What IS a float tank, anyway?
If you’re first approaching the idea of a business in the float industry, the best place to get started is to understand what a float tank is, how they work, and what initial concerns there are with offering floating from a business standpoint. So, we wanted to share this article adapted from our About Float Tanks Primer, a free introductory resource we have available that covers the basics of the float industry.
If you’re wanting more information after reading through what we’ve shared here, you can download the full About Float Tanks Primer here for free, and learn more about the history of the industry, and the research into how floating benefits our bodies and minds.
So…what is a float tank, anyway? Let’s kick things off with a simple dictionary definition:
(a.k.a. Flotation Tank, Float Room/Pod/Spa/Chamber, Isolation Tank, Sensory Deprivation Tank, Flotation REST, Flotation Therapy)
A tub that contains a saturated solution of Epsom salt, provides a light and sound reduced environment, and is kept at skin temperature. This environment allows a person to float effortlessly without external stimuli. They are used for many purposes, including meditation, consciousness exploration, relaxation, and physical therapy.
Simple enough, right? Now keep reading for a deeper dive into that definition, and how & why float tanks can be such a benefit to those who use them.
Introductions to a Salty Practice
Float tanks are like a perfect bathtub. They vary in size, but the typical tank is 8 feet long and 5 feet wide, roughly the dimensions of a queen-size mattress. Air is allowed to freely flow in and out, and the door never locks or latches.
Float tanks hold about a foot of water, which is saturated with roughly 1000 lbs. of Epsom salt. This creates a solution with a density comparable to the dead sea, allowing a person to float on the surface about half-in and half-out of the solution.
The temperature of the solution is kept at approximately 93-95°F / 34-35°C, the average external temperature of the human body. This is a temperature known as skin-receptor neutral, meaning the user loses track of where their skin ends and the solution begins.
Light and Sound Reduced
The tanks and the rooms around them are insulated against sound and, when you turn off the light, completely dark.
The inside of a float tank is an environment unlike any other found on Earth. In its purest form, it is detached/divorced from light, sound, temperature, and the perception of gravity. Devices like these were initially built in the 1950’s to help scientists understand the nature of consciousness. Researchers were initially worried that depriving the brain of all sensation could cause serious trauma, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Much like the inadvertent discovery of penicillin, the favorable effects caused by these “sensory deprivation tanks” were a total surprise. Instead of fear and anxiety in isolation, most people experienced deep relaxation, with physical and mental benefits that continue well beyond the flotation experience.
Studies on flotation have been overwhelmingly positive, and more benefits are still being uncovered through modern research. It’s a practice that bridges spirituality and physical wellness, consciousness and therapy. More people float for the first time every day as the practice shifts ever further into the mainstream.
Types of Float Tanks
The chambers used for flotation vary in many ways, with a host of different descriptors and features associated with them. The most common in the industry today are “tanks”, “pods”, “cabins”, and “rooms.” There aren’t hard and fast rules on the definitions, and the names are used interchangeably throughout the industry depending on preference (in this guide, for example, “float tank” is treated as a universal term). However, here is a rough breakdown on what people mean when using the common nomenclatures:
Tanks frequently have a boxy design and a hatch-style door.
Rooms are typically completely open and often constructed into the building itself.
Pods are usually egg-shaped and have a clamshell or half-clamshell style door.
Cabins are commonly taller, enclosed systems that allow entry fully upright.
Some units come with internal liners while others have tubs made with fiberglass or other non-porous materials.
Float tanks, regardless of style, vary in size, with some large enough for dual occupancy (or “couples”) floating.
All of them have a heating system for the water and either active ventilation (with a fan) or passive ventilation (with convection currents).
Most – not all – come with lights and internal sound systems for comfort and to gently notify users when their session has ended.
If you’re wanting more information on specific brands and models of float tank, consider downloading the Float Tank Comparison Guide, another free resource we offer which offers a side-by-side comparison environment for the major brands and models of float tank out there.
Basics for Float Business Owners
Building a commercial float center isn’t as simple as throwing float tanks into rooms and charging admission. There’s a lot of specialized construction required to offer a good float (such as soundproofing, lightproofing, and temperature control), and the hyper-salinity of the float tank water is so caustic that, over time, it erodes many common building materials. If a float center isn’t carefully designed, it can require expensive repairs for water & salt damage, as well as costly upgrades to bring the construction back up to adequate levels.
Water & Epsom Salt Damage
When the magnesium sulfate solution (a.k.a Epsom salt) comes in contact with common building materials (such as concrete or wood), it can create a chemical reaction that rapidly breaks down otherwise resilient structures. With materials that are even slightly porous, it allows for the salt solution to seep in and destroy the materials from the inside out, causing further damage.
As a result, float centers need to be designed with non-porous materials for the floors and walls that are more regularly found in laboratory or industrial settings). This kind of salt- and waterproofing is essential, but with an appropriate buildout, issues with salt and water damage are negligible.
Light & Sound Proofing
Contrary to what you might think, the vast majority of float tanks are not manufactured to be soundproof or lightproof, and instead require float businesses to invest in these features for their room design.
Soundproofing, especially, can be an expensive endeavor involving complicated construction and high-end products. As a result, proper waterproofing is even more important, since it will prevent damage to these costly materials.
Lightproofing is a fairly simple process; however, if care is not taken there can be light bleeds that are noticeable in an otherwise completely dark environment, such as inside a float tank.
25-30% salt by volume
Most float tanks require roughly 1000 lbs of Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) to be effective. Operators use hydrometers to measure and calculate the specific gravity, which is typically kept at 1.25-1.30, allowing anyone to float on the surface of the water.
At 94°F (34.3° C), a magnesium sulfate solution reaches its saturation point not far above a specific gravity of 1.3. This means that any more salt will refuse to dissolve into the solution and will instead gather in clumps at the bottom or float in crystalline form on the surface. For comparison, the ocean is 1.03 specific gravity, making float tanks roughly 30% denser than ocean water.
Common Customer Concerns
Is the water clean?
Floating has been around commercially for over 40 years, and as of 2016 there are over 1,000,000 floats run every year in North America. Even with such a large sample size, there has never been a reported case of illness linked to float tank use.
Commercial float tanks use a rigorous water treatment and filtration process, typically employing either UV+H2O2, UV+ozone, or chlorine/bromine. Float centers have procedures for cleaning float rooms, as well as doing regular maintenance on the equipment. As for the tanks themselves, float systems either drain, filter, and refill the salt solution or recirculate the volume of the solution 3-5 times between users.
The salt itself also makes the solution a hostile environment for most micro-organisms, and studies have shown that common pathogens don’t seem to thrive in the solution, with many naturally lowering over time.
In addition, users don’t interact with the solution as they would with the water in a pool or hot tub. As a result, floating itself is a very low-risk activity: there is a very predictable bather load, people shower before and after each float, children don’t normally use float tanks, and, perhaps most importantly, users don’t swallow the solution, eliminating a very large source of aquatic health risk.
For more detailed advice on keeping your float tank solution clean and sanitary, such as testing equipment, procedures, and advice, check out our FREE Intro to Float Water Treatment video series, or read through this blog article: Testing and Maintaining Float Tank Water Quality
I’m scared of small spaces…
A major reservation first time float tank users have is claustrophobia. Many people are worried that they may experience a fear of float tanks since they are an enclosed space.
The simple fact, though, is that users have complete control of their environment, including the lights and how much the door is open. This means that despite floating in a relatively small space, it doesn’t trigger the anxiety of claustrophobia. In fact, even diagnosed claustrophobics with debilitating symptoms have been able to float in single occupancy tanks without any fear.
I couldn’t do nothing for so long!
One of the most common responses from first time floaters is a disbelief at how quickly the time seemed to pass. Many people end up feeling that a 90 minute float only lasts for 30-45 minutes, or shorter.
Without sensory input, the brain loses track of its time keeping ability, something that otherwise feels like a constant. This happens to first time and veteran float tank users alike. Even after a few minutes in a sensory reduced environment, it can be difficult to tell how much time has passed.
Time dilation is actually fairly common in everyday life, like when waiting in line at the bank, reading a book, or during REM sleep. Given that similar brain centers activate during flotation, it’s not unexpected that a strong sense of timelessness is associated with floating.
Next Steps for Researching the Float Industry
If you’re wanting to learn more about the industry, and what it takes to start a float business or add floating to your existing wellness practice, then you’ve come to the right place.
Check out out selection of free resources, which offer our best bundles of information on the float industry, covering important preliminary topics such costs, timelines, regulatory concerns, and much more.
We also have an extensive blog archive and podcast library which address particular topics and concerns, do a search for any keywords and you’ll likely find an article or three offering some valuable insights.
If you have any specific questions or might want to chat a bit about your plans, don’t hesitate to reach out! We’re here to help (and happy to do so anytime!) – you can reach us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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