Infrared Sauna vs. Traditional Steam Sauna: What’s the Difference?

    Rolled towels on a sauna bench with a bucket of water

    Steam saunas have been around for centuries, but infrared saunas are still relatively new. It's a common misconception to think that they are both basically the same. In fact, there are actually a lot more differences than similarities between the two.

    Infrared Sauna vs. Steam Sauna


    Infrared saunas are rapidly growing in popularity among home users and medical professionals. But how do they differ from a traditional steam sauna?  

    Although, an infrared sauna uses a completely different method of heating the body, they both offer health benefits through heat therapy. This article will compare the two side-by-side to highlight how they differ to help you determine which type of sauna is right for you.

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    How Much Energy is Used?

    Although, an infrared sauna is slightly more economical to operate, neither a steam or infrared sauna uses a significant amount of electricity. It's unlikely that you'll even notice an increase in your household utility bills.

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     How Long Does it Take to Warm-up?

    Both traditional steam saunas and Infrared saunas have a variety of factors that impact the time it takes to warm-up. Including the temperature of the surrounding air of where the sauna is located, and the construction quality of the sauna itself.

    Traditional Steam Sauna

    Steam saunas typically take between 30 to 40 minutes to warm-up to a usable temperature.

    Infrared Sauna

    The temperature of the air surrounding the sauna plays a big role on the warm-up time. If your infrared sauna is located in a cool environment, it'll take longer to reach temperature. However, warm-up time can be as short as 15 minutes when located in a warm room.

    Keep in mind, it's not necessary to wait until a sauna is fully heated to begin experiencing the benefits from infrared rays. The minute the unit is turned on, the heaters begin to emit infrared energy. Many users enjoy "warming up" with their sauna.

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    How Does the User Experience Compare?

    Traditional Steam Sauna

    • Many people enjoy the social experience of a traditional steam sauna.
    • Adding water to the rocks can help moisten the nasal passages.
    • Essential oils can be added to the water for aromatherapy.
    • Because of the high heat temperatures, its not uncommon to feel the intense heat as being very oppressive and experience  difficulty breathing. 

    Infrared Sauna

    • Higher-end infrared saunas often include additional features such as color light therapy and audio systems.
    • Our body absorbs close to 93% of the infrared waves that come in contact with our skin. 
    • Because the temperature is lower in an infrared sauna, the air is easier to breathe.
    • Far-infrared heaters create energy that's nearly identical to the wavelength that our body naturally emits. 
    • Over 80% of the infrared energy emitted by the heaters is available to be converted to heat within our body. The remaining 20% is left to heat the air. This provides increased health benefits and a more pleasant user experience due to the lower temperatures.
    Infrared Sauna Panels within a Sauna

    What Role Do the Heaters Play?

    Traditional Steam Sauna

    After the sauna warms up, the heaters will cycle on and off to help the rocks maintain your desired temperature. As a rule of thumb, the heaters will operate about 50% of the time once the sauna warms-up.

    Because the focus of a traditional steam sauna is high heat, as long as the sauna maintains the proper temperature, it doesn't matter if the heaters are running to take advantage of the health benefits.

    Infrared Sauna

    When the heaters aren't running, they're not delivering infrared energy. The goal of an infrared sauna is to keep the heaters on and running as much as possible. This will keep a continuous flow of infrared rays during your sauna session. 

    Control panel for an infrared sauna

    Do They Really Heat Differently?

    Traditional Steam Sauna

    A traditional steam sauna uses an indirect means of heat. First, the air is warmed, then as the surrounding warm air within the sauna comes into contact with the skin, the user's body is heated. But it's important to note, that only the surface of the skin is warmed in a steam sauna.

    When you're in a steam sauna, your body temperature increases when the temperature of the air increases. And as your body's temperature increases it begins to cool itself by perspiring and moving blood closer to the skin.

    The goal of a steam sauna is to achieve a high temperature for as long as possible. The temperature and humidity is controlled by adding water to the rocks, and the temperature ranges between 150 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Infrared Sauna

    An infrared sauna uses invisible infrared light to directly warm the skin, regardless of the air temperature. In addition, the infrared rays are able to penetrate and deeply warm the body's tissues to a depth of over 1-1/2 inches without the need to heat the air.

    Since infrared rays are able to travel deep into the body's tissues, an infrared sauna can deliver benefits before it reaches temperature. This allows the body's cooling mechanism to be triggered even at lower temperatures.

    Because of the lower temperatures, users often spend more time inside the sauna, as a result, they'll experience even greater health benefits.

    The goal of an infrared sauna is to keep the heaters running continuously. When the heaters are running, infrared energy is being emitted allowing the user to benefit from the deep penetrating infrared heat. The temperature ranges between 120 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit.