Ultimate Sauna Buying Guide

Like many traditional health and wellness treatments, saunas combine medical benefits with, in many cases, social benefits. There is one, slight exception to this, which is saunas, such as portable, infra-red saunas, which are designed to be used by only one person at a time. Even these, however, can still benefit emotional health, not just by helping with medical conditions and therefore making a person feel more positive, but also by allowing the individual to have “disconnect time”, in other words, time in a gadget-free zone without the interruptions of countless messaging systems. Saunas, under various names, have long been an essential part of life in various cultures across the world, although they are most commonly associated with Finland and their popularity continues to spread as their health benefits gain wider recognition and people come to realize just how much fun they can be. This increased demand has encouraged sauna manufacturers to expand their range to cater for people with different wants and needs, including producing saunas for people who don’t like steam. So even if you’ve never considered a sauna before, now could be the perfect time to discover them.

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When thinking about whether or not to purchase a sauna, the first point you need to determine is whether or not you mainly want it to alleviate a medical condition, for general health-and-wellness benefits or as a social experience which also does you good. You may be tempted to answer “all of the above” and, depending on your circumstances, it may be possible for that to happen, but you can only have one main purpose and you have to be aware of what that is since it should always be at the forefront of your decision-making process.

The Infrared Question

There is one major decision you can take at the start of your research which can help to make a substantial reduction in the amount of time you spend looking for the perfect sauna and it is to choose between an infrared sauna and a traditional sauna. To do this, you’ll need to understand the differences between them and what they mean in practice.

Traditional saunas are the ones you tend to see on TV or in films. Rocks are heated and then water is poured over them, which produces steam. It’s very important to keep the level of steam in proportion to the temperature in the sauna. Essentially as the temperature increases, the level of humidity (steam) must come down or else there is a serious risk of sauna users being scalded or even totally overpowered by the effect of the hot steam. Steam is, however, an essential feature of all traditional saunas to the point where some people think that a sauna without steam is a contradiction in terms. While it’s true that steam does bring many health benefits, it also brings some practical challenges and it’s also fair to say that it’s something people either love or hate. Hence the development of infrared saunas for people who either can’t really have steam or just prefer to avoid it.

Infrared saunas, as their name suggests, use infrared heaters to generate heat minus steam. They are completely safe to use, in fact infrared heaters are increasingly used in hospitals, due to their combination of efficiency, safety, hygiene and comfort. One of the great features of infrared heat is that it only heats objects rather than the air. This makes them very economical to use and also means that portable infrared saunas can be used in small spaces without impacting on anyone else who has to share them.

If you are someone who has strong views on steam either way then your choice is already made. If, however, you feel that you could feasibly use one or the other, then here are a couple of points to consider when making your decision.

If you need portability or space is at a premium, infrared is the probably way to go.

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These days there are saunas on the market, which are described as “portable steam saunas”. They are essentially fabric tents with a hole for your head (and sometimes holes for your arms), and an inlet for a steam generator. There are, however, three points to remember with these saunas. The first is that the fact that you need a steam generator means that you need somewhere to put it (in and out of use) and it will add extra weight to any baggage you take with you on a trip. The second is that to produce steam you need a source of water, which again places limits on where you can use your sauna and the third is that you will be unable to breath in the steam, since your head stays out of the cabin (for safety) so you will lose the benefits to your respiratory system. Portable infrared saunas, by definition, can be used without the steam generator and hence are more compact and lighter, therefore offering more flexibility in storage and use.

If you have a respiratory condition, give serious thought to steam

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Steam can get right into the lungs and give them a deep clean, getting rid of the environmental pollutants which are an everyday hazard for so many of us. There is a reason why being in a steamy environment often makes people cough. Coughing is your body’s way of getting all that nasty stuff out of your lungs and it’s definitely a case of “better out than in”. If, however, having a steam sauna could be challenging in terms of portability and/or space, you could look to use an infrared sauna and take steam treatments by other means, e.g. steam masks, when you can.

Now that you’ve chosen between a traditional sauna and an infrared sauna, it’s time to think about size. When considering this issue, remember that a quality sauna is an investment purchase, which means it will give you years of enjoyment, so think about how your circumstances may change during that time. For example, if your children are very young, you may want to keep the sauna for adults only so that you and your partner can enjoy some me-time, but your children are going to grow up, so getting a bigger sauna means that they can share it with you later down the line (if you wish).

Larger saunas are generally outdoor saunas, which can actually add an extra element to the sauna experience. First of all it creates a little outdoor sanctuary free from smartphones, tablets and all other manner of electronic gadgets. Secondly, if you choose a sauna with windows then, even if you have steam, you’ll still be able to enjoy the view (and if you don’t have much of a view then you can still enjoy the gadget-free sanctuary). Obviously larger saunas cost more to buy and have somewhat higher running costs, but then they are, or can be, shared by more people (as in 6 or more).

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Infrared and traditional saunas in all styles and sizes to suit all tastes


Medium-size saunas will hold two to four people. Depending on the size of your home, they can be used indoors or outdoors. If you have a choice, then think carefully about the convenience of having the sauna indoors versus the fact that having the sauna in your garden will create a distinct health-and-wellness space away from interruptions and distractions.

Smaller saunas have space for one, or at most two, people. They are the most affordable to buy and the most economical to run, however some people can find them a bit confining, at least until they get used to them. Also, they obviously reduce the ability to use your sauna for socializing. If your main reason for looking at a smaller sauna is because you want it for medical purposes and want to be sure to have access to it, even on days when you don’t fancy going out of doors, then you may find a better solution is to have a portable sauna for those days and invest in a larger, outdoor sauna for when you are up to enjoying it.

Permanent saunas come in one of three main types. Pre-cut saunas are produced offsite and customized to the location where the sauna will be sited. They are delivered in kits and a competent DIYer should be able to put them together. Alternatively, it’s a straightforward job for a tradesperson or the supplier may be able to arrange fitting for a small fee. Home-constructed saunas are designed and built to the purchaser’s exact specifications and are generally assembled by the supplier on site. This means that they generally take a little longer to produce than their pre cut counterparts, but does give the purchaser complete control over the process. Both of these kinds of saunas are intended to be left on site if the original purchaser moves and can make great selling points. Modular saunas are partly assembled offsite so the purchaser just has to finish putting them together. In principle, they can be taken along in a house move but again, it could be worth leaving them as a sales point.

NB: When you’re purchasing your sauna, it can be worth taking a look at what flooring and lighting options there are and, if necessary, upgrading them. While traditional saunas are of wooden construction (and many infrared saunas have the same aesthetics), it can be worth upgrading the flooring to plastic, which is also attractive and offers a higher level of safety (in terms of providing grip) and hygiene (being resistant to bacteria) as well as being able to withstand the inevitable water spills and the effects of steam condensing. Lighting in a sauna does, of course, have to be safe and practical, but if you spend a little extra it can become fun as well. After all, anyone with an interest in interior design knows how lighting can make a home extra-special, the same goes for a sauna!

If your sauna supplier also supplies accessories, there are a few, very affordable items, which can go a long way to improving comfort and safety in your sauna. These are a thermometre, a hygrometer, a clock/timer and signage. Being able to have an accurately measure of temperature, humidity and the length of time you have been in the sauna has obvious benefits. Signage may seem unnecessary in a home sauna, however, if there is any possibility of the sauna being used by other people, even if only occasionally, e.g. when you have guests over, then it can make their experience of using the sauna more straightforward and therefore more pleasant. You may also want to consider investing in buckets and paddles, to add a touch of style to your steam, towel storage for practicality and tidiness and pillows or supports for extra comfort while relaxing in your sauna.

A few final hints

If you really want to take your sauna experience to the next level, then follow the example of spas. Invest in fluffy, white towels and roll them rather than folding them (which also takes up less storage space and avoids creases). Have some essential oils (in appropriate storage) so that people can scent their steam. Keep a supply of soft drinks (preferably water) and salty snacks for after your sauna and possibly some toiletries such as moisturizers, which work best when the pores of your skin are open.

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