Below you'll find popular hydrothermal areas and features to consider when designing your spa.

For thousands of years, people around the world have harnessed the cleansing and healing powers of water and heat, including the unique wellness benefits of hot/cold contrast therapy. People are often unaware of the wide array of hydrothermal bathing experiences available. Depending on space and cultural considerations, as well as the health and wellness benefits required, hydrothermal spa areas come in a myriad of sizes and shapes. We've gathered some of the most essential experiences and arranged them from hottest (sauna) to coldest (snow room). Whether you're interested in designing a home spa for private use or need to design a luxury spa that can be enjoyed by many, take some time to explore the various types of thermal cabins and hydrotherapy pools/baths that are available.

  • 158-212° F


    Generally a simple timber cabin with a heat source radiating warmth from the wood-clad walls via heated stones, warmed by electricity or gas, traditionally by log fires.


    Pictured: KLAFS Pure Sauna 

  • 158-212° F


    It’s almost identical to a Finnish sauna in design and purpose, however it can have higher rates of humidity and bathers are encouraged to hit themselves or another person with “veniks” or bunches of dried branches and leaves to help improve circulation. 

  • 122-140° F


    Developed exclusively by our partner KLAFS, a Sanarium turns one sauna into five: a classic sauna, a warm air bath, a tropical bath, an aroma bath or a soft steam bath. This break-through technology allows bathers to create their personal oasis of wellbeing. 

    Pictured: KLAFS Sanarium

  • 104-116° F


    Typically a tiled or stone room providing 100% humidity with hot steam, which is either created from heated waters in the room itself or, more commonly, pumped into the room using a steam generator.

    Pictured: Faena Hotel, Miami Beach, FL, U.S.
    (Photographer: Nik Koenig)

  • 100-107° F


    Turkish hamams have a traditional heated “göbektaşı,” or, literally, “belly stone,” as their centerpiece. An authentic atmosphere is achieved when the room is finished in traditional Turkish “Iznik” tiles and Carrara Blanco marble, although dramatic effects have been created in modern hamams using very different finishes.

  • 100-107° F


    A warm ceramic room in which bathers can relax for long periods of time in comfortable ergonomically designed benches or individual, heated loungers or chairs. The walls, floors and benches are heated to enable deep penetration of the warmth to the body.

    Pictured: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, NV, U.S.

  • 89-95° F


    Infrared saunas have grown in popularity due to their particular health benefits and ability to heat a bather’s body without warming the air around it. Infrared radiation is on the longer range of the electromagnetic spectrum; therefore, is considered more comfortable and can penetrate the body’s tissues more deeply.

    Pictured: KLAFS Infrared Sauna

  • 89-95° F


    Fitted with a range of different beds and loungers, relaxation spaces are essential to any spa. Traditionally used to warm up (or cool down) the body before and after using other bathing rooms, common mistakes include not making the room big enough or choosing uncomfortable loungers.

    Pictured: NIZUC Resort & Spa, Mexico

  • Varies


    Many wellness centers offer specialist cabins/rooms for specific hydrotherapy treatments, including inhalation therapy like salt (pictured), oxygen or aromatherapy and mud bath rituals, body wraps and scrubs. Additionally, specialist equipment, like Vichy showers, hydrotherapy tubs and Kneipp hoses can be offered.

    Pictured: ISO Benessere

  • 39-64° F


    Either open or closed areas where a continuous snowfall can be generated by the push of a button. Melting snow on the skin versus jumping into a cold plunge pool can be an easier way to cool-down for many bathers.

    Pictured: Snow Industries

  • 5-32° F


    Advances in refrigeration technology make it possible to replicate the traditional Nordic "roll in the snow" in any hydrothermal facility. A snow room consists of an insulated room and a separate snowmaking system located in a plant/mechanical room.

    Pictured: TechnoAlpin S.p.A


Authentic ways to positively impact wellbeing.

Hydrotherapy offers a wide array of applications and health benefits. Whether combining soothing water temperature with jets and other features for self-massage, using a shock of cold water to stimulate blood circulation, or taking advantage of water for low-impact exercise—all are proven to promote and impact wellness.


    The combination of warm water and a selection of water features, including air tubs, swan-neck fountains, air loungers and water jets, means hydrotherapy pools provide unique benefits and deliver true external hydrotherapy—the complete immersion of the body in hot water, serving to relax muscles.

    Pictured: NIZUC Resort & Spa, Mexico

  • FOOT

    The foot spa is traditionally an area where warm ceramic or mosaic benches offer a place to relax and be comfortable, while bathing the feet in cool or warm (never hot) water.

    Pictured: Dornbracht


    There are a huge variety of showers—cold, waterfalls, mists, body jets and dramatic "experience showers"—offering multi-sensory experiences that incorporate smells, sound and visual effects that help take the bather to another world. 

    Pictured: Dornbracht



    A deluge shower takes things a bit more back to basics by delivering a huge dump of cold water on bathers so they can adequately cool between heat treatments.

    Pictured: Civana, Carefree, AZ, U.S.


    There are two walks used—the bather begins by stepping in hot water and then moves to cold water. Pebbles on the bottom of the stream/walkway massage the feet, and the alternation of hot and cold baths stimulate circulation of the blood.

    Pictured: Civana, Carefree, AZ, U.S.

  • ICE

    An ice fountain is often found inside a snow room. The powdery snow can be applied to selectively cool the extremities of the body, such as the legs and arms.


    Pictured: NIZUC Resort & Spa, Mexico 

  • LAP

    A pool that is large enough to exercise in offers significant benefits. The size of the pool will be determined by the space available and the types of exercising required—for example, different specifications are required for resistance training versus swimming laps.

    Pictured: Four Seasons Resort, Dubai


    A pool that is large enough to exercise in offers significant benefits. The size of the pool will be determined by the space available and the types of exercising required—for example, different specifications are required for resistance training versus swimming laps.

    Pictured: Unbescheiden GmbH


    An option for spa guests who crave the therapeutic, massaging benefits of water jets and pressure—without the actual water. Water nozzles placed below a rubberized cover are used for the application of a relaxing massage. Client can stay completely clothed. 

    Pictured: Unbescheiden GmbH


    Dry floatation beds offer a sense of weightlessness and are used in combination with a body wrap and often include soft hydro-massage features. Because the unit can be stable, manual massages can also take place on the bed, making it a very flexible choice in a modern spa. 

    Pictured: Unbescheiden GmbH



The Guide to Hydrothermal Spa & Wellness Development Standards, Third Edition

Produced by the Global Wellness Institute's Hydrothermal Initiative, the book provides design and building guidelines for hydrothermal areas. Our CEO, Don Genders, acts as the Initiative Chair, leading a committee of global experts to promote the Hydrothermal Industry. Design for Leisure provided our expertise for the guide's content and sponsored the production.


Contact us for a hard copy or download a digital copy.

Proud members of the International Sauna Association and GWI Hydrothermal Initiative.

GWI_InitiativesLogo5_hydrothermal (1) pd


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