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Buying Guide - How to Choose the Right Sauna

Saunas have been around for thousands of years, but infrared saunas are a relatively new invention. The original infrared saunas were developed in the 1960s as an energy-efficient method to heat a sauna.

A traditional sauna, which is sometimes called a Finnish sauna, uses a regular heat source, such as a stove or fire, to heat rocks to a very high temperature. These rocks, in turn, heat the sauna itself, usually to around 180 to 195 degrees Fahrenheit.  This becomes unbearably hot and causes you to only sweat at the surface of the tissue. In a traditional sauna the average person only sweats out 3% toxins and 97% water. The new technology of Far Infrared Saunas sweats out 20% toxins and only 80% water.

An infrared sauna is a sauna that uses an infrared heating light rather than a traditional heat source in order to raise the sauna’s temperature to its desired level. Fortunately for sauna and steam room lovers, modern infrared saunas can be installed within the average home or backyard for a reasonable price.


Understanding Infrared Technology

Infrared is a part of the spectrum of light emanated by the sun and accounts for nearly half of the heat that warms the surface of the Earth. Unlike ultraviolet light rays, infrared light is completely safe for humans and animals. Infrared is not only safe, but it is even used by hospitals and veterinarians to help keep premature babies or newborn animals warm.

Differences Between Traditional Saunas and Infrared Saunas

In a traditional sauna, the hot rocks heat the air itself, and the hot air is what heats the bodies of the sauna's occupants. In an infrared sauna, the infrared light heats the body directly; the air is heated only as a side-effect. This difference is important in understanding how the experience of an infrared sauna is not the same as experiencing a traditional sauna.

For starters, an infrared sauna does not take as long to heat up and does not reach the same temperature as a traditional sauna. A traditional sauna takes 20 to 35 minutes to heat and reaches a maximum temperature of 195 degrees. An infrared sauna heats up in about half the time but only reaches temperatures of 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature difference means that users of infrared saunas do not perspire to the same degree or feel as hot as they would inside a traditional sauna.

Individuals who are accustomed to the high heat of a traditional sauna may find the infrared sauna to feel almost cool by comparison. People who like infrared saunas, however, state that infrared saunas produce heat that is far more gentle than the heat produced by a traditional sauna.

Another difference between the two types of saunas is operating expense. Because traditional saunas reach higher temperatures with traditional heat sources, they also tend to be somewhat more expensive to operate. The average infrared sauna costs 5 to 10 cents per minute to operate while the average traditional sauna costs 40 to 50 cents per minute to operate.

Far-Infrared Saunas and Near Infrared Saunas

In the process of learning about infrared saunas, shoppers may come across the term "FIR," or far-infrared rays. Most models of infrared saunas are FIR saunas. However, there are also manufacturers of near infrared saunas who claim that their saunas are superior.

Infrared light ranges from short-wavelength light, which is on the edge of the visible light spectrum, to long-wavelength light, which is completely invisible to the human eye. Short-wavelength infrared is known as "near" infrared. Long-wavelength infrared is called "far" infrared.

Both FIR saunas and near infrared saunas have their proponents and detractors. From the point of view of the sauna experience, the primary difference is that near infrared saunas do not become as hot.

Infrared as a Heating Mechanism

When it comes to providing heat for a sauna, the infrared heat is generated by a particular heating element. There are several factors to consider when it comes to choosing the most efficient and cost-effective heating element. Here’s what the infrared sauna shopper should know:

Ceramic Infrared Heaters:

These heating elements work by heating a ceramic rod or panel. That ceramic material then emits the infrared heat that warms the sauna. Ceramic infrared heaters are long-lasting and create a large quantity of infrared heat.

Carbon Fiber Infrared Heaters:

These heating elements are made from carbon fiber panels or rods. One advantage of carbon fiber heaters is that they distribute heat more evenly than a ceramic heater, albeit at a lower overall temperature. 

Rods Versus Sheets:

Infrared heaters are rated by their emissivity, or ability to produce low, middle, and far infrared rays in relation to the amount of energy they use. The heaters with the highest emissivity ratings produce the best infrared heat.

Currently, heating elements are designed either as rods or as sheets/panels. Panels typically have a higher emissivity rating than rods. The highest-ranked heaters are ceramic trough-style panels, which are ranked with an emissivity rating as high as 96 percent. Sand-filled ceramic tubes also have a high emissivity rating, hovering around 90 percent, but some sauna owners warn that poorly manufactured tubes can break down after just a few years of use. The lowest-rated elements are carbon sheets, ranked only at 5 to 10 percent emissivity.

Wavelength of the Infrared Light:

Low surface temperatures of the heating element lead to a longer wave; longer waves make for better saunas. Some manufacturers use infrared wavelength as a selling point for their saunas. Unfortunately, there are many deceptive claims about wavelengths made by manufacturers. For example, a claim that a peak wavelength reached by the sauna is 9.7 microns would mean that the surface temperature of the heating element is barely higher than the temperature of the human body. Given that super-heated ceramic or carbon fiber is much hotter than the temperature of the human body, buyers should be suspicious of manufacturers making such claims. A reasonably high wavelength would be around 6.85 microns.

Wood Used for Infrared Saunas

Besides the heating element, another important consideration when choosing an infrared sauna is the type of wood used in the construction of the sauna. Traditionally, saunas have been built with cedar wood or a similar high-quality wood. Cedar produces a natural oil that protects it from both insects and deterioration.

Not all cedar wood is the same. Many sauna builders claim that they will only use Western Canadian Cedar, stating that this variety is the highest quality of cedar wood available. Sauna lovers who are concerned about the environment might also like to check if the cedar wood used in the sauna that they purchase has been harvested in a sustainable manner. Some sauna sellers tout their "green cedar," referring not to the color or age of the cedar wood but to its sustainable harvest.

Today, it’s possible to get infrared saunas made from materials other than cedar such as hemlock and white aspen.

Toxins In Cheap Saunas

Another concern bargain hunters should keep in mind is the potential for toxins to be released when the glues used in the saunas are heated to high temperatures. When these glues become super-heated, they can emit foul, potentially harmful fumes. For these reasons, it is wise to invest a little bit more money to buy an infrared sauna constructed from cedar wood from a reputable dealer than an especially inexpensive sauna from a less experienced sauna maker.

Conclusion

Infrared saunas are a great way to improve health by using the dry heat to detoxify, de-stress, lose weight and reduce arthritic aches, pains and high blood pressure.

Visiting the sauna at the gym is a great way to enjoy all these health benefits, but owning a personal sauna at home is even more convenient.