Soon after I first joined my gym, I was describing my experiences there to a friend of mine. “Wait,” she said. “Do you even work out?”
It was a valid question. Pretty much all I’d talked about were the sauna and steam room. I’m not ashamed to admit it: These were my absolute favorite features of the gym. Yeah, yeah, I’d get in a good workout — all well and good. But stepping into that steam room afterward? That was heaven. Cooling off with a cold shower after the steam room and then heating myself to dry perfection in the sauna? An even higher plane of heaven.
And then came the day when I finished my workout, went to the locker room, got myself all ready for the steam-filled wonderfulness — and found myself staring at a sign that said, “Out of Order Until Further Notice. Sorry for the Inconvenience.” I didn’t cry. I still had the sauna. Until soon after, when I found on the sauna door, you guessed it, a sign that read, “Out of Order Until Further Notice. Sorry for the Inconvenience.” I actually did feel almost on the verge of tears when I saw that one.
I don’t blame my gym. Saunas and steam rooms are hard to maintain. And eventually the facility got things up and running again, and in the long-run I wasn’t too terribly inconvenienced. But still. A sauna and/or steam room can be a huge draw for prospective members and a key to retaining current members. Figuring out how to keep them up — and keep them clean, welcoming, and well-maintained — is crucial for any fitness facility offering them as amenities. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Adopt a rigid cleaning regimen. It’s best to do this at the outset, so if you’ve got a brand new or recently renovated facility, you’re in a good position to make sure your sauna and steam room will look forever pristine. If you’re an established facility and your cleaning regimen is only so-so, it’s time to step things up. At a minimum, require staff to thoroughly clean these rooms weekly; bi-weekly would be better. Especially ensure that they scrub under benches — that’s where all the sweat and dirt coming off of users’ bodies go.
2. Pay particular attention to surfaces touched frequently. Reino Tarkiainen, president of Portland, Oregon-based Finlandia Sauna, recently told Athletic Business magazine that new benches should be coated with a water-based sealant to allow for easier cleaning. Wood, in general, is hard to wash, Tarkiainen cautioned, especially because commercial cleaners can stain it — as can simply plain water. The best method, he said, is to ask patrons to use a towel. “It’s good protection for themselves, and that body moisture goes into the towel,” he told Athletic Business. He also said that facility owners should be prepared to replace wooden benches and backrests in a sauna frequently — even once a year. It’s a relatively inexpensive step that will extend the life of a sauna for years.
3. When it’s time to build or rebuild, choose materials carefully. It’s traditional for saunas to feature all wood and for steam rooms to feature all tile, but other, more durable options exist. Areas in a sauna that will be touched should be wood, but other areas could be done in tile and stone, which last longer than wood. Doors can be aluminum, and special plastics designed to withstand high heat can be used in door handles and even floors. With steam rooms, tile can be replaced with specialized plastic that is resistant to bacteria and mold growth. Any materials prone to get moldy or rust — wood, metal — should be avoided in a steam room.
4. Keep saunas and steam rooms welcoming. Consider carefully the lighting used in your sauna and steam room. Typically, light fixtures in these settings appear to be surrounded by jelly jars set in a small cage. These can be hidden with valences or placed below benches. Alternatively, you can find ways to use glass creatively to bring in more natural light. And, for both steam rooms and saunas, consider aroma enhancement — if it smells right, it will feel clean, and patrons, relishing the relaxing environment they are privileged to experience, might even be more likely to follow the rules you set to keep your amenities lasting forever.