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Infrared vs. Traditional Saunas: A Detailed Comparison - Secret Saunas

Infrared vs. Traditional Saunas: A Detailed Comparison

Saunas have long been touted for their rejuvenating abilities - but should you opt for an intense, humid traditional sauna or a more direct-heating infrared experience? This comprehensive guide compares traditional saunas and infrared saunas based on the latest research so you can determine the better fit.

Saunas have long been touted for their rejuvenating abilities - but should you opt for an intense, humid traditional sauna or a more direct-heating infrared experience? This comprehensive guide compares traditional saunas and infrared saunas based on the latest research so you can determine the better fit.

How Infrared and Traditional Dry Saunas Work

While both types of saunas produce proven health and wellness benefits, infrared and traditional saunas heat your body in very different ways:  

HUUM DROP 9kW heater with steaming stones

Traditional Saunas:

- Use an electrical sauna heater or wood-burning stove filled with hot rocks 

- Heats bathers by warming the air to 140-180°F

- Allow users to splash water on the rocks to raise humidity up to 10-40%

- Take 30-40 minutes to reach desired temperature

Infrared Saunas:  

- An infrared sauna use infrared light emitted through heating panels

- These electromagnetic waves directly penetrate skin to heat body without warming air

- Operate at a maximum of around 150°F depending on size and model

- Only take about 10-15 minutes to reach temperature

Temperature, Humidity, and Warm-Up Time Differences

The type of heat you prefer can impact your sauna decision. Traditional saunas reach much hotter temperatures and accommodate splashing water to increase humidity. Infrared models use lower heat and emit no humidity.

Moreover, stepping into an already-heated traditional sauna requires more patience compared to an infrared sauna's faster warm-up time. Those who enjoy intense heat and humidity may find infrared saunas lacking.

Aspect Infrared Sauna Traditional Sauna
Temperature Range Up to 150°F or lower 140-180°F
Humidity Does not heat the surrounding air Up to 40% (with water poured on hot rocks/element)
Warm-Up Time About 10-15 minutes 30-40 minutes

Operating and Ownership Costs

Given their lower energy demands and lack of humidity contributing to mildew growth, infrared saunas tend to cost less over time for heating bills and cleaning/maintenance:

  • Infrared saunas have lower electrical costs with typical usage
  • Traditional saunas can have higher electrical, wood, or gas bills  
  • Lack of humidity in infrared models reduces potential for mold issues

While constructing a traditional outdoor sauna room is quite pricey, these can last for decades if cared for properly. While infrared models on the other hand have not been around as long and are more prone to electrical elements failing.  

Generally, we would recommend you only opt for an infrared model if you have a small budget or confined space,.

  • Prefab traditional sauna rooms cost $4,000-$15,000+ on average
  • Infrared saunas run $2,000-$10,000+ depending on size and features

Health Benefits of Infrared and Traditional Saunas

Both sauna types have been linked with an array of evidence-based wellness perks like improved circulation, heart health, and toxin elimination.

For example, a recent study found people using traditional Finnish saunas 4-7 times per week had a 40% lower risk of dying from heart problems compared to non-sauna users.

Some infrared sauna supporters claim they provide more muscle recovery and cellular detoxification benefits compared to traditional saunas due to deeper tissue penetration. However, more research is still needed to confirm any enhanced effects over traditional saunas. Talk to your doctor about the right sauna regimen for your health needs.

Ideal Sauna Use Recommendations  

Studies show sauna bathing about 4-5 times per week for 15-20 minutes per session may provide optimal health and longevity results. For specific health benefits and effects consider the below guidance from Dr. Andrew Huberman:

  • To increase growth hormone: Aim to only use the sauna once per week. On the day you use the sauna have multiple shorter sessions as this is most effective way of increasing growth hormone.
  • For cardiovascular benefits: Aim for 3-4 sauna sessions spaced out through the week.
  • To aid mental health: Seek safe levels of intense heat that raise your body temperature. This thermal challenge is key.
  • To improve sleep: Schedule sauna time earlier in the day - not close to bedtime. Allow body temperature to fully normalize overnight.

Huberman notes the post-sauna cooling effect can promote deeper sleep if given enough time before sleep. Otherwise, delayed temperature reduction could disrupt sleep.

Traditional Sauna Pros and Cons  

Traditional saunas have withstood the test of time, but also have downsides regarding costs and the space they require.

Pros Cons
- Provides an intense and humid heat experience - Usually assembled outdoors and can require electrical supplies fitted
- Shown to bolster cardiovascular function - Poses higher risk of mold/mildew issues from humidity
- Accommodates more people simultaneously - Heating expenses can be demanding
- Typically better suited for outdoor installation - Longer warm-up time to reach temperature


Infrared Sauna Pros and Cons

The direct-heating infrared saunas comes with its own set of advantages and limitations: 

Pros Cons
- Heats users more directly and at lower temps - Provides no humidity; may feel too dry for some
- Often faster to warm up for usage - Limitations for outdoor installation
- Smaller footprint with 1-2 person sauna models available - Potential safety issues like EMF exposure require consideration
- Lower long-term utility and maintenance costs - More research needed to confirm enhanced health effects over traditional

Combination “Hybrid” Sauna Alternatives  

Seeking aspects of both worlds? “Hybrid” combination saunas that offer traditional dry heat with humidity control AND infrared heating panels are also available, allowing you to alternate at the press of a button.

These combination saunas cost more upfront starting around $6,000-$10,000 depending on size and features. But they can prove worthwhile for those wanting the intense humid traditional sauna experience paired with the penetrating infrared heat therapy.

Finnmark Hybrid Sauna - Secret Saunas

Key Safety Precautions - For every type of sauna

Whichever heated sauna you opt for, be sure to keep these paramount safety considerations in mind:

- Stay well-hydrated before, during and after  
- Allow body to properly acclimate and cool between sessions
- Avoid alcohol intake prior  
- Carefully monitor time spent in sauna and exit immediately if feeling sick or dizzy
- Pregnant women should consult their physician before sauna use 
- Seek guidance if you have any medical conditions or take medications impacted by heat or dehydration

Listening closely to your body above all else remains imperative for safe, enjoyable sauna session.

Deciding Between Infrared vs Traditional Saunas  

Both infrared and traditional saunas offer science-backed therapeutic value with careful use. Traditional saunas provide an intense humid heat, while infrared saunas directly heat tissue at more tolerable temps. 

Your preferences for type of heat, humidity, warmup time, operating costs, health goals and safety factors will ultimately determine whether an infrared or traditional sauna (or combination hybrid model) proves the optimal choice for your needs and lifestyle.


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Jasper Knight the Founder of Secret Saunas photographed in an Auroom Sauna in Estonia

About the Author

I'm Jasper Knight, the founder of During my travels through Finland and Scandinavia in 2018 I was introduced to the thrilling local ritual of taking daily hot saunas and then cooling off by plunging into the dark icy waters of a frozen lake. This experience was so fulfilling that it felt like an addiction. My desire to return to the forests and lakes of Northern Europe led me to set up Secret Saunas with the mission of bringing that authentic Finnish sauna experiences home.

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