Infrared saunas have gained popularity in recent times as another option that may improve wellness — and provide comfort and relaxation — from the comfort of your home.
While traditional saunas use steam or a heater to warm up the air around you, infrared saunas heat your body using lamps that generate infrared light. Infrared light (or infrared radiation) is not visible to the eye, but can be felt as heat as it penetrates the skin and increases your core body temperature.
Since it’s a type of radiation, infrared light may sound risky, but it doesn’t produce damaging effects like UV light or X-rays do. In fact, all objects in the universe (even our bodies) emit some level of radiation.
Infrared saunas cost about the same as traditional saunas, and they offer the same benefits, such as pain relief and relaxation; additionally, some studies suggest that infrared saunas may help improve cardiovascular health.
What gives this type of sauna an edge over traditional ones is that they provide benefits at lower temperatures — usually between 120˚ F and 140˚ F. Traditional saunas, on the other hand, can reach 200˚. The lower temperatures allows users to enjoy longer sessions without becoming severely overheated or dehydrated.
Are infrared saunas better than traditional ones?
Infrared sauna advocates say that these types of saunas can aid in weight loss and detoxification. These claims are controversial to say the least.
While both traditional and infrared saunas make you sweat like crazy (that’s really their main purpose), this doesn’t necessarily translate to long-lasting weight loss since what you’re losing is actually water, not fat.
Additionally, although the high temperature inside saunas can cause a slight increase in heart rate (much like walking at a slow to medium pace), it's not enough to make you lose fat.
Their detoxing benefits are also the subject of ongoing debate. Proponents believe that since infrared light can penetrate the skin, it’ll lead your body to sweat out toxins more effectively. There is no scientific evidence backing up these claims, however, so the use of saunas for these purposes remains controversial.
At the same time, infrared saunas are safe for most people and have no reports of causing adverse effects.
Like all saunas, infrared units are generally enjoyable, relaxing, and even pain-reducing if used for appropriate lengths of time at comfortable temperatures. Beyond soothing pain and relaxing sore muscles, infrared saunas could even help improve heart health. This could be due to the body's natural response to the heat, which helps widen blood vessels and increase blood flow.
To lower the risk of dehydration, dizziness, or feeling excessively overheated, it’s best to keep sauna sessions between 10 to 20 minutes long at temperatures of 120˚ or less. You can slowly increase the session time and temperature as long as you feel comfortable.
Do note that if you’re prone to dehydration, have any type of heart or blood pressure condition, or are pregnant, you should consult a doctor before using any sauna.
Infrared sauna buying guide
If you’re interested in experiencing infrared heating at home, there are three types of devices you can try: stationary full-sized saunas, smaller portable units, and infrared blankets, which resemble sleeping bags.
Making a decision on what infrared sauna is best for you will mainly depend on your budget, available space, and the temperature controls of the unit.
• Types of infrared saunas. Full-sized infrared saunas are usually made of wood and wouldn’t look out of place in a high-end spa. They more closely resemble traditional steam saunas and cost somewhere between $1,000 to $3,000 (although there are certainly more expensive ones). Lower-priced models can fit one to two people comfortably, while more expensive models can fit four people or more.
Their wood panels and tightly sealed glass doors trap heat far more effectively when compared to portable infrared saunas. However, traditional enclosed saunas take up a lot of space (the smallest ones are roughly the size of a side-by-side refrigerator) and may require professional installation.
Portable infrared saunas, on the other hand, are much more affordable ($200 to $600) and easy to assemble. Some can even be folded for easy storage.
These units are basically oversized boxes made of a plastic frame covered by insulated polyester fabric. The infrared panels are attached directly to the fabric. Some models have a single heating panel on the backside while others feature panels on every side and a heated foot pad as well.
Portable models generally reach temperatures of up to 140° quickly; some users report breaking a sweat after less than 10 minutes inside. However, they can’t heat your whole body like enclosed saunas. With most portable saunas, you remain seated throughout the session with your head sticking out of the fabric-covered frame which, according to some users, can let heat escape. Most models feature an additional opening for the hands, which can also let heat out.
Lastly, there are infrared sauna blankets. These sleeping bag-like products are also considered portable saunas but without the plastic-frame build. Just like any other infrared sauna, they raise your body temperature using infrared panels. This means the blanket itself won’t get overheated, so you can zip up without worrying about burning yourself.
One potential downside to using an infrared sauna blanket is that the infrared panels are closer to your body, so they may cause you to feel overheated faster.
• Temperature control. Some infrared saunas can heat up to 140° F, while others stay between 90° and 120°. It’s also important to take into account the increments at which temperature can be increased or lowered. (It’s easier to control the heat and customize your experience if a sauna can be adjusted in tiny increments.)
Infrared saunas have controls to adjust the duration of sessions, and these can be either part of the unit or offered as a remote control. Enclosed saunas might have a control panel on the outside or inside of the unit.
For added safety, some infrared saunas come with an overheating protection feature that shuts down the unit whenever a maximum temperature is reached.
• Seating. If you plan on having long sauna sessions, make sure to check the sauna’s seat size and padding. While full-sized infrared saunas have built-in seats, portable ones don’t. They do, however, usually include a foldable chair similar to the ones used during camping.
Best infrared saunas
1. Best overall: Dynamic Andora Infrared Sauna
If you have the space to spare, the Dynamic Andora is one of the best infrared saunas out there. It resembles a sauna found in gyms and spas in both looks and functionality. It's built out of solid wood (which is better at trapping heat), and the glass door gives it an elegant look.
It can fit up to two people and has six infrared carbon heaters to distribute heat evenly (one on each side wall, two on the rear, one on the floor, and another underneath the sitting bench). Some extras include a built-in speaker system with Bluetooth and AUX connectivity and a color-changing ambient light.
You can plug this sauna into any standard home plug so there’s no need for special wiring or professional installation.
2. Editor’s pick: SereneLife Portable Full Size Infrared Home Spa
Most portable infrared saunas have a similar design: a detachable plastic frame covered by a fabric that encloses heat. The user sits inside the fabric box while heating panels warm up the body from the neck down.
Portable saunas can generate temperatures up to 140° F. However, their design — your head and your hands stay outside — might not be as effective at trapping heat when compared to full-sized saunas.
The Portable Full Size Home Spa by SereneLife is different. It combines the lightweight design and convenience of portable infrared saunas with the full-sized closet-like design of traditional ones. It’s roomy enough for a person around 5’8” tall to stand comfortably, and it comes with a foldable chair so you can sit while you sweat.
The 1,300 wattage in the SereneLife sauna is considerably higher than many other brands in its price range, which usually average 1,000 or less. More wattage means it’ll take less time to heat up.
3. Best for low prices: SereneLife Portable Infrared Home Spa
SereneLife’s Portable Infrared Home Spa can deliver the benefits of an infrared sauna at home without the bulky build or steep cost of traditional units. It’s easy to assemble and can be folded up and stored when not in use.
It has zippers on the side so users can easily stick their hands out and grab a nearby bottle of water or read a book during sessions. It also comes with a foldable chair and heating foot pad.
With the wired controller, you can set up a session for up to an hour with the temperature ranging between 57° and 140°. Many users praise how well it traps heat, but since it’s not a full-sized sauna, it might come up short compared to traditional saunas that completely enclose users.