Infrared Sauna vs. Traditional Steam Sauna – What’s the Difference?

The health practice of heat treatments for the body date back to the ancient greeks. Saunas are said to have been invented in Finland thousands of years ago. Their therapeutic influence slowly spread throughout the world.


In 1965, the first infrared sauna was invented by a Japanese doctor and became available to the public in 1979. Since then, their popularity has grown worldwide and it’s raised several important questions we’ll be exploring in this post.


What is an Infrared Sauna?


An infrared sauna, or far-infrared sauna, uses infrared light to create heat. Also known as infrared therapy, the infrared lamps heat the body from within, meaning that your body will be directly heated by the light waves penetrating your skin. Think of it like when you walk outside on a sunny day and the sun warms your skin. Infrared saunas work similarly to warm your body, reaching your muscles and nerves, and are completely safe to use.


What is a Steam Sauna?


A steam sauna is likely what you think about when you think of a traditional sauna. Steam saunas use a heater and stones to create humidity and heat the body from the outside. The hot air makes you sweat more to release toxins. Traditional saunas can range from being wood-burning saunas, electric saunas, and steam rooms, which use the most amount of humidity.


What’s the Differences Between Infrared Saunas vs. Traditional Steam Saunas?


Sauna Operation Temperatures and Heat Up Times


Infrared saunas can operate at lower temperatures because they use infrared light to heat the body from the inside, rather than heating the air outside the body. Infrared saunas can run as low as between 110-150°F.


Because traditional steam saunas heat the air to create humidity to heat your body from the outside, they have to operate at a much higher temperature – between 150-190°F. 


It takes about 15-20 minutes for most infrared saunas to heat up. A person may even begin bathing when the room is turned on because it’s the infrared light that heats up the body rather than the air inside the sauna. On the other hand, traditional steam saunas may take about 30-40 minutes to heat up and bathers will need to wait for the desired temperature before bathing.


Health Benefits


Both saunas provide a range of health benefits and some differ depending on the heat source.


Infrared saunas have great skin benefits. The infrared rays penetrate deep down into skin tissue and promote more sweating than traditional steam saunas. This deep penetration increases blood flow, breaks up water molecule clusters, and in return promotes detoxification or the release of harmful toxins for healthier skin. 


The increase in blood flow from the infrared rays means more blood is passed through the heart with less resistance by the arteries and veins, thus lowering blood pressure for increased cardiovascular health.


The traditional steam sauna offers a wet heat that is great for moisturizing and purifying the skin. The heat opens up the pores and sweat helps clean them out. The moist air can also open sinuses and nasal passages to help relieve respiratory issues, such as allergies, sinusitis and cold symptoms.


Sauna Maintenance


Traditional steam saunas tend to be bigger than infrared saunas. There are one or two-person steam saunas available as well, yet steam saunas tend to be heavier due to the fact that they require thick insulation and watertight walls which adds more weight.


Both types usually come in kits that can be assembled without professional help. Traditional steam saunas do involve specific electrical and plumbing requirements, while most infrared saunas can be plugged into a standard 20 amp wall outlet. 


Steam saunas also require a steam generator that should be installed in a safe location to reduce the risk of a burn. Due to the nature of the steam, traditional steam saunas tend to require more cleaning and pose a risk of mold growth.