Saunas have been traced back to over 2,000 years ago in Finland. Written records were dating back to 1,112 A.D. describing a sauna dug into the earth. After some time, the Finnish started building saunas above ground, and they used rocks to produce the heat inside a room that held a small air vent to release the smoke. More than 3,000 years ago, Mayans were also using sweat houses to bring about balanced health and for spiritual purposes. Saunas have been found in many cultures across the world and have been used for relaxation, therapy, health, and ritual.
A sauna is a heated room around the temperature of 150-degree Fahrenheit. There are four diverse types of saunas: traditional Finnish sauna, dry sauna, steam bath (also known as a Turkish bath), and an infrared sauna. Each experience varies from one type of sauna to the next.
Sauna experience depends very much on the sauna type. There are many different types of saunas. Have a look at the most common ones and find out how each sauna type differs from the others.
Wood Burning Sauna – Traditional Finnish Sauna
The wood-burning sauna is the original Finnish sauna type. The wood is used to heat the sauna by burning it in the stove. The necessary temperature is reached by controlling the amount of fire in the stove. The ideal temperature for traditional Finnish sauna is not less than 65.5 C when measured where a person is sitting. Throwing some water on the heated rocks controls humidity in the sauna.
The wood-burning sauna is —a simple, natural experience where wood is used to heat the sauna rocks and the sauna room. The majority of the stoves used in these are continuously heated stoves, in which the wood is being burned in the stove during the sauna bathing. Although wood-burning saunas can achieve quite high temperatures—if desired, the user can create the desired temperature by controlling the rate of burn in the stove. Wood-burning stoves are commercially available, and today’s stoves are very efficient and care-free.
Since saunas have been around far longer than electricity, the original heat source was the good ole fire. The fire heats up the rocks which heat up the room. Add some water and presto, and you’re cookin’.
I guess you could say there are two main types of wood-burning saunas, but they really do function the same. Here they are.
If you like the wood-burning source for heat, you can use more contemporary units that will power and heat a sauna like the one above. Because it’s wood-burning, you can toss water on the rocks without worrying about short-circuiting the unit.
This specific sauna is wood-lined and is most commonly known as the traditional sauna. Inside the sauna, you can find heated rocks, a bucket of water and a ladle. Anyone who uses the sauna can control the humidity by adding water onto the rocks. This can change the humidity and steam in the sauna from 20% to 40%. The higher the temperature inside of the sauna, the lower the humidity.
A dry sauna is like a Traditional Finnish Sauna because it has heated rocks inside, but there is no water to be ladled on the rocks. This type of sauna has lower humidity, and it can be found in a gym. Not everyone knows that adding water onto the heated rocks can be done in a dry sauna, but you should always be courteous of other sauna users and follow any rules if you are using a public sauna.
Dry Heat Sauna with Electric Heater
Nowadays, the majority of people in Finland use the electrically heated sauna, which has been available since the 1950s. This type of sauna is efficient, safe, stylish and easy to use. There are often remote controls for easy use, and the electric heater is a wall- or floor-mounted. There are heaters for different sauna sizes.
Electrically heated saunas are very common. These are even simpler to use than wood-burning sauna heaters because you don’t have to concern yourself with supplying wood into the unit in order to keep things heated. Once you have everything wired in properly, all you will have to do is push a button, and your sauna room will heat to the desired temperature. There are quite a few benefits of these sauna room types as well.
The biggest benefit that people enjoy about electrically heated saunas is that they allow you more control over the temperature of the room. It can be a bit more difficult to control the temperature of the room when using a wood-burning sauna heater. You can be very precise when using electrical heat, as it will have buttons for you to push, and you can program the desired temperature manually. You will also find that many of these units will come with a remote control so that you don’t have to get up just to adjust the temperature.
These electrically heated saunas are quite energy-efficient as well. You won’t have to worry about them negatively impacting your power bill too much, as they are made to adhere to strict energy standards. The more modern your electrically heated sauna is, the better it will be at energy conservation, in all likelihood. This makes deciding to purchase one of these types of saunas a much easier decision.
Electrically heated saunas are used in some spas, although they aren’t quite as common as steam rooms. These are very desirable saunas that have a reputation for being able to help people relax conveniently. If you want to have the easiest time possible with your sauna experience, then there is some merit to purchasing this type instead of others. Electrically heated saunas and infrared saunas are similarly easy to set up, so those are your two simplest options.
The Popular Steam Sauna
The origins of the steam sauna come from the Roman “steam baths” which began at the height of the Roman Empire. The Roman baths served many community and social functions.
Everyone in ancient Rome used public baths regardless of their social standings, and the baths were supplied by natural hot springs from beneath the ground.
The Romans spread their love of bathhouses throughout the Empire, and most Roman towns had at least one public bathhouse. They were also an essential building in the garrisons.
Public bathhouses were comprised of three principal rooms:
- The Caldarium was the hottest of the three.
- The Tepidarium was a warm bath.
- The Frigidarium was a cold bath.
The Caldarium was built right on top of the furnace or ‘hypocaust’, and the walls were hollow to allow the hot air coming from below to heat the bath.
Sweat bathing has been popular in many cultures throughout the world. The Finns have laid claim to the sweat bathing as their personal method of hygiene.
Native Americans also liked the idea and built sweat lodges that were being used around this time. They believed they cleansed not only the body but also the mind.
The modern steam sauna uses a lower temperature and higher humidity and produces moist heat. They are built using tile or plastic and are heated by a device called a steam generator. The generator boils water into steam, and the steam is released into the air.
Unlike a sauna, a steam room needs to be airtight so the humidity can build. The high humidity in a steam room will keep your sweat from evaporating, making you feel much hotter, and the more you sweat, the more health benefits you will receive.
Wet Sauna (Just Add Water)
A slight twist on the dry heat sauna is what’s called a wet sauna. This is a fancy way of terming a sauna that you can toss water onto the heating element. When water hits the hot rocks, it turns to steam, making the room humid and hot. This type of sauna speeds up the sweating process. It’s my favourite type of sauna.
Please note that a wet sauna is different from a steam room. A steam room is one where steam is emitted into the room. A wet sauna uses a heating element which produces hot, humid air by splashing water on the heating element.
Unfortunately, most commercial saunas do not permit splashing water on the rocks because it’s an electric heater. Water usually ends up damaging the element, especially when some people go nuts and pour an entire bucket of water on it at one time. If people applied a little water at a time, there wouldn’t be any problems, but sadly this isn’t the case.
You will sweat profusely while in this very hot and humid space. The temperatures can reach up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, in some cases, so you can understand why you will sweat so much. The sweat is released in an attempt to cool your body down, and your heart rate will increase as your body continues to try to cool down. As a result, you receive some of the benefits of exercising vigorously without having to do anything but sit there.
It should also be noted that some people don’t consider steam or wet saunas to be a normal type of sauna. It differs from the other types substantially because the steam provides moist and humid heat. Other types of saunas will produce a dry heat that will bring about the same results but will feel completely different. Steam saunas are most commonly used for relaxation, and this is probably why they are so popular.
Not a traditional Finnish sauna; maybe the best definition would be a “heat therapy room”. Infrared heat therapy rooms are based on radiant heat, where the heating elements or emitters reflect the heat directly to the person’s body—rather than heating the air, or stones. There is no water (no steam) used in the infrared rooms. An infrared room is best used as a prior-sports muscle pre-heat means, or after the sports or exercise to relax the tension in the muscles. Several sauna manufacturers sell infrared rooms in addition to steam rooms and traditional Finnish Saunas.
In addition to those mentioned above, the other types of sweat baths include the Roman balneae and thermae, the Turkish hammam, the North American natives’ sweat lodge, the temescal in Mexico and Guatemala, the Japanese hot water baths sentoo and o-furo and the Russian banya.
An infrared sauna is quite different from all the rest because there is absolutely no humidity. This sauna heats up a person’s body temperature and envelops your body in a heat glove.
If you decide to install a sauna inside of your home, please give Sun Plumbing located in Melbourne, Florida a call. We recommend you get all the details sorted out, especially if you are a new homeowner before proceeding forward, but a sauna can make a great addition to your home.
My gym has an infrared sauna which I use on occasion. Far more often I go to the community centre near my house because it has a fantastic electric-powered dry heat sauna (and they keep it hot).
I’m not a big fan of infrared saunas because you don’t get that cookin’ heat that makes saunas so great. Yes, you can sweat in an infrared sauna, but I don’t get the same type or quality of sweat as I do with a hot sauna.
That said, infrared saunas have started to become more prevalent in recent years. Many people, at first glance, don’t even know what these types of saunas are. These sauna rooms use a unique method to heat you up, and they actually don’t even heat the room up at all. Powerful infrared lights are used to heat up your body specifically, giving you the same effects that you would experience in a traditional steam sauna.
Interestingly, the infrared sauna will not produce temperatures that are nearly as high as other sauna types. Due to the fact that the heat targets your body, you will still experience the exact same benefits. Whether or not you find this type of sauna to be as relaxing is a personal preference, but it is undeniable that the experience feels much different. You will still produce ample amounts of sweat and can use it as a way to access all of the benefits of going into a sauna.
There is a large number of people who simply don’t enjoy infrared saunas in the same way that they do the other types. The atmosphere is definitely different, and it doesn’t have the same feeling. Purists are probably always going to prefer the other methods vastly, but that doesn’t mean that infrared saunas don’t have their fans. You can purchase home saunas that make use of this infrared technology at very affordable prices, making them quite prevalent.
The affordability of these personal infrared sauna rooms makes them a good deal. Even if you would prefer to have a traditional steam sauna at your home, it might not be as economical to purchase such a unit. Everything seems to come down to money, so these types of saunas most definitely have their place. If you want to socialize in your sauna area, then going with one of the other options might be a better fit for you.
Wet Traditional Sauna VS Dry Traditional Sauna
Wet and dry saunas are basically the same thing. A Sauna can be used wet or dry. “Wet” sauna refers to the practice of adding water over the hot stones of your sauna heater. If water cannot be poured over hot stones, it is not a true Sauna. The Sauna bather controls the humidity in the room by the amount of water used. Water can create a more relaxing atmosphere, and it aids in perspiration and deep cleansing of the pores. Although the use of water is the most popular, some like to use the sauna without any water at all for a very dry climate (humidity level 10-15%). Sauna heat and humidity are flexible, so it is up to the bather as to how they want to use the sauna to suit their needs.
While many people consider wet saunas and infrared saunas to be similar products, they are actually quite different. The dictionary defines a sauna as “a bath that uses dry heat to induce perspiration, and in which steam is produced by pouring water on heated stones.” By definition, an infrared “sauna” is not a sauna at all, but a therapy room. It does not use water, does not get exceptionally hot, and does not generate steam.
A wet sauna is a room constructed of softwood with a single heater – typically electric – that is capable of reaching temperatures of about 190 degrees Fahrenheit. The high temperature produces a very dry environment with extremely low humidity. You can tolerate the heat because the softwood does not get hot, and the dry air is void of moisture. When you sprinkle water over the rocks located in the heating unit, it creates a burst of steam, which creates moisture, therefore the name, “wet” sauna. The burst of steam also causes a rush of super-hot air, momentarily creating an exceptionally hot environment.
The Smoke Sauna – One Of The Original Types Of Saunas
Smoke sauna (“Savu Sauna” in the Finnish language) is a more rare sauna type, with a big wood-burning stove – without a chimney. The sauna “heater” consists of a massive amount of rocks (several hundreds of pounds of rocks) and is heated up for several hours before the bathers will be able to use it. The smoke and flames from the burning wood heat the rock mass directly, and the smoke enters the sauna room from between the rocks. After the heating, a phase has been completed, and the flame is out, the room is ventilated, and the sauna is ready to be used. A good smoke sauna offers a very genuine and smooth experience, but as described, the procedure is time-consuming and requires special circumstances. Smoke sauna kits are not commercially available in the U.S.
Smoke saunas are one of the oldest sauna forms, and the customs and uses that surround them are found in many countries around the world. Some are dated as far back as the 13th century and become quite prolific by the 17th century.
The oldest saunas were cave saunas and were built partially or entirely into the ground and had ceilings mostly of soil.
Historically, most smoke saunas have been situated in Estonia and the area around that country. These saunas consisted of small one-roomed, cross timber buildings which were built on cornerstones. They had an earth floor and were heated with a cobblestone stove using no cement.
By the 19th century, changes had been made – saunas were being built in two parts with separate vestibules and a sweat room, and plank flooring. The roof was also changed. They were now covered in shavings instead of reeds, and a hole in the roof was made to allow for smoke to escape.
The design of the stoves changed and was built with clay and burned bricks. Building the stoves with closed tops allowed the smoke to be directed to the chimney and thus through the roof, now the saunas became smoke-free.
Then the building of types of saunas with chimneys began to spread, and in some areas, it became the most popular design. Before long saunas with a chimney exceeded the number of those without one.
Some older users of the smoke sauna felt the ones with chimneys were not as good as those without. They pointed out differences like the floor being cooler, the sauna does not get as warm, and when making steam the room becomes damp. In some areas, they consider the smoke sauna to be the “right” sauna.
Traditional Sauna VS Infrared
An infrared sauna is also a room constructed of softwood but has 4-7 electric heating panels surrounding the user(s). The temperature will generally not exceed 135 degrees Fahrenheit, and no water is used. Instead, the user positions in front of one or more of the heating panels so that the heat is focused on a specific area(s) of the body. The infrared heat penetrates the body at the point of contact.
The type you choose is a matter of personal preference and what you want your sauna to do for you. Operational costs on either type of sauna are meagre. Since sauna heaters draw very little power, and since they are not running all the time, the overall cost is negligible. Most users report little or no noticeable effect on their electric bills when using the sauna 3 or 4 times per week for 30-45 minutes per session.
While all the types of saunas on the market today offer the same great health benefits, they certainly differ in other aspects.
Size is one difference. Home saunas can be built into an extra room, or built outdoors and accommodated more than one person. In comparison, portable saunas take up very little space and usually accommodate only one person.
Steam, Smoke or Infrared? The choice is yours. Many people still prefer the traditional steam sauna, and there are some excellent ones available on the market today.
The sauna that has worked its way into millions of households over the last few years is the Far Infrared Sauna. These saunas are well priced, portable, easy to assemble and use very little energy.
So if you are considering purchasing a sauna for health reasons, rest assured whichever sauna you prefer the health benefits are the same. So all you need to do is choose the type of sauna that’s right for you.