Saunas are gaining in popularity for their myriad health benefits, from boosting the immune system to weight loss.
And now that a home sauna is well within reach—an affordable, easy-to-assemble sauna kit is the norm—it's less of an indulgence and more of a lifestyle and wellness addition to your home.
There are also a lot more types of saunas to choose from than there were ten or fifteen years ago, some even available with alternative energy sources.
So, if you want to stray from a traditional dry sauna, steam sauna, or steam shower combo, you can opt for an infrared model instead.
Whichever type you choose, you are doing your heart a favor, according to the researchers at Harvard Medical School.
If you're not sure how to choose, or what is the best sauna to buy, here's a handy guide that will help you with the pros, cons, and considerations of each.
How Saunas Work
A dry sauna is usually constructed of wood. It works by heating a stove inside of it, which is either electric or wood.
The stove usually contains rocks. When you douse the rocks with water, it creates the addition of steam, which in turn adds more heat (and humidity) to the air in the sauna.
As the room heats up, so does your body. As your body heats up, it naturally wants to cool itself off, which is why your pores open up and you sweat.
A steam sauna is constructed of plastic or tile (any material that isn't porous) and heated by way of steam generation.
As the water boils in the generator, the steam is released in the air, increasing the humidity.
Even though steam saunas run at a much lower temperature, they feel as hot if not hotter than a dry sauna because the humidity keeps your sweat from evaporating.
The sweat sits on your skin, and you feel hotter.
Temperature and Humidity
Dry saunas use very high heat, up to 200 degrees, with the average being between 160 and 195 degrees Fahrenheit.
While completely safe, some people cannot tolerate this level of heat and so find it uncomfortable or intolerable.
Steam saunas are not as hot, and are generally kept between 110 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dry saunas are somewhat humid, but obviously not as humid as steam saunas, which have a 100% level of humidity.
A dry sauna usually maintains about a ten-percent level of humidity, varying of course by the application of steam via hot rocks and water.
Infrared saunas have a very low level of humidity, about the same as the inside of your house.
Dry and steam saunas take up a lot of power to run, up to three (or even five times) as much as other types of saunas, like infrared.
As opposed to dry and steam saunas, far infrared sauna use infrared light rays (also called far-infrared rays), which are radiant, to heat your body directly.
Depending on the size you buy, there will be a certain number of infrared heaters.
Some believe infrared light and radiant heat provide greater health benefits for the body, like weight loss and immune system boosting.
It's also shown to have some of same benefits you get from massage, like muscle and joint pain relief.
Some claim that infrared heat is better for your skin and aids in conditions like acne and psoriasis.
Ease of Installation
If you're looking to install a sauna in your home, an infrared sauna is probably the easiest.
They come in many sizes, some that fit up to six people, while the norm is a 2 person or 3-person capacity.
Dry sauna would be your close second, though still require some building skills (or hiring someone who has them).
Infrared saunas come in very easy to assemble (and move) kits now, so you don't even need any tools in order to install them.
They use a snap and buckle system and come together fairly quickly.
If you have an existing sauna in your house and you want to convert it, most people convert from traditional to infrared.
To convert infrared sauna to traditional is more complicated because the unit itself contains the infrared heaters.
However, by removing the infrared heaters and installing a stove, it can be done, as both are constructed of wood, usually cedar or hemlock.
Converting to or from steam isn't possible, as steam saunas require material that is non-porous, such as tile.
Some people prefer a combination of infrared and traditional sauna, as it enables for slight power consumption, while maintaining a bit of the ambient heat.
With a smaller heater and the infrared heaters, you can save on power bills, and still get the benefit of steam and humidity.
Benefits & Risks
The health benefits of sauna are many, from cardiovascular health, to asthma, skin problems, and reducing pain and stress, and have been documented in several studies.
The risks are predominantly common sense. There's a risk of heat stroke and dehydration, of course, as is the case with any heat therapy or hot tub.
You should drink plenty of water when you sauna, avoid alcohol, and the limit the time in spend inside.
If you have a serious illness or any type of injury, you should consult your doctor before taking a sauna.
There are no dangers of infrared sauna specifically. They're the same as they are with a traditional dry or steam sauna.
Far infrared rays are completely safe, unlike UV or X-rays, and pose no health risks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Infrared Saunas Get Hot?
Yes, Infrared saunas get hot, but much less so than traditional saunas. The thing to remember is that the heaters emit rays that heat your body, not the room.
The typical heating temperature is between 110 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Rather than relying on heating the room to in turn heat your body however, the infrared rays heat your body directly.
How Long Does it Take to Heat the Sauna?
It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to heat up, depending on the size of the sauna. A four or six-person sauna can take up to an hour.
Do Infrared Saunas Use a Lot of Electricity?
No, infrared saunas are highly efficient. They use a third to a fifth of the amount of energy it takes to run a traditional sauna, just pennies per session (approximately twenty cents per hour, depending on the size of the sauna).
Are infrared saunas safe?
Yes, the infrared light rays that heat your body are completely safe.
The dangers to be aware of are the same as with any other type of sauna.
Stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, and limit your time inside.
Whether you prefer a wet or a dry heat, saunas are a healthy addition to your lifestyle.
And now that they're easier than ever to install and highly efficient (especially if you go the route of infrared), it's a much more feasible project for your next DIY weekend undertaking.
The health benefits are many, and the results lasting. It's a good addition to your home and wellness, and might even save a few trips to the gym.