Next to the heaters, wood is the second most important factor when considering which infrared sauna model to buy. Not only do different woods look different, but they have different properties that make them better or worse for use on in-home saunas.
When looking at sauna woods, important factors to consider include:
- Water resistance
- Bacterial resistance
- Heat Conduction
Below are some of the most popular sauna woods with the pros and cons of each.
Western Red Cedar
Cedar has long been the standard for saunas. Not only does it have a pleasant scent and attractive red color, but it is naturally mold and insect resistant.
It is a low-density softwood, meaning that while it insulates heat it also doesn’t absorb too much of the heat or become overly hot to the touch. That can be an issue for higher density hardwoods.
However, that low density comes with a price: one issue that cedar has is that it is easy to dent and scratch. While cedar saunas typically last a long time, they get dinged up pretty easily. It can be hard to protect your sauna, especially if it’s kept outside or in a gym.
Cedar is also a known allergen and the smell of cedar can be irritating to those with sensitivity to scents.
Western Red Cedar is also more difficult to grow and harvest sustainably and safely, which gives it a much higher price tag than other woods.
Basswood is the basic, no-frills choice for infrared sauna woods. It’s inexpensive, relatively durable, and has the advantage of being hypoallergenic (if properly prepared and treated). It has a neutral, pale brown color that makes it easy to blend into other furnishings.
As a hypoallergenic wood, it doesn’t have a distinctive scent, which can be positive or negative depending on your perspective and what you want in a sauna.
One real downside to basswood is its longevity. It is not as water or bacteria-resistant as other woods, which means that extended and repeated use without careful maintenance can easily shorten the lifespan of your sauna unit.
Poplar is another hypoallergenic alternative wood for saunas. It has an even grain free of knots and is usually pale yellow in color.
Unlike basswood, which needs to be treated to be hypoallergenic, poplar has no phenols naturally, which makes it a more “natural” hypoallergenic choice. But that also means that—like basswood—it has no scent.
Hardwoods like poplar and basswood tend to get much hotter in the sauna than softwoods like cedar and hemlock. However, since infrared saunas tend to stay at lower temperatures than traditional saunas, this is less of an issue.
Despite being abundant, poplar is a surprisingly expensive sauna wood and can be more expensive than even cedar. And unlike cedar, it has few natural defenses against rot and bugs.
Hemlock is similar to cedar in that it has a distinct scent and is a softwood. It’s also far less expensive and is one of the cheapest sauna woods available.
Generally, softwoods handle temperature fluctuations better than hardwoods, which is why they are often preferred to hardwoods. They also do not conduct heat as easily, meaning the surface of the wood won’t get as hot.
Hemlock also has a noticeable, pleasant odor. This means it isn’t hypoallergenic, but that woody scent is often thought to be essential to the sauna experience.
However, hemlock deteriorates very easily. It should not be used outdoors and has the same susceptibility to dents and scratches as cedar, but none of the rot resistance.
Pine is the most easily sourced, cheapest sauna wood. It’s a knotty, pale wood that is commonly used in all sorts of construction because it is inexpensive and easy to work with.
Like cedar and hemlock, pine is notable for its scent, which is usually amplified when heat is applied. Depending on your feelings on pine scent, that can be positive or negative.
Unfortunately, pine does not hold up well to the elements and the heat fluctuation inherent in a sauna can shorten the life of the wood.
Eucalyptus is one of the few sauna woods aside from cedar that boasts natural insect and rot resistance. It’s known as a durable and long-lasting wood: in fact, it’s often used as an alternative to teak for outdoor furniture.
Eucalyptus can have great variation in color and grain. It can even change color as it ages. It is a hardwood that is considered ubiquitous and to be a more ecological lumber because it grows quickly in a variety of environments without needing a great amount of space.
Though eucalyptus is a popular scent, eucalyptus wood typically has little to no scent, making it appropriate for those with smell sensitivities. However, it isn’t hypoallergenic, as the phenols that repel insects and bacteria are considered potential allergens.
While eucalyptus is considered to stand up well to high heat and moisture, it can be susceptible to extreme cold if left unprotected. So it’s recommended to seal and protect your sauna if it will be outside.
There are pros and cons to all wood options for infrared saunas. When selecting which type to buy, think about your personal needs and preferences, as well as how you’ll be using and storing your sauna. And while wood makes up the majority of your sauna, it’s also important to consider heating, warranty, value for price, and size. To learn about how Health Mate can help you get the right sauna by getting in touch with our sauna specialists.