Once largely viewed as a luxury feature of high-end resorts, saunas have moved out of the health club and into the mainstream. They can found anywhere from hotels to homes and in styles ranging from grandiose to modest.
While classic steam saunas are certainly relaxing, infrared saunas have gained in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. The added health benefits along with ease of installation make an infrared sauna a great addition to the home.
In this comprehensive guide, you'll discover what you need to know about infrared saunas to make an informed buying decision and get a glimpse into the best infrared saunas selling today.
INFRARED SAUNA BUYING GUIDE
What Are Traditional Saunas?
First, let's start with the basics and define what saunas are. In essence, saunas are enclosed spaces designed for exposure to health-promoting heat. Some are wet saunas that use steam to increase the sensation of heat while others only use dry, radiant heat energy.
The concept of the sauna originated in Finland centuries ago. Here, specially-designed small houses could create intense fire and steam to sufficiently warm up the space to undress. Not only did the warmth help the user escape the harsh sensation of cold winters, the perspiration produced also had a cleansing effect.
For this reason, saunas are sometimes still primarily associated with bathing and cleansing and not just for heat therapy. Regardless of the purpose, immersing oneself in the heated space of a sauna for a short period of time can provide a variety of health benefits.
Temperature and Heating Elements
The precise temperatures used in saunas depends in part on the humidity. High-temperature saunas generally require low air humidity while high-humidity saunas operate at lower temperatures.
In a traditional sauna, the heating elements may be comprised of a wood, electric, or other types of stove. They can rely on stored heat from a large fire, make use of a continuous heat source, and function as wet, dry, smoke, or steam saunas.
Oftentimes, water can be ladled over the heating elements to adjust the humidity during use. This is notable since the higher the humidity, the more you perspire. Keep in mind, however, that perspiration can often be confused with condensation on the skin in a humid sauna.
How Do Infrared Saunas Differ from Traditional Saunas?
Infrared saunas differ from traditional saunas in a few key ways:
How Do Infrared Saunas Work?
Whether we realize it or not, we all interact on a daily basis with the energy of the electromagnetic spectrum. This includes the ultraviolet light we protect ourselves against with using sunscreen, the X-rays that help diagnose disease, and the visible light that allows us to see the world around us.
Falling next to and slightly less energetic than the visible light produced by the sun, infrared energy is another type of solar energy that's part of the electromagnetic spectrum felt as heat.
Now, when the sun or any other source of radiant energy warms us, we experience a process known as conversion. This occurs when the energy of infrared waves is perceived as heat even without the warming of surrounding air.
Like all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, the energy of infrared waves is described by its wavelength. Parts of the spectrum with shorter wavelengths have higher energy and vice versa.
Infrared waves are generally divided into three categories based on these wavelengths. While the precise divisions between each category aren't universally agreed upon, they generally go as follows: 0.7 – 5 microns for near-infrared, 5 – 30 microns for middle-infrared, and around 30 – 200 microns for far-infrared (FIR).
Thus, regardless of the specific cutoff value, far-infrared waves are always at the lower end of the energy scale. As a result, FIR waves have only enough energy to penetrate the skin at a depth of two to three inches.
Most infrared saunas use far-infrared energy exclusively, which is generated by special heaters positioned at one or more areas of the body. They generally operate at around 120 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit with each session lasting 20 to 30 minutes — the proper amount of time to start a series of physiological responses that bring about health benefits.
The Main Benefits of Infrared Saunas
Now that you better understand how an infrared sauna works, here's how it can specifically benefit you...
1. Detoxifies Your Body
Saunas induce perspiration without the need for physical exertion, thus providing the benefits of sweat without the strain of exercise. As a result, accumulated toxins like heavy metals and other potential carcinogens get released.
Be advised that anyone with a heavy burden of toxins in the body may find the experience of mobilizing these compounds unpleasant or even harmful. If you have a history of heavy metal accumulation or drug use, consider consulting a healthcare professional before initiating sauna treatments.
2. Improves Blood Circulation
Dilation of the blood vessels occurs in response to intense heat, causing blood pressure to decrease. Low blood pressure puts less strain on both the vessels themselves and the internal organs flowed to. Thus, infrared sauna sessions can act as a kind of preventative measure against blood pressure-induced health conditions such as stroke, kidney damage, and varicose veins.
Due to the effects on circulation, you might experience some light-headedness or dizziness during or after a sauna session. That's why it's a good idea to remain seated after each session until you cool down. Also, anyone with a history of conditions such as low or high blood pressure, circulatory problems, or diabetes should consult a healthcare professional before using any type of sauna.
3. Offers Pain Relief
Vasodilation — the relaxation of blood vessels — can help improve blood flow throughout the body. This enhanced blood flow can reduce musculoskeletal pain by increasing the delivery of nutrients and removal of wastes from these tissues. As such, saunas have been shown to help improve pain caused by conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia.
4. Helps You Relax
Although the way we describe "stress" in everyday conversation usually refers to something negative and alarming, the definition of stress as experienced by the body is actually more robust.
Certain types of 'gentle' stresses work on the body as a type of eustress or positive stress. One such example is vaccines: they provide a small exposure to something potentially dangerous to stimulate and enhance the body's defenses to this danger.
Similarly, a sauna session acts as a kind of gentle stress on the body, causing a cascade of self-repairing mechanisms. Once this eustress is removed at the completion of the sauna session, the body's defense reaction experiences a sense of ease and relaxation that helps you overcome many types of pain and discomfort.
5. Improves Heart Function
The combination of increased heart rate and decreased blood pressure achieved by cardiovascular conditioning or 'cardio' is a fundamental part of what keeps the heart healthy. But unfortunately, the strain placed on muscles and joints during these exercises can limit the benefits.
A sauna session, however, can aid the heart in a way commonly associated with exercise but without the need for physical exertion. For example, the decreased blood pressure and enhanced circulation stimulated by a sauna session means the heart doesn't have to work as hard to pump blood throughout the body.
It's important to note, however, that anyone who may be concerned about exercise or other physical exertion due to a pre-existing disorder such as a cardiovascular condition should consult a medical professional before using any type of sauna.
6. Promotes Weight Loss
The dilation of blood vessels and increase in heart rate stimulated by a sauna session requires a boost in energy output from the body. As a result, metabolism increases and the body burns more calories without increased physical exertion. In fact, a typical 20-30 minute sauna session causes metabolic effects similar to a moderate-intensity workout and burns about 600 calories!
7. Gives You Healthier-Looking Skin
Perspiration provides both health and beauty benefits. Apart from removing toxins, the sweat and warmth induced by an infrared sauna cause the pores to open and old skin cells to slough away. Also, infrared wavelengths help the body increase its production of collagen, which improves skin tone and elasticity. The overall result is more youthful and radiant-looking skin.
8. Boosts Immunity
Regular sauna sessions have been shown to increase the number of white blood cells — an essential component of the immune system. Additionally, heat helps keep infectious agents from multiplying and causing disease. In fact, people who use saunas two or three times per week have been shown to have 65 percent fewer episodes of colds and flus!
Types of Infrared Saunas
Your search for the right infrared sauna gets easier once you better understand some of the terminology, types, and features you're certain to come across when reviewing the options:
Near, Middle, and Far-Infrared
Near-infrared waves are those closest to (and in fact overlap with) visible light. Saunas that use near-infrared waves are generally heated with Edison heat lamps made with tungsten filaments. These saunas are considered a kind of phototherapy, analogous to lounging in the sunshine.
With the debate over just where the divisions in the infrared spectrum exist, it's not surprising that few manufacturers claim to make saunas that emit only middle-infrared waves. But keep in mind that some waves considered to fall in the middle part of the spectrum may, in fact, emit from full infrared devices as well as those aimed at either the near or far end of the spectrum.
Far-infrared waves have the lowest energy of the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum and create a uniform warming effect that's not only safe but also beneficial. This is why infrared heat lamps have long been used as treatments for joint and muscle problems or as incubators to warm premature and newborn babies in hospitals.
Ceramic Heating vs. Carbon Fiber
Heaters in infrared saunas are commonly either ceramic or made from carbon fiber. By and large, carbon fiber heaters offer more benefits than ceramic heaters for a few reasons:
- Apart from covering a larger surface area, carbon fiber heaters emit rays closer to the far end of the infrared spectrum than ceramic heaters.
- Carbon fiber heaters operate at lower temperatures, keeping the surface of the heaters cooler to the touch and thereby safer.
- Carbon fiber heaters are longer-lasting and more energy efficient than ceramic heaters.
So, given these advantages, why are ceramic heaters used at all? The primary reason is that ceramic heaters don't emit high amounts of unwanted electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) like carbon heaters can. For this reason, make sure to only choose shielded carbon heaters that emit low or no EMF when selecting an infrared sauna.
Like traditional saunas, infrared saunas come in many designs. For starters, many infrared saunas are lightweight and portable, making them easy to travel with and integrate into any part of the home. Many portable infrared saunas are designed for use by one person where the head and hands remain outside the sauna during the treatment session. This makes portable saunas a popular choice for anyone who prefers to avoid small or enclosed spaces.
Stationary saunas can also make a beautiful addition to the home. Designed for one or more people, these elaborate units often include extra features such as integrated sound systems and chromotherapy.
What to Look for in an Infrared Sauna
The first thing to keep in mind when choosing an infrared sauna is to know the maximum number of people that will be sharing it at any one time. So ask yourself whether you enjoy company and conversation in the sauna or if you prefer having a quiet, individual experience.
But even if you plan to use the sauna alone most of the time, consider whether you want to be able to stretch out and lay back in it. This may be reason enough to look for a larger-sized sauna. Moreover, if you or anyone you plan to invite to your sauna is of a larger or taller build, the internal dimensions should also be checked.
Next, ask yourself where you plan to use the sauna. Is the location you have in mind appropriately sized for the external dimensions of the sauna you're considering? Fortunately, many infrared saunas are available with compact designs that readily fit into most homes.
Apart from the internal and external dimensions of the sauna, the size of the heating surface area is also an important consideration. Since far-infrared saunas use the least amount of energy when heating the air around the user, these types of saunas generally work best in this regard.
Types of Heaters
Infrared heaters are designed as either rods or panels. While each has a distinctive appearance, they function quite similarly. The primary functional difference between these heater styles is that panels cover a larger area than rods and thus offer more uniform heating.
It's also important to keep in mind the location of the heaters in the sauna, specifically whether you feel most comfortable heating your entire body or limiting the amount of heat to only a small area.
Many people choose a wood sauna simply because of its aesthetics. But apart from its visual appeal, the wood used for a sauna should also age well without releasing toxins or allergens. Due to these and other properties, Eastern Hemlock is generally considered the wood of choice for use in all saunas. That said, other types of wood such as Basswood or Cedar can also fair well.
Like any construction material or electronic equipment, certain chemicals and toxins can off-gas from a poor-quality sauna during both use and storage. It would be an unfortunate irony to increase your burden of toxic chemicals while attempting to detox in an infrared sauna! Thus, make sure to choose a unit made only from high-quality, non-toxic materials.
Low EMF radiation
Although the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum offers many health benefits, exposure to some other forms of electromagnetic frequency radiation (EMF) should be minimized.
All electronic devices and wiring emit some amount of EMF, which can be dangerous in excess. For example, the high EMF of overhead power lines have been recognized as health hazards including an increased risk of cancer.
While the dose of EMF absorbed by the body can be decreased simply by moving further away from the source, it's simply not possible to move far away enough when using an electric sauna. That's why many FIR saunas are designed to shield users from EMF, with models ranging from low to no-EMF exposure.
Safe use of any sauna depends on both the actions of the users and the qualities of the sauna itself. A well-constructed sauna should include the following:
- Proper wiring to protect you both from EMF and potential fire hazards.
- Heating panels equipped with thermostats and electrical fault sensors (these will cut power to the panels if they ever overheat or otherwise malfunction).
There are also basic safety rules to stick to during each session such as maintaining a safe duration of exposure, avoiding food and alcohol in the sauna, and staying hydrated. Moreover, anyone with health concerns including cardiac conditions and diabetes should consult a healthcare professional before using any sauna.
Ease of Installation
Selecting the right sauna is one thing; getting it assembled and ready to use in your home can be another story altogether. When evaluating a FIR sauna, be sure to carefully examine these key factors:
- The number and weight of the delivery boxes – Will you be able to get the sauna parts into your home yourself or will you need help?
- The tools required for assembly – Do you have the tools necessary to assemble the unit or will you need to order some special equipment?
- Installation services available from the seller – If you feel there's a chance you'll need help assembling or installing the sauna, you'll need a dedicated installation service.
- Possible rewiring of your power supply – Since some saunas are designed to run off a special 110V/20 amp dedicated receptacle, you may need to get your power supply rewired in your location with the help of a certified electrician.
While portable saunas are generally easier to assemble simply due to their lighter-weight design, many one, two, and even three-person stationary FIR saunas can also be assembled alone. If possible, read the product user manual before purchasing the unit to determine if you'll be able to handle assembling and installing it yourself.
Various types of warranties are available for infrared saunas but if possible, opt for one with an unlimited lifetime warranty. If, however, your favorite sauna design comes with a limited lifetime warranty, be sure to read the fine print to understand the limitations. For example, some saunas sell with fixed-term warranties lasting five or ten years. In that case, you may want to ask the dealer if they offer an extended warranty.
Although a well-designed and manufactured sauna should operate without problems for years to come, a comprehensive warranty can help put your mind at ease.
INFRARED SAUNA REVIEWS
Note: Make sure to consult a healthcare professional before using any type of sauna especially when combining pharmaceutical products with the natural, physiological responses to infrared heat. Moreover, saunas shouldn't be used by pregnant women (breastfeeding women, however, carry low risk).
Snapshot of Our Top Infrared Saunas
BEST INFRARED SAUNAS
OUR TOP PICK
Best 1-Person Infrared Sauna
Best 2-Person Infrared Sauna
Best 3-Person Infrared Sauna
Best 4-Person Infrared Sauna
Best Portable Infrared Sauna
The 3 Best 1-Person Infrared Saunas
This compact, low EMF sauna uses an attractive Hemlock and features a Canadian Red Cedar design that makes it an aesthetically pleasing addition to any part of the home.
Aside from the portable saunas reviewed in this guide, the Dynamic Granada is the only stationary model designed to heat just the lower half of the body, leaving the head and hands in the open air throughout the sauna treatment. This makes it a great choice for anyone prone to claustrophobia and those who appreciate the appearance of a wood sauna.
Requiring only a Phillips screwdriver to fit together six pieces, the installation instructions are clear and easy to follow. The only drawback is the time it takes to heat the unit. Compared to other one-person saunas, the 30-minute preheat time seems excessive.
Built from chemical-free Canadian Hemlock, this sauna's straightforward design features a simple bench seat that's compatible with extra JNH ergonomic backrests.
We appreciate the double insulation that allows this sauna to heat quickly and maintain a constant temperature without excess energy consumption. Moreover, the cabin is illuminated with LED lights, adding to its energy efficiency.
A major drawback of this sauna is the poor quality of the installation instructions. Although some users still manage to assemble the unit without problems, it may call for some 'mechanical inclination' to get the sauna up and running.
This sauna emits NO EMF, which makes it unique among infrared saunas. Although otherwise similar in style to the JNH Joyous sauna described above, the Lifestyles 1-person sauna feels even more comfortably open thanks to two extra glass windows.
While designed as a stationary sauna, it's very easy to put together and can be readily disassembled and reassembled in a new location as needed. But unfortunately, like other JNH saunas, the assembly instructions lack in clarity.
The 3 Best 2-Person Infrared Saunas
Featuring an elegant dark wood exterior made of natural reforested Hemlock, this low EMF model includes relaxing and invigorating chromotherapy lighting.
We like how the inclusion of LED control panels both inside and outside the sauna allows you to set and control the temperature before, during, and after a sauna session without unnecessarily opening and closing the door.
We recommend adding the optional backrests for this unit, also made by Dynamic.
Made of certified "green" wood with no added chemicals, the Lifestyles 2-person sauna can comfortably seat two full-sized adults and still feel spacious thanks in part to the tempered glass door.
One drawback of this sauna is that the LED control panel isn't readily accessible. Also, like other JNH saunas, the assembly instructions leave much to be desired. Fortunately, this sauna is so simple to install that you can practically assemble it without reviewing any instructions!
The generous interior dimensions of the Radiant sauna keeps it feeling roomy even for full-sized adults. It includes several useful extras, including a towel hook, magazine rack, ergonomic backrests, and an E-Z touch control panel for a comfortable, relaxing experience. The oxygen ionizer is also a nice addition, keeping the air feeling fresh even after you start to sweat.
The bronze-tinted glass door and stylized smooth wood handle are some of the small touches that make the Radiant sauna feel elegant. We just wish it would warm to working temperature quicker.
The 3 Best 3-Person Infrared Saunas
The Maxxus Reims has an attractive corner design that fits nicely into a variety of rooms in your home. Thanks to the added foot heater, this sauna is a great choice for anyone who prefers the "warmed-all-over" sauna experience. Another nice small touch is the remote control that comes with the sound system.
While the sauna is backed by great customer service, perhaps the biggest selling point of all is that it heats in 15 minutes or less, making it ready to use in no time despite its spacious interior!
Made of high-quality, easy-to-assemble materials, the Sante Fe is roomy enough for one or two people but may be a little snug for three full-sized adults.
While it includes backrests, you may want to add your own cushions, both for comfort and to soak up sweat. The sauna comes with several small extras like a towel and magazine rack but they don't seem to have the same level of craftsmanship as the unit itself.
Featuring JNH's signature clean and simple design, the high-quality construction of this sauna is designed to provide years of reliable FIR sauna sessions. That said, the bars across the heaters of this unit are quite delicate, which is why it's best to use a backrest to keep yourself from leaning against them.
Like most JNH instruction manuals, the owner's manual for this model is more confusing than helpful. Still, the sauna is a breeze to assemble.
The 3 Best 4-Person Infrared Saunas
Featuring a spacious interior with a corner design, the solid Hemlock wood of the Tuscon sauna has a clean finish in a neutral tone that fits into most rooms of the home. Adding to the feel of luxury, the sauna is loaded with features including a sound system, backrests, recessed interior lighting, towel hooks, magazine rack, cup holder, air ionizer, and chromotherapy.
We especially appreciate the E-Z touch control panel on the inside and outside of the unit for easy access. Although the backrests can slip around if not set on something like a towel, we still give this sauna five stars because of how quickly it heats up.
Like other JNH models, the Joyous 4-person sauna is constructed from Canadian Hemlock with a simple and unfinished "natural" feel.
That said, the same shortcomings inherent to other JNH owner manuals are also true of this four-person model. And because it's bigger, it makes it even more difficult to assemble. Thus, this sauna is best suited to those who have the mechanical knack to get the job done.
Another drawback concerns its design. Although many larger saunas are designed as corner models to accommodate most rooms, this unit faces forward and thus may not blend in as easily. Still, as sauna experiences go, this model fares well.
The elegant design made from top-grade natural Canadian Red Cedar makes this sauna a beautiful addition to any part of the home. Its tongue and groove jointing also makes the sauna feel sturdy and built to last. Like its other units, this model by Radiant saunas includes a sound system, magazine rack, air ionizer, backrests, towel hooks, and chromotherapy.
Although the instructions call for three people to assemble the unit, it's easy enough to install that one person with a Phillips screwdriver may suffice. Spacious enough to house four people, this sauna is also great to use alone as it allows enough room to stretch out and lay back during a session.
The 3 Best Portable Infrared Saunas
The Gizmo sauna can be set up and ready to use in five minutes or less. Weighing only 18 pounds, the unit is light enough for most anyone to fold-up and carry for storage or travel. Despite its lightweight design, the sauna is large and sturdy enough to fit a full-sized adult comfortably. Moreover, its sturdy construction keeps the sauna staying upright even with the removal of the support bar.
To help with pre-heating, the Gizmo comes with a handy fold-over flap for the neck hole. There's also a simple controller, which includes a 60-minute timer. Lastly, the unit comes with a chair and sponge to set at the bottom of the unit (towels would actually work better than a sponge in this regard as they're easier to clean).
What keeps this unit from earning a five-star rating comes down to aesthetics — you can find more eye-catching colors from other manufacturers whereas the Gizmo only sells in a 'functional' silver color with blue trim.
The Rejuvenator is ultra-light and easy to use. Up and running in a minute or less, this 18 pound, low EMF unit comes in a steel grey color, giving it a somewhat chic appearance. The frame is supported by a simple beech wood dole — a nice way to keep extra plastic out of the sauna. The unit comes with a controller featuring six automatic timer options.
Unfortunately, the Rejuvenator doesn't reliably heat as quickly as other portable designs. And while it may be a great choice for petite women, in particular, the 180-pound weight limit makes it less useful to average-sized or tall men interested in losing weight. Moreover, the interior space is also a limiting factor for anyone of a larger build.
Although designed to store away between sauna sessions, the striking appearance of the SereneLife sauna is enough to leave set up and ready to use at any time. While the silver model may be appropriate for some homes, there's something about the black version that makes this sauna look like a sleek piece of health and wellness equipment.
The SereneLife is easy to set up and heats to 140 degrees Fahrenheit in 10 minutes or less. It's also simple to fold away in about a minute and light enough to carry easily. While the unit comes with a cushion for the sauna floor, towels would actually work better as they're easier to wash after every use.
We particularly appreciate the sauna's spacious opening, which makes it easy to get in and out of the unit. Once you zip yourself into the sauna, you need to swing one part of a support bar across the inside front of the unit to keep it open around you. This one slightly awkward design feature is what keeps this model from being a five-star sauna.
Now that you know the kinds of infrared saunas available on the market, you should have a better handle on what type would serve you best. But if you're still in doubt, you may want to consider taking a look at an infrared sauna at a local health club to see which sizes, settings, and arrangements you prefer. Regardless of the model you decide on, you're sure to benefit in health and wellness!
NOW IT'S YOUR TURN!
Are you looking for an infrared sauna not included in this guide? Leave your questions or comments below and we'll do our best to answer them!