Thoughts on the safety and use of Saunas in the time of Covid 19
Saunas have often been thought of as the ideal place to “sweat out a cold”, but now in the time of Covid 19, we are all asking if we are putting ourselves at risk by going into a sauna and enjoying the heat whilst in such close proximity to others ?
You may have recently seen the comment made by the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko who instead of advising citizens to stay at home, urged them to “drink Vodka and go to a sauna”.
To try and obtain a more balanced view on just how safe the use of saunas might be, I thought we could take a look at some of the information out there at the moment.
If you are looking at the implications of offering the use of sauna facilities as a commercial operator, there will be more considerations to make than if you were just using a sauna at home with members of your family, so lets take a look at them first.
IHRSA (The International Health Clubs, Racquets and Sports Clubs Association) have stated that saunas operate at high temperatures (70-100°C or 158-212°F) and have porous wood furniture that could make it difficult for any virus to survive for long,
it is also worth noting that the higher temperature and dry heat in a sauna works in favour of killing viruses.
Viruses are inactivated at temperatures between 60 °C and 65 °C, but more slowly than bacteria. However as temperatures increase above 70 °C, a greater than 99.999% reduction is achieved in less than 1 minute.
Most germs will die from temperatures between 70 degrees C to 120 degrees C within a couple of minutes, and as most saunas operate at around 80/85 degrees C they would fall into that category.
Hygiene in your sauna.
Germs can linger on most surfaces for several days however (up to four days on wood) so it is vital that regular and thorough cleaning takes place. How often ? Well at LEAST once a day.
I would still strongly resists the urge to use a power washer in a sauna or steam room, as the damage to timber will be significant.
What should I use to clean the sauna ?
Regular use of soap and water will be sufficient, and I would avoid the use of disinfectants which may offer a “reassuring” smell to sauna bathers, but can themselves cause respiratory problems when the high temperatures cause the chemicals in the disinfectant to vaporise.
As an operator:
Make sure that your sauna is in good condition and in particular ensure that ventilation is not blocked (a good throughput of air is essential).
Good sauna bathing practice
In a commercial environment (and indeed at home), the use of a shower before sauna bathing is good practice, as is using a towel to cover the benches before sitting on them, and this should be considered mandatory in commercial facilities.
How many persons in the sauna at any one time ?
Obviously, if the current social distancing rules still apply when commercial facilities re-open, the numbers of bathers entering the sauna will be limited by the size of the sauna and the space available between bathers, and each facility may develop their own “best practice” for users/members.
As numbers allowed within the sauna will most likely be reduced, it may be worth considering the amount of time each user can stay in the sauna to ensure other users/members get a fair chance to use the facility.
Can I catch a virus from other peoples sweat ?
Saunas induce perspiration as part of the sauna experience, and some people may worry about their “neighbours” in the sauna, or previous sauna bathers leaving sweaty deposits. Joseph Comber, PhD, a biologist who studied immunology and microbial pathogenesis at Villanova University says that as viruses are mainly spread via respiratory secretions like a cough or sneezing, it is unlikely that sweat can transfer disease-causing germs.
Sweat is mostly made from water but it also contains ammonia, salts, and proteins, which are essentially waste products that your body gets rid of through your pores.
Sweat can also kill pathogens, which is a scientific term for microbes that cause disease.
What can I do to protect myself ?
First things first, you should not use the sauna if you are feeling unwell. As previously suggested, some sauna bathers have used the heat of sauna as part of a “cure” for a cold or flu symptoms. This should very evidently NOT be applied at the moment.
Good hygiene is important at all times but even more so at the moment, shower before and after using the sauna, and stay well hydrated. Try to keep your bodily contact to your towel where possible.