Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: The Great Sweat Showdown

Infrared vs Traditional Sauna comparison image showcasing the sleek modernity of infrared alongside the classic warmth of a traditional sauna

Did you know that in Finland, a country with over 2 million saunas, the experience of sauna bathing is more than just relaxation? It’s a cherished tradition passed down through generations.

Saunas have been used for centuries, with traditional saunas being deeply rooted in various cultures. However, the technology behind infrared saunas is a more recent development.

Both offer unique benefits and have their differences. But in the infrared vs traditional sauna contest, which one is right for you?

By the end of this article, you’ll fully understand the difference between traditional and infrared saunas. This will help you choose the right one based on your personal needs and preferences. 

“Whether you choose an infrared or traditional sauna, the key is to find what works best for you and your body. Everyone reacts differently to heat and sauna experiences. It’s important to listen to your body and adjust accordingly.”

Dr. Emily Johnson, Wellness Expert

Quick Summary

>>> Heating method: Explore the differences between infrared light heating and traditional air heating. Understand how each impacts your comfort and heat tolerance.

>>> Health Benefits: Explore the distinct health benefits of saunas, ranging from improved cardiovascular function to stress relief.

>>> Safety and Risks: Evaluate the Safety and Risks of Infrared and Traditional Saunas.

>>> Cost & Maintenance: Evaluate the upfront costs and the long-term benefits of infrared and traditional saunas for informed decision-making.

>>> Which one is for you: Factor in your space and lifestyle to choose the Right Sauna Type for Your Home from among the diverse sauna types available on the market.

Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: The Heating Mechanisms

To understand the differences between infrared and traditional saunas, it is important to explore their heating mechanisms.

Cozy traditional sauna interior with a wood-fired stove, highlighting the natural warmth of wooden aesthetics.
Traditional Sauna with a Wood-fired Stove

Traditional Saunas: The Role of Humidity and Air

In a traditional sauna, the heating mechanism involves heating the air and raising the humidity levels.

My visits to traditional saunas have always been about intense, enveloping heat. There’s something about the steam and the higher temperatures that feels purifying.

The sauna room is typically constructed with rocks or wood. Using an electric or wood-burning stove, the sauna is heated to high temperatures, often to intense levels, ranging from 176 to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The best part about traditional sauna is that it can be both a dry or a wet sauna. In a traditional sauna, you will always find rocks kept over the stove. As long as you don’t pour water over these hot rocks, you’ll get dry heat.

But once water is poured onto these hot rocks, they start to produce steam, creating a humid environment, thus making it a wet sauna. The hot air and steam work together to raise the sauna’s temperature and induce sweating. This is the way Finns like their sauna to be and the evaporating hot steam is referred to as löyly.

Related Articles:
Top 5 Wood-Burning Sauna Stoves
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Top 11 Sauna Heaters

Infrared Saunas: Direct Body Heating with Light

Infrared saunas use infrared light to heat the body directly.

Infrared saunas do not heat the surrounding air. They also do not rely on high humidity levels, unlike traditional saunas.

The first time I tried an infrared sauna, I was struck by the gentle warmth that enveloped me. Unlike the intense heat of a traditional sauna, it felt like basking in the sun on a cool day.

These saunas have infrared heaters that emit infrared wavelengths. The infrared wavelengths penetrate the skin and heat the body from within.

This allows for a more moderate operating temperature of approximately 125 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit.

FeaturesTraditional Sauna Infrared Sauna
Temperature Range176 – 200+°F125 – 155°F
Heat SourceWood-burning Heater/Electric HeaterInfrared Light
Humidity LevelsAdjustable with water on rocksLow to none
User ComfortIntense heat from hot air and steam induces sweatingDirect body heat targeting deep tissues for a gentle experience
Ideal forHeat enthusiasts and traditional experience seekersPeople seeking a milder, therapeutic heat

Related: How much time does it take for a sauna to heat up?

Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: Comparing the Benefits

The Unique Benefits of Infrared Saunas

The innovative design of infrared saunas brings forth a slew of unique health benefits that continue to intrigue wellness enthusiasts.

According to a comprehensive review by Tsai et al. (2017), infrared radiation has been shown to have various therapeutic effects, such as accelerating wound healing, reducing inflammation, and improving pain relief.

The authors also highlight the potential of far-infrared saunas for medical treatment, citing studies that report improvements in conditions like arthritis and other joint disorders, as well as post-workout recovery and muscle relaxation.

Enhanced Muscle Recovery and Performance

  • Infrared saunas can be great if you want to recover faster after workouts or improve your athletic performance.
  • The deep penetration of far-infrared heat helps to increase circulation. It assists in repairing overworked muscles more rapidly. This is of sufficient advantage, especially after strenuous exercise.
  • It accelerates the reduction of lactic acid buildup, alleviating muscle fatigue.
  • Engaging in a soothing infrared sauna session could be likened to giving your body a mini workout.
  • It slightly elevates your heart rate and makes you sweat, all while you relax.

Deep Tissue Relief and Improved Circulation

  • Infrared saunas are also known for providing deep tissue relief. This can be a game-changer for individuals with chronic pain.
  • The sauna’s warmth penetrates deep into the muscles. This increases blood flow, thereby reducing inflammation and heightening relief.
  • This enhanced circulation also boosts immune function and cardiovascular health.

Weight Loss

  • Saunas have gained popularity as a potential solution to weight loss.
  • The rays of a infrared sauna penetrate deeper into your skin, increasing your metabolic rate. This can help you burn up to 10 times more calories than in a Traditional sauna.
  • This makes infrared saunas popular among people who want to burn more calories and lose weight.

Benefits of Traditional Sauna: A Time-Tested Approach

Classic wooden sauna room with benches and rolled towels, evoking the timeless appeal of traditional saunas.
Classic Traditional Wooden Sauna

Embracing the warmth of a traditional sauna is to embrace centuries of wellness tradition. But it’s more than just a sensation. Scientifically, the traditional sauna has much to offer.

Cardiovascular Health and Stress Relief

Recent studies, such as the research by Lee et al. (2021), have postulated that regular sauna bathing may improve cardiovascular function through mechanisms such as improved endothelium-dependent dilatation and reduced arterial stiffness

  • As you sit back and unwind, consider a traditional sauna session’s profound impact on cardiovascular health
  • An ideal sauna session lasts 15 to 30 minutes. The high heat generated from stones or a wood-burning stove increases your heart rate and dilates blood vessels. This replicates the beneficial effects of a light workout.
  • This elevated state has been shown to lead to a reduction in blood pressure.
  • It also enhances endothelial function and reduces inflammation. This fosters a sense of well-being and physical replenishment.
  • Moreover, this heat therapy has been associated with improved arterial compliance. It is essential for those seeking stress relief and better sleep quality.

Detoxification and Immune System Boost

  • When you think about the benefits of a traditional sauna, it’s the high heat and lower humidity that help make your immune system stronger.
  • The dry air makes the body sweat, mobilizing the detoxification process. This natural sweat session removes toxins.
  • It also simulates an environment that helps invigorate your body’s natural defence mechanisms.
  • This simulated ‘fever’ scenario can boost the immune response. Consequently, it could potentially ease the occurrence of common colds and flu.

Mental Health

  • Aside from the physical benefits, saunas are also beneficial for mental health. Sauna sessions induce relaxation and offer a reprieve from stress and anxiety.
  • The soothing heat helps release endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones. This can improve mood and overall mental well-being.
  • Saunas are known to alleviate symptoms of depression and promote a sense of calm and tranquillity.
  • Traditional sauna therapy has been linked to a lower incidence of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
  • This suggests that the inviting warmth of the sauna could be forging pathways to a clearer, more resilient mind.

So it’s clear that saunas are good for you, whether they are traditional or infrared. However, infrared saunas can give you similar benefits at cooler temperatures. This makes them more enjoyable and easier to use regularly.

Apart from wellness, saunas are also being used innovatively in luxury spas. In these spas, they’re combined with aromatherapy and light therapy for a holistic experience.

While traditional saunas offer a communal experience reminiscent of ancient bathhouses, infrared saunas provide a more private, meditative environment, ideal for introspection.

When thinking about adding a sauna to your health routine, consider what feels best for you and your health goals. You can choose between the gentle warmth of an infrared sauna or the strong heat of a traditional one.

Related Article: Benefits of Infrared Sauna

Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: Duration & Clothing

Sauna Session Duration

Traditionally, sauna sessions in a traditional sauna tend to be shorter, lasting around 10 to 20 minutes. The higher temperatures and presence of humidity contribute to this duration.

On the other hand, infrared sauna sessions are generally longer, typically ranging from 15 to 30 minutes. The lower temperatures in an infrared sauna allow for a longer exposure to heat.

Appropriate Clothing

Clothing choice is also an important consideration in both sauna types. In a traditional sauna, using towels or wrapping yourself in a light cloth is common to enhance the sweating process while maintaining modesty.

In contrast, infrared saunas allow for the option of wearing loose-fitting clothing. This type of clothing lets infrared light directly penetrate the skin.

Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: Evaluating the Safety and Risks

When it comes to sauna usage, safety is of paramount importance. This section will explore the potential risks associated with both infrared and traditional saunas. We will also provide recommendations for safe sauna usage.

Addressing EMF Concerns in Infrared Saunas

Regarding infrared saunas, concerns about exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) have been raised. Understanding the potential risks and taking necessary precautions when using an infrared sauna is important.

To minimize EMF risks:

  • Choose a low-EMF infrared sauna model from a reputable brand.
  • Ensure proper grounding of the sauna unit to reduce EMF exposure.
  • Follow manufacturer guidelines for safe usage and maintenance of the sauna.
  • Consider using EMF shielding materials or devices to reduce exposure if necessary.
Sleek infrared sauna interior featuring an elegant wooden grid design, combining style with wellness.
Interior of an Infrared Sauna

Heat Exposure and Vulnerable Groups

While saunas provide numerous benefits, it is important to be mindful of the heat exposure. Pregnant women, children, and individuals with specific medical conditions are especially vulnerable.

Heat exposure in saunas can lead to:

  • Dehydration
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Risk of overheating

If you fall into any of these vulnerable groups or have concerns about sauna usage, consult with a healthcare professional before using a sauna.

Additionally, follow these safety recommendations:

  • Stay hydrated before, during, and after sauna sessions.
  • Monitor your body’s response to the heat and listen to any discomfort or signs of overheating.
  • Limit sauna sessions to recommended durations and avoid excessive heat exposure.
  • Consider starting with shorter sessions. Gradually increase the duration based on personal tolerance.

By understanding the safety considerations and taking necessary precautions, you can enjoy the benefits of saunas while minimizing potential risks.

Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: Cost Comparison

To make an informed decision about the right sauna for you, consider the costs for setup, operation, and maintenance. Below, we compare the initial investments, long-term savings, maintenance needs, and longevity of infrared and traditional saunas.

Initial Investments and Long-Term Savings

When it comes to setting up a sauna, both infrared and traditional options require an initial investment. However, the cost may vary depending on factors such as the size, materials used, and additional features.

Traditional saunas typically involve the purchase of a sauna kit or the construction of a customized sauna room. The cost of materials and installation can range from $3,000 to $8,000 or more, depending on the size and complexity of the project.

On the other hand, infrared saunas are available in various sizes and designs, from portable options to built-in units. The cost of an infrared sauna can range from $1,000 to $5,000 or more, depending on the quality and features.

Related: Top Rated Portable Infrared Saunas

Compact infrared sauna in a home setting, blending seamlessly with modern home décor while offering health benefits.
Compact Infrared Sauna in a Home Setting

In terms of long-term savings, both sauna types can offer energy efficiency benefits. Traditional saunas require higher temperatures to generate the desired heat. This can result in higher energy consumption. In contrast, infrared saunas use less energy as they directly heat the body, bypassing the need to heat the surrounding air.

Additionally, maintenance costs such as replacement parts, repairs, and electricity usage should also be considered when assessing long-term savings.

Maintenance Needs and Longevity of Sauna Types

When it comes to maintenance, traditional saunas generally require more regular upkeep. The wood used in traditional saunas may need periodic sealing or staining to prevent moisture damage and ensure longevity. Additionally, traditional saunas’ rocks, heating elements, and steam generators may require occasional cleaning or replacement.

Infrared saunas, on the other hand, have simpler maintenance needs. Regular cleaning of the interior and wiping down the heaters with a soft cloth should suffice to keep them in good condition. Since infrared saunas do not generate steam or use rocks, no components are prone to wear and tear.

In terms of longevity, both sauna types can provide years of use with proper maintenance. Traditional saunas, especially those constructed with quality materials, can last for several decades. Infrared saunas are relatively newer to the market and have a shorter track record. But still, they are generally expected to have a lifespan of 10 to 20 years or more.

It is important to note that sauna maintenance needs and longevity can vary depending on the brand, quality, and usage patterns. 

Sauna TypeInitial InvestmentsLong-Term SavingsMaintenance NeedsLongevity
Infrared Saunas$$ – $$$$Energy efficientMinimal upkeep10 – 20+ years
Traditional Saunas$$$ – $$$$$Higher energy consumptionRegular maintenanceSeveral decades

Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: Technological Innovations

As you step into the world of contemporary saunas, you’ll see they’ve changed a lot because of new technology. The tech wave has swept across both infrared and traditional sauna spheres.

These spaces are no longer just about relaxation and health. They’re now state-of-the-art havens with the latest tech to enhance your wellness regimen.

Evolution of Infrared Sauna Features

Infrared saunas have gotten a big upgrade thanks to better-infrared light technology.

More precise control of infrared wavelengths allows for targeted health benefits. These benefits include improved skin health and deeper muscle relaxation.

Moreover, modern infrared sauna improvements include the integration of advanced carbon heaters. These heaters distribute heat more evenly, enhancing the effectiveness of each session.

These modern saunas even have user interfaces now. They offer easy control and also enable session customization for an individualized experience.

Enhancements in Traditional Sauna Tech

Regular, old-school saunas have also gotten some cool updates. They have better heaters, stronger insulation, and digital controls now.

This means you can enjoy an authentic sauna experience but with the perks of modern technology. It’s like mixing old traditions with the latest gadgets.

So it’s clear that new tech is making saunas even better for your health. Dive into this new sauna experience, where the latest technology and innovation add to the traditional vibe.

Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: Choosing the Right Sauna

When deciding to incorporate a sauna into your home, consider the balance between the independence of DIY installations and the ease provided by professional services. Additionally, the size and layout of your home can help you decide if a small or large sauna is best for you.

DIY Sauna Solutions vs Professional Installations

Embarking on a DIY sauna project can be rewarding. It allows for a customized setup that aligns seamlessly with your preferences and skills.

Yet, if construction seems daunting, opt for a professional installation. This ensures that your sauna is set up with expertise, keeping structural and operational safety in mind.

Whether you’re leaning towards an infrared sauna or a traditional dry sauna, the installation decision is pivotal in how your sauna integrates with your daily life and wellness routines.

Space Considerations: Compact vs Expansive Models

In selecting the ideal sauna type, consider your available square footage.

A compact infrared sauna might be the perfect solution for those with limited space. It offers the same refreshing heat in a more accessible form.

For enthusiasts with ample room or a preference for the authentic, a larger traditional dry sauna may provide the extensive experience you’re seeking. 

Mobility and availability aspects also impact this decision. Like how often will you move the sauna, and how readily available are the models you’re considering?

Your choice is personal. It’s shaped by how often you’ll use your sauna, the available space in your home, and the wellness goals you aim to achieve.

Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: Aesthetics, Design, and Customization Options

Outdoor traditional barrel saunas set in a serene environment, offering a rustic retreat with a touch of nature.
Outdoor Traditional Barrel Saunas

When you’re selecting the perfect sauna for your home, aesthetics play a crucial role in functionality.

You might prefer the sleek sophistication of modern infrared units. Or, you might like the charming rusticity of traditional barrel saunas. There’s a design out there to match your décor and personal style. 

Aesthetically pleasing saunas are not just about wellness. They are also a statement piece that can elevate your living environment.

The design and sauna structure is vital. They ensure your new oasis doesn’t clash with your existing space. 

Compact saunas offer the luxury of relaxation in smaller settings. They are an ideal choice for urban dwellers or those with limited space.

Furthermore, a barrel sauna’s unique shape can provide an eye-catching feature in your backyard or garden.

Sauna customization options are abundant, allowing you to tailor every aspect to your liking.

The selection of wood ranges from rustic cedar to elegant hemlock. Learn more about how to choose the best wood for your sauna in our ultimate guide.

There are innovative features like LED lighting and Bluetooth sound systems. You can make your sauna a reflection of your personality and wellness priorities.

If you’re considering different models, a sauna comparison is essential. Notice the differences in health benefits. Also, consider how each model fits into your life aesthetically and spatially.

Here’s a comparison to guide you:

FeatureInfrared SaunaBarrel Sauna
Design AestheticModern, sleek, fits well in contemporary settingsRustic, timeless, blends with natural environments
Space SavingGenerally more compact, fits indoors easilyMay require more space, commonly placed outdoors
CustomizationHigh-tech features like chromotherapy and music playersCustom seating configurations, optional windows

If your mind is leaning more toward an infrared sauna, you can check out my in-depth article on proper infrared sauna usage.

Explore our expert picks for the Best 11 infrared saunas of 2024.

Ultimately, your sauna becomes a personal retreat and statement of lifestyle. Embrace the chance to make it uniquely yours. Let it blend seamlessly into your home as a testament to your commitment to wellness and design.


After exploring the pros and cons of infrared and traditional saunas, it’s clear that both options offer unique benefits for your wellness journey.

Traditional saunas rely on heating the air and creating humidity. This provides a more intense and traditional sauna experience. On the other hand, infrared saunas use direct body heating with light, offering deep heat penetration.

When choosing the best sauna type, consider your preferences and needs. If you enjoy a high-temperature environment and the therapeutic effects of steam, a traditional sauna may be more suitable. However, if you prefer milder heat and targeted heat therapy, an infrared sauna can fulfill your needs.

For making an informed decision, further research or consultation is recommended. Consider factors such as sauna usage frequency, desired health benefits, and budget.

Additionally, be aware of safety considerations. For example, EMF risks in infrared saunas and potential heat exposure risks for vulnerable groups.

Remember, prioritizing your wellness journey is essential. Whether you choose an infrared sauna or a traditional sauna, the most important aspect is to use the sauna regularly to maximize the health benefits.

In the 21st century, as we embrace wellness, could saunas become more than just relaxation spaces? Perhaps they will become central to our daily health routines.

So, make an informed choice, relax, and enjoy the rejuvenating experience of saunas!

FAQs About Infrared vs Traditional Sauna

What are the main differences between infrared and traditional saunas?

The primary difference lies in the heating mechanism. Infrared saunas use infrared light to heat your body directly. They often operate at a lower temperature range of 125-155 degrees Fahrenheit. Traditional saunas heat the air first through a wood-burning or electric heater. This creates higher temperatures, between 176 and over 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which heats the user.

Are there any safety precautions I should take before using a sauna?

Safety is paramount with any heat therapy, like sauna use. It’s generally recommended to stay hydrated. Don’t use saunas when pregnant or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Avoid sauna use during a fever. Consult with a healthcare professional before starting sauna therapy if you have health conditions.

Do infrared saunas pose any EMF risks?

Infrared saunas do emit some electromagnetic fields (EMF). However, many manufacturers design their saunas to minimize these levels. Still, it’s important to check the EMF ratings and aim for lower emissions saunas to mitigate potential risks.

How do I choose between an infrared and a traditional sauna?

Your choice may be based on personal preferences for heat tolerability, health goals, space, and cost. Consider any specific recommendations from your healthcare provider. An infrared sauna might be best for a cooler environment with direct heat. Go for a traditional sauna if you enjoy higher heat and humidity.

Are saunas beneficial for mental health?

Yes, saunas can improve mental health. They do so by promoting relaxation, reducing stress, and encouraging general well-being. The heat exposure and subsequent cooling also release endorphins. This can positively affect mood and mental clarity.

What should I consider in terms of maintenance and cost when selecting a sauna?

Think about the long-term running costs, including energy efficiency and maintenance. Infrared saunas typically have lower operating costs. They are also easier to maintain than traditional saunas. Traditional saunas may require more diligent cleaning due to higher humidity levels.

How do sauna sessions impact chronic pain management?

Sauna sessions are known to alleviate pain and improve mobility in conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. The heat helps relax muscles. It eases joint stiffness and can reduce overall pain sensation.

Can using a sauna lower my risk of Alzheimer’s?

Some studies suggest that regular traditional sauna use is linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. These findings are indeed promising. However, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between sauna use and neurocognitive health.

Are saunas effective for weight loss?

While saunas themselves aren’t a significant way to lose weight, they can complement an overall weight-loss program. The heat can promote a slight increase in calorie burn. The post-sauna increase in metabolic rate may aid in weight management efforts.

Can I install a sauna myself, or should I get a professional installation?

For those who are handy, DIY sauna kits are available and can be a cost-effective solution. Otherwise, professional installation is recommended to ensure your sauna is set up safely and correctly.

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