113 Things You Should Know About Saunas (2023)
If you don't know too much about saunas, but you're itching to gain as much info as you can, you came to the right place. After reading this post I can all but guarantee you'll be an absolute sauna expert.
We start off with a quick history of using heat for therapy, where saunas came from and what they've been used for in the past. We then jump into the benefits of using a sauna, what exactly a "traditional" sauna is, and how to get started building your own sauna. We finish off with how infrared saunas came about, the advent of portable saunas and sauna blankets, and then...what's next? Saunas in the metaverse?
Otherwise, let's dive right in!
A Brief History of Saunas
1. We're not 100% sure where saunas were first used, but all signs point to Finland or Northern Europe, over 2,000 years ago. The sauna was used as a place to clean one's self and considered a sterile environment. While still being true today we know there are so many more benefits to using a sauna.
2. The Finnish word "sauna" translates roughly to "earth" or "snow pit". This is because the first saunas were built into caves or in the ground and heated with hot stones.
3. There's evidence that sauna type structures were used all over the ancient world. So although Finland gets the credit it's likely that lots of different cultures built hot rooms to sweat in, detox and get clean.
4. In Russia they call them Banyas. In Turkey they are Hammams and the Japanese call them Sentos. But they all do the same thing - get you sweaty and relieve stress!
5. John Harvey Kellogg's incandescent electric light bath, introduced at the Chicago's World Fair in 1893 (Also where the Ferris Wheel debuted), is the precursor to the modern concept of infrared saunas. The Japanese really created the first infrared sauna, but before that Finland was fast at work perfecting the traditional sauna.
6. In 1950 Tapani Harvia started making saunas and different types of sauna heaters in Finland. His company, Harvia, is now a leading manufacturer of all things in the sauna world and produces some of the most reliable sauna heaters and other products on the market.
7. Shortly after Harvia was started, the infrared sauna was created in Japan in 1965. Using infrared light to heat the body directly, instead of heating the air inside the sauna, the infrared sauna ushered in an entirely new approach to getting sweaty.
8. Saunas went through a little bit of an awkward teenager type phase in the 1970s. See the Wonder Sauna Hot Pants. Should we bring these back?
9. Aside from sauna pants, regular saunas also started to gain in popularity in the United States in the 1970s and Americans started buying and building thousands and thousands of them.
10. The 80s are when saunas really got popular, with many Americans building saunas directly into their homes, and gyms and health clubs started adding saunas as luxury amenities as well.
11. The 90s even saw a sauna boom! It's starting to look like every decade has a bit of a sauna streak because it didn't stop in the early 2000s and it certainly hasn't stopped lately. Saunas are more popular than ever.
12. Smoke saunas, or Savusaunas in Finnish, are a smoky take on the traditional sauna. Savusaunas don't have a chimney, so as a wood burning sauna stove heats up and emits smoke that blackens the walls. Once the sauna gets to a hot enough temperature the smoke is released from the sauna, and the heater stays hot enough for a while to use the sauna.
13. It's customary in Finland to wear a sauna hat to keep the head from burning and promote more sweat. Typically made from wool it's a little bit like wearing a sweater on your head in a really hot room. So you can imagine the sweat production while wearing one. Plus they look super cool!
14. As stated above, saunas are now more popular than ever. Finnish Sauna was even inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists at the December 17, 2020 UNESCO meeting. I bet you didn't know that.
Ok, enough with the history lessons. Let's dig into some info on electric sauna heaters, which were modernized by Harvia and are the most popular way to heat a sauna.
Electric Sauna Heaters
15. Electric sauna heaters are by far the most popular type of sauna heaters and were invented in the 1950s in Finland. It's a lot easier than building a fire every time you want to take a sauna! Harvia electric sauna heaters are some of the most reliable on the market.
16. Electric sauna heaters can heat your sauna up to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit, even in outdoor saunas in the winter.
18. Electric sauna heaters contain heating elements that get super hot and heat the sauna stones (typically olivine diabase) placed in and around the heating elements. The sauna stones emit a slow, even heat that naturally neutralizes the ions in the air.
19. Pouring water over the sauna stones is the traditional Finnish way to create steam and more heat in your sauna. Be careful, though. You don't want to pour so much water on the stones that you cool them down or get it directly on the heating elements.
20. As stated above, electric sauna heaters either have controls built right into them, or they may use external controls. In the age of the App you can even use your smartphone to control your electric sauna heater. Electric sauna heaters typically take about 30-45 minutes to get to temperature, so make sure you give your sauna plenty of time to heat up before jumping in.
21. Most, if not all, electric sauna heaters come with useful features like auto-shut off timers, temperature controls and scheduled sessions.
22. Electric sauna heaters can be used in saunas as small as 100 cubic feet, or as large as over 1,500 cubic feet. But the most common size is between 250 and 500 cubic feet.
23. The electrical service required for residential electric sauna heaters is between 20 amps and 50 amps (for sauna heaters between 3kW and 10kW), with 240V/1PH service. Commercial electric sauna heaters use less amperage and a 3PH connection. If you're not sure what size sauna heater is right for you give us a call!
24. The "basket" style of electric sauna heater has gained in popularity of the years. It uses a lot more sauna stones that create a smooth, consistent heat, releasing negative ions in the air, which is a very positive thing!
25. Using an air tunnel in your electric sauna heater can increase the time it takes to get your sauna up to temperature by about 25%.
26. Contrary to popular belief, buying a bigger sauna heater for a smaller sauna doesn't necessarily mean it will get hotter. Most electric sauna heaters automatically turn off after they hit a certain temperature. Your sauna heater will turn back once things cool down a bit. This is normal and a great safety feature.
27. Electric sauna heaters get really really hot. The best way to safely use a sauna is to break it up into sessions. Start with 15 minutes on and 3-4 minutes out of the sauna. The more you use the sauna the longer you'll last in it. Make sure you take a break if you start feeling woozy or light headed.
Wood Burning Sauna Stoves
28. Wood burning sauna stoves are the most classic and traditional method of heating your sauna. They don't require any electricity and are ideal for saunas in remote locations.
29. The best woods to burn in a wood burning sauna stove are hard woods such as birch, maple and ash. Hard woods burn longer and hotter than softer woods like pine and cedar, so your wood burning sauna stove stays hotter!
30. Make sure you always start with a clean firebox prior to using your wood burning sauna stove. It helps to ensure the logs in firebox burn cleanly.
31. After you load up the firebox of your wood burning sauna stove, let the wood burn for a good forty five minutes. This gives your sauna enough time to heat up and come to temperature. You should expect about an hour or so of really high temperature.
32. Move the damper of your firebox around to let in the right about of oxygen. You'll find the sweet spot that really gets the fire roaring.
33. Wood burning sauna stoves can use the same sauna stones that electric sauna heaters use. This effectively creates another heat source to keep the sauna nice and hot while you use it.
34. Some of the best wood burning sauna stoves have "extended throats". This allows you to load the firebox from the outside of the sauna and helps keep the sauna nice and clean.
35. Make sure you use a protective backing and bedding for your wood burning sauna stove. This prevents the actual sauna from getting to hot and from burning.
36. While we're at it, this is an obvious one, but make sure you don't let any embers or flames fly out and burn the sauna. We don't want you burning your sauna down.
37. Your wood burning sauna stove is going to need a chimney. You can either build your sauna so the chimney goes out the roof, or if it makes sense for your sauna you can set it up so the chimney comes out of the side of the sauna.
38. Clean the inside of the firebox after every use if you're able. This prevents ashes and gunk from building up and helps the wood in the sauna burn cleaner and longer.
39. Wood burning saunas are typically found in remote outdoor locations. In my opinion this makes them the best. Especially if you're located next to a lake or river.
40. There's just something cozy and relaxing about a wood burning sauna, especially in the winter. The crackling of the fire, the smell of the wood burning, and hanging out waiting for it to get hot with your friends. It's something that just can't be beat.
We can all agree Nos. 39 and 40 are facts, right? Ok, now on to some of the best health benefits from using a sauna regularly.
Health Benefits of Regular Sauna Use
41. Regular sauna use may have a positive effect on increasing good cholesterol, or HDL, and reducing bad cholesterol, or LDL.
42. Don't be surprised if you start sleeping better after a few weeks of sauna sessions. Regular sauna use has been linked to better quality sleep.
43. Reduced stress and anxiety is a really well known benefit of regular sauna use. 20-30 minutes in a hot sauna after a long, stressful day is the best way to get rid of that anxiety.
44. MORE ENERGY! I know this one from personal experience. About 20-30 minutes after a good long sauna session you all of a sudden feel more alert, more energetic and ready to take on the day. Give it a try next time you have a tough time rolling out of bed.
45. Better skin is a lesser known benefit of using a sauna on a regular basis, but if you're looking to fight off wrinkles and fine lines, regular sauna sessions are a great way to improve your skin.
46. As your body heats up your heart rate increases and overtime this may have a positive effect on your cardiovascular health.
47. Saunas are a great place to meet new people and make friends. Nothing beats a conversion "on the bench" with a good friend.
48. Saunas may cause your body to release toxins and chemicals stored in fat cells.
49. Regular sauna sessions have been shown to greatly improve the body's immune system.
50. Using a sauna after a hard workout has been shown to increase the body's recovery time. Saunas are an especially great place for post-workout stretching.
51. Regular sauna use may stave off Alzheimer's and dementia, a study in 2017 found.
52. While using a sauna in and of itself doesn't cause you to lose weight, regular sauna use has been linked to healthy weight loss.
53. Hopping in a sauna is the perfect way to end your ski day. Skiing is cold, and saunas are hot. It's as simple as that. Next time you're done on the mountain make sure you give yourself some time for a sauna session to warm up and recover!
How To Build Your Own Sauna
54. You can build a sauna almost anywhere. In fact, you can even turn your closet into a sauna pretty easily.
56. Whether you want to build an outdoor sauna or an indoor sauna, the best woods to use are cedar, hemlock, fir, pine and spruce.
57. Traditional saunas are made from all kinds of wood, but the five most popular woods used for saunas are cedar, hemlock, spruce, fir and pine.
58. Cedar wood is the most popular wood for saunas due to its naturally occurring anti-microbial properties and warm, inviting sauna aroma.
59. SaunaLife barrel saunas use thermally modified Nordic Spruce to create some of the strongest, most durable barrel saunas on the market.
60. Some electric sauna heaters are small enough to fit into a closet.
61. You can convert interesting and fun spaces into saunas. All you need is your imagination, some nice wood and a few tools. Check out this sauna Ted built with our help up in Vermont!
62. Sauna enthusiasts have converted all kinds of spaces into saunas. One of the coolest is this gondola sauna!
63. How are you going to control your sauna? Wi-Fi Saunas are gaining in popularity and you can certainly turn your DIY Sauna into a Wi-Fi Sauna with the Huum UKU WiFi Control.
64. Should you insulate your sauna? Most outdoor saunas don't actually use insulation, but if you plan on building an indoor sauna you may consider insulating your sauna.
65. How are you going to ventilate your sauna? It's counterintuitive, but a vent creates air flow and prevents the hot air in your sauna from gathering at the top. Barrel saunas especially work well with a little ventilation. There are even a few different methods of thought about how to ventilate your sauna.
66. Even the placement of the temperature sensor in your sauna can make a huge difference! Because hot air rises the sensor will always read a little cooler in temperature the lower it is. The higher your sauna thermometer, the higher the temp reading. If you want your sauna to get up to 200 degrees consider placing your thermometer lower.
67. Small water features are a great addition to any DIY sauna.
68. Install a vapor barrier in your sauna to prevent moisture related damage and reflect heat back into the sauna. If you install insulation in your sauna a vapor barrier is required to prevent moisture and water from getting into the insulation.
69. Two-tiered benches in your sauna is ideal and allows for more people to spread out and relax as they enjoy their sauna sessions. The lower bench is generally about 18 inches off the floor and the upper bench should be about 36 inches off the floor. Both benches are typically 18-24 inches deep.
70. What accessories should you add to your sauna? There are backrests, custom doors, safety rails and all kinds of different accessories. One of my favorite things to add to your sauna is chromotherapy lighting.
71. Barrel saunas are some of the most popular type of outdoor saunas in the world, and are perfect for cold weather climates, particularly SaunaLife Barrel Saunas, which are made from thermally modified wood designed to withstand harsh winters.
72. As you probably recall from junior high science class, heat rises. But in a barrel sauna, heat rises and then keeps looping around the barrel, especially if you have a vent in your barrel sauna to create some air flow. This is the primary reason for the design of the barrel sauna.
73. You can use an electric sauna heater or a wood burning sauna stove in your barrel sauna. Both have their pros and cons, and what you decide to go with is totally up to you!
74. Barrel saunas come in all kinds of different wood, but the most popular are cedar, hemlock or spruce.
75. A panoramic window in your barrel sauna can make for a magical experience.
76. Barrel saunas need to be tightened every once in a while because the wood expands and contracts. The tighter you get the staves in your barrel sauna the more heat it will retain.
77. Building your own barrel sauna might be easier than you think. With easy to follow directions and a couple of friends you could have your barrel sauna up and running in an afternoon.
78. Never underestimate the greatness of a porch on your barrel sauna. This makes it easier to break up your sauna sessions into smaller chunks, and gives you a place to hang out as you cool down and wait to jump back in your sauna.
79. Lighting is an often overlooked component to a barrel sauna. We recommend adding lights under the benches in your barrel sauna to give your sauna sessions a relaxing ambiance.
80. While most barrel saunas can withstand harsh weather, it's never a bad idea to add some kind of waterproof membrane or roofing to your barrel sauna. This will ensure that it lasts for years to come.
81. Because barrel saunas are typically so much larger than other types of saunas, they are ideal for stretching, yoga and other exercises. They're also great for meditating.
82. If you're able to put your barrel sauna close to a lake or river, that's really ideal. 15-20 minutes in the barrel sauna and then a few minutes in the water to cool off. Rinse and repeat.
All About Infrared Saunas
83. Unlike traditional saunas that heat the air in the sauna, infrared saunas use infrared light to directly heat your body. Like the sun!
84. The actual air temperature in an infrared sauna only gets to about 135-140 degrees, making it easier to endure long infrared sauna sessions.
85. The infrared spectrum of light has three different regions: far infrared, mid infrared and near infrared. Infrared saunas utilizing all three areas of infrared light are full-spectrum infrared saunas.
86. The near infrared region is the shortest infrared wavelength, and penetrates just below the skin, making it the best infrared region for wound healing, clearing up acne, wrinkles and fine lines.
87. Mid-Infrared helps with inflammation, cardiovascular wellness and overall healing. Mid-Infrared is the most effective when paired with far-infrared light.
88. Far-Infrared is the longest wavelength and penetrates the body the deepest, where toxins and other chemicals live. The far-infrared spectrum also promotes vasodilation, causing your blood vessels to expand and improving blood flow throughout your body.
89. Far Infrared Saunas are by far the most popular type of infrared sauna. Although far infrared saunas penetrate the body the deepest you won't really notice any difference between far infrared, mid or near infrared while you're using the sauna. They all get you the same level of sweaty, but the differences lie at the cellular level.
90. Full spectrum infrared saunas use all three areas of the infrared spectrum: far, mid and near. Because you get the benefits of all three areas, most infrared sauna enthusiasts consider full spectrum infrared saunas the best type of infrared sauna, and I'd have to agree with them.
92. EMF stands for electric magnetic field. EMF is created by anything that uses electricity, and infrared saunas are no exception. There is much debate about what kind of EMF exposure is healthy v. dangerous and there doesn't seem to be a very clear answer. For more on EMF in infrared saunas, check out this blog post.
93. Although infrared saunas don't get quite as hot as traditional saunas, you'll still sweat a ton so make sure to drink lots and lots of water while you sauna. Studies have shown you can lose up to a pint of water in a single sauna session!
94. The benefits of regular infrared sauna use are lower stress and anxiety, better sleep, better skin, more energy and better recovery from workouts and injury.
95. Infrared saunas are a great option if you want a sauna in your home but you don't have a lot of room. There are more 1-2 person infrared saunas on the market than ever before, and some of these take up less than a square yard in floor space.
Now that you've got an understanding of the basics of A LOT of different aspects of the sauna world, let's jump into some fun tips and tricks, unique saunas, and other things.
Sauna Tips & Tricks
96. Pairing your sauna sessions with a cold plunge is not only one of the most enjoyable sauna experiences you'll have, it gives you the benefit of both the sauna and the cold plunge, which are many.
97. If you don't have the space for a full on infrared sauna in your home, and you'd prefer to take your sauna session on the couch, try an infrared sauna blanket. Higher Dose makes the best infrared sauna blankets out there.
98. Not ready to go full on infrared sauna blanket but still don't want an actual infrared sauna? There are plenty of portable infrared saunas to choose from. This one from Serenelife is an inexpensive portable infrared sauna that's easy to set up and take down.
99. Adding a Himalayan salt bar to your sauna gives you the benefit of at least 84 naturally occurring minerals that have proven health benefits for sauna users, including promoting better breathing, better skin and helping those with asthma.
100. Chromotherapy lighting is a great way to customize your sauna to your mood and achieve the many benefits chromotherapy lighting offers. For example red and pink lights = more energy; and green promotes healing.
101. Are you a fan of hot yoga? Instead of heating up an entire room to0 get your fix, how about just doing yoga in a sauna? Best of both worlds! Most saunas aren't large enough to accommodate yoga, but the SaunaLife barrel saunas are large enough (Over 7 foot in interior diameter) to give you plenty of room for yoga.
102. The sauna can be a great place to meditate. Especially because you can't bring your phone in!
103. Sauna hats are traditional garb in Finland. They are typically made out of wool and promote more sweating while preventing the head from burning.
104. Mobile saunas are gaining in popularity (finally!) and are the perfect way to cap off a long ski day. Check out Wandering Sauna in Bozeman, Montana for one of the coolest mobile sauna experiences out there.
105. Add essential oils to your sauna session for an even more relaxing experience. Peppermint, Lavender and Lemon are some of the most popular essential oils and each provide for a uniquely different experience.
106. Sauna Whisks. Weird, right? They are standard in Nordic sauna culture and are thought to help promote circulation while using a sauna. Traditionally made from bunching together leaves and branches, each type of tree creates a different sauna whisk and gives the user different benefits.
107. If you have a traditional sauna you have to have a sauna bucket and ladle. This is the easiest way to keep water in the sauna to pour over your sauna stones.
108. This kind of goes without saying, but make sure you drink a lot of water while you're in the sauna, especially if you're doing multiple sauna sessions. The longer you sit in the sauna the more you sweat and dehydrate, and your body needs that water back.
109. Looking for a sauna while traveling? Check out this map Glen over at Sauna Times put together. It directs you to some of the best saunas wherever you might be!
110. Although totally counterintuitive, proper ventilation can actually make your sauna feel hotter. A gap of about 10-15CM under the door to the sauna, as well as a vent elsewhere in the sauna, creates air flow. That air flow pushes the hot air around the sauna and you can actually feel the hot air pass over you, as opposed to sitting in air that's completely still. So the sauna feels hotter!
111. To keep your sauna clean and germ free, keep the sauna door closed and let the heat of the sauna stick around for a bit to prevent germs from forming. After a couple hours, or even over night, open the sauna door to let fresh air in and air out. If your sauna is cedar you also have the natural anti-microbial properties working for you.
112. Obviously we here at Sun Valley Saunas love saunas and using them regularly. But don't take our word for it. NFL Running Back Leonard Fournette lost a ton of weight primarily by sitting in a sauna EVERY DAY. That's dedication.
113. Last, but certainly not least, let's clean up this long and arduous article with a shower. That's right, it's never a bad idea to install a shower close to your sauna so you can rinse off and cool down as soon as you get out.
That's the end of our list! Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments and thanks for reading! We did it!
Wes, Founder, Sun Valley Saunas