What is a floatation tank?
A floatation tank (float tank) is a lightless, soundproof tank which is partially filled with salty water and is heated to outer skin temperature (approximately 35°C).
Other names include:
- isolation tank,
- float tank,
- sensory deprivation tank,
- Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) tank.
What are floatation tanks used for?
People use floatation tanks for relaxation.
The tank reduces external stimulation such as sound, touch and light. The salt water (a solution of water and Epsom salts) is extremely buoyant which makes it easy to float. The water is usually around 300 millimetres deep.
When you are in a floatation tank, you float on your back, with your head partially submerged (ear plugs can be worn). You should not be able to reach and touch the walls, floor or roof of the tank when fully stretched.
It is believed that floating without external stimulation can create a feeling of relaxation.
A typical session lasts for approximately 1 hour.
Are floatation tanks safe?
Floatation tanks can be safely used by most healthy adults but are not suitable for people under 16 or people with certain medical conditions.
You should not use a floatation tank immediately after shaving or if you are sunburnt as the high salt concentration may cause discomfort.
You should not (and, in a commercial floatation tank, will not be permitted to) use a floatation tank if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Industry practice only permits use by those aged 16 and over.
Floatation is not recommended if you have the following conditions:
- kidney disease
- low blood pressure
- any contagious disease, including diarrhoea or gastroenteritis (and for 14 days following)
- open wounds or skin ulcers
Check with your health practitioner before using a floatation tank if you are pregnant or are concerned about the following conditions:
- heart conditions
- sensitivity to chlorine, bromine, sulfate or magnesium
- severe skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema
Will I feel claustrophobic, drown or become trapped?
Prior to use, the facility will show you how to open and close the door to the tank, from the inside. Some people prefer to begin with the door open and close it when comfortable. All units are fitted with an internal call alarm and light. You can get out of the tank at any time.
Controls are normally in place which allows the facility to monitor the safety of all individuals without compromising privacy.
If you fall asleep, you will stay afloat due to the buoyancy of the water. Some discomfort may occur if the salt water gets in your eyes. While drowning in a floatation tank is possible, it is extremely unlikely.
Being under the influence of drugs, alcohol and/or medications with a sedative effect will increase the risk of drowning.
Are there any side effects?
Users may experience a heightened sense of smell, sound and light after a float session.
First time users may experience nausea.
Skin should not wrinkle as Epsom salts have an emollient (softening and soothing) effect.
How is the industry regulated?
In Western Australia, all floatation tank centres are required to comply with the Code of Practice for the Design, Construction, Operation, Management and Maintenance of Aquatic Facilities (PDF 1.3MB)
Under this Code, floatation tank facilities are required to operate in a sanitary fashion to ensure that the water is suitably filtered and disinfected and the environment within the tank is safe.
Pumping oxygen into the tanks is not allowed.
How is the float tank kept clean?
Bacteria does not generally grow in highly salty (saline) waters.
The following measures should also be in place to ensure hygiene is maintained:
- all users should shower prior to entering the tank.
- the entire salt water solution must be filtered 3 times between float sessions.
- tanks are disinfected by using a combination of ultraviolet light and bromine or chlorine depending on the tank design.
- regular physical cleaning of the tank’s interior surfaces.
Does this apply to private or household float tanks?
This fact sheet has been prepared for members of the public seeking information on the safe use of commercial floatation tank facilities.
Households with private floatation tanks are not subject to the same conditions as commercial facilities.
Refer to your operation manual or manufacturer for further advice on maintenance and safe operation of your floatation tank.
Wastewater from floatation tanks should not be disposed of to sewer or septic systems.
Environmental Health Directorate
Department of Health WA
PO Box 8172
PERTH BUSINESS CENTRE WA 6849
Telephone: 9388 4999
- The salt water is extremely buoyant which makes it easy to float.
- Being under the influence of drugs, alcohol and/or medications with a sedative effect will increase the risk of drowning.
- Floatation tanks are not suitable for people under 16 or people with certain medical conditions.
- Floatation is not recommended if you experience claustrophobia, or have epilepsy, kidney disease, low blood pressure, any contagious disease, including diarrhoea or gastroenteritis (and for 14 days following), open wounds or skin ulcers.
- Check with your health practitioner before using a floatation tank if you are pregnant or are concerned about heart conditions, asthma, sensitivity to chlorine, bromine, sulfate or magnesium, severe skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, or psychosis.
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.