Visiting a hot spring is a unique experience with its own specific etiquette expectations. Though your visit will be relaxing, there are still a few things to pay attention to so you don’t stand out, or worse, get kicked out.
In this article, we take a look at what you need to know about hot springs etiquette, to ensure you follow the rules and have a pleasant experience.
Guide to Hot Springs Etiquette
To Wear Clothing or not to Wear Clothing?
There’s an age-old debate when it comes to wearing clothing, or not wearing clothing, in a hot spring. It can be tricky to know what the right thing to do is because every establishment is different.
If you’re visiting a rural hot spring that doesn’t have clear rules, make your judgment based on the country you’re in, as well as the environment and vibe when you arrive.
In the US, it’s usually okay to wear nothing to a primitive hot spring, unless otherwise signed. Still, you want to judge accordingly. If there are lots of other people there, all in swimsuits, you might feel out of place in your birthday suit.
When clothing is optional, it’s generally better to wait until the hot spring is less busy to take off your clothes.
Similarly, in countries that may be more conservative, such as Turkey or Egypt, it’s best not to strip down unless the establishment specifically says it’s permitted.
Also keep in mind that different cultural practices in different countries can dictate whether or not you wear clothing in a hot spring. In Japanese onsen, for example, it’s usually a requirement that bathers be completely nude.
Be Courteous to Other Guests
Showing courtesy and respect to others in the hot spring is absolutely paramount when it comes to international hot spring etiquette. The biggest issue that tends to arise is taking photos and videos.
It’s natural to want to document your experience in a hot spring, especially when you’re visiting a famous location, such as the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. But at the same time, other bathers probably don’t want to be filmed when they’re trying to relax.
In some places, such as Japanese onsen, you will be required to leave your phone in a locker. If you are allowed to bring your phone with you in the hot spring, avoid taking pictures and videos of other people as much as possible. This is especially true if the hot spring is clothing optional.
Being courteous to others in the hot spring also includes making as little noise as possible. Hot springs are traditionally quiet places, not opportunities to party. People seek them out for calming, tranquil experiences, so try to keep the conversation to a minimum.
Also, be sure to respect the space of other bathers. Social distance as much as possible so as to give others plenty of room to relax. The last thing anyone wants is to be crowded by half-naked strangers. And always avoid splashing. A hot spring is not a public pool!
A Hot Spring is not a Bathroom
Though we refer to those soaking in a hot spring as “bathers”, there’s no actual bathing involved. Despite terminology like “baths” being used to describe hot springs in some countries, you should never actually use a public hot spring to bathe.
Hot springs are primarily for relaxation, and many people also use them for their proposed health benefits. Bringing soap or shampoo into the water (even natural brands) may affect the minerals or disrupt the experience of other people.
It can also be distracting for others who are trying to relax when someone enters the water and starts scrubbing themselves.
It also goes without saying that a hot pool is definitely, definitely, not a toilet. At more well-known hot pool spas and complexes, restroom facilities should never be far away, but using the hot pool which does not have a drainage function is absolutely a no-go.
Hot Springs Drinking Etiquette
Some people find that the relaxation factor of a hot spring is amplified by bringing a drink into the water. Whether or not this is okay is always dictated by the individual rules at the establishment. Many higher-end spas won’t allow drinks in or near the water, while others will have bars on the premises to accommodate this very need.
If you are allowed to bring a drink in the water, refrain from bringing glassware with you. Use a plastic drinking cup, can, or any other drinking vessel that can’t shatter and cause someone to cut themselves.
Drinking alcohol in a hot pool is not recommended due to the fact that alcohol dehydrates the body, which intensifies the dehydration you already experience from being in the water. Additionally, it is dangerous to lose your wits close to water, even if it’s shallow enough for you to stand in.
That all said, some hot springs do allow the drinking of alcohol.
Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Colorado, for example, permits their guests to drink alcohol while soaking as long as they do so responsibly. This means eating to mitigate the effects of the alcohol (not eating in the pools, however), and drinking a maximum of two alcoholic beverages during your 2.5-hour soak.
Above all, Show Respect
Whether you’re visiting a hot spring in a remote rural area or a busy hot spring in a lavish spa, it’s always important to show respect for the environment. Particularly in primitive hot springs, this means leaving no trace. Don’t leave behind any rubbish or damage to the area.
Keep in mind that in certain countries, hot springs are sacred places and have traditionally been used in ceremonies by local populations. This is a further reason to always be respectful and quiet when soaking in the spring.
If you want to gain more appreciation for the hot spring you’re visiting, do a little research into the local area and the historical relationship between the local people and the land.
Hot Springs Etiquette – Final Thoughts
Hot springs provide awesome experiences of relaxation and rejuvenation, but there is a little etiquette involved. As long as you show respect and courtesy and treat the hot springs as they are intended, you’ll always be welcome.
Follow these guidelines to avoid annoying other soakers and get the most out of your hot springs visit.