As we drove through the flooded streets, trying to find a through way, I rolled down the windows to get a better look at the flooded plains and suddenly inhaled the familiar rotten egg smell of beautiful West Baden.
“The next time I come here, I’m taking a sulfur bath,” I declared.
4 months later, I decided to do just that.
For those of you not from Southern Indiana, let me catch you up to speed on what a Pluto Bath is, and why French Lick and West Baden stink so bad.
Old postcard from French Lick (source – Wikipedia)
French Lick became a really popular spa / travel spot in the late 1800s, because of it’s mineral springs, which – yes, you guessed it – are high in sulfur. Fun fact – they’re also high in lithium, which is often used for mania and depression. Other fun fact – “French Lick” is actually a reference to the mineral springs, which people called french licks (hence why I named this blog “French Lick the pain away”).
If you can imagine it, back in the 1800s people would travel for hundreds of miles, just to come and experience these “Pluto baths” or “Sprudel baths” to alleviate a laundry list of ailments.
Now that I know natural Pluto water contained lithium, that makes a lot more sense to me, but the reason I wanted to try a bath high in sulfur is for the acne-fighting benefits (I’ve had great results with sulfur and now use a $7 cream to control my acne). A sulfur spring sounds very similar to the Moor Mud baths that Eastern Europeans have been taking for hundreds of years.. except definitely stinkier. Moor mud has high sulfur content and no scent (how do the Europeans always seem to get blessed?)
Pluto water was also sold as a strong laxative in the early 1900s, and was evidently very popular (and effective, I’m sure). In 1919, it took 450 train cars to export all the Pluto water that was sold (source).
A newspaper advertisement for Pluto water from 1918 (source Wikipedia)
The FDA eventually shut down the sale of Pluto water, but bottles can still be seen today at West Baden/French Lick as relics.
According to one of the spa workers during my trip there, the Pluto Water was sent to a lab in Indianapolis to get a chemical breakdown. They now sell the powder, compromised of 22 minerals and gases (which I assume means they put in the powdered form of the chemicals that are found as gases), so that you can make your own Pluto Bath at home. Whether or not you actually want to do that, well.. let’s get into it.
Houdini posing next to an advertisement for the Pluto Spring (source: Wikipedia)
Test: A Real Pluto Bath at French Lick
Being a beauty blogger from Lawrence county – the county just adjacent to French Lick – a verified Pluto Bath was high on my list of priorities.
I really didn’t know what to expect–apart from the smell, that is.
The smell of sulfur really does waft around the entire grounds of West Baden and French Lick both. If you’ve ever been, you know what I mean; it’s not like you have to actively seek out the smell. It’s everywhere.
The French Lick / West Baden hotels are basically right next door to each other and both really fancy – in an old, late 1800s/early 1900s type of way. It’s like stepping into the scene of an old movie. They’re literally some of the best hotels in Indiana (French Lick hotel was voted THE best hotel in Indiana in 2011) and are bothAAA Four-Diamond nationally historic hotels. Staying at either one is also way more expensive than anything you’ll do in a 100 mile vicinity.
The spa was no exception.
Gorgeous, fabulous, historic-feeling and..
One Pluto Bath these days will run you $45 for a 25 minute soak (full spa menu here).
I actually would recommend biting the bullet on the $5 upcharge and reserving an Aromatherapy Sprudel Bath, which is the Sprudel Bath (Pluto Bath) with some essential oils added to the experience. Here’s why:
My mom and I showed up to the 27,000 sq foot Natatorium 15 minutes early for our bath. Right on time.
We changed into big, fluffy robes and waited in the sun room (fabulous, by the way), sipping on fruit-infused water (which I couldn’t believe was ICED water, by the way. That would never fly in Asia). No phones allowed, but a girl’s gotta snap some selfies for the blog, so #SorryNotSorry.
A few minutes later, our therapist – I’m not sure if therapist is the correct term; perhaps “spiritual guide” may be a better term here – came to lead us both to our deaths.. I mean Pluto baths.
By the time we got to the end of the hall, the rotten egg smell was overwhelming.
“Enjoy your baths slowly; step out if you need to. Some people experience chills or heat waves during the process, as the body is detoxifying. Just pay attention to your feeling and step out or run some cold water into the bath if you need to,” our spiritual guide warned us. He handed us both glasses of ice water, which I internally scoffed at and secretly loved at the same time.
We separated into our different rooms, to experience our baths individually (good idea).
I stripped down and stepped in. Nothing to see here, folks. Just a stinky bath!
No phone, no music, just some relaxing spa music sounds and my empty mind. I wanted to really experience this, so I turned away any wandering thoughts and tried to stay in the moment.
5 minutes in and I was doing fine (except for wondering how people passed the time back in the 1800s without phones and the internet and electronic music files..). Because I came for the acne benefits, I decided that I’d get my face wet; I splashed some water on my face.
Great, my hands smell like sulfur.
At the 10 minute mark, I decided to step out (it was hot and my body was feeling a little weird). Ice water? Gone.
15 minutes in, I really wanted some more sulfur on my face, so I slid my body down in the tub, so that only my nose could peek above the water.
I kept gagging.
Time to step out for a minute!
The gagging didn’t really stop, because the sulfur was all up on my upper lip, hands and entire body. It was all around me, on me, in me. It wasn’t going anywhere.
“I am PAYING for this!” I kept thinking. $45 for 25 minutes is almost $2/minute. I better ENJOY it.
At 25 minutes, I was sooo happy for my spiritual guide to drag my pruny handed-self out of that bath tub. I was literally counting down the seconds for him to knock at the door.
I wrapped up and dragged my butt right on out of there.
“How was it?” he asked, way too happy for my liking.
“Fine – stinky.”
“Did you feel hot?” he asked.
“No, but I almost puked.”
A shower never felt so good.
For the rest of the day, I did feel refreshed, light, airy. So did my mom.
I imagine that back in the 1800s, people’s noses weren’t quite so sensitive as they are today. I mean, they only bathed like once a week. C’mon!
I probably wouldn’t book another 100% Sprudel Bath; I’d go the aromatherapy Sprudel route, and probably just book an entire package for the day while I was at it (the Destress Ritual Package looks amazing!). Afterwards, when recounting the events to friends and family, I gathered that the facials are amazing, so a massage + facial + bath sounds just about right.
The history of Pluto Water runs deep, but the benefits of bathing in it may be overblown. The benefits of drinking it? Well, that’s another story. We just can let the historic popularity of Pluto Water speak for itself!
With fantastic hotels, a great spa, the casino and nearby winery; French Lick/West Baden is a must if you are passing through (or living in!) Southern Indiana.
Have you been to French Lick or West Baden Springs? Comment below!