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Why Infrared is Not a Sauna

light steam graphic

This is my blog. These are my opinions. I am not some yahoo. I lived in Nordic Europe. I have been taking saunas for over 25 years. I know saunas. I am not Finnish, I am half Italian and a 1/4 German, so I talk half the time and analyze 1/4 of the time.

If you own an infrared, one day you may wish to recycle the wood paneling for a real sauna. If you are thinking of buying an infrared, think twice. Do your research. You are smarter than that.

  • You avoid tanning salons, they give you cancer and turn your skin a weird color.
  • You don’t smoke tobacco cigarettes, same thing.
  • You don’t sweat by stuffing yourself in a microwave oven.

Imagine for a moment you are a sauna enthusiast from Finland, a country with more saunas than cars. You have grown up with sauna, a centuries old cultural tradition. Now, you read and hear about $499 microwave boxes you can assemble in your living room called “infrared saunas.” I am waving this flag for all the polite Northern Europeans who may only speak up on this topic after 3 sauna rounds and a few beers. Infrared is not a sauna.

Wood sauna is preferred. Electric sauna is ok, but Infrared is NOT a sauna. Infrared is marketing manipulation. Infrared hucksters make unrealistic claims to lure consumers. Infrared is fueled by light bulbs and sold by guys that used to sell mops and knives at state fairs. Infrared hucksters hitch their wagons to weight loss, pain relief, homeo whatever therapy, detoxify, and it’s all horse shit. They have taken real benefits of a Finnish sauna and packaged them up to try to sell their high margin light bulb closets. But you know this already, you are smarter than this.

Scammy Infrared Ads

Below is the headline for an advertisement:

“2-Person Natural Wood Home Sauna” Therasage 2 Person Infrared Home Sauna is perfect for one or two people!

We have one question for the marketer behind this shill: what would a 2-Person UNnatural Wood Home Sauna look like? I haven’t seen any UNnatural wood lately. Have you? Unless the manufacturer was considering using poly decking instead of tongue and groove cedar. We wouldn’t be surprised.

We can only surmise that the marketer of this ‘sauna’:

Bunch of ‘therasage’ right upside the head. Once and awhile, it’s good to call out the hucksters.

PS: This light bulb closet sells for $4,660.00. This is the same website that sells a towel warmer for $79.99. Step Right Up!

Claiming That Infrared is a Sauna is Like Claiming That a Bathtub is a Pool

Imagine a recently published study preaching health benefits of swimming, something along the lines of: “participants who swam half a mile in a pool, 3-4 times per week, had a 30% decrease in heart related illnesses.” Then imagine a company that sells large bathtubs and hot tubs, but calls them pools. Then, imagine that same company laying claim to the health benefits of pools to their products.

Now we understand why we need to be careful with marketing hucksters hawking infrared light bulb closets.

Is an Infrared Sauna (Light Bulb Closet) Any Different Than Goat Yoga or a Tanning Bed?

We are funny people here in the USA. We purchase free range organic eggs in plastic cartons. We take yoga, a centuries old wellness practice, and bring in goats (and package the franchise for Shark Tank). We encourage indoor tanning beds, and disregard medical research associating tanning bed use to melanoma, the deadliest version of cancer.

Is it any wonder why we authentic sauna enthusiasts are chagrined to see “sauna” being packaged, bastardized, exploited as an infrared light bulb closet? I hope we are careful about what we are claiming, what we are promoting and selling, and where we are going. Here in the USA, as people debate on how to pronounce the word “sauna”, we are on the cusp of losing its meaning.

Infrared Hucksters


Colin Farrell puts Infrared in its Place With Ellen DeGeneres


On the Ellen show, actor Colin Farrell explained why he prefers the authentic sauna experience, a more penetrating heat where one can toss water on sauna rocks. Ellen DeGeneres is hot on the infrared light bulb closet.

Both Farrell and DeGeneres agree that sweating is good for you, ridding toxins (questionable!). Colin Ferrell refers to the “primal” experience of an authentic sauna. Farrell, Prince Andrew, Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, the list goes on, and it’s funny because after someone famous acknowledges AUTHENTIC sauna, folks then begin to become aware of the difference.

Like yoga or Greek Yogurt, folks have been tuned into sauna well before someone with a pretty face said it’s a good thing. And like yoga or Greek Yogurt, folks engage in sauna because it resonates and works for them. So, hats off to Colin Farrell. He’s probably a great guy. Famous people endorsing authentic sauna is a building block towards the growth and awareness of the authentic sauna experience. This is a good thing.

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35 thoughts on “Why Infrared is Not a Sauna”

  1. I am a Finn and have to tell you that there has been a trend of installing infrareds in Finland during the past couple years. It’s probably still pretty marginal and will likely never gain widespread >5% usage in the sauna. And while I have unfortunately not tried one in order to give a fair review, there are people who have some good things to say about it.
    I have to agree that it’s not a sauna, since you aren’t throwing water, and the room temperature is not hot. You just sit in the infrared radiation that works differently from the steam. The consensus seems to be that the infrared is used more as a treatment for various conditions or in addition to the real sauna. Infrared treatments have been widely used for many years outside of the sauna room, now someone just came up with the idea of putting the elements into the sauna room, and thus create this mix-up about what the sauna is. And from what I can tell, nobody with infrared elements in their sauna would call it a replacement for a sauna. It’s just another type of relaxation method since it works much deeper in the tissues than the steam sauna. All people I know who have one, also have a normal steam sauna.

    For me a sauna is any room that has a stove (wood-burning or electric) with heated stones in it, and whose temperature is >55°C (~130°F), and where water is being thrown on those stones to create steam (löyly). The average temperature is somewhere around 80°C (176 °F) in Finland. With that definition, the infrared version could not be qualified as a sauna, even if it were installed in a room that looked like one.

    I don’t know how those things are marketed in the U.S. I can only imagine that consumers are being fooled, just like they are all the time.

  2. I like wood best, electric if I have to.

    Infrared seems more like a tanning booth experience than a sauna (steam, heat, etc)

  3. Ove said it well that infrared is another relaxation option.Much like a cold beer or a thorough workout except that neither of those pleasant escapes involve elctrical cooking of your internal organs. In summary, wood stove sauna at home, electrical stove suana in your hotel and infrared units for overhead maintenance garage heating.

  4. Agreed Glenn! And thanks for posting to spread this info.

    Infrared (kills me when idiot infrared dealers spell it infared. Happens all the time) rooms are NOT saunas at all. People need to understand that “sauna” is not only a Finnish word, but a very specific Finnish experience. You would never say Finnish Banya because Banyas are Russian and also a very specific experience.

    The ONLY reason infrared units sell is because of their low price. That’s it. You can take that to the bank. If traditional Finnish saunas could be had for a grand and infrared units were 5 grand which would sell better? That’s what I thought. People settle for the microwave because it’s cheap (also cheaply made). A real sauna is a commitment that takes time to build with quality materials but will last 100+ years if built properly.

    I recently had the opportunity to try an infrared room and was just not impressed. It was a good one too, at a high end spa. Even there, it’s uneven heating and an odd feeling about being cooked from the inside out. Not fun.

    Get on a payment plan and get a real sauna if you know what’s good for you. When that payment annoys you just get in there after a long day of work. You’ll be writing checks with a smile after that.

  5. Yes!

    Infrared enclosures are not saunas. The environment is not the same, the benefits are not the same. Not only do the inflated and made up benefits that infrared dealers spout dupe people into spending their hard earned money, but they give true traditional saunas a bad name.

    We love saunas, we’ve been selling them for over 3 decades. It infuriates us to see people making ridiculous claims that have no scientific backing about infrared “saunas”, which aren’t really even saunas to begin with!

    As a side note, and something we think you might appreciate, we had a customer who owned one of these so called infrared “saunas” (who incidentally was hoping to turn their infrared enclosure into a real sauna) compare the enclosure not to a sauna, but to sitting in a closet with a space heater.

  6. THANK YOU all for the good information… I was about to buy one of those infrared saunas, and then found this page…. Can you tell me what to look for in a \good\ sauna for 2 or 3 people? I need one that I can build and take apart because I move a lot. Maybe even some websites to begin looking at?

    Thank you!!

  7. shannon, several manufacturers offer pre-fab sauna kits for the homeowner to assemble. these are free-standing structures that can be set up in any large enough room in the house. you will need to get electricity run to it, they do not simply plug into a receptacle on the wall. the kit includes panels that are screwed together and can be unscrewed for transport. it will take several hours to set it up and take it down but sounds like an option for moving. check out the link below, they even have the assembly instructions on there so you know what you are getting into.

    other retailers offer these kits as well, just do a web search.

  8. Wow, I better say this again…

    I’ve used “authentic” traditional saunas, and also steam rooms, for over 35 years. My opinion is that YES, infrared saunas are superior, for sweating and removing toxins from body. Why? In traditional dry saunas, and of course in steam rooms, my sweat feels like water. However, in infrared sauna (using *ceramic* heaters, not carbon heaters) my sweat feels very slimy and oily, AND SMELLS LIKE CHEMICALS, and it does not feel like its just water, it feels more like grease. Carbon heated infrared saunas haven’t produced this result, I think because carbon heater panels don’t penetrate body very deep due to lack of concentrated, focused emissions. 99% of infrared saunas are made using carbon heater panels which are spread out over very large surface area, and thus lack focus and concentration of infrared waves to directly hit body. Also, Ceramic infrared saunas can produce this greasy skin effect at only 110F which is much more enjoyable than sitting in 180F in authentic traditional saunas, and because I usually have maximum temp of 120-130F in infrared sauna, I can stay inside infrared sauna much longer resulting in more grease-sweating time. AND, In infrared sauna there is no wasted time waiting for warm-up of sauna, because infrared heater starts heating body immediately via infrared waves, so I can jump into sauna at room temp while it heats up to 110-130F, then not long after that I’m already done, and this all by the time old style sauna finally heated up to usable temp. I think Heavenly Heat saunas are the best, because they actually are cleanly built. They are the ONLY manufacturer of saunas, traditional or infrared, in USA that truly have a toxin-free construction and composition. They make both traditional “authentic” saunas, and infrared, and combinations of both. Every other infrared sauna maker, including so-called cleanly made ones like Therasauna, Saunacore, and HealthMate, uses toxic glues, or particle boards, or plywoods, usually well-hidden, for example, under seat bench, back wall, and roof, which out-gas chemicals they used. Only Heavenly Heat made in Phoenix, Arizona, and SaunaRay from Canada, are actually toxin-free saunas. I prefer Heavenly Heat over SaunaRay because the location of heaters are much more effective on Heavenly Heat saunas. All other infrared sauna makers, including Therasauna, Saunacore, and HealthMate use toxic glued cabinets, plywoods, and particle boards, full of chemicals, made in China, or Vietnam, and 99% of makers utilize the inferior carbon heaters, which lack deep body penetration of infrared, and are really just water-bed heaters from the 1970s.

  9. I agree with john. As someone who has used a traditional steam sauna, I am now using an infrared sauna to treat my late stage Lyme disease. The reason infrared is far superior when it comes to healing and detox. The infrared heat penetrates deep into the tissue, delivering a far superior healing experience when compared to the steam sauna that is a more shallow and superficial experience. It is a dry heat. You know that the only fluid on your skin is from your own body. As someone who is using the sauna to heal from a disease, I always tell a huge difference when I’m done with my session. I understand that you clearly have a bad opinion of us lowly Americans, but here I’m pretty sure we are on to something. Infrared is best.

  10. It is one thing to put an infrared light on a wound, it is completely another to put massive infrared lights in a small room and bombard your whole body like a butter in a microwave. It penetrates into the skin at least one an one-half inches… what are the long term effects? Say on the eyes because they would go easily as far as your retna? On your brain? Remember there are NO long term studies. There is a huge infrared industry worth billions now and they will tell us how great these things are, just like they told us how artificial sweeteners would make us healthy and natural fats are bad for us.
    Thanks for this blog.
    You are right. It is a shame that even some health bloggers are promoting this microwave for people bullshit.
    Best to you,
    Dr. Max

  11. I’ve just read through each and every comment with great interest. Sadly I don’t believe anyone here has used an Infrared Sauna nor really understands them. I started using one in Australia 5 years ago and the benefits have been remarkable. From removing pain in an arthritic knee from hockey injuries from when I was a kid, to my skin actually changing for he better that people who have known me for years actually started commenting on how good I looked. The place where I go to use these saunas in Melbourne are filled with other people who also swear by them. From a mother who’s 7 year old son is autistic and his erratic behaviour and overall well being has improved significantly to a 70 year old gentleman who came in barely able to walk form back pain and had just been prescribed very strong pain killers (i was there I saw him) now walks pain free without those horrendous drugs. I’ve met a lady there who was bitten by a tick and had been sick for two years and started using infrared and now has little to now side effects.
    For the chap who keeps on talking about a microwave, it couldn’t be further from what it is. Its a heat wavelength and when you get the wavelength exactly right it penetrates the body. Its a soft heat. Unlike sitting in a traditional sauna where your nostrils burn and its like a right of passage that it has to hurt, this doesn’t. The feeling of wellbeing is so great that when I leave, I usually here someone who has just come out raving about how good they feel. Do some research please. This appears to be simply a blog for those that don’t understand.

  12. The analogy holds, as regarding health studies from Finland: “The results were culled from more than 70 sauna studies published up through February 2018”

    As a regular sauna bather for over 30 years, I recognize that the primary benefits to authentic sauna are achieved through experiencing multiple rounds with:
    1. Loyly (steam from water being tossed on sauna rocks).
    2. Cold plunges (cold shower, lake plunge, cold plunge feed trough).
    3. Full body cool downs between rounds (optimally whilst in the garden all misty wet with rain).

  13. I am concerned about potential negative effects of elecromagnetic radiation (EMFs) emitted from these infrared light bulb closets. Intuitively, infrared far, near, or otherwise seem like tanning beds of a different color. Need straight scoop to validate, of course, as i’m not a weatherman, but I am sensing the direction from which this wind is blowing.

  14. Hmmm… Just about covers everything! Well, I have to much time and effort in my traditional wood fired sauna to switch now… I will keep it. 🙂

  15. With a good sales pitch and hook you can sell refrigerators to eskimos. Gullible American eskimos that is.

  16. I do have a couple of infrared heat bulbs in recessed ceiling fixtures in my basement bathroom. They do help to warm the room and feel good after my morning shower. Meanwhile; the cat basks on the vanity.

  17. Glenn, thanks for the insights on infrared. I have a visceral and adverse reaction when I read about it!

    I have a question, unrelated: My proposed sauna site is in a room that slopes about 1/16″ per foot. The sauna door would be placed on the slope, so it will slope 1/8″ over 2 feet, if installed on the slope. My question: should I install the door to true vertical or on the slope, as it is only 1/8″? The baseboard trim on the outside of the sauna also has the slope issue. Should I mount it true horizontal??? Any other suggestions for this scenario? Thanks!!

  18. Do you have any info on low EMF traditional sauna heaters? I’d like to stay away from infrared but also only have a small space and don’t want to blast my family with harmful rays.

  19. Hi Vaidila. I believe the Sauna Research Center is studying and analyzing EMF radiation relative to electric sauna stoves, yet there is no information available at this time, per my knowledge.

    Most of the noise regarding EMF has been surfaced in the area of infrared light bulb closets, and because infrared hucksters hitch their wagons to the health benefits of traditional, authentic sauna, unfortunately, the traditional, authentic sauna folks are getting roped into this EMF noise.

  20. Hi Vaidila – I’m an electrical engineer and wrote a series of posts on electrical heaters for Glenn previously that you might have seen. I’ll echo Glenn’s comments in that I think the EMF stuff is overblown and part of the marketing hype of infrared saunas. If you want to see how out of control it is, check out this infrared tent that not only claims that it doesn’t emit EMF but also supposedly protects you from outside EMFs getting in.

    So you get a tent and light bulbs all for the low price of only $5500 (sarcasm). Of course people spend at most an hour a day in a sauna so unless you sleep and work in the tent you’ll get exposed to outside EMF’s anyways. This is pretty typical of the nonsense claims made for these things.

    Any electric heater will produce EMFs when on but the levels should be low due to the shielding from the metal case and the rocks. It’s comparable to sitting next a washing machine or dishwasher. Plus the heating elements are fully enclosed within metal. On top of that, a heater is only running continuously during warm up. My sauna is really well insulated and once it’s up to temp the heater is on around 20% of the time. This really surprised me but in a good way, I was concerned about how much our electric bill might go up and it’s been hardly noticeable.

    So 80% of the time there is zero EMFs and the other 20% it’s pretty low. Compare this to a light bulb closet when the lights are on 100% of the time with virtually no shielding.

    I wouldn’t be concerned about provided you buy a good quality heater that is appropriately sized for the room (so it isn’t running continuously)

  21. Hey Glenn, check out .xxxx (editor deleted link) Some are bad, some are good, some are great.

  22. Hi Dustin:

    Thanks for chiming in. I deleted the link you provided, and hope you don’t get mad, but the link is to a company selling infrared cabins, which are not saunas. Thankfully, as we are all about saunas, authentic saunas, and most often kick ass wood burning saunas, we don’t have to try to pick apart and address EMF issues. I did want to acknowledge your contribution and thank you for that.

    Definition of sauna.

  23. I apologize if this has been addressed elsewhere on the blog but my thoughts:
    Michael has got some interesting perspective on infrared (IR) treatment. But to Glenn’s point, this is a sauna blog. Infrared treatment is not sauna. It does not belong in the same discussion as sauna, other than to provide direction to those who are new to sauna.

    That’s well and good if IR works for some folks.

    To me, the picture is murky when it comes to infrared treatment. With sauna, it is crystal clear.

    Sauna has thousands of years of tradition, tried and true. The history is there. The wellness that it has provided to the frequent user is proven. The outcome of infrared treatment may or may not be unveiled to us. Give IR a few thousand years to prove itself. Until then, I suggest to build yourself an authentic wood-fired sauna, keep it stoked, and enjoy some loyly. If you do not have the free time or flexibility to fire a wood stove, there may be larger issues at hand.

  24. Infrared (IR) treatment is the perfect term for what it is.

    I returned to my canoe outfitter one morning after spending several days in the BWCA and walked by a small log building with a ‘Sauna’ sign. I was incredibly stoked to be able to sooth my mosquito bites and relax my sore muscles with several sessions. As I eagerly anticipated this last piece of heaven before my long ride home, I stepped through the door only to see a free-standing box with black fabric behind wooden slats. I shook my head, turned around and went home, restlessly itching bites and attempting to stretch what I could while seated. Had the sign read ‘Infrared Treatment’, I would’ve been home 15 minutes earlier, enjoying a growler of Fitgers and snacking on Norther Waters lake trout that much sooner.

  25. Nic.:

    You may find interesting my interview with Risto, President of Finnish Sauna Society. He tells about how in Germany, the term “sauna” is clearly and legally defined, and those with incorrect signage or marketing have to pull it down or subject to “zzze fine from zzze authorities.”

    I think we’re about ready for a similar (r)evolution here in US. We’re not just a bunch of whiners looking to whine, but damn, that growler and lake trout sounds really nice.. after a real sauna.

  26. Give me the research and I’ll happily agree. This feels more like a hit job with poor analogies and a lot of attacking. You want to represent your side professionally, add the research.

  27. poor analogies are in the eyes of the beholder, especially if you’re a weatherman, explaining which way the wind is blowing.

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