by Shelly LeSun March 05, 2023 7 min read
There’s a heated debate in the sauna community about which is better, an infrared or traditional dry sauna?
Traditional, Finnish-style saunas have been around for centuries. Their health benefits have been well documented from as far back as the Romans to modern-day medical professionals. In contrast, infrared saunas are much newer and have been around since the 1960s.
There's a vast difference in available research, so you’re probably unsure of which to choose. We’re going to compare each sauna side-by-side to see the benefits and disadvantages of each, so you can make an informed decision on which is the best sauna for you.
There are several crucial differences between these two types of saunas. We’ll outline the most important ones you should be aware of when deciding to purchase one over the other.
To learn more about each difference, click on the link within the table below to be taken to an in-depth comparison.
Difference Between Infrared Sauna and Regular (Traditional) Sauna
|Key Differences||Infrared Sauna||Traditional Sauna|
|Type of Heaters||Near Infrared, Far Infrared and Full spectrum||Gas, Electric, and Wood-Burning|
|Method of Heating||Infrared light heats the body from the inside out||Traditional forms of heat warm the air and then the body from the outside in|
|Optimal Temperature Range||113° - 140° Fahrenheit||176° - 200°+ Fahrenheit|
|Comfort||More comfortable due to lower temperature range||Less comfortable due to higher temperature range|
|Available Research Backing Health Claims||Minimal amount of research||Highest amount of research|
|Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Concerns||Potential risk for low-quality saunas. Consult the manufacturer before purchasing yours.||None|
|Cost to Purchase||Similar in cost||Similar in cost; custom options become much more expensive|
|Cost to Power||Low||Varies depending on the fuel source|
There are three main types of heaters when it comes to a traditional sauna - gas (liquid propane or natural gas), electric, and wood-burning. Each type has its pros and cons but the most common option on the residential market is electric so we’ll focus on that in this article.
The way a conventional electric heater works is simple. It has electric coils in the heater that heat up when electricity is turned on, this heat is then transferred to the lava rocks sitting at the top of the unit, which help to hold the intense heat produced as well as disperse it. By dropping water on these hot stones, you can create steam that will also help to humidify and further heat the sauna.
In comparison, infrared saunas come in four types of heaters - near-, mid-, far-infrared, and full spectrum. Each type of heater emits different wavelengths of infrared light and depending on your health goals, one may be more fitting to you than the others. But for the sake of this article, we’ll focus on full-spectrum saunas as they emit all three wavelengths at once and are the most popular.
Full-spectrum heaters are typically made out of either carbon or ceramic materials. Carbon heaters produce longer infrared waves than ceramic heaters. Longer waves are more therapeutic but they also don’t produce a lot of heat. Ceramic heaters produce shorter infrared waves that are hotter but aren’t as therapeutic. Depending on the brand, one may favor one type of heater over the other.
However, there are a select few brands that implement both ceramic and carbon heaters in their design so look out for these in your search if you want the benefits of both. But forewarning, they will be the most expensive.
A traditional dry sauna heats up in a very different way than an infrared sauna heats up.
Traditional saunas use either gas, electric, or wood-burning heaters to heat the air inside the sauna first. This hot air heats your skin from the outside in which slowly increases your core body temperature to induce heavy perspiration.
Infrared saunas use near-, mid-, far-infrared or full-spectrum heaters to emit infrared waves or light to heat your body from the inside out. Depending on the type of heater you choose it can drastically affect the temperature range of your session. Near- and mid-infrared models are going to have the lowest temperature range while far-infrared and full-spectrum saunas will have the highest.
The optimal temperature range of a traditional sauna versus an infrared sauna is very different.
Based on studies, the ideal temperature range to achieve the greatest results for a traditional sauna is between 176 to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s at this level your body starts to experience the optimal effects of heat therapy to give you the highest health benefits in the shortest time.
For infrared saunas, the most effective range is typically between 113 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. When you compare the two, you’ll quickly notice that infrared saunas operate at a much lower temperature range than traditional saunas. This makes infrared saunas a more comfortable experience and a great option for those that have low tolerances to high heat.
The main goal of sauna care is relaxation. If you’re incredibly uncomfortable during each session, then the experience isn’t going to be worth it. Knowing your tolerance to heat is the most important part of choosing which sauna is best for you.
With the temperature range of infrared saunas being 30 degrees Fahrenheit lower on average than traditional saunas, you can relax easier and with added comfort. If you know you have a lower heat tolerance compared to most, then choosing an infrared sauna over a traditional sauna may be a better option to ensure you gain all the health benefits that a consistent sauna care routine has to offer.
Traditional, Finnish-style saunas have been around for centuries with numerous, long-lasting case studies to back their claims. The most prevalent was a study from Finland that followed 2,277 men over 26 years documenting the cardiovascular effects of frequent sauna care on all-cause mortality. The results were hard to deny as the majority of those studied had significant decreases in cardiovascular-related mortality compared to the standard Finnish population.
Infrared saunas have far less research available to back their health claims. However, with the increasing popularity of infrared saunas, research groups are starting to increase the number of studies to try to verify these claims. One such study that lasted for 2 years examined the effects of far-infrared therapy on patients with chronic pain. Its findings concluded that consistent infrared sauna care might be a promising method for long-term pain management.
However, with little scientifically backed information available on infrared saunas, it’s important to do your research and validate any claims given with supporting studies. Sauna manufacturers can easily partner with influencers in the medical industry to back claims that may or may not be accurate. This makes it difficult to trust fact from fiction. To ensure claims are accurate, ask the manufacturer for supporting data and case studies to back their claims before purchasing.
There’s a growing concern in the general population about the harmful risks of EMF on the body. EMF, in itself, is prevalent in all walks of life. From the wall outlet in your house to the ceiling fan above your head. All emit EMF. However, high levels of EMF (such as in power lines or ultraviolet rays from the sun) can cause serious health problems.
Infrared saunas, in particular, have come under scrutiny. Unfortunately, no scientifically backed studies are available to support or deny this claim. However, many quality sauna manufacturers offer or provide EMF testing with each sauna to prevent the risks of EMF on your body.
Traditional saunas do not emit EMF so there are no concerns from that perspective.
At first glance, infrared saunas and traditional saunas have similar price points depending on size and quality. This similarity mainly pertains to the mass-produced residential models we see from the big-name brands throughout the market today.
However, if you’re looking for a more custom build then you’ll quickly notice that traditional saunas become much more expensive than infrared saunas. That’s because traditional, Finnish-style saunas built in the old way take time and precise craftsmanship whereas infrared models do not.
So if you’re looking for a standard infrared or traditional model from a brand you can trust, then there won’t be a lot to worry about regarding price. But if you want a custom-built traditional sauna for your home, then know it’s going to cost you.
When purchasing a sauna for your home, the monthly power cost can be a deciding factor. Traditional saunas, in general, cost more to power each month than an infrared sauna. But depending on the fuel source you choose to use, the amount you end up paying may surprise you.
Below outlines the cost of a traditional vs infrared sauna electricity cost per 1-hour session assuming the December 2022 USA national average of $0.165 kWh.
Note, if you choose to use a gas or wood-burning traditional sauna then know it’s going to cost much more than the above. Check prices locally before purchasing if the cost to power your sauna is important in your buying decision.
When choosing between an infrared sauna vs traditional sauna, your decision isn’t black and white. Unfortunately, making a decision based purely on data won’t be possible as there aren’t enough studies available comparing the two to choose one over the other.
Rather, you’re going to have to find what’s the best fit for you and your unique circumstance. Choosing the sauna that’s the most practical for your home, offers enough space to fit your needs, and heats in a way you can comfortably tolerate will be the deciding factor.
If you’re having trouble making a decision on the best-infrared sauna or traditional sauna for you and want to speak with our team of world-class sauna experts, then give us a call or text us at (646) 657-8856 or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to help.
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