If you are looking for a healthy habit that feels more like a day at the spa than a day at the gym, a home sauna may be just what the doctor ordered. Users have known for centuries — and science has now proven— that deep warming and cleansing sweats have wide-ranging physical and mental wellness benefits in addition to celebrated beauty perks.
While all saunas are designed to ease the body into relaxation, they are not all created equal and understanding the difference between the dry infrared and traditional steam sauna is the key to getting the most out of your experience. Here’s what you need to know.
How They Work
Traditional steam saunas are built from wood and create high heat and vigorous humidity. A wood or electric heater warms the entire room to an average temperature of nearly 190 ⁰F, while ladling water over rocks nested on top of the heater produces soothing steam.
Infrared saunas, made of wood and sometimes other materials, are powered by electricity and work by emitting infrared radiation that focuses gentle, dry warmth between 110 ⁰F and 170⁰F directly on the body instead of heating the air. No humidity is produced.
Traditional steam saunas come in prefabricated kits or can be custom-built from scratch to fit any space. They can be housed indoors or out, however, precautions need to be taken to protect indoor areas from damage that can be caused by moisture. Electrically-heated saunas should be located near an appropriate power supply. Smaller models may use standard household circuits while larger units may need a dedicated power supply.
Infrared saunas are sold as kits that are designed to be easy enough for most homeowners to put together. Only select infrared saunas are designed for outdoor use. Indoor-use only saunas should not be installed outdoors because they lack the features necessary to keep the sauna and its user safe from the elements. Since no humidity is produce, no moisture precautions are necessary, but a location near a power supply that is large enough for the unit is a must.
Use and Maintenance
Steam saunas require preheating for up to 45 minutes to achieve the necessary therapeutic temperature and steam is only created when the user manually pours water over the heated rocks. Although most steam saunas are built from wood that is naturally resistant to mold and bacteria, the humidity nevertheless creates ideal conditions for their growth and routine cleaning is required.
After preheating for as little as fifteen minutes, infrared saunas are ready to use and less maintenance is required to keep them clean and sanitary.
Cost to Own
Modular steam saunas come in all shapes and sizes and are typically somewhat more expensive than infrared saunas owing to the high-quality, bacteria-resistant woods used in their construction. A small, basic model for 1-2 people can cost as little as a $1000, but a large, well-appointed sauna can close in on $10,000. Because a steam sauna heater must heat the entire room to be effective, power costs can be as much as four times that of an infrared.
Portable infrared saunas for one are as little as $300, but most permanent models run between $1000-$6000. Although the initial price is not significantly lower than a traditional steam sauna, the shorter preheating time makes it less expensive to operate overall.
The deep penetrating heat of any sauna is known to relieve muscle aches, reduce tension, and improve the condition of skin, but steam and infrared saunas offer distinct benefits.
Some individuals including those with unstable heart disease may not tolerate the high temperatures produced by steam saunas, but gentle infrared warmth is generally tolerated by everyone.
Saunas that produce steam may provide cleansing benefits for the skin and nasal passages that dry saunas don’t. There is evidence to suggest that steam helps control the itchy skin of psoriasis and can alleviate nasal congestion.
Dry infrared saunas are touted by some for their potential weight loss benefit. While high-heat steam saunas may produce temporary weight loss due to heavy perspiration, the duration of a stay in such extreme temperatures is too short for lasting benefits. Infrared sauna advocates suggest that longer stays in their gentle warmth can increase the body’s calorie burning potential and may be a permanent weight loss aid.
Both types of saunas have been proven to relieve muscle tension and reduce pain; however, because infrared saunas preheat quickly, they are less costly for routine use.
Sauna traditionalists argue there is no substitute for the invigorating heat of a steam sauna, but enthusiasts of dry, mellow heat point out that infrared saunas are a cost-effective and potentially safer alternative. No matter your preference, an affordable home sauna that meets your needs is waiting to bring the luxury of the spa to you.