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Insider's Guide to Far Infrared (FIR) Saunas

Updated on June 12, 2011

Fascinated With FIR Saunas, and Their Potential Health Benefits

First of all, let me clarify that I'm not a physician. Nor do I claim to be an expert in saunas. I'm just a guy who has a fascination for saunas, but more specifically, Far Infrared (FIR) saunas. I've done some in-depth research into FIR saunas and their potential health benefits. I'm a cynical guy, and I had to take some of the health facts I read about with a grain of salt. But with all of the voluminous studies applied to saunas and their health benefits that I read about, I decided to study it more and put something together that would help people determine if an FIR sauna would be the right choice for them. It's a high-ticket item for most folks, and having information to evaluate before buying, to me, is invaluable. Again, I'm not a physician, and this information is not a substitute for professional medical advice. You should consult a competent professional health care provider for answers to your specific personal health issues. Nevertheless, it's important to be armed with useful information, while considering a product that can affect your health.

Far Infrared Saunas

An infrared sauna is essentially an enclosed area that heats its occupants with highly specialized heaters that emit Far Infrared radiation. Unlike conventional saunas, which use heated steam, an infrared sauna does not heat the air. An infrared sauna is usually a wooden box, made from cedar, aspen, hemlock, fir or other non-toxic woods (preferable), containing several infrared heaters, although an infrared sauna could be open air and still heat the users in the same manner. In essence, the sauna box creates the atmosphere of the sauna while the heaters create the actual sauna effect. Far infrared rays are invisible bands of light. These rays warm objects without warming the air between the source and the object (known as conversion). This radiant heat can also be called infrared energy (IR). This band of light is not visible to human eyes, but it can be seen by special instruments that translate infrared into colors that are visible to our eyes. The best example of an infrared energy source is the sun; 80% of the sun's rays are infrared. Earth's atmosphere allows IR rays in the 7-14 micrometer range to safely reach the Earth's surface. When warmed, the Earth radiates infrared rays, with its peak output at 10 micrometers. The human body radiates infrared energy out through the skin at 3-50 micrometers, with most around 9.4 micrometers.

What is Infrared Heat?

Infrared heat is a form of energy that heats objects directly through conversion without heating the air between. The sun produces most of its energy in the infrared spectrum of light. This band of light is not visible to our eyes, but our body perceives it as heat. Our atmosphere has a window that allows infrared rays in the 7 to 14 micron range to reach the earth's surface. The sun is the principal source of infrared heat. Remember how warm you feel from the sun on a cold winter day inside near a window, or while sitting in your car? Our bodies produce infrared energy to keep us warm and to use for tissue repair. Far-infrared energy is radiated through the skin at 3 to 50 microns, with most output at 9.4 microns. Occasionally, the infrared energy in our body tissues needs a boost to insure healing and tissue repair. The body will selectively absorb infrared rays to boost a tissue's infrared energy. This process is called "resonant absorption."

Medical Uses of Infrared Technology

Doctors in Europe and Japan have conducted extensive research on the therapeutic uses of infrared heat. Far-infrared treatments have shown medical benefits in a variety of illnesses. Far-infrared waves speed removal of toxins from the body, which are often a major contributor to various health problems. Numerous toxins are absorbed and stored in our bodies. Toxic gases like sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and substances like lead, mercury, and chlorine can accumulate in the body, and are encapsulated by water molecules. When toxins are present in the body, effective blood circulation is greatly reduced, and cellular energy is impaired. Oxygen and other nutrients can not reach cells, and, as a result, the body's immune system is inhibited, which makes it difficult for the body to fight disease. Also, without proper nutrients and a steady oxygen supply, tissues cannot repair themselves, and over a long period of time, cell wall destruction can lead to premature aging of our organs and organ systems. However, when 10 microns of Far-infrared is applied in even minimal to moderate doses of exposure, the large water molecules vibrate and breakdown the ion bond between the water molecules, allowing the release of encapsulated gases and toxic materials. An example of Far-Infrared heat being successfully used in medical treatments is in the treatment of clogged capillary vessels. Far Infrared heat effectively penetrates tissues and causes expansion of capillaries and skin pores to expel toxins from the body.

Far Infrared Saunas vs. Traditional Saunas

Lots of folks have tried one or the other type of sauna, but few have had the opportunity to test drive both. Infrared saunas are relatively new in the marketplace compared to traditional saunas, and many people are simply not familiar with them. Unfortunately, addressing these differences has proven to be a problem for many infrared sauna companies. Let's clear up this problem. Infrared saunas use infrared radiation (energy) to penetrate the body's tissues to a depth of over 1 ½". Tests have shown that the energy output is tuned so closely to the body's own radiant energy that our bodies absorb close to 93% of the infrared waves that reach our skin. By comparison, conventional saunas must rely only on indirect means of heat: first, on convection (air currents) and then, conduction (direct contact of hot air with the skin) to produce its heating effects. The Infrared sauna operates at temperatures of 110 - 130 degrees F versus 180 - 235 degrees F for hot-air saunas. Since conventional units require 30 to 90 minutes of warm-up before use, electricity costs are reported to be somewhat higher than those of infrared units that warm up in 5 to 10 minutes. As a result of these lower temperatures, Infrared saunas are better suited for those who find the extreme temperatures of traditional saunas to be claustrophobic or oppressively hot. Similarly, Infrared saunas may be more appropriate for those who suffer from chronic illnesses and who would be looking to take daily sauna sessions. These lower temperatures allow you to stay in the sauna for longer periods of time. This in turn translates to more profuse sweating than in a traditional sauna, and the ability for the body to dump more toxic materials. While there is not a tremendous difference in the amount of perspiration volume, a Far Infrared sauna provides for more effective sweating by dilating pores in the skin (sweat gland openings) and therefore is a more efficient means of producing perspiration without as much heat stress on the body.

Sweating the Sweat Facts

There is, unfortunately, a tremendous amount of misinformation related to the levels of toxins released through perspiration when using traditional and Far Infrared saunas. As a sauna user, I am uncomfortable with blanket statements such as those claiming that "up to 20% of the perspiration released in a given time period is toxic material" and the like, these kinds of statements are completely misleading and tend to frighten people rather than provide them with facts. The truth is, even very small quantities of such materials as lead, chlorine, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide can be highly toxic, but the real consideration is long term exposure and the resulting slow and steady "bioaccumulation" in the body, which is one of the consequences of living in today's world. Hundreds of different conditions in your body can affect how many toxins are released. However, I do subscribe to the belief that Infrared saunas will lead to the release of more toxins than traditional saunas, but in no way do I offer up such unsubstantiated numbers.

Doctor Interview on Infrared Saunas

Benefits of Infrared Heat on the Human Body

Numerous "clinical studies" claim that the following therapeutic benefits can occur while using a Far infrared sauna. Again, I'm cynical, but from the experiences I've had, I have actually experienced some of these (reduced stress and fatigue, back pain relief, muscle relaxation). Far infrared radiation may:

  • Help improve blood circulation
  • Strengthen the cardiovascular system
  • Ease joint pain and stiffness (without toxic side-effects)
  • Burn hundreds of calories without hours on the exercise bike or treadmill (or without having to get dressed and leave your home to go to the health spa)
  • Relax muscles and increase flexibility and reduce stress and fatigue
  • Relieve pain
  • Deep cleanse skin
  • Remove toxins and mineral waste
  • Burn calories and control weight
  • Improve the immune system

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

So what sauna should you choose?

For most of us who are looking for a home sauna for the first time, our exposure is typically limited to our experience with one. I am sure that after you spend some time on the web you will discover there are dozens of sauna manufactures and dealers, offering sauna models at reasonable prices. I hope my guide will help you better understand what's out there, and how to decide what sauna is just right for you. I also hope that this information helps "demystify" all of the techno-babble associated with purchasing a product of this nature.

Is Infrared Sauna Usage Safe?

Okay, I know what you're thinking... Is my infrared sauna going to give me skin cancer? Is it safe? This may be a bit tedious and boring, but let's get technical for awhile. Please bear with me, as these facts must be stated in order to grasp the impact of beneficial infrared sauna therapy.

Let's begin by explaining what exactly radiant heat is. No need to worry. It has nothing to do with either ultraviolet radiation (which gives you sunburn and damages your skin) or atomic radiation (the kind from a nuclear bomb). Radiant heat is simply a form of energy that heats objects directly through a process called conversion, without having to heat the air in between. Radiant heat is also called Infrared Energy (IR). The infrared segment of the electromagnetic spectrum occurs just below or red light as the next lowest energy band of non-visible light. This band of light is not visible to human eyes but can be seen by special cameras that translate infrared into colors visible to our eyes. We can, however, feel this type of light that we perceive as heat. And infrared or radiant heat warms your body directly and provides a healthy, purifying sweat at much lower temperatures.

What Size Sauna Should I Buy?

Size Does Matter. The sauna size you choose is highly dependent upon the number of people you envision using it at once and your comfort zone. A two-person sauna will obviously accommodate two people, but I'm sure at some time or another we have all experienced a two person tent. This is where your personal comfort zone comes in. If you share a sauna with your mate, close proximity is probably okay, but if you like to entertain or do social saunas, you may wish to have a bit more shoulder room, so to speak. If you wish to have the extra personal space when sharing it with another person, it would be appropriate to choose a 3 -4 person model. I know some folks who bring in a pitcher of iced tea, some snacks, and need a bit more "operating room" for these activities. For those who enjoy a solo sauna in a horizontal position, length is a consideration and the horizontal size of the sauna should be considered more important than the height of the unit. Don't forget to add six inches to your height, since lying horizontally tends to add more length to our bodies.

Should I Buy Over The Internet or From a Local Retailer?

When buying anything we must be aware of false rumors and high pressure sales tactics. Many local sauna dealers will claim you're "taking a gamble" when you buy over the internet. This statement isn't entirely true. As with any expensive purchase you should always get multiple references from current sauna owners who bought from that company, whether that company is local dealer or a small or large dealer on the internet. You simply need to ask the sauna dealer for at least a couple testimonials, and references. If they can't provide you with this type of information it's probably not a good idea to buy from them. When contacting these people find out how they feel about their decision after purchasing the sauna, if they had any problems, and if they have any additional advice to give you about purchasing a sauna.

Some local dealers claim the reasons saunas on the internet are less expensive is because they are poorly manufactured. The truth is you will find prices are significantly lower than those of a local store; this is primarily because online companies have significantly lower overhead. They don't have to pay the brick and mortar storefront rent, don't have as many employees or utilities, and may be able to deal directly with a manufacturer, thereby saving you a considerable markup. In addition, if the sauna company isn't located in your state you may be able to save hundreds of dollars by not being required to pay sales tax.

How Much To Spend?

Many of us are experienced and knowledgeable buyers of electronics, cars and houses, but what about saunas? It's an obscure item, and no matter the type of sauna you choose, you will be spending thousands of dollars. For most of us this isn't pocket change. Once the decision to buy a sauna has been made how do you know how much to spend?

The Cheapest Sauna

If you are serious about buying a quality sauna, you want to purchase a well crafted unit with a reputable heating system and an element (the actual "light bulb" of sorts that emits the Far Infrared light) that has a good lifespan, and be sure to initially consider all price points, so you can have a good frame of reference. Cheaper units may be made of plywood and not solid wood,

have no interior features like a bench system, or solid floor system, have hidden costs such as lots of unnecessary add-on features such as trim, excessively detailed windows or doors, etc. Closely evaluate your potential purchase as you would an auto purchase.if it looks "cheap" it will cost a whole lot less, but a lot of what you are buying, beyond the structural components of the wooden frame that you sit inside of, may be fluff.

The Most Expensive Sauna

Just because a sauna is expensive doesn't guarantee it's better. It may just cost more to produce or to market, or maybe there are too many 'middlemen' involved? Most of us buy the products we know about in the 'midrange', where volume production can assure us of consistent quality, performance and the best value. If you can buy an established brand name, that has been around longer than other brands (and you are quite sure it is genuine) at a sensible price, consider that option viable. Look for success in a sophisticated many units has the company produced? How big is their factory? How long have they been selling saunas?

And again, get testimonials. A good testimonial will give you a valuable opinion of perceived value vs. the consumer's honest impression of the price paid, after spending some time using the sauna.

What Types of Warranties Should I Look For?

As with any purchase you want to be secure in your investment. With hundreds of sauna companies in the market, the warranty speaks volumes. Almost every sauna company will offer a warranty, but for how long, and what does it cover? With constant use the heating elements are the most important component. If the elements fail it may be as much to replace them as it would be to buy a new sauna! Any sauna warranty should unconditionally cover the heating element specifically for as long as you own the sauna, or at least a 2 -3 year period of time, and offer a replacement element at a reasonable price. Of course there are many more facets to a sauna than just the elements. The sauna cabinet and control system should also have a comprehensive warranty. If the wood used in the saunas construction hasn't been properly dried it will warp or buckle in just weeks, even without using the sauna. You may also notice after regular use that the adhesives used in construction process may begin to fail. This is why you should be sure the warranty covers the cabinet for at least five years to prevent unforeseen warping or defects. Lastly be sure the warranty covers the controls. If your controls fail you can't turn on the sauna.

What to look for in a Warranty:

Heating Element: Without question, you should-and will-find a lifetime warranty on your sauna's heaters, even though it would be reasonable to have to replace the element as you would a light bulb in a really nice desk lamp.

Controls: You should find a warranty that covers the control system and electronics for a period of three to five years. Problems in this area will typically manifest themselves when you first use the sauna.

Construction: If the wood used in the sauna's construction has not been properly kiln dried or is of low quality, it can warp or buckle in just weeks, even without using the sauna. You may also notice that after regular use of your sauna that the adhesives used in construction process may begin to fail. This is why you should be sure the warranty covers the cabinet for at least five years to prevent unforeseen warping or defects.

Fine Print Details: Be certain to read the fine print details of your potential warranty, and keeping the original packaging for return, among other things.

Adhesives: Make sure the manufacturer is using water based adhesives, not VOC (volatile organic compounds) which can cause health problems when heated and vaporized. I believe this is very important.

What is the main difference between the actual heat of an Infrared Sauna and a traditional sauna?

Infrared heat is actually energy, part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes other harmless waves like radio waves and visible light, and is therefore a "radiant" heat (don't worry, it is not radiation, does not contain ultraviolet or x-rays, other areas of the spectrum). Finnish saunas use thermal heat, which heats the surrounding air. Have you ever been outside on a sunny but chilly day? When the sun is on your body you may feel comfortably warm, but as soon as it is obscured by clouds, you immediately become chilled. The clouds effectively blocked all of the infrared light energy coming from the sun.


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    • Brian Anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Anderson 

      8 years ago from United States

      Jehnavi - Thanks for the great comments. Good link to follow, as well. Appreciate it!

    • profile image

      8 years ago

      All of the sites state that these saunas flush out toxins - how could I prove it? I have been unable to find a "toxicity" test to show that what I am sweating out includes toxins.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      one way to test out how deep saunas can penetrate is to take a apple into the sauna & afterward cut it in half to see but have never tried it out myself!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great do you measure the number of microns to prove that a sauna emits what it says it does?


    • 2patricias profile image


      10 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Very comprehensive. Thanks


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