What to know about infrared sauna heaters (Heating options, safety and more)

Infrared saunas are increasingly popular in the wellness community for a number of reasons including the numerous health benefits, and they make you feel good! This article looks at the most important feature of any infrared sauna – its heaters.

What to know about infrared sauna heaters

If you decide to go with an infrared sauna, then the next step is deciding on the heating.

The five main considerations for infrared heating are:

  1. Type of infrared heat you want
  2. Heater material used to emit the infrared heat
  3. Heater safety
  4. Surface temperature
  5. Placement of the heaters in the sauna

Keep reading to learn more about what to look for in a quality infrared sauna heater.

Disclaimer: 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.

What is infrared?

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, heated sand on the beach, and the sun (without the harmful ultraviolet waves that the sun gives off).

Just as visible light has a range of wavelengths (running from red to violet), 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.

What is an infrared sauna

Typically, an infrared sauna is a wooden cabin equipped with infrared heaters or panels, designed to detoxify and heal the body.

Infrared saunas offer similar benefits to a traditional steam sauna, without the extreme heat. Learn more about infrared saunas, how they work and their benefits in this detailed article.

How do infrared heaters work in a sauna?

At the heart of any infrared sauna is its heater. Infrared saunas have carbon or ceramic panels that generate infrared heat.

This infrared heat can easily penetrate human tissue, heating your body before the air.

The infrared heat waves penetrate more deeply than warmed air, allowing you to experience a more intense sweat at a lower temperature.

Infrared saunas usually operate between 46 to 57 degrees while traditional saunas can get up to 85 degrees.

What type of infrared heat is best in a sauna?

Infrared heaters can deliver near, mid, far and full spectrum infrared heat. Near and far infrared heating elements are the most common. 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 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. Far infrared waves penetrate into our body and activate the sweat glands. FIR resonates with your own body’s heat generation, raising your body's core temperature and allowing for deep heat.

While near- and mid-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.

Top tip: For optimal healing benefits, choose a sauna with a heater that has a lower surface area temperature – this allows for a more precise wavelength consistently throughout your sauna session. As a result, you can make the most of your time in the sauna by giving you maximum benefits, including raised core body temperature.

What is EMF in an infrared sauna?

When purchasing an infrared sauna, it is important to consider the Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) and Electric Fields (ELF).

EMF are energy waves with frequencies below 300 hertz or cycles per second. Magnetic fields are present whenever an appliance is using an electrical current. ELF refers to a range of frequencies that include the electric power grid's frequency.

Although the current scientific evidence provides no definitive answers regarding EMF, there is enough uncertainty that some people want to reduce their exposure to EMF. Learn more about infrared sauna safety.

To reduce your exposure and minimise potential harm, it is important to choose a low EMF infrared sauna.

Look for infrared saunas with undetectable or extremely low EMF and low ELF. The best quality saunas have EMF levels below 3 milligauss and ELF of 200mV or lower. As a guide, these levels would be a good place to start. Check to make sure your sauna has third-party tested results on its EMF levels.

Ceramic vs carbon fibre infrared sauna heaters

The two most common materials used in far infrared sauna heaters are ceramic and carbon.

Ceramic is a very efficient, effective material when heated to produce infrared heat. It also has a very high emissivity rating, meaning it produces a lot of infrared heat. The drawback to ceramic heaters is that they tend to produce a shorter infrared wavelength which are not as readily absorbed by the human body so are less therapeutic.

Carbon fibre elements, on the other hand, are more efficient and have a low EMF.

Carbon heaters operate at lower temperatures due to the heating wavelength of infrared technology.

Lower temperatures and longer wavelength infrared rays allow bathers to tolerate longer therapy sessions. Carbon fibre heaters have a more even distribution of heat and infrared heat from carbon fibre heaters penetrates deeper into the skin tissue which allows the body to absorb more energy, meaning you experience a more intense sweat.

Which heater material is best – carbon or ceramic infrared heaters?

As mentioned above, infrared saunas have carbon or ceramic panels that generate infrared heat.

Of the two, carbon heaters are the superior option. They are the more expensive option but are also thin, light, provide an even and safe surface temperature and can last up to 50 years.

Carbon heaters distribute heat evenly throughout the sauna, heat up quickly (in about 10 minutes), and operate at low temperatures (46 to 57 degrees).

Infrared sauna heater placement

When considering heating, you want an even, consistent heat that radiates from all areas of the sauna. For this reason, make sure your infrared sauna has heaters all around you.

Ideally, you want heaters on the back wall, side walls, under the bench, by your calves and on the floor – so you are surrounded by infrared heat. Learn more about what to look for in an infrared sauna.

Top 5 things to consider with infrared heating

Read the checklist below before you shop so you can be sure of buying a sauna with heaters that are safe, effective and built to last.

The main considerations for infrared heating are:

  1. Type of infrared heat. Infrared heaters can deliver near, mid, far and full spectrum infrared heat. Near and far-infrared heating elements are the most common.
  2. Infrared heater material: Ceramic and carbon are the two most common materials used in infrared heaters. Of the two, carbon heaters are the superior option. They’re more expensive but are also thin, light, provide an even and safe surface temperature and can last up to 50 years.
  3. Heater safety. Look for infrared saunas with undetectable or extremely low Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) and low Electric Fields (ELF). Check your sauna has third-party tested results on its EMF levels. Learn more here.
  4. Surface temperature. For optimal healing benefits, find a sauna with a heater that has a lower surface area temperature – this allows for a more precise wavelength consistently throughout your sauna session. As a result, you can make the most of your time in the sauna by giving you maximum benefits, including raised core body temperature.
  5. Placement of heaters. Make sure your infrared sauna has heaters all around you. Ideally, you want heaters on the back wall, side walls, under the bench, by your calves and on the floor – so you are surrounded by infrared heat.

In summary

Once you’ve decided on the type of sauna, heater material and infrared heat you want - the next step is to start shopping around.

See our full range of saunas on our website and of course, you’re welcome to visit us at your local spa world showroom and try out one of our saunas for yourself. If you can’t make it to a store, no worries, book a virtual sauna consultation with one of our experts.

For more information about infrared saunas, what to look at and what to avoid - download our comprehensive Sauna Buyer’s Guide below. It’s got everything you need to know about saunas to help you make the best decision for you.

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