What are the Different Types of Saunas?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

A sauna is a heated room or small house intended to induce sweating and allow relaxation. Saunas are sometimes used for therapeutic purposes as well. Saunas have existed for hundreds of years, and there are now many different types of saunas, including smoke, heat-storage, continuous fire, and infrared.

Some saunas are designed for a single person or a couple while others can accommodate a large group.
Some saunas are designed for a single person or a couple while others can accommodate a large group.

Saunas originated in Finland, where they are an important part of local culture to this day. The most traditional form of sauna is the smoke sauna. Smoke saunas lost their popularity in the advent of newer technologies, but were revived in the 1980s. They are favored by some traditionalists, but drawbacks include difficulty of use as compared to newer types of saunas, a lengthy waiting period while the sauna heats, and large quantities of wood required for burning.

Some people believe heavy sweating can help to flush toxins from the body.
Some people believe heavy sweating can help to flush toxins from the body.

A smoke sauna contains a pile of rocks and no chimney. A fire is lit under the rocks, and when it dies out, the rocks retain some heat. Water is poured over the rocks to create steam. Though the smoke sauna is not as hot as many modern saunas, it features high humidity, which helps induce sweating.

A sauna may be helpful in relieving sore muscles.
A sauna may be helpful in relieving sore muscles.

A more modern variation of the smoke sauna is the heat-storage sauna, which includes some important innovations. The heat-storage sauna has a chimney, which reduces smoke, and a covered stone compartment, which stores heat. These saunas are hotter than traditional saunas, but also humid. The source of heat may be electric instead of from a fire.

Another type of sauna requires the constant maintenance of a fire while in use. This type, the continuous fire sauna, features a firebox, covered by stones, and a chimney. The heat of a continuous fire sauna is comparable to that of a heat-storage sauna, but it takes only about an hour to heat up. Despite this advantage, continuous fire saunas are difficult and potentially dangerous to use because the fire must be maintained continuously. Some otherwise similar saunas that use electrical heat rather than fire are safe enough to be used in the home.

One of the newest types of sauna is the infrared sauna. This type of sauna works not be heating the air, but by heating objects in the room. The infrared heat works like sunlight to penetrate the body with warmth. Some people believe that the infrared sauna offers greater health benefits over traditional saunas, and many users find that they are able to remain in an infrared sauna longer than in a traditional sauna, allowing them to sweat more.

Alcohol should be avoided before sauna use.
Alcohol should be avoided before sauna use.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


I have used a few different types of saunas, but my favorite one is a steam sauna. I don't use them so much for the health benefits as how I feel after being in one for a bit.

I love the atmosphere and relaxing feel that a steam sauna gives over an infrared one. I know people who have infrared saunas and they just rave about them.

Many say that an infrared sauna is more sanitary and heats up faster than a steam sauna. I don't ever plan on having one of my own, but will still choose a steam sauna if given a choice.


I have never been able to stay in a sauna for a very long time. They do feel really good when you get out of a cold swimming pool, but after a few minutes I have to get out.

There are a lot of people who use infrared sauna therapy for health benefits. One lady I know says it helps her burn calories and improves her blood circulation.

I must have poor circulation because my hands and feet are always cold. Maybe if I got used to using a sauna on a regular basis it would help with my circulation.


For Christmas one year my aunts kids gave her a sauna. This takes up quite a bit of space in her house, but she uses it often, and says it helps her with some health problems.

Whenever we would go over to her house, I always thought how neat it would be to have your own personal sauna. The only time I had been in a sauna before that was when we were staying at a hotel.

Since then, I know of a few other people who also have a sauna in their home. If they get good results with them, it would be much more convenient to use one in your own home than going somewhere else.


When I was trying to decide what type of sauna to buy, the dealer suggested an infrared sauna. She said that doctors are actually recommending them to people for several issues these days.

Infrared saunas can help people lose weight, control their blood pressure, lower their cholesterol levels, and reduce inflammation. The heat goes deeper into your body than it can with a traditional sauna, and because of this, it can detoxify you. Toxins that lie below the skin, like mercury, mold, lead, tobacco, and chemicals, are removed and purged out through the skin.

So, if you use an infrared sauna, your body will be saved from collecting these harmful pollutants. It can help prevent aging and diseases.


I went to an electric heat sauna next to the indoor pool at a hotel as a teenager. It felt good after being chilled in the pool water.

I couldn’t stay in there very long, though. I tend to feel suffocated in hot, humid environments, especially enclosed ones.

It seems that the older I get, the less I can tolerate heat. If I stepped into a sauna now, I probably wouldn’t last one minute. My heart would speed up, and I might even hyperventilate.

If I want to sweat, all I have to do is step outside in the summertime. Since I can barely stand the heat of the open air, saunas are just not for me.


What is the best kind of sauna if you want to put one in your home? Do you think that the infrared sauna or one that uses water generated steam would be the best for indoor use?

I have been looking at a lot of saunas lately and would love to have a small one installed in my home. I think the benefits of sweating toxins out of your body are immense and well worth the expense.

Right now I am leaning towards a pre-fabricated sauna kit that would use water vapor to create the steam. They seem fairly easy to put together and aren't as expensive as infrared saunas.


No matter what kind of sauna you choose to use make sure that you know when to get out. While sweating can have a lot of health benefits and help you to shed extra pounds, it can also be really dangerous if your body gets too overheated.

As far as I can tell, there have been quite a few cases of people dying in saunas that were too hot, and because of how sick they were after settling in they were unable to get the help they needed.

I think that if you are going to try different types of saunas you should make sure you know what temperature you can stand. Nothing is sadder than someone passing away from a health treatment.

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