Sauna bathing is a relaxing experience that also has many significant benefits to your health.
If you are interested in using a sauna but are not sure exactly how then this is the perfect guide for you.
In the guide below, we explore all the various types of saunas and describe precisely how to use each one.
We also discuss some of the accessories that you can purchase that will make your sauna bathing experiences more enjoyable.
Finally, we briefly describe the many health benefits you can expect from using a sauna regularly.
Using a Traditional Finnish Sauna
A traditional Finnish-style sauna is the most common type of sauna in use today.
It consists of an enclosed space that is constructed of wood.
It uses a heater that is powered either by electricity, natural gas, or wood to generate the heat for the sauna.
A basket of volcanic rocks is set atop this heater, and these are used to create the steam that is used to control the humidity level inside the sauna.
There are many things that make a Finnish sauna unique.
First is the temperature that it can reach, which can sometimes be as high as 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
All Finnish saunas are considered to be “dry saunas” because the heat that is generated by the furnace has very little humidity.
This type of sauna can also become a “wet sauna” when water is poured over the hot rocks, and steam is generated.
The more steam you use, the wetter your sauna experience.
A dry sauna is designed to hold in the warm air and vent excess moisture, which is why you need to keep adding water to the rocks if you want the humidity level to remain high.
Finnish saunas are constructed of softwoods that are untreated or unfinished so that they are safe to use at hot temperatures.
In a Finnish sauna, the humidity levels can be extremely low, around ten percent, but many people prefer it to be higher and feel more comfortable when it reaches close to 60 percent.
Because you can control the moisture level itself, it is customizable to your needs.
How to Use a Finnish Sauna
While you can adapt this procedure to your particular desires, we describe the most common way of using a traditional Finnish dry sauna in the sections below.
Start by ensuring you have enough time to enjoy your sauna experience, as it should be relaxing and a time for you to decompress, not for you to feel rushed.
Next, make sure the heater is turned on in the sauna.
If you are not using a public sauna, you will want to turn your sauna on at least 30 minutes to one hour before you intend to use it.
The temperature of the sauna should be adjusted to fit your mood, needs, and experience level.
Never use a sauna that feels too hot for you or stay inside longer than you are comfortable.
It is better to start at a lower temperature and work your way up to higher heat over time.
Most people prefer to be naked during their sauna bath, but if you are using a public sauna, you may want to cover yourself with a towel.
Decide what makes you most comfortable.
Even if you are using your own home sauna, you should always sit on a towel to prevent the oils from your skin from staining the wood of your sauna.
Be sure to remove any jewelry and take a cleansing shower before entering the sauna to remove any grime or personal care products that can end up in your eyes or clog your pores once you start sweating inside the sauna.
The traditional Finnish sauna is usually enjoyed in multiple rounds of heat and cooler temperatures.
During your first time in the sauna, sit for up to 15 minutes inside with dry heat.
This means you should not add water to the rocks. Breathe, sit quietly, and relax.
After you are relaxed, take a break from inside the sauna to cool down.
In Finland, this would be a time to enjoy a cold shower or a plunge in an icy lake or river, but if this experience does not interest you, simply sit somewhere cooler and allow your body to rest and recover.
Drink some water to rehydrate your tissues.
Next, return to the sauna for a second round, and this time use the bucket and ladle to add water to the volcanic rocks and increase the humidity level of your sauna.
You can choose to make this round as wet or dry as you like but allowing the steam to dissipate or continuing to add water periodically to the rocks.
Some people enjoy using want is known as a sauna whisk during this second session.
This is a small bundle of young tree branches that are used to gently beat and massage your skin during your sauna session.
Using a whisk helps to promote improved circulation to your skin while also cleansing your pores and invigorating your mind.
The leaves of the branches release pleasant scents and natural oils while you use them, enhancing your overall experience.
Most whisks are made from oak, birch, or eucalyptus branches.
After you have enjoyed as many rounds of hot and cool as you like, it is time to exit the sauna and cool down completely.
Start by taking a refreshing shower to wash away all the sweat as well as any pollutants that were excreted from your body during your sauna bath.
A cold shower also closes your pores. After the shower, rest comfortably without any clothes until you stop sweating.
While you are resting comfortably, be sure you are drinking water to rehydrate yourself.
Accessories for a Finnish Sauna
Throughout this article, we suggest various accessories that can be used while using a sauna.
Few of these are specific to one type of sauna and can be used in nearly all tops of situations, so you may want to look through every section for ideas when considering how to supply your at-home sauna with the most helpful accessories.
In a traditional dry/wet Finnish sauna, a must-have accessory is a bucket and ladle.
You will need a vessel to keep water and a way to pour that water over the hot rocks inside the sauna to generate heat.
Keeping a bucket and ladle inside your sauna at all times will ensure you are always ready to adjust your sauna experience.
Just be sure to fill the bucket before you step into the sauna the first time.
Many people like to lie down or recline while enjoying their sauna bath, so adding headrests, specially formed backrests, wooden pillows, and other accessories to your sauna benches can make them more comfortable to enjoy.
There are several distinct types of benches, stools, and accessories available in various types of wood to give you a comfortable and customized sauna experience.
You can also purchase a whisk to use inside your home sauna to add to your experience.
If you prefer not to use a whisk but still want the aromatherapy benefits of this process, you can purchase various essential oils that can be added to the volcanic rocks to provide specific scents to your sauna experience.
Special Notes on Using a Wood Burning Sauna
Some saunas use a wood-burning stove rather than a conventional electric or natural-gas heater to provide heat for your sauna.
Wood offers a consistent and reliable source of heat for saunas and remains a popular choice for many sauna users today because it burns hot.
Many people believe that wood heat is more comfortable, as well.
Most modern wood-burning stoves for saunas are easy to use and inexpensive to operate.
You will need to start this type of heater early to get the heat going, and you will also need to ensure you clean out old ashes before lighting a new fire.
You should have a receptacle for storing ashes as well as a way to remove them from your heater.
You will also need a place to store extra wood nearby, as well.
Using a Steam Sauna
A steam sauna is not really a sauna at all but rather a different way to encourage sweating and for enjoying the health benefits of heat therapy.
Steam rooms are different than traditional dry saunas in that they are made to operate at a much higher humidity level, closer to 100 percent, while also operating at lower temperatures, usually around 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Steam saunas use a different type of heater as well, one that generates steam instead of dry heat.
Because of the high moisture content of a steam room, the sauna is generally constructed of different materials that are more conducive to this wet environment.
The materials used in a steam room are usually waterproof and easy to clean since this moist and hot environment is perfect for germinating microbes.
Tile, metal, glass, and stone are commonly used in the construction of these types of rooms.
How to Use a Steam Sauna
Like a dry sauna, a steam room is going to make you sweat, so you want to be hydrated before you come inside the room.
Take a shower before entering the steam room to remove makeup, hair products, and anything on your skin that could clog your pores.
Like a traditional sauna, most people enjoy a steam sauna while naked, but you may choose to wear a towel.
You never want to sit directly on the bench of a steam room, as bacteria can quickly grow on surfaces, so always take an extra towel to sit on.
Most people also wear shower shoes or some type of sandal in a steam room to avoid microbes on the floor, as well.
You will be sweating while you are in the steam room, so be sure to drink plenty of water after your session.
Some people prefer to bring a water bottle with them inside to drink throughout their time in the sauna.
Enjoy your steam room session as long as you prefer and stay only as long as you feel comfortable.
Be sure to shower with soap after leaving the steam room to wash away the sweat thoroughly.
Do not dress until you have stopped sweating and thoroughly cooled down.
Accessories for a Steam Sauna
Keeping track of your time inside the steam room can be helpful.
Placing a waterproof clock or timer on the wall will enable you to monitor your time and prevent you from staying too long inside.
There are many models and options available.
You can also install automatic controls for your steam generator which allows you to start it remotely via your phone or computer.
Auto controls mean you can turn on your steam generator before you want to use your steam room, and it will be ready for you when you want to enjoy a relaxing steam experience.
If you enjoy aromatherapy with your steam experience, you can also purchase specially formulated essential oil mixes just for steam generators.
The most common scents include eucalyptus, lavender, evergreen, and mint.
Check with your manufacturer to learn more about oil blends for your steam generator.
Using a Smoke Sauna
The smoke sauna has been around for centuries and is a part of many cultural and religious ceremonies to this day.
While the smoke sauna is not as commonly used as the traditional dry sauna, it still remains popular in many parts of the world.
A smoke sauna is an enclosed space without a chimney for venting.
A large fire is lit inside using wood that is placed under a large pile of rocks.
The wood is left to burn for hours, and once there is nothing but embers, the smoke is vented from the room, and people enter to enjoy the heat that is remaining.
This type of sauna is quite different because of its unique heat source.
A smoke sauna is not used for individuals but rather larger groups, such as families or small communities.
It is often used as a part of specific ceremonies, celebrations, or rituals.
How to Use a Smoke Sauna
After the smoke sauna is prepared and the smoke is vented from the room, everyone undresses outside and enters.
Most of the time, a smoke sauna is enjoyed by many people at once.
There are usually platforms on the outside of the room that face the stove where people can sit and enjoy the heat.
Like a traditional Finnish sauna, water is often sprinkled on the hot stones to create vapor.
Sit inside the smoke sauna as long as you are comfortable and take breaks outside to cool down as needed.
Many people like to rinse their bodies outside with cool water, as well.
A smoke sauna also often involved meditation, the use of the body whisks, and other healing practices.
In some communities, rituals or procedures may also be performed that are specific to that group or family.
The smoke sauna is usually used once a week or before significant family events or festivals.
It takes about five hours to prepare the smoke sauna for use, so it is not done on a daily basis.
Most people use a smoke sauna in cycles of heating and cooling for several hours to enjoy its full benefits, as well.
Accessories for a Smoke Sauna
The traditional smoke sauna is a structure that is kept and maintained by a group of people who use it.
It is a part of the homestead, village, or community, and each group customizes it for their personal use.
One accessory that can be helpful for a smoke sauna is an outdoor light, such as an LED light bar, which can ensure everyone can see to get to and from the smoke sauna safely, even at night.
Installing an outdoor shower on the exterior of the smoke sauna also allows people to have a place to cool and rinse off during their sauna ritual and after they have exited but before they return home.
Using an Infrared Sauna
Infrared saunas are a specific variety of electric dry sauna that uses infrared radiation as the heat source.
Unlike a traditional Finnish sauna and uses conduction to heat the air, which then heats the body, an infrared sauna heats the body directly uses a specific wavelength of invisible light.
Temperatures inside an infrared sauna are generally not as hot as a conventional dry sauna, but your internal body temperature still raises significantly, causing you to sweat and release the pollutants from your body.
Infrared light is invisible, and this same wavelength is what makes the sun’s rays warm.
There are shorter wavelengths, known as near-infrared, which penetrate deep into your body’s tissues.
Mid-infrared waves are effective at influencing your heart, muscles, and blood flow.
Far-infrared rays are the longest and closest to the type of warmth that is naturally emitted from your body.
An infrared sauna does not use a conventional heater and rocks but instead has unique panels at various places around the sauna room that emit the distinct types of infrared wavelengths.
You enjoy many benefits of a traditional sauna while also experiencing several benefits you can only get from infrared treatments.
Sauna traditionalists do not consider infrared to be an actual sauna, but many people are growing to enjoy this type of sauna experience over others.
Because it is not as hot, it can be enjoyed for more extended periods, and it typically costs less to own and operate this type of sauna over a traditional variety.
How to Use an Infrared Sauna
You use an infrared sauna in much the same ways as a traditional sauna.
You will want to turn the infrared heaters on before you enter to heat the room.
The typical infrared sauna is used at temperatures between 100- and 140-degrees Fahrenheit.
Most infrared saunas will be ready for use within ten to fifteen minutes.
Be sure you are hydrated before entering the sauna.
Take a drink with you into the sauna, as well.
You should shower before entering, and clothing is optional.
You can sit or lay down while inside an infrared sauna.
You want to use a towel between you and the wood to protect it from staining.
Some people like to keep a small towel nearby to wipe sweat from their face, as well.
While inside the infrared sauna, relax and use the time to listen to music, reflect on your day, talk to others, or read.
Some people like to meditate or just rest their mind while enjoying their sauna experience.
Accessories for an Infrared Sauna
All wood saunas should be adequately maintained to ensure they last a long time.
Make sure you use only treatments and cleaners that are designed for use inside a sauna.
Anything with bleach, ammonia, or harsh chemicals can release toxic fumes at higher temperatures, so avoid these altogether.
Invest in a stiff-bristled brush to use to scrub the benches after each use, which will prevent any oils from your skin from discoloring the wood of the sauna.
A popular accessory to use during both dry an infrared sauna is a wool sauna hat.
Wearing a covering over the head protects your hair from the harsh heat of the sauna, and it also protects your head from overheating.
The wool cap helps with thermoregulation and gives you more control over your sauna experience, as well.
After your infrared sauna, you want to take a cleansing shower.
Invest in a nice shower brush, one with soft, natural bristles, which can provide an invigorating scrub after your sauna treatment.
Popular options are made from birch or alder handles and have bristles made from various natural materials.
Scrubbing your skin while your pores are still open from your sauna experience can help keep your outer layer healthy and clean.
Accessories for Using an Outdoor Sauna
You can have an electrical, gas-burning, wood-fired, or infrared sauna installed either inside your home or outside.
Outdoor saunas are perfect for those who do not have a lot of extra space inside but would like the benefit of a regular sauna bath.
Outdoor saunas come in many different shapes and sizes.
They are all constructed to withstand the elements.
Outdoor saunas can be made to look like a small cabin, they can be a part of a larger pool house, or they come in barrel-styles that can be moved from location to location.
When you choose to place your sauna outside, you want to consider some unique accessories that will make your sauna bathing experience more pleasant.
Here are just a few.
Barrel saunas are a popular and affordable outdoor sauna option.
Because of their unique rounded shape, though, you may want to invest in a barrel sauna floor kit, which levels the floor of your sauna and rests in the curved structure to give you a sturdy standing surface.
These floors are made from the same softwood as the benches and sauna walls, which resist rot and stands up to elevated temperatures.
Barrel saunas are prone to water damage on top because of their curved design, which makes it hard to keep the rain out.
Investing in a rain jacket for your barrel sauna can protect your investment from the natural elements.
Most rain jackets are made from lightweight materials that are easy to install and remove.
Be sure to buy one that is UV resistant, so it does not degrade in the sunshine.
Having an outdoor sauna is great, but if your backyard is not private, you may also want to create a screened or enclosed area at the entrance to your sauna to give you privacy for undressing and cooling down while using your sauna, as well.
Because your sauna is outdoors, you want to be sure that, when you exit, you have a clean and dry place to step while you are cooling off, dressing, or showering.
Having an elevated, wooden mat outside your outdoor sauna will ensure that your feet stay dry and clean when going into or leaving the sauna.
Accessories for Using an Indoor Sauna
Having a sauna indoors is another option for many homeowners.
Saunas are available in a wide variety of sizes and can be placed in all types of locations in your home, including your basement, garage, bathroom, or anywhere you have space.
When you have a sauna inside, it means you can enter and exit it with privacy and have control over the temperature outside the sauna room.
Like outdoor saunas, indoor saunas come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
From barrel-type units to self-contained sauna rooms, there is an indoor sauna from nearly every application.
Those with enough space can even have a custom-built sauna installed in their home.
Most indoor saunas use either electricity or infrared rays as their heat source, as gas and wood require additional ventilation.
If you have an indoor sauna in your home, you may want to invest in a few accessories to make your experience even more enjoyable.
Installing a thermometer to keep track of the temperature or a hygrometer to measure the humidity of your sauna room can help you customize your experience to the perfect levels for you.
Many people like to keep a bucket of water inside the sauna just for themselves.
Splashing cool water on your body or head is a popular option for many people, so investing in extra buckets, pails, and dippers can give you enough for everyone to use.
Because you want to have your robe handy after leaving the sauna, installing a robe hook or multiple hooks outside your indoor sauna will give you a wonderful place to store these.
You can also hang clothing, extra towels, or other accessories from these hooks.
Accessories for Using a Portable Sauna
Portable saunas are an option for those who do not have the space or budget for a traditional sauna room.
Portable saunas are made for one person and are powered by electricity.
Most portable saunas are made from some type of tent structure, inside which you sit while your body is exposed to steam or infrared heat.
Your head and hands are usually outside of the portable unit, as well.
Because the portable sauna is so small, accessories are generally not needed.
Investing in a comfortable, waterproof folding chair can help you enjoy your portable sauna more, though.
Purchasing a reliable and controllable steam generator or infrared heater can also make your experience more enjoyable.
Using a sauna improves circulation, relieves stress and pain, lowers inflammation, and helps you sleep better.
Sweating is an excellent way to release toxins and pollutants from your body, which can improve your health and enhance your immune system.
The people of Finland are some of the most frequent sauna bathers on the planet, and by studying their health, researchers have learned a great deal about how regular sauna use can improve your health.
These benefits include:
- Improved heart health, including better blood flow, lower blood pressure, and fewer deaths from cardiovascular problems
- Lower levels of inflammation, which leads to less pain and stiffness
- Fewer issues with sleeping, stress, anxiety, and depression
- More energy, improved athletic performance, and better muscle strength
- Improved cellular health and mitochondrial function
- Longer life
- Enhanced brain function and less neurodegeneration
When you have your own sauna, you can use it more frequently, which ensures you can enjoy these many benefits to your health.
Investing in an indoor, outdoor, or portable sauna gives you the freedom to sweat bathe regularly, which increases your chances of living longer and being healthier.
Using a sauna is not hard and simply requires time and the willingness to relax and enjoy the experience.
Whether you prefer a dry, infrared, smoke, or steam sauna, your mind and your body will thank you when you use it several times per week.