If your idea of relaxation is sitting in a hot tub, sauna, or steam room, listen up! They’re all massive germ magnets. So, here’s how to use the heat to relax safely:

  • The first germ magnet: The steam room. The warm and moist environment is the perfect place to grow bacteria, including the potentially deadly MRSA – also known as methicillin-resistant Staphyloccous aureus. In fact, 20% of the people who acquire a MRSA infection outside of the hospital die within a year. So, stay healthy by NOT shaving before you steam. Dr. Jeff Hagerman, an epidemiologist, says that razor nicks are the perfect entry point for deadly germs and after your steam session, shower with soap to remove any bacteria clinging to your skin.
  • Another germ magnet: The sauna. The floors and benches are made from porous, hard-to clean wood – which harbors everything from cold viruses to E. coli and MRSA. Dry sauna heat also dehydrates mucous membranes – making it easier for viruses to sneak through your nasal passages, and enter your lungs to cause a respiratory infection. The fix: Wear shower shoes and sit on a towel to keep a barrier between you and the sauna surfaces.
  • The final germ magnet: The hot tub. The main danger is “hot tub lung”. An infection with coughing, shortness of breath, and a fever. Chlorine is less able to kill germs in hot water and when you add rising steam and bubble jets, bacteria tends to hang in the mist right above the water’s surface. The fix: Dr. Jay Ryu, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, recommends sitting in outdoor hot tubs whenever possible. Because the bacteria-laden steam dissipates more quickly in open spaces, where the air moves more freely.