Sauna Differences: Traditional Steam Saunas and Infrared Saunas

Traditional Steam Sauna

Traditional steam saunas were invented and made very popular, by the people of Finland. This is why these saunas are also sometimes referred to as Finnish saunas.

They used them to help the body heal, relax, recuperate and detox through excessive sweating. To achieve the heavy perspiration the air has to be heated to high temperatures and either wood fires are used or electric heaters and water is poured over hot rocks to increase the humidity. Wood fired saunas should only be used outdoors and need to be designed to allow for smoke to clear before people enter.

The body temperature is heated with the rising temperature of the air. Many people cannot withstand the heat in the air of the traditional steam saunas because it becomes more difficult to breathe the hot air and sometimes it is the heavy moisture in the air that is difficult for some. It is advisable to breathe only through your nose as much as possible. The hot air can burn your throat and lungs if its temperature is high enough.

Our bodies perspire in an attempt to lower our body temperature. As the sweat normally evaporates from the skin, our bodies cool down. Along with the perspiration or sweat many toxins in our bodies are expelled. This is a detoxification process that can benefit our health in many, many ways.

Modern Steam Saunas

The modern steam saunas use electric heaters sometimes referred to as stoves. They are also designed to allow for pouring water on them for steam and increasing the humidity in the air.

The electric stoves come with rocks that sit on top of the heater and this is where the water is poured on them using a water bucket and scoop or ladle. The more water on the rocks, the more steam is created and that increases the humidity.

When using these Saunas for dry heat (no steam) do not pour any water on the rocks. This will prevent the build up of humidity.

Your body's temperature will rise because the air is getting hot. You will perspire, just as you would in a steam sauna, but unlike in an infrared sauna, you will not experience the infrared waves in the dry air. See the Infrared Sauna description to know how Infrared waves penetrate and affect the body differently than the hot air of a steam sauna.

Infrared Saunas

Electromagnetic waves which are just between visible light and microwave/radio waves, is called infrared waves. These waves are made up of emitted photons (light particles) from the source of heat creating it.

Infrared light is best illustrated by describing the way you feel when standing in the sunlight, and then moving into the shade. Although the air around you, both in the sun and the shade is the same, you feel a few degrees difference on your body because of the infrared light/heat directly shining on you or not.

The rays in infrared saunas are emitted through ceramic or carbon fiber heaters. Ceramic heaters emit heat less evenly compared to carbon heaters, as reported from some sauna owners. 

Sauna Heat & Humidity Precautions

If you have a weak respiratory system, asthma, allergies or an illness that directly affects your breathing, take caution when trying saunas for the first several times.

There are risks to people that expose themselves to extreme heat and humidity for longer than they should and this will sometimes be person specific. Some people can handle higher temperatures than others. But no one can stand high heat and humidity for too long.

Some risks resulting from over-exposure can include, but may not be limited to, Hyperthermia, Fatigue, Heat exhaustion, Fainting, Heat Stroke, Muscle Cramps and Dehydration.

If you experience headaches, confusion, heatstroke or vomiting, seek medical attention immediately.

Usually, those risks are in conditions that can not be controlled such as the outdoor weather. In any sauna of any type if you experience any negative symptoms, exit immediately. Electric heaters have controllers on them and you can adjust the temperature to what is desired. They are also designed with auto-shutoff triggers so they do not run endlessly. If you experience an electric heater that does not perform as designed, stop using it and replace it or have it repaired before its next use.

Infrared saunas that use ceramic or carbon fiber panels for heating also have control panels that allow for temperature and timer adjustments. They too will have auto-shutoff features to prevent excessive use. If you find yours does not work according to manufacturer design, get it repaired or replaced for its next use also.

Your sauna experience should always be a good one.