A close-up shot of a SaunaRay infrared sauna bench and heater

How Do Infrared Heaters Work?

Infrared radiation is a bit of a mystery to some people, but it’s a simple form of radiated heat that has a myriad of benefits you may not expect. Keep reading to learn about how infrared heaters work and why infrared saunas can be such an incredible asset to your health.

What Are Infrared Heaters?

Medical Grade infrared sauna heaters are simply heating coils cast in ceramic molds. When the coil is energized, the ceramic heats up and emits energy in the infrared spectrum. These filaments heat bodies and objects nearby. The elements operate by converting electricity into radiant heat. They work on the principle of energy conversion.

A ceramic infrared heater employs a high content of elemental silica, which is basically beach sand. That’s why ceramic heated saunas feel like no other. It feels like you’re at the beach.

An easy way to think about it is that an infrared heater works just like the sun, emitting warmth from its radiant energy. It’s also the same kind of heat that comes off human bodies, and beach sand!

Technically, this infrared energy is a form of light, but it’s beyond the light spectrum visible to humans.  Not only can this kind of radiation help you keep warm in the winter, but it can work to excrete tiny unwanted particles from your body and help you to detox.

Infrared Heat in Saunas

Infrared heat in saunas is fascinating because infrared heat transfers the warm energy directly to the nearest bodies. So, the warm air in the sauna may not necessarily feel hot, but after a few minutes the person inside the sauna will feel hot, and eventually quite sweaty.

The far infrared radiation used in high-quality saunas is the most natural form of radiation for our bodies. Infrared heat in saunas typically reaches temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit up to 115 degrees.

Types of Saunas

A woman sitting inside a a well lit commercial infrared sauna

This section will distinguish between the different types of saunas one can use. While there are many incredible saunas, the benefits of infrared heating in saunas are unmatched.

Steam Sauna

A steam sauna, also called a Finnish sauna, is the traditional type that most are familiar with. These saunas are heated with burning wood by using either a stove or chimney. The burning wood turns water into steam, which fills the sauna. This type of sauna dates back thousands of years and is prominent in Finnish culture.

These saunas have many benefits, including improved blood flow, boosted metabolism, and reducing stress. The principle behind these is that sweating helps your body rid itself of unwanted toxins more easily and efficiently. However many people find them too hot to breathe in. That’s why infrared saunas and their lower temperatures have become so popular. They have revolutionized the sauna industry.

Dry Sauna

Dry saunas operate similarly to traditional steam saunas, but they don’t heat water and turn it into steam. Instead, they burn wood in a chimney or stove that heats the sauna from the inside, causing intense heat without excessive humidity.

Both dry and steam saunas are lined with wood, often cedar, which resists mold from the steam with its natural antifungal oils. That’s what creates that strong aroma. It’s distinctive, but many people are quite sensitive, even allergic to fresh cedar wood..

Dry saunas are best known for offering a relaxing environment that relieves tension in your muscles and your mind. However this type of sauna is often even hotter than the steam sauna and difficult to endure on a regular basis.

Turkish Bath

Despite the name, a Turkish bath is a kind of steam sauna. It focuses on water and humidity as well as heat. Turkish baths operate at lower temperatures but have very high humidity levels, which makes users feel hot on the skin surface.

Like all saunas, Turkish baths are a relaxing experience, intended to relieve the stress of both the body and mind.

Infrared Sauna

Saving the best for last, infrared saunas lay out the welcome mat for people who cannot tolerate those 150-180F temperatures. Which is almost everyone!  It’s a challenge to breathe inside one of those, and infrared saunas allow you all the same benefits while breathing comfortably at 80-115F.  

So, how does infrared heating work? An infrared sauna is generally a classic-looking wooden “cabin” but includes a heating system in the form of gentle ceramic heating plates that emit infrared radiant heat. This type of sauna generally does not operate at as high a temperature as more traditional saunas, often reaching a maximum of just 130F.

Infrared heating plates are able to penetrate the heat about two inches below the skin’s surface, causing your sweat glands to activate before it gets too hot to breathe. It’s more like being in a greenhouse, than in a volcano!

Bottom Line

Infrared heaters are the most efficient way to heat the human body. They have been used in baby incubators, and garage work benches for decades because they directly heat the person safely. When you put the right number of them inside a small wooden cabin you get a magical result:  A portable infrared sauna that can sit on any floor surface and plug into any outlet, just like tv set.

 If you want to learn more about far infrared saunas and how you can start using one in your own home, check out our wonderful saunas!


Want to know more? Below are more commonly asked questions about infrared heaters and radiation.

Is infrared heating dangerous?

No, contrary to what some people may think, radiant heating is not harmful at all. As discussed, it can be extremely beneficial to the human body! Some just have a negative association with the word radiation itself.

Can you see infrared radiation?

No, infrared light falls on the electromagnetic spectrum outside of what is visible to us. “Infra” red means “below” red. That means humans cannot detect it with the naked eye.