin them. Not to mention tracking in dirt, bacteria, and making the floors slippery. Yuck!
Instead, wear flip flops, slides, or sandals that can be easily slipped on and off. Many places sell plastic footwear intended for the shower or pool areas. These are perfect for a steam room.
Consider Special Spa ” Booties”
Some spas provide disposable slippers or booties to wear around the facility. These are great for protecting your feet before and after your steam.
The other benefit is they have traction dots on the soles to prevent slips on wet tile. You definitely don’t want to risk falling in the steam room!
Beware of Certain Swimsuit Materials
If wearing a swimsuit, pay attention to the material. Some types of fabric are better suited for steam rooms than others.
Skip the Spandex
Form-fitting spandex or lycra swimsuits aren’t ideal. The tight fit can be uncomfortable as you sweat. The material also tends to retain odors from the steam room.
If you do wear spandex, shower with soap after your session. And consider a more breathable fabric next time.
Cotton Is Great If It’s Comfy
Cotton is highly breathable and provides good absorbency for sweat. However, stiff denim cotton that binds or chafes damp skin is less than ideal.
A better option is a soft cotton swimsuit, tank top, shorts, etc. It will feel cool against your skin, even when drenched in steam.
Cotton Reigns Supreme for Steam Room Attire
From a comfort and practical standpoint, natural cotton really is best for the steam room. The reasons:
It Allows Ventilation and Cooling
As mentioned, cotton provides superior breathability compared to synthetic fabric. As you sweat, built-up perspiration can evaporate through the fabric instead of building up underneath. This creates a cooling effect you won’t get from polyester swim trunks.
It Absorbs Moisture
Cotton is highly absorbent. As condensation forms on your skin and clothing, cotton will soak it up rather than beads of water collecting on the surface. This prevents pools of sweat and keeps you drier.
It’s Gentle Against the Skin
Soft, high-quality cotton feels much gentler on your skin compared to rough, recycled fabrics. It’s also hypoallergenic and less likely to cause any skin irritation as you sweat.
Allows for Loose-Fitting Options
Cotton clothing comes in many loose-fitting options like tanks, t-shirts, shorts, etc. This prevents binding and discomfort.
But Ditch the Tight Cotton Undergarments
One exception is tight cotton underwear or bras. Wet cotton fabric clinging to your most sensitive areas? No thanks!
Instead opt for loose boxers or basketball shorts for men. For women, a bikini or swimsuit without an underwire offers more comfort.
Yes, going commando is an option if you’re comfortable with it and the facility allows. Be aware wet surfaces can still cause chafing without underwear.
Essential Steam Room Accessory – Bring a Towel!
The one must-have item for the steam room is a fresh towel. Make sure to bring at least one, but two is ideal. Here’s why:
Lay It Down Before Sitting
It’s common etiquette (and often required) to lay down a towel before sitting on benches. This helps keep the surfaces hygienic for the next person.
Keep One Towel Dry
Use one towel to spread out and sit on. Use your second dry towel to periodically pat yourself down and prevent dripping everywhere. Having a dry towel on hand is useful if you start to feel overheated and need to cool down.
Rinse Off After
Use your wet towel to wipe off any residual sweat after you’re done steaming. Hit the showers and use fresh towels to dry off.
Minimalist Steam Room Attire Is Best
Once you’re in the steam room, wearing very little is ideal. Here are some tips:
It’s best to remove watches, rings, bracelets or any type of jewelry beforehand. The heat can damage precious metals and gems. Plus excess sweat will tarnish metals faster.
No Makeup or Lotions
Avoid wearing makeup, nail polish, lotions or hair products into the steam room. The chemicals and fragrances may irritate skin and can clog pores. The heat can also cause makeup to streak or melt. Yikes!
Ditch the Eyewear
Eyeglasses will fog up immediately , while contacts may feel uncomfortable with excessive sweating. Consider wearing prescription swim goggles if you can’t see without vision assistance. Or enjoy the blurry steam room experience.
Let Hair Down
If you have long hair, wear it down loose or in a bun. Wet hair clinging to skin is uncomfortable. Tight ponytails candig in and cause headaches.
Barefoot Is Best
If possible, remove any footwear and go barefoot once inside the steam room. You’ll get the full circulatory benefits and avoid tan lines. Just remember to bring those sandals for walking around the locker room areas!
Mind Your Steam Room Manners
In addition to following attire guidelines, etiquette goes a long way towards a relaxing steam. Here are some tips:
- Give people privacy when disrobing
- Keep conversations low to not disrupt the calm
- Limit sessions to 10-15 minutes
- Rinse off after steaming to wash away sweat
Whether it’s at the gym or a luxury spa, following these simple steam room etiquette tips will ensure you have the ultimate soothing experience. Listen to your body, stay hydrated, and enjoy!