Did you know there are two main types of saunas? To best meet your preferences and desired sauna experience, there are traditional saunas and infrared saunas to choose from. There is no such thing as the “better” sauna, but instead, it’s all about finding the “best” sauna for you. After all, the sauna you will use the most is the best sauna. If you are eager to figure out what sauna type is right for your life, let’s get started!

Infrared Saunas vs Traditional Saunas

Due to gaining popularity of infrared saunas, we’ve heard the question: Is an infrared sauna better than a regular sauna? Again, nothing is better – just different! Here’s a quick overview of the sauna experience between the two types before we get into our side-by-side comparison table.

If you enjoy steam in the sauna, higher temperatures, and a more social environment, then a traditional sauna may be the best sauna for you.

These can be indoor or outdoor saunas.

  • Its heat technology and sauna experience: Powered by an electric sauna heater filled with rocks, traditional saunas heat the air to heat the body. This is the classic version people think of for heat bathing – since its “enveloped heat” is very hot with lots of steam. The median temperature is between 185-190 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s very dry until water is sprinkled over hot rocks. Both the temperature and humidity are adjustable (by adding water to rocks); you can also incorporate essential oils into the water for aromatherapy. A well-constructed sauna will typically achieve a temperature of 150-160ºF at head level in about 30-40 minutes. For hotter temperatures, the room may need to heat for a longer period. Once the room achieves a set temperature, the heater will cycle on and off, typically operating about 50% of the time. The insulated walls and the heated rocks will keep the room hot and at stable temperatures.
  • Notable and unique traditional sauna benefits: Bathers often enjoy the steam, especially as it can open up the nasal passages and relieve symptoms of sinus congestion from colds and allergies.

If you prefer lower temperatures but with body-penetrating heat, an infrared sauna may be your best sauna choice.

These saunas are designed for indoor use only.

  • Infrared sauna experience: How does an infrared sauna work? An infrared sauna’s optimum temperature is between 125-130 degrees Fahrenheit. They’re relatively dry with average humidity (there is no humidity control or steam) and these saunas directly heat your body. The infrared energy penetrates the body and raises the core temperature – activating a more pronounced sweating. The EMR (electromagnetic radiation) and EF (electrical field) on some models that utilize certain types of technology are lower than the ambient in your home. The EMR and EF levels are far below even Sweden’s toughest radiation standards. The goal in an infrared sauna is not to achieve a high room temperature, but rather to produce the precise optimal wavelength of infrared heat energy that is most readily absorbed by the bather to stimulate profuse sweating.
  • Notable and unique infrared sauna benefits: Because of the lower heat threshold and the fact that it uses light instead of heat, infrared saunas are better for treating types of chronic muscle or joint pain; your body absorbs more of it, so it gets deeper into your body. More specifically, regular saunas heat the skin superficially, causing an opening of the sweat glands and allowing excess water to escape. Far infrared saunas penetrate to a depth of 5-7 cm or 1.5 inches, stimulating fat cells to release toxins. Compared to other saunas which only heat 20% of the air, 93% of the heat energy emitted from a FIR sauna is absorbed by our tissues, explaining how the energy emitted by FIR matches our own bodies’ energy.

If you need an even clearer picture of how these sauna types are different, our chart here should help:

CategoryTraditional SaunaInfrared Sauna
Physical sauna product  Enclosed in a heated, wood-lined room with different options for benches, seating, design, and available person capacity.  Enclosed in a heated, wood-lined room with different options for benches, seating, design, and available person capacity.  
Overall experience  If you enjoy steam in the sauna, higher temperatures and a more social environment, then a traditional sauna may be the best sauna for you.  If you prefer lower temperatures but with body-penetrating heat, an infrared sauna may be your best sauna choice.  
Social experience  Traditional saunas are typically large enough to allow multiple people to enjoy the sauna for social time.While it is possible to converse in an infrared room, due to the smaller room sizes and room design, the typical experience of the infrared room is often more of a private escape but some models can accommodate more people.  
Indoor vs. Outdoor use  Designed for both outdoor- and indoor-use  Designed for indoor-use only
Heat source  Electric sauna heater filled with rocksInfrared technology; an emitter produces infrared waves to provide heat.  
Temperature  Median temperature between 185-190 degrees Fahrenheit  Optimum temperature between 125-130 degrees Fahrenheit  
Heat & Humidity  Very dry until water is sprinkled over hot rocks.   Both temperature and humidity are adjustable (by adding water to rocks); you can also incorporate essential oils into the water for aromatherapy.  Relatively dry with average humidity   Temperature is controllable; humidity is not.    
Pre-heating time required  30-40 minutes required to preheat rocks before use  No pre-heat time required
How it heats the body  Traditional saunas heat the air to heat the body.  Infrared saunas directly heat your body. The infrared energy penetrates the body and raises the core temperature – causing a more pronounced sweating.  
Typical sauna session length  10-15 minutes optimal time for use10-15 minutes optimal time for use, but bathers often stay 25-30 minutes (due to lower temperatures)  

Health benefits
See our huge Top 10 Health Benefits Guide here!
Encourages detoxifying perspirationRelieves aches and pains, promotes relaxationRelieves symptoms of sinus congestion from colds and allergies (steam)  Encourages detoxifying perspirationRelieves aches and pains, promotes relaxationBecause of the lower heat threshold and the fact that it uses light instead of heat, infrared saunas are better for treating types of chronic muscle or joint pain; your body absorbs more of it, so it gets deeper into your body.    
Energy Use  Low energy useLow energy use
Other notable mentions  Proper ventilation will be requiredSince water isn’t used with an infrared sauna, there’s no concern about ventilation. It’s a completely dry heat that maxes out at 150 degrees.     The EMR (electromagnetic radiation) and EF (electrical field) on some models that utilize certain types of technology are lower than the ambient in your home. The EMR and EF levels are far below even Sweden’s toughest radiation standards.  
Options, sizing, and pricing  Please check out both our options/sizing guide and our pricing article here to get started and please reach out directly to your local sauna dealer to talk more specifics!   Please check out both our options/sizing guide and our pricing article here to get started and please reach out directly to your local sauna dealer to talk more specifics!   
What is right for me?  Test it out!Test it out!

Resources: Mainely Tubs: The Complete Guide to Buying Your First Sauna (PDF), finnleo.com/infrared-saunas, Customer chat with Collin Drake at Mainely Tubs, Traditional vs. Infrared Sauna Whitepaper

The Many Benefits of ALL Saunas

Essentially, traditional sauna benefits and infrared sauna benefits are one in the same. While the heat delivery and experience are different (and infrared saunas are linked to deeper pain relief due to their unique technology), heated bathing can bring about benefits like:

  • 24/7 access to the ultimate wellness retreat
  • Restorative stress escape
  • Powerful fitness ally and faster muscle recovery helper
  • Rewarding social oasis with friends and family
  • Boosted cardiovascular health
  • Sanctuary for improved mental health
  • Effective pain management
  • Powerful detoxification
  • Notable immunity booster
  • Helpful for goal weight maintenance
  • Better (and more youthful) skin
  • Improved and deeper sleep
  • Prevention/management of many health conditions and ailments
  • Affordable cost and minimal maintenance

If you’d like more details on these exciting benefits, check out these resources for some pretty amazing health benefit stats:

What About Indoor and Outdoor Saunas?

As we mentioned earlier, infrared saunas are designed for indoor use only. However, if you are looking for a traditional sauna that can be an outdoor sauna, you are in luck! There are several outdoor sauna options (from saunas that can also act as pool houses to outdoor sauna barrels).

What’s the Best Sauna for Entertaining?

While it’s totally possible to hang out in an infrared sauna, the smaller room sizes and design cater more toward a private escape for 1-2 people and most higher end infrared saunas have light therapy and sound systems. The size of most rooms allow for 2 people to comfortably use the room, while some designs may allow for a 3rd or 4th person, too. Custom infrared sauna rooms are also available but given the need to be in close proximity to the infrared emitters, the range of available sizes is not as great as traditional saunas. A traditional sauna is built for a social oasis, providing an enriching spot to connect with family and friends in a unique and relaxing way. You can find out more on our Home Sauna Sizes page.

Still Torn Between A Traditional Sauna and An Infrared Sauna? How Do You Decide?

This is such a great question, and Mainely Tubs wants you to feel totally confident in selecting what sauna type is exactly right for you! In deciding between the two types, we urge you to take a test sauna session in each one to see what you enjoy the most!

Give us a call, email us, or visit one of our showrooms in Scarborough, Maine or Rye, New Hampshire. We’re always happy to help you make the first steps to becoming a new sauna owner!

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