When you finally make the decision to buy a sauna for your home, you will be faced with yet another hard choice – what type should it be? The different types of saunas have originated at different times in our history, meaning some will be more primitive while others will be quite advanced and full of technology. While they do offer a wide variety of heat and humidity combinations, most of them offer the same amount of comfort on the inside as they share the familiar wooden interior of a sauna. When you’re browsing for a certain type, you should take things such as power supply, size, heating body, and ease of use into consideration.
If you’ve set your mind on an outdoor sauna, I suggest checking out my Buyer’s Guide on some of the best outdoor sauna models for this year. There, I’ve discussed all of the features of the market-leading models and have given you a few tips on how to choose the right one for your needs. Now, let’s get started!
The Main Types
Saunas are typically separated in terms of their heating body. Judging by that factor, we can separate saunas into six different categories:
- Traditional saunas (wet and dry)
- Electric saunas
- Infrared saunas
- Steam saunas (steam rooms)
- Smoke saunas
- Portable saunas
Let’s take a deeper look into each of those types now and see how they compare to the rest and where they excel…
Traditional saunas, otherwise known as wood-burning or wood-fired, are one of the oldest sauna types along with smoke saunas. They rely on a stove full of burning wood for their high temperatures and relatively low humidity. You can control their heat by either adding more wood or letting the stove burn through the wood that is already inside. While they aren’t as precise as an electrically-operated sauna, they do offer a great amount of comfort and have a unique feel to them that is aided by the fire crackles and authentic scents. They reach high temperatures and have the best effect when the temperature is around 150 degrees (Fahrenheit) at the time of entry. Their humidity is relatively low at 20-40%.
In terms of their construction, they aren’t much different than other saunas. They are, however, often built away from houses in a small cabin of their own. These cabins can be either hut-shaped or barrel-shaped. The biggest advantage of traditional saunas is exactly what you think about – they can be built anywhere and don’t rely on electricity to be operational. They are also cheaper to build and if you have plenty of lumber, they are also cost-effective. One of their biggest drawbacks is also connected with their heat source. Getting them up to temperature is a hard process and you have to constantly add wood into the stove for hours until it reaches its desired levels of heat.
A common confusion with these models is when people separate them into “wet” and “dry” traditional saunas. Both of these are the same thing with the only exception that you pour water onto the rocks of the wet sauna and leave the stones dry in the dry sauna. Adding water with a sauna ladle will increase the humidity, making you feel a lot hotter since your skin won’t be able to vent out the heat from your body effectively once the moisture blocks its pores.
Electric saunas are very similar in terms of design and interior construction to traditional ones. Their only exception is that they use an electrically-powered heater to control their internal temperature. That heater is often smaller than a wood-burning stove and looks much more elegant and modern which is a huge advantage for some spa centers or people that are aiming for that modern look. That also increases interior space and maximizes the number of people you can fit inside.
Perhaps the best thing about these saunas is that you can remotely control their heaters and even start them in advance. Let’s say you’re coming from a long day at work and you want to quickly heat up your sauna while you are taking care of a few chores. The electric heater will allow you to do that and will take far less time to bring the sauna to 150 degrees. These heaters can come wither with or without stones on top of them which will determine whether or not you will be able to control the humidity.
Electrically-operated saunas are also relatively easy to build into your home but just make sure that you pick a good sauna heater and insulate the room well.
The whole idea behind good infrared saunas is that they do not heat up the air to very high temperatures but rather just heat up your body’s surface giving you all the health benefits from a sauna without the unnecessary strain of extremely high temperatures. They are great for older people and people that cannot handle heat and moisture.
The infrared heaters themselves often have a window-like shape and look and are covered in a mesh material or a metal grid. They do not get very hot to the touch but that depends on their power and exact type.
Of course, without the presence of a wood-burning stove or an electric heater, these saunas are the most spacious and are the easiest to use and maintain. Since they don’t get too hot and can be smaller with the same capacity for people, they are an ideal choice for apartments and houses. They also don’t need hours to heat up and their heating effect can be felt as soon as you turn them on. They are, however, a bit power-hungry, so make sure your grid can handle it before you install one.
The sauna temperatures and humidity are often debated and different people lean towards different combinations of heat and moisture. Steam rooms, however, take humidity to the extreme and offer quite the contrasting experience to traditional dry saunas. Their humidity levels often reach 100% meaning the air is at its maximum capacity for holding moisture. That’s when you begin seeing mist and water being suspended in the air in the form of highly-concentrated water vapor. Upon inhaling that, you moisturize and heat up your airways which loosen them up. That helps clean out your lungs and relieve allergy symptoms. Steam rooms are also beneficial for your skin, mental health, joints, and other parts of your body.
Steam rooms aren’t really an ideal option for an apartment or a house as they can help the development of mold around the building. They are also quite slippery and require a lot of cleaning and maintenance.
You can read more about the steam room benefits and potential risks by going to my detailed article on the topic…
Smoke saunas are the original and oldest sauna type in the world. They use a wood-burning stove just like the traditional saunas but, unlike them, it doesn’t have a chimney to vent. Instead, you must wait for it to fully heat up and then you ventilate the room and get inside. The massive rocks heated by the wood-burning heater will keep the temperature high for quite a lot of time acting as storage units for the heat generated through the long heating up process.
These saunas are often in the form of a house and are also some of the largest outdoor saunas out there. It is quite clear that they have quite a lot of disadvantages compared to modern electric saunas but the authentic feel they bring is truly unmatched.
Portable saunas are the newest type when it comes to sauna innovations. They are large enough to fit a single person sitting inside them with the person’s head sticking out. They are also foldable and quite easy to carry around and assemble. These saunas work with electricity and are most often used by athletes that travel around and want to have the benefits of a sauna session along with them at all times.
There are two main types of these saunas – portable infrared saunas and portable electric saunas. The infrared variations rely on infrared heaters that only heat up your body without raising the ambient temperature too much while normal portable saunas use a heater that heats up the air inside the sauna. Both kinds often have a separate heating pad for your feet along with other accessories such as a chair, remote control, and pockets for your hands.
Each of those sauna types requires proper maintenance and has its pros and cons compared to the rest. If you’re building one in your own home, make sure that you pay special attention to hygiene. To learn how to clean your sauna from top to bottom, click here!
While there are quite a lot of different types of saunas, the choice between them all ultimately boils down to what your personal preferences are. For a relatively cheap and easy-to-use indoor sauna, I’d recommend an infrared model, while outdoor saunas can be traditional with heaters and various rocks on top. Electrically heated saunas are also a good choice for both indoor and outdoor saunas as they are easy to use and very convenient. They do, however, depend on a power source in case you want to make them far away from the house.