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You are here: Infrared Saunas vs Traditional Saunas



Traditional saunas are a high heat, low humidity environment. Temperatures range between 80-90C (185-195F) and water is splashed over the heater rocks to create a blast of hypersteam and intensify the feeling of heat. For those who enjoy this experience, there is nothing in the world quite like it.

NOTE: There is an exception for the Tylo Combi sauna heater. The Combi produces its own steam and so operates at a lower temperature.  The Combi is the "soft-heat" traditional sauna.

Infrared saunas provide a much more mild environment. Infrared rays heat the body directly and the air secondarily. For those who enjoy the "heat bath" experience, but cannot take or do not enjoy traditional saunas, infrared is an excellent alternative.

It is important to keep in mind that the experience is not the same. Many people who have experienced and enjoyed traditional saunas inquire about infrared saunas thinking it will be the same.

Infrared saunas provide a very enjoyable experience, but are different from a traditional sauna. If you know and love traditional saunas, you should seek out information beyond the claims of infrared vendors.

Many infrared manufacturers and distributors make comparisons to traditional saunas that are misleading and untrue. As a distributor of both types of saunas, Saunafin would like dispel some of these misstatements:

The chart below lists some of the claims often made and explains them in more detail:

Infrared saunas heat up in under 10 minutes. Traditional saunas require 45-90 minutes Infrared saunas heat to between 120°F to 150°F. Traditional saunas to 195°F. Infrareds heat up in about 10-20 minutes. A traditional sauna, sized properly, will heat a sauna in 20-35 minutes. However, Heating up an infrared only provides for that "toasty" feeling. To perspire, you must be exposed to the infrared rays. It generally takes 12-20 minutes of exposure to begin sweating.
Traditional saunas are expensive to operate Electrical costs are a direct reflection of heater size and operating time. The average electrical cost is 7 cents per kw hour. A 1.6 kW infrared sauna will cost 5-10 cents per use. A 6 kw traditional sauna will cost 40-50 cents. Most people use their sauna once or twice per week. So while it is true that traditional cost more, in either case costs are measured in pennies, not dollars.
Infrared saunas assemble in minutes, while traditional saunas take days and require special installation Infrared saunas come primarily as pre-fabricated panels that snap or screw together. While they are relatively simple to assemble, it is more realistic to assume 1-2 hours for assembly. Traditional saunas are most popularly purchased as do-it yourself kits, which take a few days to install. There are also pre-fab traditional saunas that are built in essentially the same way as infrareds-that is panels that are simply screwed together. And they too can be assembled in a couple of hours.
Traditional saunas require special electrical work. Infrareds plug into any outlet. Traditional do require a dedicated breaker. While some smaller infrared saunas can plug into any outlet, many mid size to larger require a dedicated 15 or 20 amp plug - which must also be installed by an electrician.
Traditional saunas require a lot of maintenance. There is absolutely no difference in the amount of maintenance required. Even a heavily used home sauna gets relatively light use - once or twice a week on average. The only maintenance required is to wipe down the walls and benches periodically with a mild solution of water and dish detergent.
Infrared sauna heat is dry and gentle, where traditional saunas are harsh and claustrophobic. This is really a matter of "to each his own". It is true that traditional saunas are a harsher environment. For many that is the essence of a sauna - extreme heat with blasts of humidity from splashing the rocks. For those sauna purists, there is nothing else. However, for those who seek the benefits of heat therapy, but do not enjoy traditional saunas, infrareds offer a practical and enjoyable alternative.



There are basically two factors, which differentiate infrared saunas from each other: Construction Materials and the type of Infrared Emitter.


Because of heat and humidity, traditional saunas must use a durable softwood and cedar is the material of choice. There is no humidity in infrared saunas, so there are more other wood options available. Most infrared saunas are constructed of  Cedar or Canadian Hemlock.

Some suggest that cedar is not healthy. This is another of those unfortunate misstatements designed to unfairly knock the competition. Cedar has been used for hundreds of years in the construction of saunas as well as for decks, fences and in homes. It is an effective, attractive and aromatic product that many associate with saunas.

Those who criticize cedar fail to tell you that the only ill effects from cedar come from its dust - that is, to a few workers in the lumber industry who cut and process the timbers. Of course, this applies to virtually every other wood or industrial product. There are no health issues resulting from the use of cedar for saunas.


Most elements are either Carbon or Ceramic (Solid Ceramic or Incoloy). Built properly, both types can work effectively. The basic difference is the size of the heater and the intensity of the heat.

Incoloy: It is a tubular element usually coated in ceramic in order for it to pass as an infrared element.  Of the three types, we would strongly discourage these.  Firstly, it is not true ceramic. Secondly, they are the lowest quality. 

Solid Ceramic: It is a heating filament cast into solid convex shaped ceramic heater.  These are industrial elements generally used for zone or patio heating.  They are being used in saunas with no real alteration to their design or construction.

On the plus side, this is a real infrared emitter and can be effective.  It is popular among smaller local manufacturers because the emitters are readily available in small quantities.

The issue with all ceramic emitters is their small size and the intensity of surface and localized temperature.  These emitters can get up to 400oC (750oF).  It is necessary to have a backrest at least to 3” to 4” away from the heater in order for it to be used at all.  Many complain that it is too hot on their skin and that they must shift their body frequently or lean forward to avoid discomfort.

Ceramic emitters work well for those who are building their own sauna. Such saunas are often non-standard in size and the smaller ceramic emitters offer more flexibility in placement.  Also, custom infrared saunas are often larger, so require more emitters.  Ceramic are available in 240 volt, so that the load remains manageable. And since these are being hard-wired in the field, 240 volt is not an issue.  With Carbon, it would be necessary to run several 120 volt circuits.

Carbon: Organic Carbon emitters have a very large surface area.  The result is a much cooler surface temperature, more even heating and full body coverage.  It is possible to touch the heater during use without getting burned. The heating surface area is typically 30-50 times greater ceramic tube heaters. The larger surface area envelopes and reduces any hot or cold spots in the sauna.

Depending on the motivation behind selecting an infrared sauna, carbon may be the preferred choice.  If the major consideration is heat therapy for sore muscles, arthritis or fibromyalgia, carbon is likely the better selection.  Carbon heaters spread the heat evenly throughout the sauna.  Virtually all the wall space is covered.  And as is the case with our Tylo saunas, there are heaters in the bench and floor as well – This can not be done with ceramic.  Ceramic aims at your body core and it will work to make you perspire.  But carbon will heat the whole body more evenly.

Having said that, our Carbon emitters operate from 8.4 to 9.4 microns for maximum infrared penetration and benefit.





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