Russian Banya Etiquette

In common with many gyms, pools and other sauna spaces, a visit to a Banya is most often a shared experience, so it can be helpful to know something about Russian banya Etiquette before you go along for the first time.

Whether organised with single-gender or mixed-gender sessions, there are a number of banya etiquette rules to pay attention to, for the enjoyment and peace of mind of everyone who is using the facilities, including you. Most of these are just plain common courtesy, but it is worth going through them if only to ease the mind of the first-time steam room visitor.

Before anything else, let’s remember that a visit to a public steam room is for relaxation and enjoyment, and so as with any shared space, the number one steam room etiquette rule is to have respect for the other users. Remembering this alone will cover 90% of everything there is to know about Banya etiquette.

Preparation for a Banya Visit

Before you even arrive for your booked session, there are a few things to think about, in consideration of your own health and to avoid spoiling the enjoyment of others.

  •         Be on time for your appointment – Sounds simple, but especially at busy times it is respectful to all to not turn up late for your booking, and you may miss out on some of your allocated time.
  •         Don’t eat a heavy meal beforehand – This is partly for your own health, but being trapped in a steam room with someone who is experiencing, shall we say, digestive issues, is unpleasant! For the same reason, avoid eating a large amount of garlic before a steam session. Make sure, though, that you do not visit on an empty stomach – have a light meal a little time before your booking or leave around 90 minutes if you have had something substantial.
  •         Don’t go if you are unwell – Another Banya rule that people seem to ignore. If you are at the start of a cold, then a steam room session is an ideal spa treatment, but if you are ill, then rebook your session and stay at home.
  •         Finally, don’t be nervous – Remember that everyone is there to relax and enjoy their session. Although you may feel a little self-conscious, everyone else is focused on themselves, so relax and enjoy your time too.

Banya Etiquette During Your Visit

Once you have arrived and checked in for your booking, you will go through to a changing area. Wear a swimming costume and flip-flops, and take a large towel for sitting or lying on.

So now it’s time to enter the steam room, but before you do, first take a shower. There are few things worse than relaxing in a steam room next to someone who has not showered off before coming in. Steam does not mask unpleasant odours!

In fact, the shower is about to become your best friend. Steam room etiquette includes showering before entering and after leaving the steam room – and you will likely be doing this several times during your visit.

You shower before you enter a steam room for personal hygiene and out of respect for other guests. You shower afterwards to remove sweat and to cool yourself down. Both of these are important.

Even entering or leaving a steam room has a point of etiquette – that is, do it fast. Do not linger in the doorway keeping the door open – you are allowing precious heat to escape that can take a while to build up again. Enter and leave quickly keeping the door closed as much as possible. If you see someone approaching, this is the one time it’s fine not to hold the door open for them. They will understand.

Once inside the steam room, find a place to sit or lie down and do so on your towel. Do not forget to wear your Banya hat. If the room is not full, then respect others’ personal space and don’t sit close. It’s OK if it is busy, but make full use of the room available.

Steam room - Banya No.1 - Chiswick

If you are with friends, it’s OK to talk, but keep the volume of your chatter low and respect that others are relaxing and may even be trying to meditate.

If you are new to Banya, then you may find that you will be ready to leave after just a few minutes – that’s fine. Don’t stay in longer than is comfortable for you. Sit or lie down, breathe normally and relax. When you feel you have had enough, leave the room, shower, and then find a place to sit and relax for a while.

As a general rule, spend as much time cooling down, or longer, as you did heating up. And take the opportunity to hydrate and drink some water.

When you feel ready, you can return to the steam room for your next session, repeating this process as many times as you wish.

Many people, especially to start with, find that 3 sessions in the heat are enough, but it is an individual matter, as is the length of time you spend each time. And remember, it’s not a competition; don’t try staying in longer just because you are there with a friend and they want to stay in the heat.

To summarise:

  •         Do shower before and after each steam room session
  •         Enter and exit quickly – don’t leave the door open
  •         Find a place to sit and if there is room, give people space
  •         Keep your volume down!

Some Other Public Banya Rules to Consider

  •         Don’t go into the Banya nude, always wear a swimsuit if you booked mixed session. If you book a single-gender session than our rules are allowed nudity.
  •         Don’t wear jewellery – Steam room gets hot, and so will your jewellery (especially anything metal), so it’s best not to wear any. The same thing goes for watches and glasses. Contact lenses are usually OK, but remember that a steam room is dry, so even they may become uncomfortable.
  •         Don’t take your phone – Russian banya is a place for people to relax. They don’t want to listen to your music, or hear your side of a phone call. Plus, steam rooms play havoc with electronics.
  •         Don’t take glass bottles – If you want to take your own drink, stick to plastic. Bare feet and broken glass don’t mix well. And all premises will have plenty of water available anyway.

Men’s Etiquette – don’t shave in the steam room. For some reason, some men think it’s OK to shave in a steam room. Well, it’s not.

How to Summarise Banya Etiquette

As we said at the start, it’s mostly about having consideration for others.

Steam room etiquette is observed so that everyone can relax and enjoy their visit – it is why they are there, after all. If you are visiting our Banya soon, then we hope that you have a great time – once you have been and experienced it, you will definitely want to go again…and again!

Banya No.1 - Chiswick steam room

So there really is no need to be nervous. Some people are worried about what they look like in swimwear, or whether they are “doing the etiquette right”. Just relax – because that’s the point. And as for everyone else – they are focused on themselves, and not looking at you, so just unwind and enjoy the whole experience.

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