Are You Making Yourself and Your Clients Sick?

The physical elements of the spaces in which we live and work could be causing “unwellness”. Sonja Sorich* exposes some surprising demons lurking in our midst. 

When we hear the term “wellness”, we generally consider it to be referring to lifestyle and relaxing spa therapies.
The truth is, this term includes designing wellness within the four walls of our homes, offices and, of course, our spas.

We spend an average 56 percent of our lives at work, and 90 percent of our lives indoors. And with indoor air quality generally being five times more polluted than outdoor air, we can quickly begin to see why “sick building syndrome” was officially recognised by the World Health Organisation in 1986.

Diseases that could be linked to the home, office or spa include allergies, fatigue, asthma, hay fever and recurrent colds and flu.

The current challenge within the spa industry is that so many spas lack proper ventilation – or even windows. Coupled with clients walking in wearing shoes, shedding layers of skin and emotion within the treatment room, it’s possible that our spas could be far more physically and energetically toxic than most homes and offices.

So how do we design wellness spaces?
In hunter-gatherer days, indigenous people assessed the life and prosperity of land by observing plants and animals so as to avoid “sickness country”.

In modern times, a detailed “building biology” checklist can be used when choosing the best site for your wellness space, even if it’s in an urban environment.

Setting a clear intention for how your spa will serve as a wellness destination will then inform the design process, whereby a number of elements can be considered. These are from geopathic stress to feng shui principles to air purity and ventilation, use of natural light, electrical wiring, green walls and heating and cooling choices.

The next step in wellness design also considers the health of the planet, by using sustainably sourced and/or recycled materials in the initial construction of a spa.

These ethical choices also impact on our wellbeing as new buildings’ “off gas” high levels of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) from treated woods, insulation, Gyprock, paints, glues and sealants.

Building materials may also contain radioactive nuclides; particularly cement, bricks and stone.

Wellness design then extends into the selection of finishes and fixtures, which include floors, carpets, upholstery padding, furniture, fabrics and built-in cabinetry, all of which also “off gas” high levels of VOCs. Therefore, they are a major cause of poor indoor air quality.

If building a new spa is just not on the financial agenda right now, then there’s still many ways that wellness can be implemented within an existing spa. And the points spoken of below also apply to the final elements crucial to a new spa design:


Air Purity and Ventilation: Many spas are designed without windows, hence air ventilation is absent. There are a number of air purifiers on the market but the humble household plant is the most effective air purifier. Plants balance humidity levels, pull contaminants out of the air, reduce airborne moulds and bacteria and absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.


Dust (and the multitude of mites colonised within) is caused by, among myriad other things, the shedding of human skin cells and the detritus left by walking indoors in shoes. Consider a guest journey that has clients and staff leave their shoes at the door.  Avoid fabric curtains and too many fabric furnishings. Use a slightly damp microfibre cloth to clean surfaces and floors. Choose cushions and bedding made from natural fibres and wash regularly in hot water and then air-dry in the sun. And use a vacuum cleaner with a Hepa filter and motorised head.


Mould is extremely toxic and must be removed at all costs, as this will be affecting the health of you, your team and clients. You might even have to relocate your business due to the serious health consequences of mould. In the meantime, clean with vinegar.


Water Filters are not a luxury but rather an absolute necessity. Ensure you are drinking pure water and, equally, serving pure water to guests.


Electro Magnetic Frequencies exist wherever there is electricity and can negatively impact on our health and ability to relax. There are a number of considerations when choosing a site and then when building. But in terms of an existing spa, it is important to remove cordless phones and wifi, as well as turn off all power points when appliances are not in use.

CLEANING-PRODUCTSCleaning Chemicals affect the health of our space, as well as the planet. In leading the way in wellness, it’s imperative that spas use natural cleaning products, and eucalyptus oil and essential oils as air fresheners. If possible, source an eco laundry for the laundering of towels, because detergent stays stuck in the fabric, which then comes into direct contact with our skin.


Cooling and Heating are not created equal and need to be considered when choosing how you manage the temperature of your space. Air conditioners need to be maintained so as to not become a health hazard.


Candles: While there is nothing nicer than the gentle flicker of a candle, the truth is that most (unless made from beeswax or soy) are actually filling your space with carcinogenic chemicals, which can contribute to causing cancer and affect the central nervous system. Buy good quality candles or use rechargeable ones.


Showers and Chlorine: When showering in warm water, guests are exposed to high levels of chlorine. Consider a vitamin C showerhead filter, which reduces chlorine by 99 percent and offers your spa a USWP (Unique Wellness Selling Point).


Incense: There is nothing more spiritually evocative than the smell of incense. However, it does cause air pollution and is not recommended for the spa environment.


Smudging Ceremony: Many cultures believe the spirits of sacred plants, such as sage, are called to drive away negative energy and restore the balance to a particular space. Quite surprisingly, a study in the Journal Ethnopharmacology found that the process of “smudging” a space for one hour caused a 94 percent reduction in the bacterial count of the room. And the energetic clearing will increase the vibration.

In summary, as the spa industry leads the way in wellness, it’s important that we begin to consider taking a “whole” approach to wellness and truly caring for our clients, ourselves and our teams, through the way we design our spaces.

* Sonja Sorich lives in a sustainably built home at The Eco Village, Queensland, and is the director of Spa Wellness Consulting, a boutique company that offers an holistic wellness approach to the business development of spas, retreats and hotels. SPAWELLNESS.COM.AU