INFRARED VS. TRADITIONAL
First, let us look at the similarities of the rooms and the shared benefits. The goal of sauna bathing varies by person, but let’s assume your general goal is to enjoy the benefits of heat bathing: relaxation and stress reduction, sweating (with the associated detoxification) and relieving aches and pains. Both sauna types provide these benefits, although the conditions under which the benefits are achieved are quite different.
While perspiring in either sauna, you will experience deep relaxation, sore muscles are loosened, and aching joints will likely feel relief. The process of perspiration burns some calories, though the amount of calories burned is debatable and is dependent upon the individual. Most of the weight lost in a sauna is water loss and is re-gained upon rehydrating. However, without a doubt sauna can be an important part of a healthy weight loss program.
The temperature for a far-infrared sauna is usually set between 120 and 140º F; however, unlike the traditional sauna, the goal in and IR room is not to achieve a high temperature. Instead, in a far-infrared room, the bather wants the emitters to remain active because infrared energy is only being emitted (therefore providing the benefit of the deep penetrating infrared heat) when the emitters are on. Because of this, the temperature difference is almost irrelevant, since profuse sweating results in both sauna types, but the method of heating the body is different. In an IR sauna the bather will feel hot and will sweat profusely, but at lower temperatures. Thus, if the goal is to spend longer periods of time in the sauna, the IR sauna is an excellent choice.
In a far-infrared sauna, the heat waves penetrate the body to effectively heat the body and raise the body’s core temperature. To achieve this increased temperature, Far-infrared emitters create infrared energy which is close to the same wavelength as that which the body naturally emits—often referred to as the "Vital Range” of 7 to 14 microns), so the energy is well received by the body. The infrared energy deeply penetrates the skin and warms the muscles and joints. When the energy enters the body, it causes the body temperature to increase and ultimately results in perspiration. In an infrared sauna it’s important for the emitters/heaters to remain on almost constantly. Since there is no mass of rocks to retain heat, the sauna will cool if the emitters shut off. Thus, even though most of the energy is turned into efficient infrared energy, IR saunas are designed for almost continuous operation of the infrared emitters. As mentioned above, the sauna bather in an infrared room wants to position himself in front of operating emitters to get maximum benefit from the heat.
For a Far-Infrared room, a person may begin bathing when the room is turned on, since the infrared energy is being emitted by the heaters; however, many bathers would prefer to wait until the room is 110º F or hotter. There are two schools of thought with how to use the room. To some, 15 minutes was "wasted” while the infrared energy heated the wood panels rather than heating a body, while others find a pre-heated room to be more comfortable and believe an elevated starting temperature is necessary to begin perspiring.
Due to the lower air temperatures and the ability to feel the effects of infrared heat faster than a traditional sauna, it is not uncommon for a person to spend a total of 40 minutes or more in an infrared sauna. There are many medical practitioners, especially in Canada, who prescribe 30-minute infrared sauna sessions for their patients. The bather must closely monitor how he/she feels while using the room, and he must be sure to drink plenty of water during the break between sessions.
From an economic and ecologic standpoint, energy use has become a more important factor in consumers’ decision making. Neither room will cause a substantial increase in a household electric bill, but I will compare one of the most common traditional sauna sizes to one of the most common infrared sauna sizes. Traditional saunas tend to be larger (hence use more electricity) than infrared saunas, although traditional saunas are certainly available in one and two person sizes as well.
A two person far-infrared room is usually physically smaller than a traditional sauna, often about 4’ x 4’ or smaller. The IR heating system is typically 1.5-1.7 kW using a 120 volt 15 amp plug-in service. Since the room can be used sooner than a sauna room, we will assume the room is used for ½ to ¾ of an hour including heat up time. At $0.07 / kWH, a two person infrared room will cost $0.14 to run for 1 hour, but because the IR sauna most likely not on for a full hour, realistically the room will cost about $.10 per use.
Finally, there is a seldom discussed difference in the social experience between the two rooms. While our culture has lost some of the social benefit of the traditional sauna experience, it can be very socially rewarding. From family time in the sauna, to heart-felt conversations with significant others, to sauna parties—the traditional sauna experience can lead to intimate socializing. Traditional saunas are typically large enough to allow multiple people to enjoy the sauna for social time.
While it is possible to converse in an infrared room, due to the smaller room sizes and room design the typical experience of the infrared room is often more of a private escape. Most higher end infrared rooms include colored light therapy, AM/FM/CD/MP3 radios. The size of most rooms allow for 2 people to comfortably use the room, while some designs may allow for a 3rd or 4th person to use the room. Custom infrared rooms are available to be built into any space in your home!
When you research your purchase, carefully read relevant information; consider for yourself how you plan to use your sauna and what health benefits seems relevant. Carefully sort out claims by some manufacturers of superior health or safety benefits. The truth is, both types of saunas have the benefits of heat bathing. Your goal is to find a sauna that fits your wellness plan, your space available and your budget.
"The sauna you will use the most is the best sauna.”