Using a sauna, which is sometimes referred to as “sweat nothing” is the practice of sitting in a very hot room and encouraging your body to sweat.
This practice, which has been used by the indigenous people of nearly every region on the planet over time, has been used for numerous spiritual as well as wellness purposes over thousands of years.
Why do people love to use saunas? And what benefits does it offer for your health?
This guide will help you learn all you need to know about sauna use.
We also explore the distinct types of saunas and how to pick the best one for your home use.
A Brief History of Sauna
Sweat lodges, hot rooms, and other forms of saunas can be found across cultures all over the world.
The earliest uses of saunas were likely for religious or cultural ceremonies, and these practices continue today.
The Finnish people were among the first to embrace and use sauna sessions regularly in all aspects of their lives, and most modern-day saunas come from those designed and used by the Finns over the past several hundred years.
The results of hyperthermic conditioning, which his the practice of sitting in high temperatures and exposing your body to heat stress, have been recognized and widely studied by medical researchers for decades, and we now understand a great deal about why this practice has been around for so long.
Modern saunas reach temperatures of close to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can change the humidity levels of a sauna by pouring water over hot rocks inside your sauna room, but the benefits of the sauna are best experienced when humidity is low.
Saunas are different from steam rooms, which use moist, wet heat instead of dry heat.
If you are not a regular sauna user, you should start with short sessions and slowly work your way to staying inside your sauna longer.
Most people benefit from two or more sessions per week, with the maximum recommended time for regular users as 40 minutes.
You should only stay in a sauna if you feel comfortable and adjust temperatures and humidity to fit your needs.
To understand the basics of sauna usage and how to pick the right type of sauna for your home, we start with the main categories that define saunas by their moisture level.
We further elaborate on the various sauna types by examining how various heat sources that create heat and moisture.
Finally, we dive into the different types of sauna rooms and how they can be incorporated into your home or property.
These details are meant to give you an idea of all the various configurations that exist when buying or building a sauna.
You may, for example, want a dry sauna that is heated by an electric heater built in a cabin style outside your home.
Each section explores the many ways you can categorize this therapeutic experience to offer you more insight into how it could be used in your life.
By Steam Type
The amount of moisture inside the sauna is one way to define its type or to categorize it.
The word “sauna” is often used to describe any sort of hot room, so it can be confusing for some people to know what to expect from their sauna experience.
Below, we explore the diverse types of saunas by examining how moisture or humidity is used to create the sweat-bathing experience that is desired from using a sauna.
Dry Sauna v Wet Sauna
All saunas are created by heating an enclosed space using some type of heat source, which is used to warm some kind of volcanic rock.
The air is usually heated to temperatures exceeding 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
What distinguishes a dry sauna from a wet sauna is the maximum temperature reached as well as how much water is poured over the rocks to create steam within the room.
A dry sauna is the most common and traditional type of sauna.
Heat is generated at some kind of source, where it warms rocks and the air around you.
The benefits of sitting in such hot, dry air are described below, but it forces the body to sweat, which has many health advantages.
A dry sauna is made from softwoods and has a heat source and volcanic rocks that can withstand high temperatures.
It is designed to hold heat while also allowing moisture to escape, as the point of it is to keep the air as dry as possible.
When you take water and ladle it over the rocks inside a dry sauna, you create a wet sauna.
The stones are super-heated, so when the water touches them, it immediately vaporizes and produces steam, adding moisture to the air inside the sauna.
The more water you apply to the rocks, the more “wet” your sauna experience becomes.
Many people choose to alternate periods of dry and wet in their sauna experience, and some also prefer to exit the sauna periodically to cool down before returning for more sweating.
In Scandinavian cultures, some even choose to jump into icy cold water between sessions inside the sauna to stimulate circulation and cool down from the sauna experience.
A sauna, even when water is used to create steam, generally has relatively low humidity, sometimes as little as 10 percent, but some people are more comfortable when this level reaches close to 60 percent.
It all depends on your needs and comfort level.
Saunas are equipped with a vent that brings in fresh air and prevents humidity build-up, so a traditional sauna room will never become a “steam room” or steam bath.
In the traditional sense, a steam sauna is not really a sauna at all.
While it does have many of the same advantages that a dry or wet sauna does for your health, it generates a moist heat that helps in different ways.
Whereas the relative humidity in a traditional sauna, even when considered “wet,” does not reach more than about 60 percent, but in a steam sauna, that level reaches 100 percent.
The materials used in a steam sauna are different than a traditional dry sauna, as they must withstand constant, elevated temperatures and humidity.
Wet saunas are constructed to be waterproof and usually made from tiles, stone, glass, or acrylic materials.
The temperatures of a steam sauna are generally lower than a dry sauna, around 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
The heat for a steam sauna is generated via a steam generator, which is continuously releasing water vapor into the air.
While many people choose to use a dry sauna for its health benefits, a steam sauna is most commonly used to promote relaxation.
The effects of the wet, hot air on the body are different than those caused by the dry atmosphere of a traditional sauna.
Smoke saunas have been a part of my traditional and religious ceremonies for centuries.
Today, these are rarer for use as an “everyday” sauna, as they are more time-consuming to prepare.
A wood-burning stove heats a smoke sauna, and the room or space has no chimney.
The way the sauna is heated is burning wood that is underneath a large pile of stones.
This wood burns for hours before bathers can enter, and the smoke is vented through the door or a hole in the wall while people sit inside.
A smoke sauna is often described as “smoother” than a dry sauna experience, and the smoke is believed to have additional healing properties.
Many smaller communities have a shared smoke sauna that members use perhaps once a week together to cleanse their bodies and prepare their souls for the week ahead.
Saunas by Heat Source
Another way you can distinguish sauna types is by how the heat is generated.
The heat source makes a difference in how the temperature feels to users.
Also, certain types of heat sources are not recommended in all applications.
The various heat sources described below can be used to create the multiple levels of humidity described above.
Next, we describe the various heat sources more commonly found in saunas and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.
A sizable percentage of the saunas in use today are heated by electric sources.
This type of sauna was introduced in the 1950s and has grown in popularity because it can be used in nearly all kinds of setting.
Electric heaters are becoming smaller, more efficient, and less expensive all the time, making them a practical and easy choice.
Electric heaters naturally produce an arid heat, which is smart when you are talking about saunas.
Many newer models include a remote control with easy-to-use displays and adjustments.
Electric heaters can be made in assorted sizes to accommodate saunas in many settings.
Many people prefer the electric heater for their sauna because it is easy to use.
You turn it on, and that’s it, unlike other sources that require fuel to be supplied in some way.
Electric heaters have greater control over the heat, allowing you to customize your sauna experience easily, as well.
With easy installation, energy-efficient designs, and many unique styles, electric heaters as the heat source of choice for most types of saunas today.
They are not generally used in steam saunas, but they make sense for other forms of sauna bathing.
Infrared saunas are a type of electric sauna that works to heat the room differently.
This is a newer type of sauna, and it does not mean the traditional definition of that word.
Instead of heating up the air around you, an infrared sauna uses special lights to heat your body directly.
While you experience the same benefits and effects as a traditional sauna, the technology and mechanism are quite different.
Infrared light is the same as the invisible light that is emitted by the sun.
This type of light can be divided into three categories.
Near-infrared are short waves that penetrate deeply into the body.
Mid-infrared wavelengths are captured by water molecules and can influence your blood, heart, and muscles.
Far infrared is the longest and are closest to those given off naturally by your own body heat.
Infrared saunas use unique panels that emit all three types of infrared wavelengths.
They heat the air in the room but not to the extent that a traditional sauna would.
Most infrared saunas only reach about 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
You enjoy the same benefits because, instead of heating the air, these wavelengths are directly heating your body.
An infrared sauna does not have the same sensation as a traditional sauna, which is why many people who enjoy sauna do not prefer it, but it does offer many of the same benefits.
Another advantage to infrared is that is it much more cost-effective, both to build and to use.
They use much less electricity than a traditional electric sauna.
Wood Burning Sauna
A wood-burning stove powered the earliest saunas, and many still use this heat source today.
Traditional saunas were heated by a stove that was fueled by wood, and the fire was continuously tended during the sauna session.
Wood provides an excellent heat source and can burn extremely hot, making it perfect for use in a sauna.
Today, wood is still a desirable source for heating a sauna because it generates a comfortable heat.
Today’s wood-burning stoves are easy to use and use inexpensive wood sources, including pellets, to produce continuous heat for your sauna.
Wood stoves are efficient, and modern models are care-free and easy-to-use.
Wood is an excellent way to heat large spaces, making this heat source an excellent choice for gyms, health clubs, and community sauna spaces.
This type of heater is more expensive than other heat sources, so it may not be as appealing to all those looking to install a sauna.
Wood burning heat sources also require proper ventilation, which means they cannot be used in all types of applications.
Gas Burning Saunas
While not as common, saunas can also be heated using a natural gas or propane heater.
Natural gas produces a consistent, reliable heat that naturally contains a little more moisture than electric or wood burning stoves, but it can reach similar temperatures to those other sources.
Many people prefer gas heat to other sources because of its higher moisture content.
This type of power source can be a little more expensive than other options, but it is frequently used when other sources are not a viable option.
For example, if you want to build a sauna room in your backyard or someplace that has limited access to an electrical source, a gas-powered heater is a good option.
Or, if you are installing a sauna and your electrical system is already at maximum capacity, you can use this option.
Gas-powered heaters are an excellent idea for remote settings, outdoor sauna rooms, or anytime you have an exterior wall where you plan to install your new sauna.
They are energy-efficient and can be an excellent power source for your sauna needs.
Saunas by Location
Another way you can think about the distinct types of saunas is where they are built or how they are used.
Below, we explore the different configurations that are available today for installing a new sauna in your home or business.
We will explore the advantages and disadvantages of each type, as well.
Sauna kits and prefabricated units come in a wide range of styles, and depending on your space limitations, there is a type that can meet just about anyone’s needs.
An outdoor sauna describes any unit that is installed outdoors.
These units can be configured in many ways, including the diverse types we will describe below.
Outdoor saunas make great options when you want to install a sauna in your home but do not have the extra space inside.
Outdoor saunas are self-contained, weather-proof units.
They require a power source, either gas, electric, or wood, to fuel the heat source.
Depending on the type of stove used, you will need to ensure that your outdoor sauna also has proper ventilation.
Outdoor saunas can be built to accommodate anywhere from one to five people (or more, if needed).
Depending on zoning and building codes in your area, your sauna could have a metal or a wood roof, and it may need to be placed a certain distance from other structures, fences, or trees.
Outdoor saunas are an excellent option for those who want to add a sauna to any property that is already built.
When considering which to purchase, you should consider the steam style and what source (discussed above) and assorted styles and materials (discussed below).
You will want to be sure the style, materials, and installation requirements match your existing home or your needs, as well.
Cabin saunas are called so because they look like a small house.
These are similar to the original and traditional type of sauna used by the Finns, and they are available in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and materials.
Most cabin saunas are made from wood and have either a metal or shake roof.
Cabin saunas can accommodate anywhere from one to ten people, depending on its size.
They can be installed outside behind lodges, cabins, mountain homes, or suburban homes on just about any piece of flat land.
A quality cabin sauna should be well-insulated to retain the heat generated inside.
It should also be well-ventilated, so ensure the safety of everyone inside the sauna.
Your cabin sauna will be exposed to the natural elements, so it is crucial that it is constructed of materials that will last and withstand the temperatures, wind, and precipitation that is common in your area.
Cabin saunas are a good option for those looking for a traditional experience and style.
Cabin saunas fit in well with most landscapes and home styles, and they can even be customized to match the exterior of your home, if you wish.
When integrated with other outdoor elements, like patios, decks, hot tubs, or swimming pools, a cabin sauna can become a stylish part of your outdoor living area.
Barrel saunas are becoming increasingly popular as more manufacturers are providing ready-made units and kits in this style.
They get their name from their shape, which is like a giant barrel.
Barrel saunas have a distinctive and charming design that many people enjoy.
The barrel design sits on legs, which means the base is slightly elevated from the ground.
Barrels can be placed indoors or outside, which makes them very versatile.
The barrel shape makes it very efficient for conducting heat and comfortable for people to use.
Quality and durability can vary between manufacturers and designs of any type of sauna, including barrel varieties.
If you place yours outside, you may want to build a separate enclosure or roof to protect it from the elements.
Barrell and cabin saunas can be equipped with just about any time of heat source, and because they can be placed anywhere, they make an excellent choice for those with limited space or who want to put a sauna in a remote location, such as a hunting lodge or ski cabin.
Not everyone likes the styling or look of the barrel sauna, but it makes for an excellent alternative to the cabin style or for anyone looking for an inexpensive way to add a sauna to your home’s interior.
Indoor saunas are an excellent option for those with the space to add one to their home.
They are available in a wide variety of sizes, which means you can have a sauna even if you have limited space.
Having a sauna indoors allows you to enter and exit the sauna in a temperature-controlled area, giving you great control over your experience, plus you have a changing space next to your sauna that helps you maintain your privacy.
Indoor saunas have a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles.
Barrel-type saunas can be installed indoors. Another popular option is a pre-made sauna room, which resembles a fully enclosed closet.
These can be put in just about any room where there is enough floor space and provide sauna experience for just about anyone.
If you have more room or an unfinished area, you can have a custom-built sauna installed in your room.
This option is, of course, more expensive than ready-made options.
Most indoor saunas use electric heat sources, and infrared sauna rooms are gaining in popularity.
Other heat sources will require specific ventilation and installation requirements.
Today’s sauna options vary widely in price and quality, and you have many options to help you customize your space to meet your needs.
Another great option for those with limited space or who want to enjoy their sauna just about anywhere is a portable sauna.
This variety is generally for use by one person and can be powered by a few different heat sources.
In general, portable saunas include a tent-like structure, in which you set a chair.
Your head sticks out of the top of this zipped-up unit while your body is exposed to the heat.
The heat source for portable saunas is usually either a steam heater or infrared rays.
Another type of portable sauna is of a similar design but is made from hinged wood panels that allow the sauna to be folded up for easy storage.
Portable saunas are a great option if you have limited space in your home, if you travel and want to be able to enjoy a sauna anywhere you go, or if you only need access to a sauna occasionally.
These are cost-effective types of therapy that make it easy for just about anyone to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of sweat bathing.
Things to Consider When Purchasing or Building a Sauna
If you are considering adding a sauna to your home or property, there are some things you should consider.
Whether you plan to buy a prefabricated sauna, assemble a kit yourself, or build a custom sauna, there are many things to consider.
Next, we provide a comprehensive explanation of the factors that you should keep in mind when purchasing or building a sauna of your own.
Deciding where you want your sauna is a crucial factor in selecting the best one for you.
While many people choose to place theirs in a basement or a garage, the attractive options available today make it easy to put one proudly in your bathroom or a more visible area of your home.
If you do not have space inside, you can purchase an outdoor sauna that can withstand the elements.
Be sure to get one that is well-insulated and can last for years in your local climate.
When choosing a location, you will need to consider your power source, safety precautions, and other requirements that your local building or zoning commission may have.
Your sauna should meet the needs of everyone who intends to use it, so you should consider how many people at a time will be inside.
A sauna has a place to sit, but some people prefer to lay down while enjoying the heat, so you may want to increase the size to accommodate this.
Many people enjoy the option of sitting on a high bench for part of their sauna and then moving to a lower seat during their session.
Heat is more intense the higher you are in the room, and you can control your sweat bathing session by moving to different areas of heat while inside the sauna.
If you want to have this option, be sure to purchase a sauna that accommodates this.
Deciding how much humidity and what amount of steam you want in your sauna will also play a role in your sauna-buying decision.
If you are opting for a steam sauna, your materials, construction, and heat source will be quite different than if you are choosing a traditional dry or wet sauna experience.
Saunas are usually made from softwoods, like pine, cedar, or spruce.
These help to retain heat and resist degradation from years of heat exposure.
Your sauna should be ventilated to help control humidity, or you could see your sauna materials breaking down very quickly.
The ideal sauna ranges between 10 and 60 percent humidity, and this is controlled by how much water you place on the volcanic rocks near your sauna heater.
Having a water source close to your sauna will make it easy always to have a full bucket of water nearby.
Saunas are available today to fit nearly everyone’s budget.
You can find portable saunas starting at just a few hundred dollars, and custom-built luxury saunas can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The good news is there are more sauna kits and prefabricated units available today than ever before, giving you may choices and competitive prices in all categories.
Whether you plan to move your sauna regularly or if you plan to take it with you should you ever sell your home are things to consider.
Stand-alone units are easily moved if you ever relocated, but custom-built sauna rooms would stay with your house.
Portability is essential for some people who want to enjoy the benefits of sauna wherever they travel.
Some units fold and go with you as well as others that can be placed on a trailer and moved to distant locations, as well.
Depending on which heat source to select for your sauna, you may need to enlist the help of a professional to assist with installation.
While infrared heaters are usually just be plugged in right away, electric heaters will require a dedicated circuit, which generally means hiring an electrician.
Wood and gas-burning heaters require proper ventilation as well as some electricity to power lights, controls, etc.
Be sure to follow all installation instructions and hire support when you are not sure what is needed.
When purchasing a sauna, you want to consider how much time it will need to pre-heat before you can enjoy your sauna session, how many times per week you plan to use it, and how long you plan to use it each time.
Typical sauna sessions last anywhere from 10 minutes to 40 minutes, and you can also alternate spending time inside the sauna and outside in a cooler room.
Electric, gas, and infrared heaters will warm up the air inside your sauna much more quickly than a wood burning source, and some heaters have more straightforward controls than others.
Whatever option you choose, you want to be sure to protect your investment by properly maintaining your sauna.
Taking care of the inside of your sauna is easy if you attend to it after each use.
Keep a soft-bristled brush in the sauna room and, at the end of your session, dip it into the clean water and lightly scrub the areas where people were seated or touching.
Regularly mopping the floor will help it stay clean, and any stains can be lightly sanded away.
Follow manufacturers guidelines for how to maintain the outside of your sauna.
Sauna’s Health Benefits
Regularly using a sauna can provide you with many health benefits.
The reason this tradition has been around for so long is that it has been shown time and again to benefit health and improve your wellness in many ways.
Below, we explore the health benefits you can enjoy by using a sauna, and we have also included links to relevant research that supports these claims.
Sauna use has been extensively studied, and medical researchers recommend this therapy for many people who are looking to improve their health and wellness.
Saunas Help Detoxify Your Body
Sauna use can help your body rid itself of heavy metals, chemicals, and other pollutants by enhancing the detoxification process.
Sweating is one way your body flushes contaminants from your system, and when you sweat regularly, you improve this process.
- Sweating is how your body eliminates toxins, especially certain heavy metals (1).
- Your sweat can contain many different types of pollutants, including residual medications, BPA, mercury, and harmful chemicals that find their way into your body (2).
- Those with high levels of toxins in their system can suffer from autonomic dysfunction, and sauna use can improve this system (3).
- Because the sauna helps to activate sweat glands as well as sebaceous glands, it can help to eliminate both water-soluble and fat-soluble toxicants (4).
Saunas Improve Cellular Health
The mitochondria of your cells are what generate energy to perform all the functions that make your body run.
Damaged or weakened mitochondria can lead to disease and damage to your body.
Chronic disease is often linked to mitochondrial damage or illness.
Sauna use can improve the function of your mitochondria and thereby strengthen your cellular wellness.
- Heat stress, like that experienced during sauna, stimulates the production of new mitochondria as well as the process that recycles and repairs damaged mitochondria within your cells (5).
Saunas Combat Aging and Increase Longevity
- Researchers in Finland have conducted longitudinal research that found that regular sauna use of two to three times per week reduced mortality rates by 24 percent (6). The more people used their sauna, the higher their chances of staying healthy and living longer.
- Sauna activates heat shock proteins in the body, which are responsible for repairing damaged cells, recycling damaged cell tissues, and preventing damage from free radicals. All of these slow the aging process and help you live longer (7).
Saunas Improve Heart Health and Lower Cardiovascular Disease Risk
- Your risk of heart disease, sudden cardiac death, and other types of coronary events or disorders diminishes when you use a sauna regularly (8).
- Regular sauna bathing also reduces your risk of hypertension (9) and can lower blood pressure in those with elevated levels (10).
Sauna Protects the Brain
- Regular sauna exposure can encourage the growth of new brain cells while improving the health and viability of existing neurons (11).
- The heat exposure of sauna usage increases neuroplasticity, which helps you learn and store memories (12).
- Raising levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) can help stave off symptoms of depression and chronic fatigue (13).
- Sauna use could help improve attention and focus, as well (14).
- Those who use a sauna regularly have a lower rate of developing dementia (15), perhaps due to reduced production of the tau protein tangles that cause this disease (16).
Sauna Can Improve Your Strength and Endurance
- Using a sauna regularly conditions your body to stay cooler and perform more efficiently at higher temperatures, which can increase your endurance during workouts or physical activity (17).
- Sauna boosts circulation, which can help your heart and lungs perform better under stress (18).
- When you expose your body to the high heat of a sauna, it releases more growth hormone, which can help you increase muscle growth when you are working out regularly (19).
- Sitting in a sauna can help you recover more quickly from a workout, as well, reducing muscle fatigue, damage, and soreness (20).
Sauna Reduces Pain and Inflammation
- The release of heat shock proteins (HSPs) lowers inflammatory responses to various conditions and diseases (21). Chronic inflammation causes pain for many people, including those with chronic fatigue and arthritis, among other conditions.
- Those with chronic pain due to fibromyalgia and other autoimmune disorders could have less pain when they use a sauna regularly (22).
Sauna Improve Mood
- Sauna has been proven to help reduce depression (23).
- Heat therapy, like that from sauna bathing, can help promote resilience among brain cells, which can help it cope better with stress (24).
- Heat acclimation can make your brain cells more sensitive to endorphins (25).
Additional Benefits of Sauna Use
- A sauna can help regulate your appetite, which can help you lose weight faster (26).
- Sauna improves the antioxidant defense in the skin, stimulating the production of collagen and other fibers which keep it hydrated and looking younger (27).
- Regular heat stress exposure can help enhance your immune system, helping you fight disease more effectively (28).
- Sauna use can help reduce the symptoms of many different autoimmune diseases, including diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis (29, 30).
- Exposure to heat can help improve insulin sensitivity, which can help enhance your natural glucose control (31).
- By decreasing lung congestions and increase airway capacity, sauna use can improve respiratory diseases and lung function (32).
- Sitting in a sauna promotes the production of red blood cells, which can boost your oxygen delivery and provide you with more energy (33).
- Some evidence suggests that sauna use could help you fight some types of cancer, but more evidence is needed to determine how this works and how to use a sauna in conjunction with more conventional treatments (34, 35).
Using a sauna is an ancient and respected tradition that can improve your mental and physical health.
There are many options for saunas today that you can use in your home, and finding one that works for your needs and in your budget has never been easier.