Top Five Unsanitary Practices of Massage Spas and How to Spot Them

The Coronavirus Pandemic has made us hyper-vigilant about cleanliness and best ways to sanitize private and public spaces. With salons, spas, barber shops, restaurants, and other non-essential businesses opening up, many are augmenting their sanitizing protocols to protect employees and customers against the spread of COVID-19.

Still, a report released by the CDC in 2004 showed that more than half of all public spas in the U.S. violate public health safety standards. As more businesses reopen, spa goers should remain cautious of the potential risks posed by those who cut corners and perpetuate unhygienic practices that may lead to bacterial infections and illness.

To help you avoid unnecessary exposure to harmful pathogens, we compiled a list of five critical things to look for when auditing the sanitary conditions of massage spas.


Spas and salons use autoclaves for sanitizing smaller tools and cleaning and disinfecting products or UV wands for larger equipment; however, when services are scheduled back to back, an employee might skip protocols to save time in between sessions. Likewise, improper cleaning of massage beds, cradles, and other body-contact furniture can lead to the spread of bacteria.

Spotting Tip: Look for tools or furniture that has oily residue, skin, blood or other bodily fluids from previous clients on them, or that have not been properly restocked (disorganized workspaces are a sign of unsanitary practices).


Another time saving trick is layering sheets onto the massage table and removing them one by one for the next client. This is a bad hygienic practice because potentially harmful body fluids like blood, stool, and respiratory droplets may contaminate additional layers, passing bacteria to the next client. Likewise, sweat, drool, cremes, and perfumes, although not infectious fluids, can easily spread to other sheets.

Spotting Tip: Look for massage tables that have layered sheet by pulling one up to see what’s underneath. If they discover they are stacked, ask your massage therapist to remove them and provide you with a fresh set of sheets.


Work uniforms are not like your favorite pair of jeans – they do not get better after being worn three or four times. To combat the spread of bacteria that comes from close contact to a client’s body, spa professionals should adopt laundry requirements that include washing uniforms separately at 140°F temperature.

Spotting Tip: Perform a quick visual and smell audit. If your massage therapist does not present well, for example, if their clothes reek of cigarette smoke, or they are wearing heavy cologne or perfume, ask them to change their uniform or ask a manager for a new service provider.


The CDC says that regular hand washing is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. How then, do we continue to spread contaminants via doorknobs, handles, and other high-touch surfaces? Be it time, or just oversight, people forget to wash their hands or wash them improperly.

Spotting Tip: If there is a sink in your room, observe whether or not your practitioner washes their hands before proceeding to work with you. They may also use an alcohol-based gel to disinfect their hands before performing a massage. If they don’t, run!


Believe it or not, bleach expires, and so do many other cleaning products. Once they lose their potency, they become ineffective in disinfecting surfaces.

Spotting Tip: Unless the cleaning products are visible, there’s no way to tell if they are within their “use by” date. Simply smelling bleach or “appearing” clean makes us feel better, but may not be providing the level of protection we’d prefer in a spa-like environment.

Knowing the risks that pertain to you and carefully assessing the cleanliness and track record of a spa prior to making an appointment can go a long way to ensuring your safety and satisfaction.