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Don’t think of the sauna as just another winter tool

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any-old-garden-hose-nozzleSummer saunas mean Hippopotamus style hanging out.  And here’s A guest post from Miller, reviewing matters on a summer day in his backyard sauna.  Check out Miller’s start to Finnish sauna build experience HERE.

Enter Miller:

When mowing the lawn or performing any other arduous task in the baking summer sun, a few rounds in the sauna may be the furthest thing from your mind…but sometimes it’s just what the body needs.  Don’t think of the sauna as just another winter tool, one that is put away each year with the hat and gloves.  The benefits of the sauna can be enjoyed year round.  Here are some thoughts on sauna in the summer for those that have not yet indulged:
·         Don’t skimp on between-round cool downs.   In the winter, a small dousing of water and a few minutes standing in the crisp, winter air is often all that is necessary to adequately cool the body in preparation for the next round.  Not so in the summer.  Your body can’t radiate away excess heat in the summer nearly as fast as it can in the winter. You’ll need a couple buckets of cold water to cool off, maybe more.  Water from a hose or outdoor shower works even better.  Of course, a dip in a cool lake is king but this is a luxury not all of us can take advantage of.  And don’t be shy about getting wet multiple times during the cool down.  I often douse myself with water, relax for a couple minutes, repeat the dousing, relax for a couple minutes, etc.  Without a decent cool down, your next round will inevitably be cut short, as five minutes in you wonder why the heck you’re sweating so much.
·         Allow adequate time for airing out.  Just like your body can’t get rid of heat quickly in the summer, neither can the sauna.  You’ll need to keep the doors open a bit longer afterward to properly air it out.
·         Bugs, bugs, bugs!  With the return of warm weather, so too return our little flying friends.  The cool down routine needs some modification from the winter.  The simplest technique I’ve found is to move around a little bit.  It doesn’t take much, just a slow stroll. A screened porch or mosquito tent work but can sometimes feel stuffy.  Sometimes the changing room is the only relief.  Resist the temptation to put on bugspray.  The harsh chemicals kill the mellow vibe and you’ll just sweat it off in the sauna anyway.  Even ‘all-natural’ insect repellents will sweat off in the hot room.  Also need to keep the changing room door closed, to keep the critters out between rounds.
·         Saunas and sunburns do not mix.  For all the soothing and healing properties of the sauna, a sunburn is one ailment where its powers are quite limited.  Your skin is injured and needs time to heal.  Hot, dry heat is not what it needs.  Reach for the aloe instead.
·         Late sun = late nights.  If you prefer to sauna when it is dark out, you’ll find yourself waiting until later in the evening.  One of the ‘curses’ of longer days but the best approach is to embrace it.  If your sauna has an exterior window that faces west, maybe it is the perfect setup for a sunset sauna.  Or maybe enough light comes in that the light bulb can stay off, reducing your electric bill.
·         Electric heaters don’t like summer storms.  While storm-related power outages can occur in the winter, they are often much more frequent in the summer.  A thunderstorm sauna session can be a wonderful thing but be prepared to have it cut short in the event a lighting strike takes out a transformer.  Of course, those with wood burning saunas are all but immune to this phenomenon…
·         Electric thermostat and/or temperature probes may need repositioning.  For electric heaters with ‘low’ temperature probes (i.e. not near the ceiling), it may be necessary to lower the elevation of the probe, especially if the fresh air intake is near the heater/temperature probe.  Or the thermostat may need to be turned up.  Failure to do so may result in lower hot room temps in the summer than in the winter.  But how can this be?!  Here’s how it works:  When air is drawn in from the changing room through the fresh air intake, it is drawn up and around the heater, sort of like a chimney (the same effect exists for wood-burning heaters).  The temperature probe on electric heaters is used to turn heating elements on and off, depending on the temp of the air near the probe.  In summertime, the air drawn in is warmer than in the winter.  This ‘tricks’ the temperature probe into thinking the hot room is warmer than it actually is.  This results in heating elements staying on a shorter amount of time, limiting the temp in the room.  So without adjusting the thermostat between winter and summer, the summer sauna will be cooler than the winter sauna.  Sort of backwards, huh!  The thermostat needs to be turned up.  If it is already at the max setting in the winter, it is not possible to turn it up anymore so the solution is to lower the elevation of the temp probe.  This results in the probe seeing cooler air, running the elements longer and thus making the room hotter.  If you lower the element, be sure to return it to the original position come winter.  Otherwise, the sauna will run too hot in the winter!

Obviously, different areas of the world experience different summer climates.  The above thoughts are geared toward the Upper Midwest US but many of the concepts are applicable just about anywhere. So how about you, readers?  Tips/tricks for enjoying summer sauna?

Miller's backyard sauna ready for action on a summer day.
Miller’s backyard sauna ready for action on a summer day.
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9 thoughts on “Don’t think of the sauna as just another winter tool”

  1. There is no such thing as too hot sauna, I have never experienced it!
    My normal smoke sauna temperature is 140C – summers and winters alike.
    In many cases, the air flow is missing and the sauna feels really tiring and it must not
    ever be a case, when experiencing a true finnish sauna.

  2. 140 degree C? yoowza, that’s a hot one! my sauna runs 80-85 degree C in the summer, 90-95 degree C in the winter. i usually do 15 minute rounds, can’t imagine how long i would last in a 140 degree C unit…

  3. 140 degree C. sauna: Jarmo is indeed well seasoned. All the more reason for a nICE mug between rounds, during cool down.

  4. I have a small outdoor sauna 8×8 electric heat, but it is a Harvaria and handles lots of steam.
    I am a true enthusiast and use my Sauna 2X everyday(always before bed). Winter temps are about 90c and Summer about 80c. I can last 30 minutes sometimes a little more. We used to have (friendly)contest about who could stay in the sauna longer at my local health club. I always won sometimes lasting up to 35 minutes at 195f.

  5. heippa jack,
    sauna should never be a matter of contest, but if u r really looking for that
    kind of a thrill – come to finland. i can easily organize a barrel sauna with 150-240C temperatures

    i always prefer quality to quantity, so i dont go to sauna twice a day, 3-4 times a week is good.
    one session normally lasts for 3-4 hrs. no matter what the temperature in the sauna is, the air flow is really important! in finland we usually dont even count gym saunas.

  6. Jarmo,
    Yes, I prefer quality to quantity as well, and since I am almost always by myself in my home sauna I don’t even turn my (sand) timer over, I just sit on the top bench in the corner, and blast steam every few minutes. I cannot explain my metabolism but I sweat unbelievably after 10 mins or so, it just pours out and I can do this 3 times a day. My wife doesn’t understand either, and doesn’t like the sauna. She says it burns her skin? She doesn’t know why I am not all dried out, I don’t use lotions or anything, just drink plenty of water. I am mostly Swedish decent if that has anything to do with it.

  7. Jarmo,
    Interesting temps you mention. I started enjoying saunas when I was about 16 a (generous) neighbor would run a outdoor (large) sauna every night. It was an old wood powered barrel stove converted with rocks. Many people still don’t believe me, but we would get that up to 300F. He had a rope around the top bench on a pulley, and when you pulled on the rope it released water over the stove, the burst was so intense I thought my face had melted off a few times (awe those were the days). One nice feature was there was a shower head in the corner (by the door) of the sauna, so you could rinse off before you stepped out. To top it off he a cold water pool right outside and we would go straight from that heat into the pool (no feeling like it on earth). Anyway those temps you mentioned made me think of this. I am in my 40’s now but that’s how I got started, and became obsessed with saunas ever since, and of course eventually built my own right out my back door.

  8. I bought an outdoor barrel sauna with electric heater . There is a remote temp and time control mounted outside of sauna with a copper sensor attached that runs into the sauna. It occurred to me… will sub-zero winter temps damage the sensor?

  9. I will disagree on sunburn not compatible with sauna, while I’ve not tried sauna after sunburn, I have used sauna (160-180 degrees-with water over rocks for just enough steam to tolerate) after a campfire burn. I picked up a red hot branch (did not see the burn on bottom side) and got a really painful burn. After getting home, got in sauna and for the first 3 minutes that burn was almost intolerable. About 3 minutes later however, it started to feel less painful and then pain completely went away. Rest of day that burn mark was visible but no pain. Used sauna daily after for a week and the burn was completely healed 1 week later. No blisters, no agonising pain. I’m convinced for skin recovery sauna is the way to go!

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