If you’re thinking about purchasing a sauna for your home then you’re probably aware of the ways that it can boost your health and wellness. Regular sauna bathers sleep better, have lower stress levels, and have lower overall mortality than their non-sauna-bathing peers. It’s important to choose a home sauna that is suited to your personal lifestyle and wellness goals, and in this article we will give you the information you need to do just that.
Infrared or Traditional
The first and biggest choice you have is between the two sauna types. Traditional saunas use wood fires or electric heaters to heat the air in a small room to very high temperatures, typically between 150F-195F. The hot air heats your body, and you sweat and experience increased blood flow near the skin as your body attempts to cool itself. These can be dry, with no added humidity, or wet, with steam created by pouring water over hot rocks.
Infrared saunas use infrared light as a heat source, and are rapidly gaining popularity. The light energy heats your body directly, so infrared sauna temperatures tend to be lower and you achieve sauna benefits between 90F-130F. These lower operating temperatures are often seen as a big advantage over traditional saunas: many people find it easier to sit and breathe in infrared saunas, and there is a lower energy cost as well.
Infrared saunas are highly customizable, and there is a light configuration to meet every need. We will focus the rest of our discussion specifically on choosing between the many variations of infrared saunas.
The heater in an infrared sauna is the bulb or panel array which emits infrared light, and the material and design of your heaters will change your sauna experience. The most common materials are ceramic and carbon. Ceramic heaters have a higher emissivity, which means they deliver a higher concentration of infrared waves. They will heat up the sauna more quickly and achieve higher temperatures than carbon.
Carbon heaters are a newer technology, and deliver a longer wavelength of energy that is more easily absorbed and penetrates deeper into the skin. Carbon heaters are becoming more common in modern sauna designs, and recently combination ceramic/carbon heaters have been developed to capture the benefits of both materials.
Regardless of which heater type you decide is best for you, make optimal heater placement within the sauna a priority. Because infrared saunas heat your skin directly, make sure that your heaters point light evenly at your entire body--and don’t forget to light up your legs and feet too! Avoid designs where light is pointed directly at your head or all heaters are on one side of the sauna.
Near, Far, or Full-Spectrum
Infrared heaters produce light in near, far or full-spectrum patterns. Near infrared (NIR) penetrates deeper into your body (about 5mm) than far infrared (FIR; about 0.1mm), and full-spectrum heaters emit both NIR and FIR wavelengths. The majority of research on infrared sauna bathing has looked at FIR saunas, and the health benefits of FIR are better understood, though exciting recent studies are showing additional health benefits on the cellular and mitochondrial levels which are specific to NIR technology.
Because of the difference in penetration levels, near infrared will also cause you to sweat at a lower temperature, which is more comfortable and energy-efficient for many. Some sauna manufacturers are creating full spectrum saunas to give the benefits of the full range of wavelengths, though full spectrum saunas are typically more expensive.
We’re not done building your ideal sauna once we have the technical specs worked out: To enjoy the improvements to health and wellness that come with regular sauna use, it’s important to purchase a sauna that entices you to use it regularly! Your infrared sauna should increase your feelings of peace and happiness by being pleasing to look at and relax in.
Many people appreciate the attractive designs that are available with smooth, sleek wooden or glass walls and doors, and a large part of the aesthetic appeal will come from the materials used in construction. You want woods that look nice and are resistant to cracking and splitting, such as red cedar, spruce, basswood or redwood. Cedar is a particularly popular choice for saunas because of its familiar smell, natural anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, and its beautiful color. Basswood is also popular: hypoallergenic, odor-free and nearly white in color, it will keep your sauna feeling sleek and clean. Like every other aspect of your sauna, choose an aesthetic that works for you, your space and your goals.
All the materials used in the construction of the sauna must be non-toxic and free of any finishes that will off-gas. Because saunas are used at such high temperatures, this is much more of a concern than for furniture or other items in your home. Noxious odors can be created when some materials and compounds, such as glues, are heated to sauna temperatures. So look for all non-toxic, non-coated, non-off-gassing, sauna materials. You don't want your sauna to make you sick.
Odds and Ends
Electromagnetic fields (EMF) and electric fields (ELF) are generally considered either possibly problematic or definitely problematic for our health. The heating and electrical components in saunas can cause these fields to be present in the sauna environment of some sauna units. Many sauna manufacturers have developed technology to minimize or completely eliminate EMF and ELF from their saunas’ operation. You should look for low or no EMF/ELF listed in the specifications of the sauna you choose.
You will want to look for a sauna manufacturer with high quality standards. A good sauna should last a lifetime so look for a manufacturer that will stand by their product.
One final thing to remember is that the perfect home sauna for your home is completely unique to you. Consider how you are going to use it, who is going to use it and how it is going to fit into your home environment. Choose a sauna that feels like a sanctuary and helps you to feel your best.
Good luck and happy sauna bathing!
Check out our selection of professional-quality infrared saunas in our Be Vivid You online shop.