I decided to write about how you can recreate a Turkish hammam at home because my Turkish hammam experience in Istanbul was one of my favorite travel experiences ever. It was strange and exciting, super relaxing, and, at times, hella awkward. So, so awkward.
But I took what I learned during my experience and still apply it to my shower routine today. (Mostly the part where, if you scrub yourself to death, you’ll be reborn in a baby’s wondrously soft skin. But still with the adult acne. The Turkish bath may be life-changing but it’s certainly not magic.) And by that I mean: you thought you knew what exfoliation was, but you have no. idea.
And since we’re living in a time when six-feet-apart is the new norm, you’re going to have to bathe yourself I’m afraid. I’ll do my best to make sure your at-home Turkish hammam is as authentic and relaxing an experience as if you were in Istanbul yourself. Emphasis on the ‘authentic,’ which obviously means ‘awkward.’
Turkish hammam at home: What you’ll need
You can definitely recreate a Turkish bath at home with things you already have in your home. Most likely… at least I hope so. I mean, you do bathe, right? Whew, excellent start. However, if you want to go super authentic, there may be a few things you need to pick up. Check out everything you need to recreate a Turkish hammam at home here:
Pestemals are the thin towels traditionally used in Turkish baths. Their use dates back to Ottoman times and their design makes them highly absorbent and fast-drying. I loved the ones I used at Cagaloglu Hamami in Istanbul so much I bought one to bring home with me. Had I been flying home via Spirit Airlines I probably would’ve just worn that sum’bitch on the plane.
Pestemals are great for everyday bathing, for taking to the beach, and, of course, for recreating a Turkish hammam at home. Needless to say, even if you pick one up specifically for this purpose, you’ll definitely get a lot of use out of it. Buy pestemals here on Amazon.
Two regular bath towels
Pestemals work best for Turkish baths, but for the sake of being cushy and comfy, we’re also going to use two regular bath towels. One for wrapping up your hair, the other for wrapping your body at the end. I’m guessing you already have a couple of bath towels at your house, but if not you can pick up bath towels on Amazon too. No judgment.
…or a big sponge, or…?
Look, this particular part of the Turkish hammam experience requires one highly specialized piece of equipment that I just cannot find anywhere. The Turkish foam bag, or torba. Okay, maybe some of the hammam is actual magic.
This thin bag is used to create the massive mound of bubbles you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, open your eyes in. Teeeerust me. To recreate this without a torba, my only suggestion would be to use something super thin like a tea towel or even this mesh straining bag used for pressing apples. (Actually, that’s just crazy enough to work.) Or maybe just a big sponge to completely douse yourself in bubbles with, à la every rap video where a girl washes a car.
Skip to 0:25 of this hammam video to see what a torba does.
Something to cover your bathing suit parts
And by this I mean, yeah your actual bathing suit bottoms will work. If not those, then how about a pair of your daintiest panties. Bonus points for authenticity if you have a pair of disposable paper thongs ready to go. If not, why not pick up a pack? I feel like the uses here are endless!
Look, I realize this is your own home so you can go as naked as you want, but we’re going for painfully authentic here. Humor me.
For that magical bubble soak you’re also going to need some bubble bath. Pick up a bottle of Mr. Bubble or, if you’re not an 8-year-old, feel free to use whatever adult bubble bath you prefer. Now I’m not a medical or spa professional, but I’m pretty sure you’re only as old as the bath products you use.
The kese mitt is the star of the show. *pruney jazz hands* It’s a super basic, rough mitt you wear to rub off all your dead skin. It’s simple, yet effective!
Regardless of whether you’re trying to recreate a Turkish hammam at home, I highly recommend buying a kese anyway. It’s the single best thing I’ve brought into the shower in ages. (That sounded better in my head.) I use mine often and WOW such a difference it makes. But also, WOW my body is disgusting.
Pick up a kese here on Amazon.
If you don’t want to wait for your kese to come in, you can also use a super scratchy sponge, some sandpaper, a brick, or just whatever you use to scrub the bugs off the front bumper of your car. Obviously I’m kidding but… hmm…
2 small buckets
But you can also use something like a beach pail, a large bowl, a Tupperware container, or just whatever you use to wash your car with. WOW a Turkish hammam at home is starting to look a lot like a full detail job.
Bonus points for authenticity if you have a couple of loud, metal buckets. (These double as beer buckets too so… it’s a win-win purchase.) The only thing I had even close to this was a dog food bowl. Shut up, it works!
Shampoo / conditioner
Just whatever you already use is perfect for this. There is no magic formula here.
Tea & treats
No Turkish hammam (even the at-home kind) would be complete without ending it with tea and treats. Obviously, delicious Turkish tea is preferable (you can pick some up here). Again, another staple I recommend keeping in your kitchen. Bonus points for using the appropriate Turkish tea glasses. I made due with a sampler glass from a craft brewery. Potato, potato. (That would’ve made a lot more sense if I’d done a video on this topic.)
As for treats, you’ll want some Turkish delight and/or, my personal preference, baklava. We (and by that I mean my husband) make ours strictly with walnuts and honey (because I’m allergic to almonds and because we’re beekeepers drowning in bee vomit) – here’s my honey walnut baklava recipe. You can pick up everything you need on your monthly grocery run–it only takes a few ingredients.
Another Turkish treat to enjoy after your hammam is sherbet–a popular, refreshing drink in Turkey that can be prepared a ton of different ways. To recreate the amazing tamarind sherbet I had in Istanbul, check out this video.
9 steps to recreating a Turkish hammam at home
Now we will fully recreate a Turkish hammam experience at home, complete with all the awkwardness but none of the strangers-rubbing-strangers action. We will relax, we will get clean, and hopefully we will not injure ourselves. Fingers crossed. No promises.
1. Gather all supplies in your bathroom
Gather up all the supplies you’ll use for your at-home Turkish hammam and put them in your bathroom if they’re not already there. (Girl, where are you washing your hair then?) With the exception of the tea and treats, that is. Please don’t bring food into the bathtub. You clean your hooves in there.
Fill one of the buckets with warm water and bubble bath. Drop in whatever you’re going to use to create the bubble mountain—be it tea towel, sponge, or bag you used to make apple juice that one time. Set aside.
2. Strip down, wrap up
To start your Turkish hammam at home, you’ll first have to remove all your clothing, with the exception of whatever it is you’re wearing on the bottom. (Your secret is safe with me.)
Next, wrap yourself (under your arms) in your pestemal. It really is a lot more comical when a stranger you’ve just met who speaks no English tries to do this for you, but we’ll just have to use our imaginations this time.
Also, slip into a pair of flip-flops or Crocs or whatever you call these things from the 90s. These are what I wore at Cagaloglu Hamami so they must be legit. (These are in case your entire bathroom floor is soaking wet marble and the potential for a skull-cracking slip and fall is sky high.)
Bonus points for authenticity if you take a house key and put it on a hair tie around your wrist. Wear this for the entire experience.
3. Relaxation preparation
Next, you’ll want to dim the lights in your bathroom. Don’t have a dimmer? Are you not rich?? Errr, maybe just turn the lights off and keep the door open? You’re eyes are going to be shut anyway. Mere technicality.
Now, go sit on the toilet for 15 minutes, alone with your thoughts. The seat can be up or down, your preference. And by “thoughts” I mean borderline panic attack that everyone is going to forget about you down here in the hot steam cave and when they find your body it’ll closely resemble one of Ursula’s poor, unfortunate souls.
So yeah, bonus points for authenticity if you can steam up your bathroom to a frightening, “this can’t be safe!” degree first. You can achieve this by running the shower hot as blue blazes with the door closed.*
*This is not an environmentally-friendly blog post. Moving on.
(Spa voice) Spend this time simply relaxing, winding down, sweating out the toxins, and virtually melting into your toilet. This portion is meant to soften up your skin and prepare it for being thoroughly and violently sloughed off. Don’t worry, someone is going to come get you. And that someone is you.
4. Time for a rinse
After your 15 minutes is up, remove your pestemal (but not your bottoms) and go sit in the empty bathtub. Just right there in it. No bathtub? Go sit on the floor of your shower. No shower? We may need to have a longer conversation. Regardless, feel free to use a kiddie pool in your backyard. If it’s OK by the dog, it’s OK by me.
If your relaxation was hot and steamy, fill your second bucket with cool/room temperature water and aggressively douse yourself with it, head to toe, three or four times. Make sure it’s cool water—we’re going for shock factor here. Bonus points for authenticity if you’re even slightly uncomfortable and let out a moderate squeal.
On the other hand, if your relaxation was as steamy as a video of your nephew’s kindergarten graduation ceremony, you may want to soak in some hot water for a few minutes. Then dump cool water all over yourself. Set bucket aside.
Here we are ladies and gentlemen, the part of the show you came to see: e x f o l i a t i o n. Put on your kese mitt and scrub every inch of your body with the tenacity of an Olympic curler stuck in 4th place. Start with your face and work your way down, all the way to your toe tips.
Follow this up with the mandatory rubbing of your arms and stomach with your free hand to see how much gross old skin you’ve liberated from your body. Cringe accordingly. Seriously, we’re all so gross. Now flip over on your stomach and do the backside. Yes, it’s as awkward now as it was then. Enjoy. Bonus points for authenticity if you kick the bucket off the side of the tub and cause an absolutely ginormous ruckus.
Once you’ve scrubbed away your old lady self and are back to pre-pubescent levels of softness, fill your empty bucket with warm water and dump it over yourself repeatedly until all your gross old skin clumps are washed away. If you’ve seen Arwen rescue Frodo from the Nazgul then you know what this looks like. Your drain be like, “If you want them, come and claim them!”
6. Bubble bath time
Next, remove the [tea towel/apple bag/sponge] from your bubble bath bucket. Wring it out a little bit, swing it back and forth in the air a few times (hilarious if you’re actually using a sponge), and squeeze the living suds out of it and all over yourself.
Need help? Here’s that video again.
Distribute the bubbles allllll over your body and rub them in good. Get that new pre-teen skin pre-teen clean. Like, before body glitter, Stridex pads, and the sun got ahold of it. Repeat bubble procurement as needed.
Step 7 in our guide to recreating a Turkish hammam at home is the massage stage. Choose a pressure somewhere between soothing Swedish and angry German and massage your entire body, starting with your neck and ending at your feet.
Rub your neck and shoulders, your back, your arms and legs, your feet, and bonus points for authenticity if you can fall asleep while doing it!
After you’ve completed the massage, fill your bucket with warm water, rinse, and repeat.
8. Shampoo & condition
Now that your body is so fresh and so clean, it’s time to work on your hair. Sort of. Your hair is very much not the main focus of the Turkish hammam so perform the next two steps with about as much care and consideration as you do flossing your teeth.
To start, fill your bucket with warm water, lean your head back, and dump the bucket straight over your face. Repeat until thoroughly drenched and/or you’ve given away all the state secrets.
Next, half-assedly shampoo your hair. Actually, even less assedly than that. Rinse. Now half-assedly squeeze some conditioner in there. Rinse. Keep in mind you want to leave the bathroom looking like a wet lion in a windstorm. If you notice a pack of hyenas feeling threatened, you’ve succeeded.
Without even attempting to smooth it out, turban-wrap your hair into a fresh, fluffy towel. Wrap your body in another and drape your pestemal over your shoulders. At this point, you should look something like this:
9. Tea & treats
For the final step in the Turkish hammam at home experience, you’ll want to head to your living room and sit on a couch cushion in the middle of the floor. (Look, we’re working with what we’ve got.) Bonus points for authenticity if you leave your window blinds open for all passers-by to see. “Hi people I’ve never met! These are my boobs.”
Take this time to continue relaxing. Finish off your at-home Turkish bath by enjoying some hot Turkish tea, sherbet, and your sweet Turkish treats. Then, go take a quick nap in your closet. Bonus points for authenticity if you have to use your wrist key to get in there.
Have you ever experienced a real Turkish hammam?
Let me know below!
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