Infrared vs. Traditional Sauna – The Differences – Pro & Cons Pictures

The benefits of sweating and relaxing in a hot wooden room have been known for centuries, and the Finnish surely took advantage of them every time they got the occasion. Nevertheless, it took some time until this method became a trend in warmer countries, but once discovered, saunas invaded gyms, SPAs, and health centers.

Some people even started installing or building them at home, either for pure pleasure or for their proven action against stress and pain, which, according to a study that has analyzed the effects of moderate heat upon people suffering from depression or chronic pain, get milder in time and can even be reduced completely. Often, specialists recommend this therapy method for treating old injuries or fibromyalgia, and most users confess that it has completely turned their lives.

However, when it comes to picking the type of sauna, the opinions are divided. Some people will swear that you can only get the true sauna experience in a traditional unit while others will praise the comfort of an infrared model which allows you to sweat without having to face the effects of extremely dry air. This is why we have decided to get to the bottom of this dilemma. This article is focused on the differences between the two types and will provide you with all the information you need to make a good decision, so stay with us as we explore the good and bad sides of each technology.

Infrared Sauna – Advantages and Disadvantages

The main difference between a conventional and an infrared unit is the way it generates heat. This type comes with a special heating element that usually uses a ceramic plate to disperse infrared radiation around the wooden room. This method doesn’t require the room to get hot, although the temperature increases to a certain point. The trick here is that the waves can penetrate the skin, making the body to heat up from the inside and start sweating.

Why Should You Pick this Type?

  • It is more suitable for beginners – The first thing you need to consider before going for a sweating session is if you can stand the heat. These rooms can reach super high temperatures, and some of them will make the air dry and hard to breathe. But if you can choose between a conventional and an FIR model, the second choice is usually milder with beginners, as the temperatures are noticeable lower.
  • It is more convenient – Compared with a wood-burning model, which would require you to make a wood stash, carry them to the heater, and light the fire every time you want to enjoy the heat, this type is truly comfortable. You’ll only need to plug it in and wait a few minutes until the temperature increases.
  • It is considered more efficient against pain – The waves penetrate the skin, hitting the sore muscles. Thus, the discomfort is triggered from the beginning, and the action against it is continuous. At the end of the session, most patients experience relief and feel more energetic.
  • It is easier to maintain – There’s no wood burning inside, so you don’t have to deal with ashes. Moreover, it doesn’t require the use of stones and water, so the humidity stays within normal limits, preventing the emergence of mold.

What Are the Disadvantages?

  • Most infrared models can only accommodate one or two persons – They are smaller than conventional models, so if you are looking for a model to welcome the entire family, you may not find one. Or it may be more expensive than you would expect.
  • They aren’t recommended for people suffering from low blood pressure – While other users can take advantage of their benefits upon blood circulation, those with low blood pressure may experience dizziness and even fainting, as the heat speeds up blood circulation.

Traditional Sauna – Advantages and Disadvantages

Some users like the “sterile” environment offered by an infrared unit while others are just mad about the smell of wood burning, and we must agree the second option seems extremely tempting. Conventional saunas have a different principle of functioning, namely, they use a heating source, which can be fueled either by electricity, gas, wood, or even pellets, to heat up the entire wooden room. Afterward, the heat inside interacts with the user’s body, increasing its temperature and activating sweat. In many cases, the heating source acts upon rocks, heating them, and it isn’t uncommon for the users to pour water on them to create vapors and make the air moister.

Why Should You Pick this Type?

  • It creates a more relaxing atmosphere – The wood-burning models are spectacular, especially if you choose to install them outdoors. Imagine sweating inside a wood chamber in the middle of the snow. This is how the Finnish do it, and they surely have nothing to complain about.
  • It allows you to control both temperature and humidity – You can adjust the temperature in an infrared model but there are no rocks on which you can pour water. On the other hand, in this case, you can just throw a ladle of water every time you feel that the atmosphere is becoming too dry to bear.
  • There’s more sweating – The temperatures are usually higher, and you will end up eliminating more sweat than in the case of an infrared model. This is why these models are the most suitable if you are trying to lose weight or deal with water retention.
  • It offers more space – These units are generous and you will find plenty of space to stretch out your limbs. They are the best choice if you are looking to turn your chamber into a socialization room. Plus, the atmosphere is just perfect for this purpose. Good stories are better told in a room with a fire burning. Finnish people sometimes even use the heater to cook some sausages and enjoy them in the sauna.

What Are the Disadvantages?

  • It takes longer for it to heat up – In this case, the room needs to become hot first for you to experience the effects. The time between turning on the heating and being able to enjoy the heat can reach up to 45 minutes, depending on the place you’ve set up the room. If it is inside, it can be ready in about half an hour, but if you are trying to heat an outdoor unit, it may take some time, especially in days when the temperature is low.
  • It can be more difficult to clean – Pouring water on the rocks can raise the humidity to over 80%, favoring the growth of mold and bacteria. Thus, you will need to pay attention when cleaning the wood and make sure to thoroughly vent the room after each use.

Main Differences between Infrared and Traditional Saunas

We’ve explored the benefits and drawbacks of each type of sauna, but the best way you can see the differences between them is through an analysis of their key points.

Heating Time

In all cases, an FIR sauna will be ready to use faster than a conventional model, especially if you decide not to leave it to heat up at all. The opinions are divided here, with some users claiming that it is a waste of time and electrical energy to let the sauna run for 15 minutes before entering it, as the infrared waves should act upon a body and not the walls, while others will insist that only a well pre-heated room can offer full benefits. Nevertheless, even if you pick one side or the other, an infrared model will be ready faster than a traditional one, which needs 30 to 45 minutes to get hot.


A typical traditional model will reach a maximum temperature of around 185 to 194 degrees Fahrenheit, although the thermometer could measure even more if the regulations wouldn’t impose a limit. Raising the temperature in the room is their way to make you sweat, so, at a certain point, things could get a bit uncomfortable, especially if you are a beginner.

FIR units, on the other hand, don’t need to heat things around, so they will increase the temperature to a maximum of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes them easier to bear, and most users appreciate the fact that they can get the same effects as in a conventional model but with less discomfort.


If you are more of the chatty type and appreciate the time spent with your family and friends, then a conventional model is the one for you. The generous space it offers stimulates conversations. Plus, it is all about the atmosphere. While FIR models can be nice places to socialize, their reduced dimensions and special construction, necessary for the waves to spread evenly, make them less comfortable. Plus, if you share these units, you may get less exposure to the IR waves and, thus, sweat less.


Now that we have explored the differences, is there one type better than the other? There’s no straight answer to this question, as, when it comes to saunas, it is all about taste. Some people prefer the convenience of an infrared model, while others are not bothered at all of having to light a fire and keep it fueled, as they consider this experience better. On the other hand, the purpose can be a criterion in this situation, as IR models are more often used in medical centers for their ability to target the pain, so if you are dealing with an old injury, you may want to explore more in this direction.