The warm, moist, dark treatment room setting of a hot stone massage service creates a perfect breeding ground for germs — a category that viruses, along with fungi, protozoa and bacteria, belongs to — so the massage therapist who offers stone massage must know how to sanitize massage stones.
As such, stone massage therapists should already be well-versed in sanitation measures. But should anything be different in the sanitation, care or use for stone massage because of COVID-19? The answer is yes. Our stone massage sanitation measures should increase, and our stone massage practices can be slightly altered to reduce the risk of acquisition or transmission of this new deadly coronavirus.
In this article, we will solely address how to sanitize and alter the use of massage stones during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. (Other important pandemic-related business operations such as wearing face coverings, good hand hygiene, improving your sanitation plus overall massage establishment air quality efforts should be practiced in addition to the special massage stone suggestions made here.)
Massage stones that are composed of black volcanic basalt lava are porous in nature. That makes thoroughly cleaning or disinfecting them quite difficult; in fact, it is impossible to eliminate all viruses and bacteria while cleaning and disinfecting a porous stone.
These basalt stones born out of volcanic eruption and then tumbled in oceans or riverbeds for thousands of years are believed by some to have energetic qualities. It is our job to find a way to safely use these natural marvels without decreasing their healing value.
This includes sanitizing in a manner that does not deplete the stone’s iron-rich metallic properties. The metallic agents within a massage stone are what allow the stones to retain their temperature for longer periods of time more so than the average rock.
How to Sanitize Massage Stones: 7 Steps to Cleaning, Disinfection, Altered Uses & Care
Here are 7 steps that recognize the special needs required to clean, disinfect and provide overall care for massage stones:
1. Unplug the stone warmer and remove all contents, including stones, thermometer, slotted spoons and oil bottles from the hot stone bath, to be individually cleaned.
2. The entire stone bath liner should be removed from the stone warmer. Any towels inside the stone liner should be discarded for laundering. After emptying the liner, the liner should be cleaned with soap and water (grease-cutting dish detergent works best and antibacterial hand soap is also an option.)
3. Each stone and implement should be individually washed with soap and water until each item feels clean and is visibly clean. I like to use a scrub brush or toothbrush to ensure a deeper cleaning on my stone massage service items. Cleaning will physically remove debris from a surface and most germs.
4. Newly cleaned stone massage items can either be dried with a towel or allowed to air dry. To restore some of a stone’s energetic properties after sanitizing, you can always lay the stones outside during a full moon or on some green healthy grass during a light rain. This energetical restoration process is usually practiced about once a month, depending on how often you use the stones.
5. For better sanitation effort, add stones and equipment (except for the stone warmer itself) to a disinfectant soak, or spray the stones and equipment with a disinfectant after cleaning. A list of disinfectants and their instructions to combat COVID-19 is listed on the EPA’s website.
Disinfectant use will help eliminate a greater number of germs than cleaning alone. Because disinfectants are not designed to remove physical debris from a surface, cleaning must be provided first or else the entire disinfection effort will be less effective, if not useless. Be sure to allow the disinfectant to sit for its prescribed dwell time (also known as contact time) for proper disinfection.
6. When starting a new hot stone massage service, the hot bath liner should be reinserted into the hot stone warmer and a fresh, clean towel should be placed inside the liner before adding clean water. I recommend adding five or more drops of tea tree essential oil to each stone massage bath for its antimicrobial properties; however, there is little scientific research to support this sanitary use.
7. With today’s pandemic, I recommend an operational standard that the cosmetology industry adapted years ago to prevent the spread of germs before COVID-19: Some nail salons will provide each client their own nippers and clippers and keep this service equipment in an individual bag or container with a client’s name written on it. The same practice can be applied to stones.
Pass Along the Cost
You can set aside about eight working stones, also called palm stones, for each regular stone massage client. These working stones would be sanitized and kept in a Ziplock bag with the client’s name on it, and only used on that client.
Working stones are less expensive than larger placement stones, so purchasing a few extra working stones and then passing the cost (about $20 to $30) along to a regular stone massage client is an option. Be sure to mention that the extra cost is for their own exclusive supplies if you charge extra for this option.
Providing a client their own exclusive use of porous items is good business at any time, to prevent the spread of fungus, bacteria and viruses, which can cause a wide range of infection or disease.
The larger placement stones can also be handled differently. The goal is to avoid touching porous stones that are being used on multiple clients during the actual stone massage when a client’s skin cells and germs can be easily transmitted, then reused on the next customer.
Gloves or small towels can be used to handle placement stones, and then the placement stones should always have two barriers — clean sheets or towels, for example — between a client’s skin and the stone. This practice will minimize germ transmission and make reused stones more acceptable after proper cleaning and disinfection steps are provided.
Massage Therapy Standards & Safety
Extra sanitation time is required after a stone massage service. It usually takes 10-plus minutes to perform the proper amount of sanitation for a 40-plus-piece stone massage set, above and beyond the regular change-over time it takes to redress a massage treatment room. Check the CDC (cdc.gov) or OSHA (osha.gov) websites to find additional workplace sanitation options during times of COVID-19.
Offering hot or cold stones during a massage therapy session is a wonderful therapeutic opportunity for both you and the client. You should seek a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved stone massage continuing education course to learn proper stone massage techniques. Practicing appropriate sanitation measures will not eliminate the risks of acquiring or transmitting COVID-19 in a professional massage setting, but it can make it safer for both you and your client.
About the Author:
Selena Belisle is the Founder of CE Institute LLC in Miami, Florida. She has been practicing massage therapy for over 30 years and is approved as a continuing education provider by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork and the Florida Board of Massage.