Onsen Etiquette: Do You Have to Wash Your Hair Before?


Onsen Etiquette Washing Hair Before Visiting Onsen Hot Spring Bath

I noticed you still had a few unanswered questions about the proper onsen etiquette for washing your hair. So I have decided to write a comprehensive guide about exactly when, how, and why you should wash and tie up your hair before entering the onsen.

So do you always have to wash your hair before entering an onsen? The proper onsen etiquette is to wash your hair before entering the hot spring and, if you have long hair, you have to tie it up in such a way that it doesn’t touch the water. I don’t recommend it but it can be okay to skip washing your hair. However, always make sure your hair is out of the water.

As usual with these kinds of topics, I also asked my Japanese students and friends for their opinion. So now I can answer you in detail why you occasionally will see a Japanese person soaking in a hot spring with dry hair. You will also find out why you might want to wash your hair twice: before and after the onsen.

So first let’s have a look at the proper onsen etiquette!
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Why You Should But Don’t Have to Wash Your Hair Every Time Before Entering Onsen

In order to write this post as accurately as possible, I looked up the proper onsen etiquette in Japanese. Luckily a lot of those onsen guides written in Japanese have very detailed washing instructions. So here is exactly how they tell you to wash yourself before entering the hot spring.

The proper onsen etiquette for washing your hair and body is:

  1. Take one of the Japanese bath buckets and use it to carefully scoop warm water over yourself. There is usually a separate area right at the entrance where you can do this. It is called Kake-yu.
  2. Go over to the shower and washing area. Sit down on one of the stools and cleanse your whole body thoroughly. Start with washing and shampooing your hair and also pay attention to properly rinse out the shampoo and conditioner. If you have shoulder-length hair or longer tie it up in a bun after rinsing.
  3. Then use the small towel and soap to cleanse the rest of your body. Again start at the top and wash your whole body thoroughly from head to toe.
  4. When you are done showering, rinse off the stool, shower area, and the small towel.

I know this sounds extensive, but this is one of the most essential, if not the most essential onsen etiquette of all, and here is why.

Why you should wash your hair before entering the onsen

In an onsen, you are sharing the bathtub with other people, so it is very important that everything stays as clean and hygienic as possible.

Your hair, however, is constantly exposed to the environment, it can carry small dust particles and in summer it can be sweaty. As this study shows it can even adhere and colonize bacteria. Washing your hair thoroughly can prevent most of that from getting into the water.

Now some people might want to argue that their hair won’t touch the water. But even if you have short hair, or if your hair is tied up in a bun and out of the water, the dust particles can still fall off and pollute the water.

Moreover, can you really make sure it won’t touch the water at all? All too often it happens that at some point during your soak you accidentally dip a lock of your hair into the water. It certainly happened to me before.

So washing your hair thoroughly before entering the hot spring really helps to keep the water clean and hygienic. And therefore it is the proper onsen etiquette and I urge you to follow it.

Nevertheless, sometimes you will see a few people – this includes Japanese people  – soak in the tub with dry hair. But before you use that as an excuse to skip washing your hair as well, please read on, because it is because of this very reason.

When you still should but don’t need to wash your hair before

In my post about wearing a yukata to an onsen, I mentioned onsen ryokans and onsen hopping. When staying at such a ryokan or when you do a so-called onsen meguri and visit several hot springs in a row you will already have washed your hair thoroughly at least once on that day.

In that case, you don’t need to wash your hair every single time before entering a hot spring and you might see Japanese people skipping that step.

However, I still wouldn’t recommend doing it. Drying your hair can be annoying. Believe me, I know! My hair takes ages to dry. But cleanliness and hygiene are just such important things when taking a bath together. So, in my opinion, you should at least rinse your hair before getting into the water.

Personally, I always choose to follow the proper onsen etiquette and wash my hair every single time before my soak. Not only because of the hygiene but also because I like to try out the different shampoo and conditioner.

Most onsens have really good beauty products. Their shampoo and conditioner smell so good, make your hair extremely smooth, and quite often they are also organic products. There’s no way I would want to miss out on trying them!
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Why You Have to Tie up Long Hair Before Entering Hot Springs

While you can get away with not washing your hair, tying up long hair is as important as washing your body. You always have to do it.

When your hair is long enough that you can tie it up, you should do so. Instead of a hair elastic, you can also use a shower cap or a towel and wrap your hair up in a hair turban. But try to make sure that it won’t come off by any chance.

From what I have seen almost all Japanese use a hair elastic. I would also recommend you tying your hair in a bun instead of a ponytail because with a normal ponytail the hair still tends to get into the water. This faux pas happened to me when I went to an onsen for the first or second time.

If the hair at your neckline is too short and you can’t get it into your bun you can use some additional bobby pins to keep it out of the water. Sometimes Japanese also like to use a towel just for that. Same as with your hair, though, make sure that the towel doesn’t touch the water.

And just in case you were wondering why Japanese are so strict with this rule, here are the four reasons:

  1. Cleanliness and hygiene. Nobody likes strands of hair in their bathwater.
  2. Remaining shampoo and conditioner won’t dissolve and mix with the hot spring water. Even if you wash your hair thoroughly there is usually a little bit of the product left.
  3. If there is no hair blocking the drainage the staff can clean the onsen much faster.
  4. Onsen water can damage your hair.

The last one I am going to explain in more detail in the next section.

When You Should Wash Your Hair a Second Time

This is the last thing I would like to discuss today. You can find tons of Japanese women asking about this and your Japanese hairdresser will never fail to remind you before your onsen trip.

Onsen water contains different minerals and depending on the type of hot spring and the concentration it could dry out and damage your hair. That’s why hairdressers always remind their customers to be extra careful to not let their hair get into the onsen water.

If you accidentally got hot spring water on your hair because you touched it for example and you know it is a more acidic spring, you might want to wash your hair again after your bath.

Most of my Japanese friends like to do that anyway because they want to rinse off the sweat from soaking in the water. I also do it most of the time so that I can feel 100% fresh and clean after my onsen visit.

Questions About Visiting an Onsen?

I hope that this guide helped you to answer all of your questions about the right onsen etiquette for when to wash your hair. If you still have questions or related questions feel free to ask them anytime!

See you (。⌒‐⌒。)ノ

Image Courtesy

Onsen 温泉”, by Japanexperterna.se, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Alex (RockinJapan)

Hey. I'm Alex. I've been living in Japan since 2015. Before moving to Tokyo, I traveled through Japan for 7 months to visit all 47 prefectures. Traveling and staying in Japan has been so much fun and such an incredible experience that I decided to write about it. I noticed there isn't a lot of information about hot springs and onsen towns in Japan, so I'm focusing on this topic. Hopefully, my articles will help you to get the most out of your trip and to fully enjoy your time in Japan! Alex

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