The term “sauna” gets thrown around differently, and with different meanings.
A dry sauna is a traditional Finnish sauna. A wood lined hot room with a stove, usually wood fired in rural areas or at lake cabins and cottages. Generally, a dry sauna gets its name because there is no running water in a dry sauna. With traditional Finnish saunas, rinse off’s are typically strictly an outside affair. This is usually where magic happens: cooling down with a lake plunge or outdoor backyard shower or similar cold plunge. Where dry sauna becomes a misnomer is in health clubs or hotels, where there are rules and regulations like “don’t toss water on sauna rocks!, this is a dry sauna!” But here’s the rub. All decent sauna stoves are meant to take water on the rocks. And water for a dry sauna is most often obtained by a simple sauna water bucket that sits down on the floor, where it’s cooler. Telling a sauna bather not to toss water on sauna rocks is like telling a swimmer they can do laps, but they’re not allowed to get wet.
A wet sauna is best described while sitting on the bench in a Russian Banya. Russian Banyas have ice cold water spigots strategically located down low – and with plastic handles – so the user can fill up a plastic bucket and dump it over their head while sweating their ass off inside the hot room. The floor of a wet sauna is typically tiled, with a drain in the center so as to capture the run off. Like a dry sauna, the walls are typically wood paneled. The benches, typically soft wood like cedar. An example of an awesome wet sauna is Red Square in Chicago, Archimedes Banya in San Francisco, or Chicago Sweatlodge. Jim turned his Upstate New York shed into a Russian style wet sauna, and you can read about it here.
A steam sauna is a steam room. A steam sauna is also called a Turkish Bath. A steam sauna is not a sauna. A steam sauna is a steam room.
While we’re at it, Infrared is not a sauna. Infrared is a light bulb closet.
As the Rolling Stones figured out, a sauna is all about Hot Rocks. You Can’t Always Get What You Want, but now you can tell people that the answer to the question: what is a sauna? is right “Under My Thumb.”