by Pat Mayrhofer

Cleanliness with Massage Stones, MASSAGE MagazineAre your massage stones clean and free from bacteria? With today’s emphasis on good hygiene and the battle against infection and diseases, society has become more conscious about cleanliness. We want our clients to feel safe, comfortable, nurtured and clean. Sanitation is vital, and it is a critical issue that continuously needs to be reviewed.

The big debate is about how and when to clean massage stones. Without exception, massage stones should be cleaned after each client; this includes changing the water in the massage stone heater. With more than 13 years of experience in the massage-stone industry, I have heard every conceivable excuse why not to change the water and wash the stones at the end of each session, none of which support a sterile massage environment.

The simplest way to review techniques is to go back to the basics, regardless of your hot-stone modality. Whether it is massage therapy, facials, pedicures, manicures or reflexology, the therapist must wash the stones after each use in hot water with an antibacterial dish detergent. The stones should then be rinsed in hot water, air-dried on a towel and sprayed with a disinfectant like alcohol or PureGreen24. The water in the massage-stone heater should be changed after each use, and the water reservoir should be washed with antibacterial soap and water, rinsed and sprayed with disinfectant. The mat or towel that is at the bottom of the water reservoir in the heater must be replaced with a clean one. When cleaning marble stones, wash them in warm water with an antibacterial dish detergent, rinse, air-dry and spray with disinfectant.

If a massage therapist uses the proper lubricant during a session, then cleaning the stones and the heater is much easier. You should not use a cream, lotion, gel or heavy oil like jojoba. While these products are great to massage with, they are too heavy for stone massage and tend to stick to the stones and heater surface. In addition, they are difficult to remove, even with scrubbing, and aid in harboring bacteria. The therapist should use light oil that is water-soluble.

A white towel at the bottom of the water reservoir is common practice for reflecting the black massage stones. I suggest purchasing a white or cream-colored shelf liner from Bed, Bath and Beyond. This product is durable and has holes that allow water to flow through it, which makes it less likely to float, as does the towel.

The biggest complaint I hear from therapists is: “I don’t have enough time between clients to wash the stones and change the water in the heater.” Each client deserves to have clean stones that are heated in clean water. The solution to this problem is two-fold: First, you can charge more for stone massage by incorporating the charge for the cleanup time. This way the therapist or spa is not losing revenue. Or, you can have a second set of stones and a second heater available for back-to-back treatments. While initially this method is a little expensive, it has solved the problem for many larger spas. A second set of stones ready to go on a rolling cart can follow the therapist in each massage cabin. After all, time is money.

Many therapists think if they do not put the stones back in the water, they do not have to change the water each time; this is also not a good practice. Each time you reach your hand into the water, you contaminate it. In addition, water grows bacteria even when it is still. As a result, the water in the heater must be changed after each treatment.

The next most frequent thing I hear is: “It takes too long to reheat the stones.” If you simply wash the stones with hot water and fill the water reservoir with hot water, the stones will reheat quickly because the core of the stone is still hot.

One large, prestigious spa in particular only allows five minutes between sessions. They use a spa oxidizer in the water, and they don’t clean the stones or change the water until the end of the day. They charge an exorbitant fee for stone massage and clients are being massaged with stones that are in water with particles of skin and debris from previous clients. While a spa oxidizer kills germs, it could be very caustic to the skin. The problem arises with cutting corners in business: business driven by revenue rather than driven by integrity.

Too many therapists take the easy way out; they are shown basic stone-massage techniques from a colleague or they watch an inefficient video. Neither practice includes teaching proper cleaning and sanitation of massage stones. Therapists interested in expanding their practice and knowledge to include stone massage should take a seminar from a respected company. An educated therapist is a successful therapist.

Please look for future articles on, as I explore the exciting arena of stone massage. I will write about safety issues, contraindications, the expansion of stone therapy to different modalities, the evolution into cold-stone therapy with marble stones and now the resurgence of stone massage with the innovation of carved basalt stones. I will also discuss accessory products, such as massage oil, essential oils, heaters, textiles, DVDs and seminars. I look forward to an ongoing conversation with you.

Pat Mayrhofer is president and founder of Nature’s Stones Inc., an international massage-stone, education and supply company. She is a massage therapist with more than 15 years of experience, having taught for 13 of those years in Italy, Austria, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Mayrhofer and her staff have created a comprehensive series of live, hands-on training programs, educational DVDs available for distance learning and a line of associated stone and textile products. For more information, visit