What are Some Massage Etiquette Tips?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Massage and body treatments are a lot more enjoyable if you are properly prepared. Massage etiquette applies to any type of spa services, from facials to pedicures, and it will ensure that you get quality service while remaining comfortable and relaxed. Most spa etiquette tips are common sense, but some are uniquely adapted to the spa environment.

It is a good idea to discuss the expectations of the massage beforehand.
It is a good idea to discuss the expectations of the massage beforehand.

Before your massage or spa treatment, make sure that you book an appointment at a time which is convenient for you. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early, and make sure that you do not need to rush off after your appointment to another destination. Make sure to ask about the spa's cancellation policy, and be specific about what you want. If you want a 90 minute deep tissue massage, for example say that you want a 90 minute deep tissue, rather than “a massage.” If you are booking a spa treatment, ask about available treatments and how long they generally take. After you have made your appointment, ask the receptionist to confirm the date, time, and service with you.

Thai massage, a technique that involves manipulating the body of the client, requires loose fitting clothing.
Thai massage, a technique that involves manipulating the body of the client, requires loose fitting clothing.

On the day of your massage or spa treatment, make sure to shower and wear loose, comfortable clothing. Being clean is an important part of massage etiquette, since your massage therapist is going to be handling your body. If an area of your body such as your feet is especially dirty, the massage therapist may skip it, and that could make your massage less enjoyable. You should also take off your jewelry, as it can interfere with a massage. Always turn off cell phones, pagers, and other digital devices before entering a spa; this basic massage etiquette makes your session more comfortable and ensures that other spa clients are not disturbed.

It's best to indicate ahead of time when you're looking for a deep tissue massage, as it's not the same as an ordinary massage.
It's best to indicate ahead of time when you're looking for a deep tissue massage, as it's not the same as an ordinary massage.

When you arrive at a spa, you may be asked to fill out a spa intake form, unless you are a repeat client. This form asks you to disclose medical conditions and concerns which you want the spa to be aware of, and it is a good idea to be honest about allergies and underlying medical conditions such as heart problems or asthma. You will not be denied service on the basis of a medical condition, unless the spa feels that the service you have booked may be dangerous for you, and information on spa intake forms is kept secured because of its sensitive nature.

Plan to arrive to a massage session about 15-minutes early.
Plan to arrive to a massage session about 15-minutes early.

When you meet your massage therapist, it is a good idea to go over your expectations for the massage. If you have areas which you want the massage therapist to address, request that he or she focus on them, and do not be afraid to talk about any concerns you may have. Once you and the massage therapist have talked about what to expect during the session, you will be asked to step onto the table or floor mat which will be used for the session. If you need to undress, the massage therapist will step out for a moment to allow you to do so.

Clothing is often an issue in massage etiquette. Some types of massage such as Thai massage require loose, comfortable clothing, while others require the patient to undress, at least partially. You should always undress to your personal level of comfort. The massage therapist can usually offer the best massage if you are nude, but he or she can also adapt if you prefer to wear underwear or a bathing suit during the session. Whether you go naked or prefer to remain modest, you will be draped at all times during the massage.

During the massage, you may find that you get the most enjoyable experience by remaining silent, or you may prefer to chat. Express your preference to the therapist before hand. You should also provide feedback to your massage therapist; if you want him or her to go deeper or to work more in a certain area, for example, express it. At the end of the massage, the therapist will step out to allow you to collect yourself, usually telling you to “take your time” getting off the table; interpret this as taking a few minutes, not stretching out for a half hour nap.

Tipping after a massage or body treatment is another tricky aspect of massage etiquette. Standard tips range from 15-20%, although you are not obligated to tip. Be aware that if you do not tip, the massage therapist may think that you were unsatisfied with the massage; if you choose not to tip, you should clearly express your satisfaction, or lack thereof, with the experience.

Candles can add to the relaxing ambiance during a massage session.
Candles can add to the relaxing ambiance during a massage session.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Michaeld, there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for towel draping. It's really not that uncommon. I go to three different CMTs, and one of them offers the towel which I prefer. At no time was anything "exposed" and it made for a better massage since there wasn't the constant stopping to arrange the sheet. Funny how some people think you're a "perv" because they ask for the towel method. Such hangups in this profession.


Americans are definitely uptight, and germaphobic too. Its just how we are! No reason to get offended. I just had a Thai massage in Bangkok; it is very very different from massages in the U.S. The lady massaged my boobs and butt, in addition to the rest of my body. It was different, but nice! No massage therapist would ever dream of doing such a thing back in New York.

So yeah, historically Americans are very repressed and ashamed of their sexuality, for the most part.


Seriously, if you have never traveled worldwide you are hardly in a position to comment on wither Americans are uptight about nudity or sexuality. I have, and they are. The American society is largely founded on a puritanical foundation and sexuality along with nudity is something our society is very uptight with.

Your position is as illogical as ascribing the birth rate to the stork population. They are mutually exclusive propositions.


I find it a little weird to read that somebody thinks it's "unethical" to towel drape. I've never had anybody question my ethics, and I far prefer towel draping. Sure, it's possible to have a nice fluid massage with a sheet, but not everybody masters that. Most therapists I know have to pause and adjust the sheet. A towel covers exactly what needs to be covered without getting in the way.

To the person who said Americans are uptight about nudity, I'm not. I've given undraped massage sessions. You know what happens? The client assumes you're a prostitute. I'm not uptight, I'm just not in that line of work!


I love you Americans - you're just so uptight. Here in Germany, it's fine to go undraped if that's what you are more comfortable with. Personally, I don't enjoy draping as it implies that nudity and, by implication, my body is somehow a problem. Some therapists prefer to use draping for their own reasons or the policy of their establishments, but there are plenty here who are relaxed and respectful enough to take an open view.


As a therapist, communication, or lack thereof is often the underlying problem with both party's satisfaction. It is absolutely the therapist's job to make sure they initiate this communication, whether it includes areas to avoid, massage pressure, or style.

Clients and therapists alike, we may not realize that each of us have different comfort levels. Draping is taught to therapists to show respect and professionalism to their clients.

Because of the one rotten apple out there who spoiled the barrel, please understand, we are both vulnerable during a session. As a client, you'll not always know who you're dealing with beforehand; stick with reputable spas, and clinics, as a rule.

As far as the towel/sheet thing: I personally do not feel comfortable with towel draping because I've had some bad experiences. However, I'm sure there are plenty who would have no problem at all with the towel approach. It's all about finding a therapist who fits your needs. Not unlike a good hairstylist, it can take some time to find a good match.


i actually had a guy tell me about how his last therapist "towel draped" and i said i didn't do that. when i hear stuff like that, i am automatically on pervert patrol. i think it is unethical to use anything other than a complete drape. never just a towel.


michael - I think that's totally appropriate.

I would also mention, for this article, that it's okay to tell them if there are parts of your body you would like them to *avoid*.

Sometimes I'm feeling particularly self-conscious and don't want my therapist above the knees or below the hips, and they're always very receptive to that. It's a better massage if they get to the thighs and the cheeks, but sometimes I'm just not in the mood and that is fine.


Would it be appropriate to ask my therapist to use a towel only instead of a flannel sheet. I get too warm with a sheet?

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