If you’ve never used a sauna before, your first time can be intimidating. Between the super-hot rocks and the clouds of steam, learning how to use a sauna can seem like operating a steam train.
Fortunately, it’s nowhere near as labor-intensive or, frankly, dangerous as you might think.
Check out our simple guide on the steps and precautions you need to take to use your sauna safely and you’ll be happily sweating in no time.
The first thing you should be aware of is that not all saunas are the same. From dry-heat to infrared, there are plenty of options to sweat yourself clean.
Each of these saunas has slightly different ways to use them even though the fundamental principles behind how they work are the same. You need to make sure you understand the differences between the types of saunas and which sauna you’re using before you try operating one. If you’re confused, we’ve got a guide on that too.
The first sauna was built over 10,000 years ago by nomads in Finland. It was essentially a hot hole in the ground, but once the age of iron came, these holes turned into huts filled with steam. We’ve come a long way in sauna-tech since those days, so using them is a little more technical.
A dry heat sauna is an enclosed wooden area that uses an electric heater or stove to warm up rocks, creating a dry and low humidity environment that keeps the heat inside. It uses hot air from the heater and takes advantage of warming up the wooden surroundings
When you enter the sauna, be sure to close the door to keep the warmth contained. You want to place a towel on the bench before sitting down to prevent your skin from burning when meeting the wood.
If your feet are sensitive to hot surfaces, we recommend wearing shower sandals.
You need another towel to wipe the sweat off your brow, and since the area around you will already be heated, you will feel the warmth upon entering.
Once you are in the hot sauna, enjoy 20 to 30 minutes of relaxation. If you feel thirsty, bring drinking water with you or leave the room if it’s too hot. Getting dehydrated is going to undo any of the benefits you’re looking for with your sauna, so make sure you’ve got plenty to drink.
The temperature is set by you so don’t overdo it and read the room to see if it’s at a comfortable setting.
You need to ensure that your dry heat sauna is clean to avoid any mold build-up over time.
A wet sauna uses moisture to warm the room and because of this has higher humidity compared to a dry heat sauna. Therefore, they are sometimes referred to as steam rooms.
Wet saunas are typically constructed using cedar which is a stronger wood that repels the growth of bacteria and fungi. These cultures love growing in warm, humid spaces, so it’s imperative that you keep it clean. Mold outbreaks can severely impact your health and leave you hospitalized or worse.
Instead of an electric stove, a wet sauna uses a heater that contains hot stones. Using a water bucket, cold water comes into contact with these stones creating a cloud of moisture that warms the sauna.
We don’t recommend throwing in any old rocks and heating them to get a steamy sauna. You want to look for sauna rocks or stones.
These are typically igneous rocks and can be purchased online or at your local outdoor and camping store. Using any old rocks can cause a few issues. For one, they may have been treated or contain toxic metals that could make you severely sick if you heat them up.
Also, not all rocks are temperature safe. As rocks heat up, they try to expand. Sauna-safe rocks are designed to take the heat and expand safely whereas other rocks could potentially snap and even explode, putting you and everyone else in the room in danger.
Depending on the amount of steam you want in the room depends on how much water and how often you are pouring water onto the stones. These environments typically peak at around 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
You’re going to be surrounded by a cloud of moisture, so you want to ensure that your skin is dry beforehand. This ensures that your body and skin absorb the moisture and that you reap all the health benefits.
If you want to create a steamier atmosphere, simply add more cool water, but try not to overdo it. The second you feel uncomfortable or start to feel dizzy, it’s best to leave the steam room and get a breath of fresh hair.
The traditional Finnish sauna, also called the savusauna, generates its warmth by burning wood in a fireplace that warms up sauna rocks.
Like with a wet sauna, you don’t want to use any rocks that you pick up outside. And like the rocks, you don’t want to be using any wood. Hardwoods such as oak tend to keep fires burning for much longer. You can, however, use softwoods to get the fire started.
Heating these woods creates smoke which brings with it a lot of warmth. The fire is put out once the room has enough warmth and the smoke is ventilated. If you don’t ventilate the smoke properly, you’re going to have trouble breathing as it will drastically decrease the amount of oxygen in the room.
If you can still see wisps of smoke in the air, you haven’t ventilated it properly and using a smoky sauna could harm your lungs and respiratory system.
The fire might be out, but its remains keep the room warm and steamy.
The smoke will have an earthy scent, and this helps with perspiration. However, you want to make sure the smoke is properly ventilated as inhaling carbon monoxide can lead to headaches and chest pains.
When using this type of sauna, there needs to be a person who is monitoring the fire and putting in some wood now and then.
Out of all the saunas, this one might be the easiest to use even though the heating process is the most technical.
Infrared saunas warm the body directly and the warmth is a radiant one that penetrates the skin. There’s no waiting for the room to heat up before entering since it doesn’t rely on atmospheric warmth.
Infrared is part of the electromagnetic spectrum below what’s detectable to the human eye. It’s a low-energy wave, so it won’t do any damage to you or your skin, but it’s strong enough to heat up your skin and keep you toasty.
Having the warmth directly hit the skin allows for a deeper detoxification process and increases your core temperature and circulation.
This also means you won’t have to worry about any humidity in the room since these saunas use infrared lights to warm your body.
For infrared saunas, you want to set the temperature between 100 and 140 degrees.
However, if you’re new to the infrared sauna scene or don’t want to be in a room with overwhelming warmth, start below 100, and moving up when you are comfortable works too.
If the infrared lights malfunction, it’s best to call in a professional as the equipment requires a high level of expertise to repair.
While there are many benefits to sauna use, it can be damaging to your health if you don’t follow some basic tips and regulations. Let’s have a look at the specific health guidelines.
Doing too much of anything is a problem, so generally try to spend between 20 to 30 minutes in a sauna. The longer you stay in a room with such high temperatures, the more you risk effects like dehydration.
Anyone that suffers from heart or lung disease should avoid sauna sessions as it could worsen the effects. Also, avoid sauna use if you suffer from high blood pressure or liver and kidney problems. In other words, don’t use the sauna if you have any medical condition.
When in the sauna and after your session, don’t drink alcohol or eat heavy foods. This is because your internal temperature increases rapidly when inside the sauna and having alcohol or food in your system can lower your blood pressure.
You should however carry water with you and take in a light snack to be safe. Some sauna users can become a bit peckish.
Don’t bring in any metallic jewelry as the room’s high temperature will cause your items to heat up and possibly burn onto your skin or damage the jewelry itself.
When we sit in a sauna, it causes us to sweat and this pulls out toxins from the skin, but it also lowers the water content of our bodies. It’s important to make sure that you drink water before and after a sauna session to avoid dehydration.
If you’re pregnant, you should avoid the sauna at all costs. A fetus can’t bear high core temperatures and exposing them to this can affect their in-utero health and development.
Be sure to cover and protect your hair as saunas can dry out and damage your hair. This can be done using either a shower cap or simply wrapping a cotton towel around your head.
Resting both before and after your sauna session will ensure that your body gains the full benefits. You need to allow your body to rest for about 15 minutes before taking a cold shower to wash off any sweat so that you can keep your body cool and return it to its normal temperature. RECOMMENDED: Sauna Tips for Beginners
After reading this article, we’re positive that you’ll be happily sweating away in a sauna of your very own. From infrared to steam-room saunas, there are plenty of options available to you where you can sit and enjoy.
At first glance, you might think that operating a sauna requires some level of expertise, but we’re confident that once you’ve read over our comprehensive guide on the topic, you’ll be comfortably sweating in no time.
Once you’re done, take a shower or have a dip in a cold, icy lake or river to give yourself a taste of the genuine Scandinavian lifestyle.