Infrared Sauna vs Regular Sauna – What’s the Difference?

Traditional saunas have been around for centuries. Not only are they recommended by medical professionals as a way to rejuvenate your body by “sweating it out,” but they are a key feature of most gyms.

And while millions of people swear by them, many of us simply can’t tolerate the extreme temperature of a “regular” sauna.  You may not know that there is an alternative to the traditional sauna that allows you to breathe normally, still be cozy and warm, and slowly makes you sweat like a marathon runner.

While infrared technology is not exactly new, infrared saunas have been reintroduced to the market in recent years as a modern spin on a more traditional sauna experience. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between an infrared sauna and a European style sauna.

What is a Traditional Sauna?

Traditional saunas have been around since 2000 BC and originated in Finland. The word “sauna” is a Finnish word referring to the traditional bath or bathhouse. And you better pronounce it like “SOW-naa” if you’re in earshot of a Fin. Otherwise they’ll introduce themselves and correct you. Saunas are so popular in Finland that this Northern European country’s estimated three million saunas outnumber its cars.

While the first Finnish saunas were man-made caves draped with animal skins with a fire burning beneath a pile of rocks, they have significantly progressed. Wood-fired saunas and then electric saunas became popular in North America in the mid-twentieth century and are now available in every corner of the world, largely thanks to the Fins!

Many Finnish-style saunas today use conventional electric heating. With conventional electric heating, the air in the sauna is heated to anywhere from 170°F to 200°F, super-heating your lungs and quickly raising your core body temperature. This results in the average person sweating out a pint of sweat or more during a short sauna session, if they can tolerate the heat long enough to stay inside.

What is an Infrared Sauna?

A picture of a custom 3 person infrared sauna. Handcrafted by SaunaRay

While the goal of an infrared sauna is also to encourage your body to sweat, it does so more gently than a traditional sauna. You can breathe normally and easily sit inside for 20-30 minutes.  An infrared sauna may appear like a traditional sauna, but how it works to heat your body is entirely different.

The first far infrared sauna was designed in Japan in 1965. Japanese patients were the only ones to benefit from this new technology until the late 1970s, when full spectrum infrared saunas became available to the North American public.

An infrared sauna contains infrared heaters that emit “heat-waves” to warm your body gently but powerfully from the outside.  This results in a much gentler experience for the person trying to breathe inside the sauna.

What’s the Difference Between a Regular Sauna and an Infrared Sauna?

Two people enjoying the SaunaRay far infrared two-person sauna

Now that we’ve given you a basic rundown of an infrared sauna vs regular sauna, how do you know for certain which is right for you? Let’s look at more critical differences between these two types of sauna therapy to help better understand which can meet your needs.

Energy Requirements

The energy requirements of an infrared sauna vs a traditional steam sauna are drastically different, with a traditional sauna using significantly, maybe even ten times more energy than an infrared sauna.

A traditional sauna needs to heat water to a boiling point before the session can even begin. The electricity costs of keeping a sauna room at 170-200F are significant.

The running cost of an infrared sauna session is very low in comparison, as it only requires enough electricity to run its heating elements. On average, an infrared sauna will add only $5/month to the home electricity bill. and a traditional home sauna might add $100-$300 for the same amount of usage.

Heat Levels

Traditional and infrared saunas require very different levels of heat. The traditional sauna is designed to overheat your lungs so it must be higher than your core temperature of 37C (98.6F).  Infrared saunas can effectively operate below core body temperature. You can enter at 80F and leave when it hits 100-110F. You will breathe normally but sweat profusely.

While a traditional sauna reaches levels of 185°F or higher to achieve its desired result, an infrared sauna only needs to hit 110°F. While neither option may be desirable for those sensitive to heat, an infrared sauna is the better option for those who cannot take the high humidity of a sauna. For the heat sensitive, it can be used entirely beneath the 37C (98.6F) threshold but it takes longer to sweat.


As you may have been able to guess, traditional saunas contain a significantly higher humidity level than infrared saunas. Infrared saunas have zero. While you don’t get that “zing” on your skin from the steam, the advantage is that there is never a mold concern in the home from an infrared sauna.

While an infrared sauna is known for its many benefits, it focuses on detoxifying through sweating and not steam. While some swear by steam as part of their sauna experience, others far prefer the benefits of infrared heating because it promotes a detoxifying sweat.

Methods of Heating

Perhaps the most significant difference between these two types of saunas is their heating methods. Infrared saunas use radiant energy to gently heat your skin, while traditional saunas super-heat the air to burn your lungs and raise the body’s temperature.

Those who are unfamiliar with infrared technology are quick to assume that infrared radiation is not safe. This is primarily caused by the negative connotation attached to the word “radiation.” SaunaRay saunas have the lowest EMF (electromagnetic frequency) of any sauna in the world, with an electrical leakage of only 0.2 milliGauss. SaunaRay saunas are also entirely safe for those with electrical sensitivities. 

While infrared heating is considered incredibly low risk, some wish to stick to what they know and enjoy the benefits of a regular sauna versus an infrared model, if they can stand the high heat of the traditional sauna.

Which is Better: The Infrared Sauna or the Regular Sauna?

While the infrared sauna and the regular sauna offer a wide range of benefits, we recommend the infrared sauna for everyday use. It’s more comfortable to breathe, and doesn’t stress your cardiac system. While the traditional Finnish sauna will never go out of style, an infrared sauna is the better choice for the modern household.

With a reduced carbon footprint and the ability to heat your body without creating unnecessary stress on your body, an infrared sauna is the way of the future. Contact us today to chat about our far infrared saunas or have us create a custom sauna, especially for you!