Saunas have been around for thousands of years, and it’s indisputable that throughout this time, they’ve provided a range of health benefits to users, from better sleep to better skin to better mental well being. Therefore, it isn’t all that hard to see why an increasing number of people around the world are buying into the idea of using saunas and even buying them.
However, earlier, where there was only one kind of sauna available to mankind, technological innovation has introduced a new option. Therefore, when it comes to picking out a sauna for yourself, you’ll now find two choices staring you in the face—a traditional, or Finnish sauna, and the newer infrared sauna.
If you’re wondering what the difference between the two is and how the type you pick out will influence your sauna experience, here’s all that you need to know!
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Before we get into the specifics, let’s understand a little bit about what really Finnish saunas and infrared saunas are.
The traditional Finnish sauna, as the name suggests, comes from widespread use in Finland. These wooden rooms or structures make use of heated stones and water to create steam, making the interior humid and hot enough for users. Though traditional saunas are large and meant for a large number of people, many brands now offer customized versions of these, ranging from 1-person to 8-person saunas.
Infrared saunas, on the other hand, are a more recent innovation and are also known as far-infrared or IR saunas. These saunas are constructed with a mix of wood, plastic, ceramic and carbon panel, as opposed to just wood, and use far-infrared lights for heat emission. Therefore, where traditional saunas heat the air and the hot air heats the body (an indirect process), the heat and light generated by infrared lights are absorbed directly by the skin (a direct process).
Now that we know the basic difference between a traditional and infrared sauna, here’s a look at the finer differences.
Traditional or Finnish saunas produce intense heat, with temperatures reaching 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, since water/steam is the main source of heat, the air can also get humid, further intensified by the sweating of the users.
Infrared saunas, on the other hand, are dry, since the main source of heat is the infrared waves generated by the infrared heater. The internal temperature is much lower than a Finnish sauna—110-140 degrees Fahrenheit compared to the 180-190 in the latter.
However, even at that temperature, infrared saunas let you sweat and reap the benefits of a sauna session sans the humidity (though a separate steam generator can be added for steam).
As mentioned earlier, Finnish saunas make use of water and stones to create steam. This is a basic heating mechanism, where water is ladled over heated stones to create steam. This traditional method of heating doesn’t fare well against infrared saunas, that use heating panels and heaters to emit infrared light/heat.
Additionally, due to the basic mechanism in place, traditional saunas take much longer to heat up (20-30 minutes and sometimes even 45-60 minutes), whereas infrared saunas can heat up in half the time (10-15 minutes). This also means that traditional saunas consume more energy and power to heat up and maintain the heat, whereas infrared saunas use up to 70% less energy and power (and thereby, are less expensive!) to do the sauna. This also translates to how quickly your body is heated—infrared saunas warm you up much faster than traditional saunas.
Therefore, in this case, infrared saunas are much more efficient and functional.
Infrared saunas are much smaller than traditional saunas, generally accommodating only 1-4 members at a time. This makes them more widely available and more convenient to install in homes. Large infrared saunas exist too, but these are generally built specifically for needs such as hot yoga classes or group therapy.
Traditional saunas are much bigger, meant to accommodate 6-8 people or more at a time. Therefore, this doesn’t make a very convenient option for many home sauna users. Not only were they traditionally built this way for community bathing but the extra space is required to accommodate the heating elements. Though traditional saunas can be customized and built for a smaller number of users, it is quite expensive to do so and rare to find a brand that offers customization options.
Traditional saunas are much more expensive than infrared saunas. A large part of this stems from the materials used and the construction process. Traditional saunas make use of high-quality wood and are constructed by experts with specialized knowledge on designing and building traditional saunas. Additionally, the larger size means more material used and since these saunas are generally built according to specific instructions and not available readymade in the market, customers are charged a premium on the skill.
Infrared saunas are mass produced, so there is no additional expense incurred on skill and expertise for each unit’s construction. They’re available readymade in the market, and hence, work out much cheaper—you can get a great 2-person sauna for as little as $1,400, whereas a traditional sauna would cost at least 4 times the price for the same number of users.
Infrared saunas are more convenient, both in terms of usage and maintenance. All you have to do is turn on the heater in an infrared sauna, whereas in a traditional sauna, you’ll have to continuously ladle water over the stones to produce steam and maintain the temperature.
When it comes to maintenance, Finnish saunas require more care and cleaning; the humidity can cause mold and bacteria if the sauna isn’t cleaned and aired out properly. Additionally, the heating elements in Finnish saunas require individual cleaning too. Infrared saunas, on the other hand, require almost zero maintenance.
When it comes to health benefits, both infrared and traditional saunas offer more or less the same benefits. Since both saunas lead to sweating, detoxification and weight loss happen in both saunas, albeit via different methods.
However, since infrared sauna produces wavelengths between 6-12 microns that are absorbed directly by the body, this sauna is a better option for joint pain and muscle soreness relief. Infrared saunas are also better for detoxification since sweat in infrared saunas is said to comprise 20% toxins and 80% water, whereas, in a traditional sauna, it was just 3% toxins and 97% water.
Though Finnish saunas are iconic and are the real deal, infrared saunas are more affordable, comfortable, efficient and better performing (though both have their own cons, too, so ensure you look these up as well before making your decision). Infrared saunas are also much easier to maintain and have lower running costs than Finnish saunas. Therefore, unless you’re looking for a traditional sauna experience, an infrared sauna is the much better option!