How Sensory Deprivation Tanks Work (In Layman’s Language)

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I often bump into the popular question ‘how sensory deprivation tanks work?’ It is something that a lot of people want to know more about and that is why in the following paragraphs we are going to demystify how the so-called floatation tanks function.

The fashionableness of those wellness gadgets is undeniable in the past several years. As visible in the Google Trends image below, the term ‘sensory deprivation tank’ is largely searched online.

sensory deprivation tank
Source: Google Trends

Every floatation enthusiast certainly knows the health benefits of practicing sensory deprivation but it turns out that not so many people are aware of how exactly the float tanks work.

The truth is that the science behind this invention dates from 1954 when the neuroscientist John C. Lilly developed the first floatation tank as part of his research on consciousness.

Since then, the sensory deprivation tanks went through a lot of sophistications and modernizations.

Nowadays, most of them resemble a peculiar and ultra-modern sleeping chambers coming from a high-budged science-fiction movie.

In order to better comprehend how those tanks function, we are going to separately depict their structure and components.

Even though there are several types of floatation tanks, the mechanism is similar for each and every one of them.

For more information about the different types of sensory deprivation tanks, check out this ‘floating tanks types’ section.

Without a further ado let’s see…

How Sensory Deprivation Tanks Work

The materials

As you know, the idea of a floatation tank is to provide an effortless floating experience deprived form any type of external stimuli such as sound, smell, light, temperature, etc.

floatation tank
Image via

In order to achieve that, the tanks are made from high quality materials that meet every health and safety standards but also help to create an isolated environment.

Often that includes glass reinforced plastic like in the case of the egg-shaped isopod or carefully developed vinyl like in the case of the Zen float tent.

By the way, if you are still not aware of the newest invention in the world of the sensory deprivation, then check out how easy and affordable it is to bring your floatation experience at home.

Also, they are completely insulated so that there is no loss of heat or intrusion of sound.

The Water

The tanks are filled with usually 200 gallons of water that circulates freely. What allows the body to float and simulates a non-gravity environment is the presence of approximately 850 lbs of Epsom Salt.

It is an inorganic salt also known as magnesium sulfate and it is commonly used as a bath salt.

Used in big amounts, it makes the water dense enough so that the body can always be on the surface without having to actually try.

The water is drained via a pump that connects to a hose but still, some small amounts of the solution have to be manually removed from the bottom.

The Temperature

Once again, the idea is to feel nothing when floating. That is why the water is heated to a skin temperature meaning that it is always maintained to 34 °C.

That brings us to the next part…

The Heating System

There most widely used technologies to heat a sensory deprivation tanks are two:

  • The in-line heating system that uses circulation heaters
  • Heating elements that are put underneath the tank

They both have their pros and cons.

heating system
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From one hand, the main advantage of the inline heating system is that it heats the water really fast but given the fact that it operates only between the float sessions, the temperature of the water starts to decrease after two hours.

Therefore, a longer float is hardly possible.

On the other hand, the heating elements positioned underneath the tank offer a continuous heating, thus allowing longer floats.

Their main disadvantage is that they are not so efficient in terms of cost savings and also they heat more the surface of the tank rather than the water. So they function similarly to a casserole.

There are other heating methods as well. For example, the first home floatation tank – the Zen Float Tent uses radiant heaters that are always turned on so that the water is constantly at the appropriate temperature.

Moreover, those radiant heating pads are custom-made so that they are cost efficient, produce no noise at all, and make the water more consistent.

The Filtration System

Hygiene is probably the most important thing when it comes to the maintenance of every float tank.

A surprising fact is that if maintained properly, the water in the tank can be changed in every 1-2 years. For every float tank owner this is an amazing facilitation since draining the water in the tank and refilling it again is undoubtedly an overwhelming task.

This is achieved thanks to the well-thought-out filtration systems that the tanks have.

Basically, every floatation tank has its water maintenance guide that the owner should strictly follow.

In this article we are going to mention the common filtration solutions.

The UV water filters

Some of the tanks have an UV disinfection systems that work non-stop and kill 99.99% of the microorganisms in the water.

UV filter
Image via

The water in the tank goes through the UV filter via the hose, then enters a mechanical filter bag. After a filtration, the clean water enters into the tank again. It is a constant circulation process that purifies the water.

Micron Filtration System

This is known to be highly effective and useful mostly for commercial purposes.

micron filter
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However, this solution requires a separate space outside of the room where the tank is located as it is a big machinery.

The Micron Filtration is FDA compliant and it can filter extremely small particles – 1 micron in size, therefore its name.

For more information check out this article here or the video below.

Light and Music

Based on the endless needs and desires of his majesty the customer, some floatation pods have tender music and gentle light.

They are built with Ipod and Mp3 players and allow the connection of a smartphone via a Bluetooth.

They also have LED lights with different colors. All that can be toggled from inside the pod.

This is strictly for those who relax better with the appropriate light and sound but in general this breaks the principles of the sensory deprivation because the brain cannot fully decompose with the presence of external stimuli.

Some of the tanks in the float centers even have a built-in intercom system, so that the floater can communicate with the spa staff whenever he wants with the press of a button.


It is indisputable that the technology behind the sensory deprivation tanks is smart, practical, and always innovative. It will certainly continue to evolve in order to satisfy the rising demands for a flawless floatation experience.

Have you ever tried floating and in which kind of a float tank? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below!




4 thoughts on “How Sensory Deprivation Tanks Work (In Layman’s Language)

  • June 11, 2018 at 6:23 am

    wow sounds pretty cool ,is their purpose for relaxation and how much would one of them cost?
    great web site thank you for sharing!

    • June 12, 2018 at 5:11 am

      Hi Laurie,

      The floatation tanks are created for the means of a deep relaxation of the mind and the body. They are strongly conducive to meditation.
      The price of the sensory deprivation tanks vary significantly depending on the model.
      An isopod could be in the range of $10 000-$50 000 but the Zen Float Tent which is intended for home use starts from $1940.

  • June 11, 2018 at 7:04 am

    Very interesting and informative

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