Floatation or float tanks have resurged in popularity since their initial commercialization in the 1970s. These tanks, pods, or chambers are intended to help users achieve certain physical and mental benefits through the elimination (or minimization) of sensory inputs. Briefly, the user floats on his or her back in a warm, near-saturated solution of magnesium sulphate (MgSO4), which buoys the user up and creates a feeling of weightlessness. The tank, pod, or chamber is also kept dark and warm and users wear ear plugs to reduce sound input.
As this practice grows in popularity, public health practitioners have raised a number of questions regarding how to inspect these facilities and to protect public health. Float tanks are unique in that:
- Although the practice involves floating in "water," the use and operation of a float tank differs markedly from conventional recreational water facilities, leading to questions as to how they should be classified and regulated;
- Float solution has very different chemical and physical properties compared to recreational water, which affects many aspects of float tank design and operation;
- The solution in the float tank is not changed between users. Rather, it is cycled a number of times through a filtration/sanitizing system. Several hundred “floats” may occur in the same solution before it is changed;
- Float solution may be difficult to test (for halogens, pH, and microbes) through conventional recreational water methods.
- Float Tanks: Considerations for Environmental Public Health (2016)
This externally reviewed document discusses the primary potential public health risks related to float tanks, including the potential for pathogen survival, issues with disinfection and testing methods, the risk of accidental death and injury, and personal injury. Finally the document lays out some of the evidence gaps and proposes research to adequately address these unknowns.
- Float Tanks: Review of Current Guidance and Considerations for Public Health Inspectors (2016)
This externally reviewed document reviews current guidance and regulation of float tanks in other jurisdictions, and identifies some of the key groups that have been involved in developing and promoting float tank standards/criteria for design and operation. The document also draws on the experience of Vancouver Coastal Health (Vancouver, BC) in planning and inspecting the regions’ many commercial float facilities.
Selected external resources
- Floatation Tank Design and Operation (Upcoming)
A change request has been submitted to the Council for the Model Aquatic Health Code (CMAHC). If accepted, information and recommendations regarding float tanks will be added to the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC). Change requests can be viewed at the CMAHC website.
- Washington State’s Approach to Regulating Floatation Tanks (National Association of County and City Health Officials, 2017)
This webinar reviews the challenges encountered by Washington State’s Water Recreation Program. Please note that this resource requires the Adobe Connect Add-in to run.
- Evidence Brief: Risk of Infection in the Use of Floatation Tanks (Public Health Ontario, 2016)
This document examines evidence from the academic literature regarding whether the use of float tanks poses an infection risk. The document covers pathogen survival, filtration and disinfection, and exposure pathways.
- Float Tank Guidelines
Very few jurisdictions have produced publicly available guidelines for float tank facility planning, float tank design, or facility operation. Two such existing documents include Guidelines for Float Tanks (BC Ministry of Health, 2016) and Guidelines for Floatation Tank Installation, Operation, Monitoring and Risk Management (Government of Western Australia Department of Health, 2017). The information offered here does not supersede provincial guidance or regulations, and practitioners should confirm within their own jurisdiction whether float tank guidelines are in place.
- Component Certification Specification for Floatation or Sensory Deprivations Systems and Related Equipment (CCS-12804) (National Sanitation Foundation, 2013)
The NSF, in collaboration with the float industry and public health experts, has created a standard for float tanks that covers design, disinfection methods, and testing criteria for most commercial float tanks. This document is subject to periodic update.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Omission of a resource does not preclude it from having value.