How Do Saunas Work & How to Use a Sauna? Insights & Tips

Heather Campbell
 min read

How do saunas work? It’s really nothing more than physics and common sense.

How do saunas work & how to use a sauna? Insights & tipsThe mechanism behind a sauna is simple: The generation of heat followed by its distribution in the sauna.

There are various types of saunas on the market, but the science behind it is all the same. Heat up a room to a preset temperature in conjunction with the desired humidity levels. The woods chosen will reflect their use, with one type of wood for the wall and another for seating purposes.

While it isn’t exactly groundbreaking technology, saunas and their use have evolved to high levels of technology without losing any of their authenticity, and it is really quite easy to understand how to use them as long as you know the basics.

Read on to learn exactly what it’s all about.

How do saunas work? Introduction

Let’s make the distinction between a wood-fired sauna and an electric sauna.

In the first case, a wood-burning stove will generate the heat in the cabin.

In the second case, it is an electrically controlled oven that provides the heat.

So, first of all, you need a heat-generating source for a functioning sauna which can be a wood-fired or electric furnace.

Step two is the diffusion of that generated heat into the cabin. The heat generated by the stove or oven gradually spreads throughout the sauna room, allowing you to sweat and expel toxins from your skin pores.

The hottest air rises to the top. This is why it is always warmest on the upper sauna benches. 🥵 The lower you stay to the ground, the lower the ambient temperature inside the cabin.

Tip: Read our other article and get to know whether saunas really help you lose weight.

Materials used in a sauna

Wood for sauna walls

The interior walls of a sauna are made of wood. The heat generated is absorbed by these wooden sides. And then also gradually released by the walls.

This is why a sauna interior consists mainly of wood, which also creates a pleasant sauna climate.

If a sauna consisted only of glass walls, you’d miss out on a nice, warm feeling in the sauna room.

When choosing the type of wood for sauna walls, people often recommend Canadian Hemlock. This type of wood can create a perfect sauna climate.

Salt blocks for sauna walls

While wood is traditional for sauna walls, a salt therapy sauna uses salt blocks or salt panels for walls.

Salt therapy is also known as halotherapy, but is not very widespread. However, we’ve included it here to illustrate that wood is not the only possible material for a sauna room.

Wood for sofas, backrests and headrests

For sauna benches, on the other hand, it is best to choose a type of wood that heats up less or not at all. After all, you don’t want to burn yourself when you take a seat on a sauna bench.

If you’ve ever been in a sauna with sizzling hot benches and backrests, you know perfectly well what we’re talking about.

For sauna benches, Abachi wood is often recommended. This type of wood heats up minimally in hot temperatures and thus lends itself perfectly to the construction of a sauna bench, a sauna backrest, a sauna headboard, etc.

The furnace will generate heat until one or more sensors, installed in the sauna’s interior, relay to the control box that the desired temperature has been reached.

Then the furnace will shift down a gear and thus produce less or even no heat.

Does the temperature fall below the set point entered on the control panel, due to the inactive furnace and the sporadic opening of the door by people coming in and out?

No, because the furnace turns back on, so the desired ambient temperature is stabilized in the cabin at all times.

How does the operation of a sauna work?

You have had a sauna installed at your home. But how on earth does this thing work?!

Take a moment to read the manual and take the time to go through it fully.

Can’t find the manual? Then you can contact the supplier of the sauna by phone or email, or of course, google it. 🔍

Don’t feel like reading the manual or have a specific question about the operation? Then, of course, you can simply submit them to the sauna supplier by email or phone.

The most important control functions of a sauna 🎛

Every sauna is different. There are several types and numerous manufacturers so it is impossible to go into detail.

You generally have a very simple operation with only a few knobs.

And the newer models come with a touchscreen control panel with countless functionalities.

Some features are found on just about every electric sauna control.

The first function is the power button to switch the sauna on or off.

The second setting is the temperature. In simple saunas, you can raise or lower it using a dial.

In the more advanced saunas, you can enter a temperature value. The sauna oven will heat the cabin until this value is reached.

For example, suppose you choose a temperature of 194 degrees Fahrenheit. In that case, the sauna furnace will generate and distribute heat until the temperature sensor indicates that it is 194 degrees Fahrenheit in the sauna room. 🌡

A third functionality you’ll often find is the humidity setting. You can set a humidity level say, of 30%.

Beware: If you choose a higher humidity, the maximum set temperature will drop immediately. It is usually not possible to set both high humidity and temperature. This would feel very uncomfortable.

Finally, many saunas allow you to use the control panel to turn the lights on and off and/or play music.

With certain sauna models, there are sometimes sauna programs preset. You then choose a Finnish sauna program, for example, and the temperature will automatically be set to 203 degrees Fahrenheit (and the humidity is 0).

If you choose a tropical program, the temperature is only 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but the humidity is, say, 40%. So you imagine yourself in a tropical environment with such a program.

You can also control a sauna with your smartphone 📱

Certain sauna manufacturers build saunas that can be activated remotely.

Suppose you are on your way home from work and ideally your sauna should be up to temperature by the time you get home.

Then you can very easily use an app on your smartphone to set your sauna (temperature, duration, etc.) so that it is perfectly warmed up by the time you get home. That way you won’t lose any time at all!

Did you know that for safety reasons, when using an app, a sensor is built in to check that the sauna door is closed when you start the heating process.

How do saunas work? Conclusion

It’s not quite rocket science trying to understand how saunas work, but a good deal of thought comes into understanding how a sauna works and hence, how to use it.

In any case, saunas are meant to be relaxing and good for your health, so don’t hesitate too much and just try one out!

Related: You may also be interested in our other article about the pros and cons of sauna use.

About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More