How hot are saunas?

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Jules Walters • Published: Aug 23, 2023

Saunas come in different kinds and their temperature range varies, depending on their type. Traditional saunas usually range from 150 to 195 degrees Fahrenheit, using wet or dry heat.

The more modern infrared saunas operate at a lower temperature, around 110 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit. This article explores the different ranges of heat, and how to find the ideal sauna temperature for you.

Short summary

  • Regular saunas are a great way to boost longevity

  • Sauna temperatures range from 110 degrees to 195 Fahrenheit

  • For best health results, use saunas PLUS regular exercise

The history of hot saunas. When did it all begin?

Many cultures have used saunas for thousands of years, including the Greeks and the Egyptians. But it’s in Finland that the experience of sitting in a heated, little room became part of the country’s national identity.

It’s estimated in Finland, that there is one sauna for every two people and it’s completely normal in Finnish culture to sit naked in a room with people you hardly know.

A traditional sauna with wooden benches and steam rising

In the United States, saunas are more a niche sport in wellness communities, like the local gym. Now private wellness clinics like Restore are widening access to more modern infrared saunas.

The art of sauna –
Mastering temperature control for a relaxing experience

Infrared saunas started in Japan in the 1960s and first became available in the United States in the late 1970s. They operate at a cooler temperature than more traditional saunas, usually ranging between 110 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

Infrared saunas use infrared light to create heat in your body. Traditional saunas heat up the room.

A spa-style infrared sauna room with illuminated light panels

If you’re new to saunas, it’s a good idea to start low and slow. For example, you might start at 110 degrees for 15 minutes and see how you feel. Make sure you drink water during the sauna, if possible, and afterwards to replace the sweat you’ll produce from the heat.

If you’re in an older gym with a traditional sauna, you can expect higher temperatures; typically between 150 and 195 degrees Fahrenheit. The same rules apply: start low and slow if you’re new to saunas and adjust as you go. All bodies are different so it’s important to find a temperature and duration that works for you.

The best sauna temperature will come down to personal preference. The good news is that there are different types of saunas, so experiment a little and find one that works for you.

If you find you like saunas, there are lots of choices of indoor and outdoor saunas for your home.

Traditional sauna for 1 or 2 occupants

What are the health benefits of saunas?

So what happens to our bodies when we go into a sauna? The biggest change, according to the Finnish Sauna Society, is in our blood circulation. Normally, about 10% of our blood flows to our skin. In a sauna, that percentage can increase to 70% of our blood circulating to our skin.

Research on over 1,600 men and women over 15 years showed that those who had regular saunas (with regular defined as 4 to 7 sessions a week) had a 62% reduced risk of stroke, compared to those who had just 1 sauna a week.

Another survey of middle-aged men, who took frequent saunas (again between 4 to 7 sessions a week) had nearly half the risk of developing hypertension after 24 years.

Saunas can also be helpful for people who have trouble exercising, perhaps due to injury. Short-term exposure to heat, like that in saunas, is believed to have the same benefits as exercise in that it activates heat-shock proteins, which help control inflammation.

A recent scientific review also suggested that increased sweating can help to eliminate any toxins and increase blood flow and lower blood pressure.

Saunas have also shown ability to reduce chronic pain. Ideally, a wellness routine includes saunas plus exercise.

Interior of infrared sauna boasting many health benefits; from improved cardiovascular health to skin health, increased blood flow and lower blood pressure

What about heat in a steam room?

Traditional saunas either use dry heat from a heater, or water can be poured onto rocks to create some water in the air. Wet saunas produce low humidity, typically between 20 and 40%, depending on the amount of water you pour on the rocks.

A steam room has a lot more humidity, sometimes as high as 100%, so it’s more like a Turkish bath than a sauna – with temperatures around 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit – according to the North American Sauna Society.

I personally like a wet sauna, as I like the feel of the humidity but not too much. The two variables to think about in terms of your experience, are heat and humidity.

If you like hotter temperatures, then a traditional sauna – dry or with steam – might be the way to go, rather than an infrared sauna which works at lower temperatures. If you like high humidity, then a steam room could be worth trying.

Some spas also add essential oils to the steam room.

Steam on a window at a spa day

Are saunas expensive to run?

The North American Sauna Society says that most sauna users don’t see their electricity bills change once they have a sauna built in their home.

They have an easy way to calculate to cost of running one, which works out to less than $5 a month for a sauna for up to four people.

Summary: How hot are saunas?

The answer depends on the type of saunas. Modern infrared saunas work at lower temperatures than traditional saunas, as they warm your body, rather than the room. Typical infrared temperatures range between 110 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

Traditional steam saunas or dry saunas tend to be in the range of 150 to 195 degrees Fahrenheit.

You’ll get benefits from either kind of sauna bathing, so find your local sauna and try it out. Your local gym is a good place to start.

Frequently asked questions

How do I find my closest sauna?

You can usually find a sauna in a local gym or health club. If you live in a city, you’ll have more choice with more health and wellness centers opening, which these days usually include an infrared sauna.

The North American Sauna Society also has a list of mobile saunas that will pull up in your driveway.

How do I know when the heat is too hot?

If you start feeling faint or drowsy in a sauna, then it’s time to leave. Don’t overdo it on the first few visits. It’s best to start at a low temperature and for a short amount of time.

So, start with an infrared sauna if you have the choice, as they are usually at a lower temperature than a regular sauna.

How long should I spend in a sauna?

At the beginning, start with short intervals like 10 minutes. If it feels comfortable, then increase your time in the heat. Research studies shows health benefits from sauna sessions lasting from five to 20 minutes.

How much does a sauna cost?

If you’re a member of a gym, the cost of using a sauna could be included in the cost of membership. Private wellness centers can charge $25 for a single sauna session, or $99 for a package of five sessions.

Is there any reason to be cautious about saunas?

Yes! Don’t drink alcohol and use a sauna. You might fall asleep in there and you’ll quickly become dehydrated.

It’s a good idea to keep hydrated, so drink water before, during and after a sauna.

Don’t stay too long, particularly when you start. Try a five-minute session to begin with and build up to no more than 30 minutes at a time. You may find five minutes is enough for you.

Also, if you’ve recently had a heart attack, speak to your doctor first before using a sauna.

And one more cautionary note: the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that pregnant women avoid saunas due to higher risks of dizziness and dehydration.