Traditional vs Infrared Saunas: Which is Best for You?
Heat bathing has been used for health and detoxification for centuries. However, the infrared sauna, a traditional Finnish-style sauna alternative, has recently overtaken the field of practical medicine.
Saunas are used primarily for detoxification and relaxation. It has become popular as it's believed to help treat and prevent various health conditions. For example, studies have shown that regular sauna use can improve pain and mood, reduce the risk of developing heart disease and Alzheimer's, and even increase longevity.
In this article, we’ll explore the health benefits and effects of saunas, the differences between infrared and traditional saunas, how infrared saunas work, and whether or not they live up to the hype.
What Is a Sauna?
A sauna is a small house or room designed to experience dry or wet heat sessions. The heat in a sauna can come from an oven-like heater, hot rocks, or steam. These days, there are two main types of saunas: infrared and traditional.
Infrared saunas use infrared light to produce heat, while traditional saunas use hot rocks or steam. The key difference between these two types of saunas is how the heat is produced.
With traditional saunas, the air around you is heated, which then heats your body. But with infrared saunas, the infrared light directly heats your body, providing a deeper heat penetration. This also means that infrared saunas can reach higher temperatures than traditional saunas without feeling as hot.
Difference between steam and infrared saunas
Traditional steam saunas and infrared saunas are quite similar in most aspects.
But, while they both work to re-energize and relax the body, there are nine vital differences that you need to know before deciding which type of sauna to buy.
These differences will help you weigh the pros and cons and determine which sauna suits you best.
1. Heating method
The main difference between a traditional sauna and an infrared sauna is how they produce heat.
A classic sauna uses a single heater that warms the air. The hot air, in turn, heats the user.
With a traditional sauna, an electric sauna heater filled with rocks heats a wood-lined room. After the stones have warmed, the user pours water over them to produce steam.
In contrast, in infrared saunas, the quality of heat is more important than the temperature. Therefore, you can get in after the infrared sauna has warmed up for 15 minutes. After that, your body will absorb infrared heat, which will boost thermal energy and cause a calming, deep sweat.
Conventional 'hot rock' or steam saunas need around 70 to 80 degrees air temperatures to induce sweat. On the other hand, the internal air temperature of an infrared sauna can remain considerably below 60 degrees while producing more detoxifying sweat.
Infrared saunas work approximately 46 to 57 degrees, while traditional saunas can go as high as 85 degrees.
To know if you prefer the cooler, drier environment of an infrared sauna or the hotter, steamy atmosphere of a traditional one, we recommend that you try out both types before buying.
3. Health benefits
Saunas, or heat baths, have been part of traditional medicine for centuries. Both conventional and infrared saunas have been used for therapeutic and relaxation purposes.
Numerous studies point to the health benefits of infrared saunas in particular.
The benefits of infrared saunas include lower anxiety levels, blood pressure drops, muscle and joint pain relief, weight loss, better circulation, reduced fine lines and wrinkles, and detoxification.
4. Heating time
A traditional Finnish sauna takes between 30 and 40 minutes to heat up. The rocks are heated to the ideal temperature for mild heat and soft steam during this time.
An infrared sauna takes between 10 and 15 minutes to heat up. Since infrared saunas heat the body directly, you can get in the sauna as soon as the heaters are up to full temperature.
5. Running costs
How much your sauna costs to run depends on your local cost per kilowatt-hour (noted on your electric bill), the kilowatt rating of your heater, and how much you use your sauna.
Overall, infrared saunas are more energy-efficient than traditional saunas as you don’t have to wait as long before the sauna is ready to use.
On average, if you use your infrared sauna three times a week, you could expect to spend around $10 a month on electricity.
In contrast, a traditional sauna with a 6kW element used for an hour, three days a week, would be over $20 per month. Meanwhile, an idle sauna doesn't cost anything.
You can work out the running cost more accurately by multiplying the costs per kilowatt-hour by the heater’s rating.
When you buy a sauna, you want to spend your time enjoying it – not cleaning.
Overall, saunas are relatively low maintenance, but some require more cleaning than others.
If low maintenance is your priority, we recommend opting for an infrared sauna.
Infrared saunas provide dry heat, so the only moisture produced is from your own perspiration - which reduces the chances of mold or mildew and makes for a cleaner, healthier environment.
In contrast, traditional steam saunas are hot, damp spaces. This environment may be excellent for detoxing and cleansing your pores, but they are also an ideal habitat for mold and mildew.
If you decide on a classic sauna, you’ll need to be vigilant about cleaning and maintaining it to always ensure its hygienic and safe.
Regardless of the sauna type, we recommend using only environmentally friendly, non-toxic cleaning products when cleaning your sauna.Never use bleach or other harsh chemicals. Instead, sit on towels to prevent the accumulation of germs or sweat stains on walls and benches.
7. The sauna experience
Another area where infrared and traditional saunas differ is the sauna experience itself.
Traditional saunas are hot and steamy spaces that are good for short bursts of sauna sessions.
The high heat (up to 80 degrees) means they are generally only tolerable for around 20 minutes. After that, some people like to take a cold shower or plunge in cold water after a sauna, before repeating the process.
In contrast, infrared saunas provide a dry, comfortable, relaxing heat you can enjoy for 40 minutes or more. The heat is usually kept between 50 and 60 degrees, with no humidity.
While infrared sauna heat might be lower in temperature, it is very effective in inducing deep, detoxifying perspiration. Combined with the comfortable temperature, you can relax for extended periods and get maximum benefits from your sweat session.
When deciding which sauna experience is better, it depends on the type of heat you want and the effect you want it to have on your body.
Are you after a short, hot, and steamy sweat session? Or would you prefer a longer, drier experience with a deep, intense, and therapeutic sweat?
Once again, it's down to personal preference, and only you will know which suits you best. Our advice? Try before you buy and see which experience you enjoy more.
Installing a sauna in your home is an excellent investment. An in-home sauna can add value to your property; if it's portable, you can take it with you when you move.
When it comes to installing traditional and infrared saunas, there is a big difference between the two.
Traditional steam saunas typically need to be professionally installed due to their plumbing, drainage, ventilation, and electrical requirements. This all adds to the final price of the sauna and is why they can be up to three to four times more expensive than infrared alternatives (learn more about sauna prices below).
On the other hand, most infrared saunas come in pre-built or portable form and assembling them is pretty easy to do yourself. It usually takes two people about one to three hours to assemble an infrared sauna using just a few common hand tools.
The beauty of infrared saunas is you get what you pay for, as you do not have to spend thousands of dollars extra in installation costs.
Given the significant costs involved with installing a traditional steam sauna, you'd have to ask yourself if you're getting value for money. We suggest you aren't.
9. Sauna cost and prices
The ultimate price of a sauna depends on the type of sauna you choose, the unit’s size, the type and quality of wood, the quality of equipment (including heaters), and features – which are many.
Infrared sauna prices cost around $2,500 for an entry-level unit, $7,000 to $10,000 for high-quality, mid-market saunas, and $10,000+ for premium models. Learn more about infrared sauna costs.
Traditional steam saunas are generally a lot more expensive than infrared saunas, mainly because (as explained above) they need to be professionally installed.
For this reason, steam saunas can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 – around two to three times more than equivalent infrared units.
Put another way – you could pay $8,000 for a quality, mid-market infrared sauna with all the extra benefits infrared offers, or you could buy a mid-range steam sauna for $15,000 to $20,000. In our opinion, that seems like a lot of extra money for hot air and steam!
In summary, value for money is certainly something to factor in when comparing infrared and traditional saunas. However, we would argue that an infrared sauna is a better investment as you're getting many more benefits at a lower cost.
Traditional sauna pros and cons
Traditional sauna: Pros
- Authentic sauna experience. With their hot and steamy environment, traditional saunas are much closer to the original Finnish saunas of old. This is a definite plus if you can't imagine a sauna without high heat and steam.
- Humidity control. With a traditional sauna, you can adjust the humidity by using more or less water. Find the level of humidity that is comfortable for you.
- Outdoor use. Traditional saunas are well suited to the outdoors in freezing climates.
Traditional sauna: Cons
- Longer to heat. It takes 30 to 45 minutes for a traditional sauna to heat up. Whereas infrared saunas are ready to use in about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Shorter sessions. Due to the high heat, a typical session is about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Higher running costs. Traditional saunas cost significantly more to operate than infrared. The operating costs can be two to three times more than infrared saunas.
- Installation costs. Steam saunas must be professionally installed and plumbed in by a professional, significantly increasing the overall cost.
Infrared sauna pros and cons
Infrared sauna: Pros
- Easy to assemble
- Costs less
- Energy efficient
- Heats up to the ideal temperature fast (saves you time)
- Easier to maintain
- Does not get humid or wet
- Is more comfortable
Infrared sauna: Cons
- Dry heat may not appeal to those who are used to traditional sauna
- Moderate heat discomfort
The benefits of using the sauna, whether infrared or traditional, cannot be ignored. They're both handy if you want to detox and unwind. But if you look at the differences between infrared and traditional saunas, you can decide which is best for you in the long run. Whichever you choose, we're here if you need advice. So don't hesitate to reach out!