Types of Saunas: A Comprehensive Guide

Saunas have been a popular form of relaxation and wellness for centuries, offering various physical and mental health benefits. Originating from Finland, the traditional sauna experience has since evolved into several types catering to different preferences and needs.

Today’s saunas can generally be categorized into a few main types, such as wood-burning, electric, infrared, steam, and sauna-shower combinations. Each type of sauna offers a unique experience, with varying temperature ranges, heating methods, and humidity levels. This versatility allows individuals to choose the best sauna type to match their personal preferences and wellness goals.

As you explore the world of saunas, it’s essential to understand the key differences and benefits of each type. By learning about the various sauna options, you can make a more informed decision when selecting the perfect sauna for your personal needs and lifestyle.

Types of Saunas

There are various types of saunas available, each offering a unique experience and benefits. This section will discuss some of the most common and popular sauna types.

Finnish Sauna

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The Finnish sauna is a traditional and essential part of Finnish culture, providing relaxation, warmth, and a myriad of health benefits. The key components of a Finnish sauna experience include dry air with low humidity, a wood-clad compartment, and temperatures ranging from 140 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Various types of Finnish saunas exist, each with its own unique characteristics. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Wooden sauna: This type requires chopping wood, which is burned in a stove inside the sauna.
  • Smoke sauna: Heated without a chimney, a smoke sauna offers a distinct aroma and is considered the original sauna experience.
  • Electric sauna: A more modern version of the Finnish sauna, this type is powered by an electric stove.

Finnish saunas can also be found in various forms, including public saunas and even unique experiences, such as the world’s first Ferris wheel sauna in Helsinki.

Electric Saunas

Electric saunas are a popular and common type of sauna, particularly in urban areas and health clubs. They utilize an electric stove to heat up stones or rocks, which retain heat to create a comfortable sauna environment. These stoves can typically be activated with the simple press of a button, making electric saunas user-friendly and convenient.

Similar to wood-burning saunas, an electric sauna experience allows users to pour water over the heated stones to create steam. This functionality provides the option for a more humid atmosphere within the sauna, catering to individual preferences. The absence of fire also makes electric saunas suitable for indoor installations, especially in urban settings where wood-fired saunas may not be allowed.

There are several advantages to using electric saunas over other types. For one, they don’t require firewood or frequent maintenance associated with wood-fired saunas. Additionally, electric saunas offer precise temperature control, enabling users to adjust the heat to their desired level easily. This feature makes electric saunas a popular choice for home installations, where users may appreciate the convenience and simple operation.

In conclusion, electric saunas are a versatile and user-friendly option for those seeking the benefits of sauna use without the hassle of maintaining a wood-fired stove. They are suitable for both public and private use, providing an enjoyable sauna experience with the added convenience of electric heating.

Wood-Burning Saunas

Wood-burning saunas, also known as Finnish saunas or wood stove saunas, are one of the most traditional types of saunas. They use a metal stove or kiuas, with sauna stones on top, to burn wood which in turn heats up the stones and the room. These saunas are popular for their low humidity levels and temperatures ranging from 140 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Several factors set wood-burning saunas apart from other types of saunas. The use of wood as a source of heat adds a unique aroma and atmosphere to the sauna experience. The wood-burning process also avoids the use of electricity, making it an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient option.

When building a wood-burning sauna, the choice of wood used for construction is crucial. The most popular woods used for building saunas are Western Red Cedar, Alaskan Yellow Cedar, Western Hemlock, and Poplar, with Western Red Cedar being the preferred choice for its stability and appearance. These woods have specific properties that make them suitable for sauna construction, such as their ability to withstand high temperatures and moisture levels.

Infrared Saunas

Infrared saunas use a form of light wave to create heat and elevate your core temperature, offering a unique and distinct experience from traditional steam saunas. Infrared saunas use infrared heaters to emit infrared light, which the body absorbs as heat, resulting in a more efficient and comfortable heating process.

Infrared vs. Near-Infrared Sauna

Although both types use infrared technology as their heat source, they differ in the wavelengths they produce. The three most common types of infrared saunas are near-infrared, mid-infrared, and far-infrared saunas.

Near-infrared Sauna

Near-infrared saunas emit the shortest wavelengths of the infrared spectrum. They are known for penetrating the body’s surface more effectively, helping to improve circulation and promote cell regeneration. Near-infrared saunas are often utilized for their potential therapeutic benefits in wound healing, pain relief, and skin rejuvenation.

Mid-infrared Sauna

Mid-infrared saunas generate medium-range wavelengths that effectively penetrate deeper than near-infrared waves. They are known for their ability to relax muscles, relieve pain, and assist in weight loss by increasing the body’s core temperature.

Far-infrared Sauna

Far-infrared saunas use longer wavelengths to create gentle heat that easily penetrates deep into the body’s tissues. These saunas are known for providing a relaxing and detoxifying experience, as the heat directly focuses on heating the body and not the surrounding air. Far-infrared saunas have become popular for their health and wellness benefits, as they are capable of promoting detoxification, pain relief, and relaxation.

Each type of infrared sauna offers its unique set of advantages, targeting different aspects of health and wellness. Choosing the appropriate type depends on individual preferences and therapeutic needs.

Steam Rooms

Steam rooms, also known as Turkish saunas or hammams, are a type of sauna that utilize moist heat generated from boiling water, which releases steam into the chamber. As opposed to traditional dry saunas, steam rooms maintain a higher level of humidity and usually have a temperature range of 90 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 50 degrees Celsius).

These rooms are often clad in ceramic tile or other non-porous surfaces to prevent moisture damage and maintain a hygienic environment. Steam rooms might also have cultural guidelines, such as in the case of Turkish Hammams.

The benefits of steam rooms include improved circulation, easing muscle tension, and promoting relaxation, among others. It is important to note that steam rooms are not technically classified as saunas, but they are often considered together due to their similarities in function and purpose.

Smoke Sauna

Smoke saunas, also known as Savusauna, are considered to be the most traditional and authentic form of Finnish saunas. They are typically built outdoors as small cabins and do not have a stove or chimney. Instead, a fire is constructed under a pile of rocks to produce heat.

These ancient saunas require a longer heating process compared to other types, usually taking between 6 and 8 hours. Heat is generated by placing heat-retaining stones in a fireplace, and since there is no chimney, smoke escapes through a hole near the roof.

Smoke saunas offer a unique and traditional experience for sauna enthusiasts, and their simplistic design makes them relatively easy to build. In addition, encasing the sauna room with natural materials such as cedar or spruce enhances the aromatic experience.

While it is not as common as other types of saunas, the smoke sauna is deeply rooted in Finnish tradition and provides a distinct and authentic atmosphere for its users.


A sauna-shower is a combination of a traditional sauna and a showering area, designed to provide the benefits of both a sauna session and a refreshing shower in a single space. This type of sauna is popular in modern homes and wellness facilities that prioritize convenience and efficient use of space.

There are different ways a sauna-shower can be integrated, such as retrofitting an existing bathroom or including it in a newly designed space. Common layouts include installing an electric sauna or an infrared sauna in proximity to a shower enclosure or creating a custom-built wet room that seamlessly incorporates both elements.

Some advantages of a sauna-shower combination include:

  • Space-saving design: Combining sauna and shower functions in one area maximizes space utilization and reduces the need for separate installations.
  • Convenience: Having a shower directly adjacent to the sauna makes it easy to rinse off before and after sauna sessions, which is essential for maintaining hygiene and enhancing the experience.
  • Customization: Depending on the individual’s preferences and available space, a sauna-shower combination can be tailored to suit specific needs and design aesthetics.

When considering a sauna-shower, it is essential to consult with professionals experienced in creating safe, functional, and visually appealing spaces, as proper ventilation, waterproofing, and insulation are all critical elements to ensure optimal performance and longevity of both the sauna and shower components.

Barrel Saunas

Barrel Sauna - Types of Saunas

Barrel saunas are a popular type of outdoor sauna that offers a unique and efficient design. As the name suggests, these saunas are shaped like a barrel, typically made from a high-quality wood such as cedar or spruce, and offer a cylindrical construction.

The cylindrical design of barrel saunas provides several advantages over traditional square or rectangular cabins. With less unused airspace, the same-sized heater can heat the room faster, providing an energy-efficient option. The curved walls also improve heat circulation, ensuring a more even and comfortable experience.

Barrel saunas can be purchased as kits or pre-built units and often come in various sizes to accommodate different needs. Installation is typically straightforward – many can be assembled by homeowners with basic handyman skills. Since barrel saunas are designed for outdoor use, it is essential to choose a suitable location that provides privacy, safety, and easy access to power and water sources.

Here are some common features of barrel saunas:

  • Constructed from high-quality, rot-resistant wood like cedar or spruce
  • Energy-efficient heating due to cylindrical design
  • Various size options to accommodate different user requirements
  • Easy assembly and installation, often featuring DIY kits
  • Designed mainly for outdoor use

When choosing a barrel sauna, there are numerous options available from different manufacturers, such as Almost Heaven Saunas, which offer various models and sizes to suit individual needs.

Mobile Saunas

Mobile saunas are a convenient and versatile option for those who want to enjoy the sauna experience on the go. They can be easily hitched to a trailer and transported to various locations.

These portable saunas come in different sizes and styles. One example is “The Essential” mobile sauna 1.0 by Rob Licht Custom Saunas, which is a 5×8 ft single room that seats up to 4 people comfortably. The exterior siding is made of painted pine, while the interior is constructed with cedar. It can be equipped with either a Harvia M3 wood-fired heater or a Harvia Topclass Electric (240 Volt Plug-in) heater.

There are two basic types of mobile saunas, which include traditional wood-burning and electric saunas. A wood-burning sauna features a wood stove that heats stones, which in turn heats the sauna compartment. These are also known as Finnish saunas and can reach temperatures between 140 and 200 degrees F.

Electric mobile saunas, on the other hand, use an electric heater instead of a wood-burning stove. They are plug-in models that generally require a 240 Volt power source—like the Harvia Topclass Electric mentioned earlier.

Mobile saunas can be built on various chassis types, such as combine harvesters, horse trailers, fish house trailers, and lawn mower utility trailers. Some popular cargo trailer-style mobile saunas include the Phoenix by Driftless Sauna, the Michigan Mobile Sauna, the Wisconsin Sauna, and the Mobile Sauna in Pittsburgh by Warm Timber Saunas.

Benefits of Saunas

Regular sauna use can provide a range of health benefits, which can be experienced from different types of saunas. In this section, we will discuss the benefits related to relaxation, detoxification, pain relief, and improved circulation.


One of the main benefits of saunas is their ability to promote relaxation. Spending time in a sauna can help to reduce stress levels by allowing the body to release endorphins, which provide a natural calming effect. Infrared saunas have been specifically known to help with stress relief and relaxation.


Saunas can also aid in the detoxification process by stimulating the body’s natural sweating mechanism. Sweating helps to remove toxins and impurities from the skin and body, promoting overall health. Steam saunas, in particular, use wet heat, which is known to help open up airways and alleviate congestion.

Pain Relief

Heat therapy provided by saunas can be effective in alleviating muscle and joint pain. The increased blood flow to the muscles can reduce inflammation and promote healing. Infrared saunas are known to be helpful in relieving muscle and joint pain.

Improved Circulation

One of the major benefits of regular sauna use is improved circulation. The heat from saunas causes blood vessels to dilate and increases blood flow, which can help to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells. In WomensHealthMag, it is mentioned that saunas can improve circulation and contribute to overall well-being.

Considerations before Using a Sauna

Before using a sauna, it’s essential to consider several factors to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Understanding the different types of saunas is crucial in selecting the best option to suit your needs. A traditional wood-burning sauna, also known as a Finnish sauna, is a dry sauna with low humidity, while infrared saunas are more popular for home use due to their comparatively lower price points and kit-based assembly.

Hydration is vital when using a sauna. It’s essential to drink plenty of water before and after your sauna session to replace fluids lost from sweating. Experts recommend drinking about two to four glasses of water after using a sauna.

It’s also crucial to consider the duration and frequency of your sauna sessions. For optimal results, users typically sit on benches inside the sauna for 15 to 20 minutes. Avoid spending excessive amounts of time in the sauna, as doing so can lead to dehydration and overheating.

If you have any pre-existing health conditions, it’s essential to consult your healthcare provider before using a sauna. Some medical conditions may contraindicate sauna use or require modifications to ensure a safe experience.

Choosing the Right Sauna for You

When deciding on the perfect sauna for your needs, it’s essential to consider your budget, space requirements, and desired features. This section aims to guide you through these key factors to help you make the best choice.


Your budget plays a significant role in determining the type of sauna you can afford. Traditional Finnish saunas and cedar saunas are typically more expensive due to the materials and higher energy consumption, while infrared saunas are generally more affordable. Compare the costs of different types and models, factoring in expenses such as installation, maintenance, and energy usage.

Space Requirements

Before purchasing a sauna, assess the space you have available in your home. Some saunas require a larger area to accommodate wood-burning or electric heaters, while others, like steam saunas, are compact enough to fit in smaller spaces. Additionally, consider the indoor vs. outdoor placement and ventilation requirements for each sauna type.


Various saunas come with different features, such as temperature control, lighting, and customizable settings. Infrared saunas, for example, are known to be the best choice for people with heat sensitivity due to their lower temperature range and body-penetrating heat. On the other hand, steam saunas can help alleviate respiratory problems. Determine which features are most important to you and select a sauna that aligns with your preferences and needs.

Remember, when choosing the right sauna for you, evaluate your budget, available space, and desired features. This will help ensure that your investment provides you with the ultimate sauna experience tailored to your personal requirements.

Final Thoughts

When selecting the ideal sauna type for you, it’s essential to consider various factors such as temperature preferences, health benefits, and personal requirements. Steam saunas, also known as traditional or Finnish saunas, offer high-temperature and high-humidity experiences that promote sweating and relaxation. On the other hand, infrared saunas provide a gentler heating method through infrared technology, making them suitable for those who prefer lower heat levels.

Dry saunas and heat storage saunas are other options that share some similarities with traditional saunas, operating at high temperatures but with less humidity. Lastly, steam baths, or Turkish baths, provide an experience with more emphasis on steam and aromatherapy, offering a unique, luxurious environment for relaxation and rejuvenation.

In summary, each sauna type comes with its distinct features and benefits. By understanding these differences and considering your preferences, you can make an informed decision and discover the most enjoyable and rewarding sauna experience that caters to your specific needs.

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