If you’ve been looking at saunas and considering different options, you may have heard about infrared therapy and the wonderful health benefits.
You may be asking: “What is an infrared sauna?” or: “How does an infrared sauna work?”.
In this in-depth article, we explain everything you need to know about infrared saunas before you buy. By the end, you should know all about infrared saunas, how they work, what they do and more.
What is infrared?
Before we dive into what infrared saunas are, it helps to understand infrared wavelengths and how they work.
Infrared is a safe wavelength of light (or energy) which we feel as heat.
Infrared heat is all around us. You can feel it from sources like fire and heated sand on the beach.
The largest source of infrared heat is the Sun. It is invisible infrared wavelengths that make the sun feel warm (ultraviolet wavelengths are what makes it bright).
Just as visible light has a range of wavelengths, so does infrared light. The infrared spectrum consists of near (NIR), mid (MIR), and far (FIR) infrared waves, each with distinct characteristics and frequency ranges.
Scientists have established that infrared waves are beneficial to the human body as they increase the thermal energy in the body.
What is an infrared sauna?
An infrared sauna is a wooden cabin equipped with infrared heaters designed to detoxify and heal the body.
Infrared saunas offer the same benefits of a traditional steam sauna plus much more, without the extreme heat.
Proven health benefits from infrared saunas include relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, relieving muscle and joint pain, weight loss, improved circulation, and cleaning out skin pores.
Infrared saunas are increasingly popular in the wellness community for a number of reasons including the numerous health benefits and – they just make you feel good!
Key features of an infrared sauna:
- A wood-based room or cabin
- Uses advanced infrared heaters to warm your body directly
- Far infrared heat penetrates the body and increases thermal energy
- Uses a lower temperature than traditional steam saunas
- Very effective at heating the body directly and inducing a deep sweat
- Numerous health benefits e.g. improved circulation, pain and stress relief, aids weight loss, detoxification
Infrared sauna vs steam saunas
On the surface, traditional steam saunas and infrared saunas appear similar.
But, while they both work to re-energise and relax the body – there are some key differences between the two.
The main difference between infrared saunas and traditional saunas is how they use heat.
Traditional saunas use a single heater that heats the air and that hot air heats the user.
In contrast, infrared saunas use advanced infrared heaters to warm your body directly. As your body absorbs the infrared heat, this increases thermal energy, inducing a deep and relaxing sweat.
The infrared environment is cooler than traditional saunas, allowing you to stay in the sauna longer and get more benefit from each session.
Infrared or steam sauna?
It depends on what you're looking for.
If like many people, you can’t imagine a sauna without hot rocks, steam and high heat – then a traditional sauna could be the best option for you.
However, if you find the heat of traditional saunas a bit much, and health and wellbeing are a priority for you – then you might find an infrared sauna is an ideal option. This article on traditional steam saunas vs infrared saunas explains the differences in more detail.
Regardless of the type of sauna you choose, we always recommend that you consult with your medical practitioner before buying any sauna.
How do infrared saunas work?
Unlike a traditional sauna, infrared saunas don’t heat the air around you. Instead, they use infrared heaters to warm your body directly.
These heaters use ceramic or carbon panels instead of conventional heat to emit infrared waves to easily penetrate human tissue and heat your body instead of the air.
As your body absorbs the infrared heat, this increases thermal energy, inducing a deep and relaxing sweat.
Because infrared heat waves penetrate more deeply than warmed air, you experience a more intense sweat at a lower temperature.
In fact, infrared saunas usually operate between 46 to 57 degrees while traditional saunas can get up to 85 degrees or more.
An infrared sauna takes between 10 and 15 minutes to heat up. Since far infrared saunas heat the body directly, you can get in the sauna as soon as the heaters are up to full temperature.
What infrared heat is best?
Infrared heaters can deliver near, mid, far and full spectrum infrared heat.
Near and far infrared heating elements are the most common in saunas. Full spectrum infrared heaters, as the name suggests, offer a combination of all three.
The three types of infrared heating:
- Near infrared. Near infrared (NIR) is the shortest wavelength, but it penetrates the deepest. The sun emits nearly half of its total energy in the near infrared spectrum.
- Mid infrared. A longer wavelength that can penetrate deeper into the body’s soft tissue, increasing circulation and releasing oxygen to reach injured areas.
- Far infrared. Far-infrared (FIR) is the closest of the wavelengths to the infrared heat given off by our own body. FIR resonates with your own body’s heat generation, allowing for deep heat and raising your core body temperature. Far infrared waves penetrate into our body and activate the sweat glands.
Near infrared saunas tend to promote topical healing and mild pain relief quite effectively.
Far infrared saunas are incredibly effective at removing toxins, improving circulation, and relaxing the muscles.
It’s up to you which heat source you feel will serve you best.
Is infrared safe?
Infrared heat is completely safe. In fact, it is so safe, hospitals use similar heaters to warm newborn babies.
Infrared is a part of nature and essential for life. All objects give off and receive infrared heat.
The human body gives off and receives infrared in the far infrared band. When a mother rubs a babies stomach to relieve pain, it is the infrared heat from her hand that is causing the healing effect.
What are infrared sauna benefits?
Saunas have long been used for therapeutic and relaxation purposes and have been a part of traditional medicine for many centuries.
Because of the way infrared saunas work, they’re believed to deliver greater health benefits than traditional saunas. Learn more about infrared sauna benefits.
Proven health benefits of infrared saunas:
- Relieving muscle and joint pain
- Reducing fine lines and wrinkles
How much electricity does an infrared sauna use?
The good news is that infrared saunas are very cheap to run - especially compared with traditional saunas.
On average, if you use your infrared sauna three times a week you could expect to spend around $10 a month on electricity.
In contrast, traditional steam saunas cost between $20 and $30 a month to run. An idle sauna doesn’t cost anything.
You can work out the running cost more accurately by multiplying your local cost per kilowatt-hour (noted on your electric bill) by the heater’s kilowatt rating and how much you use your sauna.
How much does an infrared sauna cost?
Infrared sauna prices vary depending on the type of sauna, quality of timber and equipment, the size of the unit and extra features.
Prices start at $2,000 for an entry-level unit and around $7,000 to $10,000 for high-quality, mid-market saunas.
For example, an entry-level sauna with ceramic heaters and hemlock timber framing might cost around $2,500.
Or you could pay $8,000+ for a Western Red Cedar infrared sauna with superior carbon fibre heaters and extra features like a sound system and Bluetooth® capability.
Traditional steam saunas are significantly more expensive than infrared saunas, largely because they need to be professionally installed.
Infrared sauna pros and cons
Pros of an infrared sauna:
- Fast heat-up time. Infrared saunas are ready to use in about 15 or 20 minutes, compared with traditional saunas which take about 30 to 40 minutes to heat up.
- Low running costs. Infrared saunas cost about half as much to run as traditional electric saunas.
- Longer sessions. Because the air temperature is lower, you can stay in an infrared sauna longer – a typical session is 30 to 40 minutes.
- Health benefits. Due to the way infrared works and the fact you can stay in longer, the health benefits are increased.
- Easy to install. A pre-built infrared sauna can be assembled and installed yourself, in around one to two hours. Once it’s set up you can usually just plug it into your household electrical socket.
- No venting. Because they are a dry heat and do not have steam, infrared saunas can be used indoors without the need for venting.
Cons of an infrared sauna:
- No humidity. This could actually be a pro or a con, depending on your preferences. For those who prefer the steamy environment of a traditional sauna a dry sauna could be a deal-breaker. However, if you prefer dry heat, then the lack of humidity is a bonus.
- Limited outdoor use. Infrared saunas and are not suited to extremely cold outdoor climates. They can be used outdoors but should be under shelter.
Should I install an infrared sauna?
An infrared sauna is an excellent choice for your home. It can add value to your property or, as most of them are portable, you can take it with you when you move.
The other beauty of a portable sauna is that they are very easy to install yourself.
It usually takes two people about one to three hours to assemble a portable or kitset sauna, depending on the size and type of sauna and if there are any extra features to install. If you’d prefer a professional installation, check with your supplier if they can provide this.
An infrared sauna can be installed almost anywhere inside your home or outside under shelter. You just need to make sure you have a flat surface (carpet, tiles, floorboards, cement etc), access to electricity, and a sheltered area.
Spare bedrooms, in the garage or outside undercover, are all popular places to put saunas.
Should I use an infrared sauna?
Infrared saunas can make a meaningful and positive difference to your overall health and wellbeing.
If you are looking to de-stress, relieve muscle and joint pain, detoxify and more; then an infrared sauna could be just what you need.
However, while many people use saunas as part of a healthy lifestyle, what’s best for you may not be what’s best for someone else.
Certain health conditions are not compatible with saunas or steam rooms.
As a rule, we always recommend consulting with your medical practitioner before buying a sauna.
With so many options to choose from, buying a sauna can be a daunting task.
The most important thing is to buy the sauna you’ll use the most.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What type of heating and temperature do you like?
- What health benefits are you seeing?
- How much do you want to pay?
- What size sauna do you need?
- How much time do you want to spend cleaning your sauna?
Once you know the answers to these questions you’ll have a much better idea of the type of sauna that will work best for you and that you will use and enjoy for many years to come!
When you’re ready, come and talk to us at Spa World. We’re passionate about health and wellness and are experts in saunas and spas, with 30+ years in the industry.
Also, check out our Sauna Buyer's Guide below! It contains everything you need to know when buying a sauna.