Hot potting may not be a term you’ve heard before, but it’s nothing new. It refers to sitting in a heated, mineral-rich body of water, and it’s also known as taking a hot springs soak.
“Soaking in hot springs has been part of human culture for thousands of years,” says Marcus Coplin, ND, a primary care naturopathic physician and the director of hydrothermal medicine for the Balneology Association of North America. Though springs are warm to hot, there is no set temperature — many can be controlled depending on the facility you’re visiting, but some are simply regulated by Mother Nature.
Hot spring soaking is known by many names. “The classical terminology is the ‘taking of the waters.’ Going to a spa and taking the waters is something you would do over a social season if you were an aristocrat,” Coplin explains.
Hot potting is a newer term that refers more to the practice as an experience in and of itself, though he believes that it takes away from the health focus.
How Are Hot Springs Formed?
How did bathlike water end up in the middle of forested locations, among others, to create natural pools? “Over hundreds to thousands of years, water worked its way deep into the Earth’s crust, where it’s heated. The pressure resulting from that process drives the water up to the surface, where it becomes infused with different mineral profiles depending on the location,” says Coplin.
Most of the natural hot springs in the United States are in the West or Southwest, says Krista Ingerick, a licensed massage therapist and spa operations manager at The Springs Spa, a wellness center that provides integrative therapies for Clifton Springs Hospital and Clinic in New York.
However, you will find hydrothermal therapy around the nation. In the eastern United States, Ingerick points out that “mineral spring locations, such as ours, are technically cold water springs. At locations where the waters are coming out of the ground cold, they are often heated manually to be brought up to comfortable temperatures.” These are just as valid ways to enjoy a soak, she adds.
"There’s this idea that water is a therapeutic entity because it has this amazing ability to hold heat and transfer heat energy in and out of other substances. We can transfer heat energy to or from the water into our body by immersing ourselves in a body of water,” he explains. It’s this heat immersion that may have effects like stimulating circulation and provide many of the perks of taking a dip. (More on that below.)
Types of Hot Potting
Each thermal spring has its own mineral makeup, and there are several types of places where you can practice hydrothermal therapy:
- Wellness spas
- Health and wellness resorts
- Geothermal pools
- Rustic hot potting (for example, in the middle of a forest)
- Public state park hot springs
- Indoor thermal baths
- Private baths
Possible Health Benefits of Hot Potting
The waters deliver benefits in several possible ways.
1. May Reduce Pain
2. May Ease Psoriasis and Eczema
3. May Help You Destress
Soaking in warm water is inherently soothing. Hot springs soaking can be one ritual that you practice that benefits both your body and mind since it can potentially reduce stress, says Ingerick.
4. May Play a Role in Short-Term Weight Loss
5. May Help Your Heart Function Better
Hot Potting Safety
Taking a soak in a hot spring is generally safe, unless you have a preexisting condition, such as blood pressure management issues. If your goal is to use thermal soaks as part of a treatment plan for a health condition, talk to your doctor and come up with a plan together about how to use this safely, says Coplin.
Another precaution: People who have uncontrolled diabetes, seizure disorders, narcolepsy, or fainting disorders may be at an increased risk of injury, falling, or drowning, cautions Ingerick. Always check with your doctor before planning to go into a hot spring. Before going into the water, make sure that you can enter and exit the water safely, says Ingerick. “There is a higher risk for someone who can’t swim,” she says.
Also, cleanliness is a consideration. Mineral water is not the same as water from a chlorinated pool due to its chemical makeup and the fact that it has a flow rate. “It’s almost like sitting in a stream rather than a stagnant tub,” says Coplin. “Any debris that would come off a person would flow out and away.” Because the waters are continually refreshed, they don’t need to be treated with chlorine.
Who Might Want to Try (and Avoid Hot Potting)
If you are looking for relaxation, most people can safely soak in a hot spring. However, if you have a medical condition, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor first about your personal risks.
Tips for Getting Started With Hot Potting
Before starting, you need to “know your source,” says Coplin. Meaning: Understand the temperature of the water, how the water flows to the surface, the water’s minerality, and the environment that the water is located in. The spring site is important because that will help you know if it’s right for you.
For instance, you may really like soaking in a natural hot spring at a health resort where there are places to change and eat, and grounds to walk around. On the other hand, you may prefer a more rustic experience, soaking in a spring located in the middle of the woods.
Coplin notes that some rustic sites may be clothing optional, so if you’re looking for a family-friendly destination or are not comfortable with that in general, then look for another option. One caveat to the clothing debate: Some facilities feature private bath tubs, Ingerick says, which are intended for one guest, and bathing suits are usually not worn.
Likewise, minerality is important, too. Coplin says that some springs contain sulfur, which has an egglike smell. “For some people, this turns them off completely, and they hold their nose and say, ‘Never again,’” he explains. Coplin now associates that smell with the relaxation of a soak, so in his experience, it is possible to get used to it over time.
Bottom line: Decide why you’re going. Is it for social interaction? A nature experience? A private soak? And research the available facilities in your area or at your vacation destination that fit.
What to Expect Before, During, and After Hot Potting
When you first step into the water, it will feel hot until your body acclimates to the temperature. Certain areas of the spring may be warmer than others, so move around to find one that you feel the most comfortable in. If you are in a private bath where faucets are used, you can likely control the temperature of the tub, notes Ingerick.
During the soak, Coplin recommends monitoring yourself closely. “Check in and make sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard,” he says. If you feel out of breath or dizzy, it’s time to get out of the water.
When you get out of the water, your skin will feel different. Depending on the minerality, you may feel as if your skin has a dry film on top. “This might feel the same as when you come out of the ocean,” says Coplin. You can leave these minerals on your skin, but wash them off if you’d prefer. In addition, remove your suit and give it a thorough rinse with regular water to preserve the fabric.
Depending on why you’re visiting (relaxation or a specific health benefit) and where you are (a spa or health resort), you may decide to add on another treatment to extend the benefits. “For pain relief, at our center, we often have guests who schedule a massage or acupuncture immediately after their soak,” Ingerick says. Also, it’s very likely that you will emerge from the waters very relaxed. You can use that relaxation to help you fully wind down as you go to sleep that night.
Resources We Love on Hot Potting
Find a hot spring with the association's Find a Hot Spring tool, which contains more than 200 hot springs in the United States. Use the amenities drop-down tab to specify what features you’re after, whether that is lodging, spa services, food and beverages, adults only, private tubs, and more.
This is a great place to learn about the history of balneology, expand your knowledge about the health and wellness benefits, and find hot spring locations abroad.
Endorsed by the Hot Springs Association and BANA, this blog posts short articles on hot spring destinations around the United States and how to enjoy them. It hasn’t been updated since 2020, so you’ll want to independently verify all of the information, but it’s a great place to start researching if you’re planning a hot springs trip.
Celebrated on June 22, this day pays homage to water, its rituals and traditions, and how it connects people together all over the world. People are encouraged to post bathing images on their social media with #worldbathingday.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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- The Water in You: Water and the Human Body. U.S. Department of the Interior. May 22, 2019.
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- Is It Safe to Use a Hot Tub During Pregnancy? Mayo Clinic. November 21, 2020.
- Ghilamicael AM, Boga HI, Anami SE, et al. Potential Human Pathogenic Bacteria in Five Hot Springs in Eritrea Revealed by Next Generation Sequencing. PLoS One. March 2018.
- Warm Freshwater Can Harbor Dangerous Parasite. Reuters. September 20, 2019.
- Frequently Asked Questions. Balneology Association of North America.
- Has Anyone Died From Falling in a Geyser? Outside. April 7, 2021.
- Gálvez I, Torres-Piles S, Ortega-Rincón E. Balneotherapy, Immune System, and Stress Response: A Hormetic Strategy?. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. June 2018.
- Connor J, Shelley A, Egan B. Comparison of Hot Water Immersion at 37.8°C With or Without Salt for Rapid Weight Loss in Mixed Martial Arts Athletes. Journal of Sports Sciences. March 2020.