What's the difference between a traditional sauna and an Infrared Sauna?

It’s a question that we’re asked a lot so we’ve decided to put together a blog post to get to the bottom of the issue. Read on to discover a brief history of the Sauna, its many benefits, and the difference between the traditional Sauna and the more recent infrared Sauna. 

What is a sauna?


Throughout history, the term ‘sauna’ has been used to describe any heating system that is meant to cause profuse sweating.

It is believed that saunas originated in Finland around 7000bc. Ancient saunas were dug into the ground and lined with stone.

The modern sauna is typically a timber-framed room heated by hot stones, wood stoves, or hot embers. These saunas are often found inside or outdoors.

Saunas can come in a variety of forms, from traditional steam rooms and steam rooms heated with hot stones to state-of-the-art infrared therapy saunas.

In Hippocrates’s words, “Give me fever and I can cure every disease.” While his statement was hyperbolic, it nevertheless points to the healing power of a higher body temperature.

The traditional sauna’s history stretches back an impressive distance of around 10,000 years. Saunas have been found dating as far back as Neolithic times in the UK; an example can be found at Marden henge in Wiltshire, England. While sweat lodges were prevalent throughout Ireland for centuries.

Modern saunas are equipped with sound systems, Bluetooth® capabilities, and mood lighting. Colours and woods are also an important consideration.

What does a sauna do?

Since ancient times, saunas have served a therapeutic and relaxing purpose and have been included in traditional medicine.

For thousands of years, people have known that ‘sauna bathing’ is beneficial to mind, body, and soul.

The high heat  induces a number of health benefits, including reducing stress, increasing metabolism, detoxifying the body and relieving muscle and joint pain.


What are the established clinical benefits of both Infrared and traditional Saunas?

Both can provide include improvements for cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid diseases, and chronic fatigue and pain syndromes; along with a positive influence on exercise performance, skin moisture barrier properties, and muscle recovery. Then there are the additional benefits that only traditional sauna has been found to provide owing to its distinct arrangement of heat and humidity. These include protection against the risk of developing memory diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, reduced pneumonia risk, improved arterial stiffness, reduced risk of respiratory disease.

What types of saunas are there?

Saunas can be classified into four broad categories, including:

  • Traditional or regular sauna (also called ‘Finnish sauna’ or steam sauna)
  • Dry sauna
  • Steam bath or Turkish bath
  • Infrared therapy sauna

Each sauna type offers a unique experience.

For home use, the most common sauna types are traditional saunas and infrared saunas.

Generally, home saunas or domestic saunas are either custom-designed or pre-built. They can be installed inside or outside.

Pre-built saunas have the advantage of being portable, generally cheaper than custom-built options, easy to buy ‘off the shelf’ and install in one or two hours, and available in a range of styles and sizes.

What is a traditional sauna?

A traditional sauna is a wooden structure that heats a set of rocks ( this is done electronically today) and  through the application of water to this rocks creates a heated, humid room in which people can sweat our toxins, impurities etc

A traditional sauna can also be a very bespoke experience, with many people creating an environment that best serves their needs. The most common way people do this is with the humidity and temperature, as this is determined entirely by how much or how little water an individual decides to place on the heated sauna stones and what temperature they heat the stones to. Then there is also the option of aromatherapy, as the luxury of being able to create your own steam means having the option to add different scents and oils to it.

What is an infrared sauna?

Infrared saunas are wooden cabins fitted with infrared heaters that can be used to relax, detoxify, and heal the body.

Traditional saunas use steam or dry heat to warm a room, while infrared saunas use advanced infrared heaters to heat your body directly. The infrared heat increases thermal energy, which induces a deep and relaxing sweat in your body.

An infrared sauna has well-known benefits for reducing muscle pain, improving sleep, detoxification, relieving joint pain and stiffness, reducing stress, and improving circulation.


Difference between a Traditional and Infrared Sauna.

The traditional steam sauna and infrared sauna may look similar on the surface.

Although they both work to re-energise and relax the body, they have nine important differences that you need to understand before you buy.

Knowing more about these differences will help you weigh up the pros and cons and make the right decision based on what is right for you.

Read on to learn about the top 7  differences between traditional and infrared saunas and why they matter.

  1. Heating method

A major difference between infrared saunas and traditional saunas is how heat is generated.

A traditional sauna has a single heater that heats the air, and that hot air warms the person.

It consists of a wood-lined room heated by an electric heater filled with rocks. When the rocks are heated you pour water over them to create steam.

By contrast, the quality of the infrared heat is more important in an infrared sauna than the air temperature. For what is actually heating you in an Infrared Sauna are energy waves from the Infrared Heater that enter you body and warm you.  Infrared saunas need about 15 minutes to heat up before you can enter them. Once you enter the sauna you will start to feel warm.

Infrared heat absorbs into your body, increasing thermal energy and causing you to sweat deeply.

This heat can penetrate deep into your ligaments, muscles, nerves – causing blood to flow to these areas and thus allowing vital red blood cells ( the building blocks of our body) gather and repair our bodies.

It’s important to note that this exact same process takes place in both types of Sauna – traditional and infrared.

The traditional Sauna sends this heat to us by heating the air. An infrared Sauna does it by directly heating our bodies.

  1. Temperature

Saunas that use ‘hot rock’ or steam require an ambient air temperature of about 70 to 80 degrees to induce sweat; infrared saunas, however, can maintain an air temperature at well below 60 degrees while producing a higher level of detoxifying perspiration.

The temperature in an infrared sauna is usually between 46 and 57 degrees, whereas it can reach up to 85 degrees in a traditional sauna.

The air temperate in the Infrared Sauna isn’t the best indicator of how much heat your body is absorbing. Your body is directly taking in energy waves and being warmed.

Some people feel very uncomfortable in the heated, steamy atmosphere of a traditional sauna, an Infrared Sauna might be better for such individuals as  it is much easier to withstand.

Others love the hot, steamy atmosphere of a traditional sauna.

  1. Health benefits

Traditional medicine has used saunas for many centuries for therapeutic and relaxation purposes.

Both traditional and infrared saunas can provide relaxation, stress reduction, and a detoxifying sweat.

Both types of saunas can help you relax, loosen your muscles, and soothe aching joints.

There are competing theories as to which form of Sauna is better at inducing these health benefits.

It’s important to note that BOTH forms are great at generating health benefits. Both cause our skin, hair, muscles to be repaired, and both are excellent for treating joint, muscle, back, and ligament issues.

Saunas have also been shown to trigger the secretion of Human Growth Hormone into our blood as well vital neuro-chemicals that boost our mood and concentration.

Traditional saunas heat a room with steam or dry heat, but infrared saunas heat the body directly with infrared heaters.

When your body absorbs infrared heat, it produces thermal energy that leads to a deep sweat at a lower temperature, which produces a host of anti-aging and health benefits.

A traditional Sauna will do the same thing in a more steamy, and hot atmosphere.

Aside from relieving stress and lowering blood pressure, BOTH saunas help people lose weight, improve circulation, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and detoxify their bodies.

4. Heat-up time

It takes between 30 and 40 minutes for a traditional ‘hot rock’ sauna to heat up. The rocks are heated during this time to the ideal temperature for soft heat and steam.

Heating up an infrared sauna takes between 10 and 15 minutes. Infrared saunas heat the body directly, so you can enter the sauna as soon as the heaters have reached the desired temperature.


5. Running costs

The cost of running your sauna depends on your local cost per kilowatt-hour (found on your electric bill), your heater’s kilowatt rating, and how often you use your sauna.

The infrared sauna is an energy-efficient alternative to conventional saunas, as you do not have to wait as long before it is ready for use.

You can expect to spend about €25 a month on electricity for an infrared sauna when you use it three times per week.

Comparatively, a traditional sauna with a 6kW element would cost over €35 per month for an hour’s use, three times per week. An idle sauna doesn’t cost anything.

Counting the costs per kilowatt-hour by the heater’s rating will give you an accurate running cost.

6. Maintenance

Saunas are investments that should be enjoyed – not maintained.

In general, saunas are low maintenance, but some require more frequent cleaning.

We recommend that you choose an infrared sauna if low maintenance is a priority for you.

Since infrared saunas produce dry heat, the moisture produced by your own perspiration is the only source of moisture, preventing mould and mildew growth.

In contrast, traditional steam saunas are hot, humid spaces that foster the growth of mould and mildew, despite being excellent for sweating and clearing out pores.

When it comes to traditional saunas, you must always ensure they are clean and maintained to keep them hygienic and safe.

Regardless of the type of sauna, you should only use environmentally-friendly, non-toxic cleaning products when cleaning your sauna.

Never use bleach or other harsh chemicals. Sit on towels to prevent the accumulation of germs or sweat stains on walls and benches.



7. The sauna experience

Another difference between infrared saunas and traditional saunas is how they feel.

Traditional saunas are steamy, hot spaces that are best for short sauna sessions.

Generally, they can only tolerate the heat (up to 80 degrees) for around 20 minutes at a time. After a sauna, some people prefer to take a cold shower or dunk themselves in cold water.

An infrared sauna, on the other hand, produces a comfortable, relaxing heat that you can enjoy in relative comfort. Generally, the infrared sauna’s heat remains at 50 to 60 degrees without humidity.

The best sauna experience depends on the type of heat you want and the effect you want it to have on your body.

Do you want a short, hot and steamy sauna session? Do you prefer a longer, drier, more comfortable experience. Both forms give you a deep, intense, and therapeutic sweat. And lead to the production of key hormones and neurochemicals in your body.

Traditional sauna sessions can also use aromatherapy, either naturally as a result of the presence of birch whisks or using a wood-burning sauna heater, or by adding scents and essential oils to the water.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference, and you will know what works best for you. 


Traditional sauna pros and cons

Traditional sauna: Pros

  • An authentic sauna experience.Finnish saunas of old had a hot, steamy environment similar to their traditional counterparts. This is a major plus for anyone who cannot imagine a sauna without high temperatures and steam.
  • Humidity control.You can adjust the humidity in a traditional sauna by adding or removing water. Set the humidity level according to your comfort level.
  • Outdoor use.Saunas have a long history in chilly climates, where they are ideally suited to the outdoors.
  • Aromatherapy: Traditional saunas allow you to create a scented atmosphere by placing oils over the rocks.



Traditional sauna: Cons

  • Longer to heat.The traditional sauna takes about 30 to 45 minutes to heat up. On the other hand, infrared saunas can be used after about ten to fifteen minutes.
  • Shorter sessions.Typically, a session lasts about 10 to 15 minutes because of the heat.

Infrared sauna pros and cons

Infrared sauna: Pros

  • Fast heat-up time.Unlike traditional saunas, infrared saunas heat up in about 15 to 20 minutes, rather than 30 to 40 minutes.
  • The running costs are lower.Electric saunas cost about half as much to operate as infrared saunas..
  • No venting.It is not necessary to vent infrared saunas because of their dry heat and lack of steam.

Infrared sauna: Cons

  • No humidity.Depending on your preferences, this could be a pro or a con. If you prefer a steamy atmosphere, a dry sauna might not be for you. However, if you like your saunas to be dry, then the lack of humidity will be a welcome change.
  • Limited outdoor use.Extremely cold outdoor climates are not conducive to infrared saunas. Infrared saunas can be installed outdoors but should be protected from the elements.

Infrared or Traditional sauna?

Buying a sauna for your home depends on what type of sauna you’re looking for and which type will suit your health and wellbeing needs the best.

People who are seeking an authentic ‘Finnish’ sauna experience will certainly enjoy the hot, steamy atmosphere of traditional saunas.

While traditional steam saunas are regarded as a ‘true’ sauna experience, they are often more expensive, require more maintenance, and have higher running costs.

As described above, the actual sauna experience between an infrared sauna and a traditional steam sauna is quite different.

Since steam saunas are usually so hot, you can only tolerate short bursts of time in them (about 15 to 20 minutes) before you need a break. Compared to infrared saunas, which have a lower heat, you can stay in for twice as long.

Compared to traditional steam saunas, infrared saunas generate a much deeper sweat, more intense detoxification process, and additional health benefits. While steam saunas create surface sweat, the heat from infrared saunas raises the core body temperature.

Thus, if you dislike the idea of a sauna without rock heat, steam, and high temperatures – then a traditional sauna is the best choice.

If your health and wellbeing are important to you, and the heat of traditional saunas is too much for you, then an infrared sauna may be the right choice.

Any sauna you buy should be consulted with your medical practitioner before you buy it, no matter what type of sauna you choose.

In conclusion

Buying a sauna can seem daunting because there are so many options available.

There are pros and cons to both traditional and infrared saunas. You want a sauna that meets your health and wellness needs, fits the space you have, and fits your budget.

Your first priority should be to pick the sauna that will be most useful to you. Think about the following questions:

  • What do you need it for?
  • What kind of heating and temperature do you prefer?
  • What health benefits are you seeking?
  • What is your budget?
  • Which sauna size do you need?
  • And how much time do you want to devote to caring for your sauna?

Knowing the answers to these questions will allow you to make an informed decision about the type of sauna that is right for you, and that you will use and enjoy for many years to come!