The origins of the sauna have been lost in the mists of
time (so to speak), but it is safe to say its history goes
back at least 1000 years. We know that the nomadic
peoples of Finland had a primitive type of sauna that was
made by building a fire inside a tentlike structure.
When the heat had built up and the fire had gone out, the
people would enter the sauna to bathe. This was very
similar to the American Indian sweat lodge.
This type of sauna evolved into a smoke sauna -- a small
building with a stone fireplace inside. There was a
small hole in the roof where the smoke could escape but the
fire had to die down before the building could be
entered. This type of sauna was commonly used up
until the 1920s when it started to be replaced by modern
saunas as we know them today. The smoke sauna, however, has
enjoyed a recent revival in Finland. Many people
consider them to be the finest type of sauna.
By the 1930s, a new type of sauna stove was
introduced. This sauna stove allowed the rocks to be
heated without being placed directly over the flames of the
fire. This meant that the fire could burn while the
sauna was being used. The earliest stoves of this
type used wood as a fuel but later models used
Types of Saunas
Saunas can be built in many shapes and styles.
They can be separate buildings or they can be installed in
a house or apartment. Traditional saunas are wooden
structures and are as beautiful as they are functional.
The worldwide popularity of saunas has spurred
innovative new designs. One of the most unusual of
these is the portable sauna -- folding saunas that can be
used almost anywhere. They are just big enough for
one person to sit in. There is a hole for your head
and slits for your hands if you wish to read or talk on the
phone while you are sitting in this sauna.
Another unusual design is the barrel sauna. This
is a small cabin constructed using barrel making techniques
and can hold six to eight people. Barrel saunas can
be installed either inside or outside the house and can be
heated with a wood or electric stove.
Infrared saunas have been used since the 1960s.
The heating source in this type of sauna is an infrared
heater. Unlike traditional heaters that heat the air
of the sauna, infrared heaters heat objects and people but
not the air. Infrared is a type of light and
proponents of infrared saunas say that they have superior
health benefits to traditional saunas.
Almost every type of sauna is made of wood. The
walls, ceilings, and floors and benches are all made from a
wood such as cedar or hemlock. The only non-wood
materials are the stove and the rocks that are heated on
The sauna provides a dry heat -- usually between 70°C
and 100°C. From time to time water can be thrown on
the rocks on the stove. This creates a cloud of steam
which has the effect of immediately raising the
The sauna can be heated with an electric or wood
stove. Wood stoves are traditional in the
countryside, but most urban saunas use an electric