What's the Difference Between an Infrared Sauna and a Traditional Sauna?

If you're new to the sauna world and just started googling around trying to figure out what kind of sauna you want to get, you probably ran into a ton of overwhelming information across all kinds of websites.   

This post isn't intended to answer all of the myriad questions you can come up with when shopping for a sauna, but it will arm you with some really solid information when making one of the first and most basic questions you should ask yourself when you decide to bring a sauna home: infrared or traditional? 

At the end of the day, infrared saunas and traditional saunas are both tiny little hot rooms that make you sweat a lot.  The end result is more or less the same.  But there are a lot of differences in how the two operate and the benefits they may provide.  Let's jump in to some sauna basics.  


Traditional Saunas 

Some form of traditional saunas have been used by people looking to sweat out their stress, anxiety and toxins for thousands of years.  The concept is really simple: build a really small room, add a big heater that gets really hot, get in it and sweat.  That's still pretty much the method of operation in traditional saunas these days.  The heater in the sauna room gets the air temperature really hot, and that hot air makes you sweat.  Most of the time there are sauna stones on the heater where you pour water to make steam and make the room hotter and more humid.  Traditional saunas can get up to over 200 degrees, and obviously the hotter the air in the sauna the more you sweat.  Also, because heat rises, if you have a two-tiered sauna the upper tier will always be hotter than the lower tier.  

Traditional saunas, whether indoor or outdoor, use either electric sauna heaters or wood fired sauna stoves.  Electric sauna heaters are a lot more popular than wood fired sauna stoves because you can just flip a switch to turn them on, or in 2022, you can just open an app on your phone and turn your sauna on.  With a wood fired sauna stove you have to load it up with wood and get it burning really hot before you get in the sauna.  This can take a long time, especially if you're in a cold climate.  Nothing really beats a crackling fire inside a sauna out in the snow, though, so it can totally be worth it! 

To sum up traditional saunas: If, when you think of a sauna, you think of ladling water over hot rocks and watching the steam rise, then a traditional sauna is what you're looking for.  Traditional saunas tend to be a bit larger and require more power than infrared saunas.  They also tend to take a little bit longer to heat up.  For sauna traditionalists it's all part of the process and they would never think of going infrared.  


Infrared Saunas 

Infrared "saunas" are relatively new and function in a very different way from traditional saunas.  Infrared saunas use infrared light to directly heat your body and increase your core temperature without having to heat the air in the sauna.  I always think of this as standing in the sun on a cold crisp day.  You feel the heat from the sun, but the air temperature is still really cold.  Because the infrared sauna doesn't have to get the air temperature to 180 or 190 degrees, infrared saunas generally work much quicker.  In fact, if you get in an infrared sauna the actual air temperature may only be 125 or 130 degrees, but it will feel so much hotter because the infrared light is directly penetrating your body.  

Because infrared saunas use infrared light to heat your body directly, there are three different areas of the infrared spectrum you may experience in an infrared sauna: Far, Mid and Near.  Far infrared saunas penetrate the body the deepest and are thought to provide the most benefits.  This is why most infrared saunas on the market are Far infrared saunas.  However, the mid and near areas of the infrared spectrum provide a lot of benefits as well.  

Outside of the direct benefits to the user, infrared saunas are generally smaller than traditional saunas and require less power.  A lot of infrared saunas can even just plug in to a regular U.S. outlet.  For these reasons many city dwellers with smaller spaces prefer to go with an infrared sauna.  They're just easier to set up, operate and maintain. 


In A Nutshell

I would never say that traditional saunas are better than infrared saunas, or vice versa.  Whether you decide to go with a traditional sauna or an infrared sauna is totally dependent on what's important to you, what kind of space you have, whether it's going inside or outside, etc., etc., etc.  

Below is a quick list of attributes for both traditional saunas and infrared saunas to help make your decision a little bit easier.  You can always call us at 877-609-3641 or email if you're still not sure what's best for you.  


Traditional Saunas 

  • Uses an electric sauna heater or wood fired sauna stove 
  • Pour water over sauna stones to create steam 
  • Requires more power, generally a 240V, 30+ amp dedicated circuit 
  • Can use WiFi control to operate 
  • Better saunas for outside 
  • Generally larger and take up more space 
  • Barrel saunas 


Infrared Saunas 

  • Uses infrared light to directly penetrate your body and increase your core temperature 
  • Does not directly heat the air - operates effectively at 120-130 degrees
  • Requires less power, generally 110V, 15+ amp dedicated circuit and many can plug into a standard U.S. outlet 
  • Takes up less space and is perfect for apartments, condos and smaller spaces 
  • Less expensive with many affordable models around $2,000 


Hope that was helpful and look forward to hearing from you! 


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