Traditional dry vs. far infrared saunas: BATTLE OF THE BEST

It what can only be described as a hot topic in the sauna world (sorry for the pun), there is much debate among sauna enthusiasts about traditional dry sauna vs. infrared sauna. While we’d rather not get into the debate as we tend to be pretty sauna agnostic, for the purpose of this article

So, which one actually has more health benefits? Let’s toss ‘em in the Thunderdome and see who comes out victorious!

What is a traditional dry sauna?

Traditional dry saunas are the most common type of sauna and have been around for centuries. They are typically made of wood and use heat to warm the air inside the sauna. The heat is typically generated by a wood-burning stove or an electric heater.

We’ve already done a deep dive on traditional saunas (aka Finnish saunas), so for the lowdown, check out our blog here. For the purpose of this blog we’ll use dry, traditional and Finnish sauna interchangeably. You’ve been warned.

Oh, and there are numerous pros of traditional dry saunas (aka Finnish saunas), which include:

Smiling woman sitting in wood panel traditional steam sauna with heater and coals in foreground

7 pros of traditional dry saunas

  1. Sauna size ­– Traditional dry saunas are typically larger than infrared saunas, which means that you can fit more people inside. This makes them ideal for group sessions or for people who like to socialize while they sauna.
  2. Dry heat – As the name suggests, traditional dry saunas produce a dry heat, which is more tolerable for people with respiratory issues. However, in Finnish culture it is customary to create löyly (steam) from the kiuas (oven or heater).
  3. Natural heat source – Many dry saunas use wood fire stoves to heat the sauna room, especially in Finnish culture. This means they can be built virtually anywhere in the great outdoors.
  4. Temperature – Traditional saunas typically get quite a bit hotter (150-195 degrees Fahrenheit or 65-90 degrees Celsius) vs. infrared saunas which are typically between 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit (50-60 degrees Celsius). So if you like the heat, traditional dry saunas are the way to go.
  5. Cost – While traditional saunas can undoubtedly be as luxurious or even more-so than infrared, traditional saunas can also be an inexpensive alternative. They are also much easier to build for the avid DIYer.
  6. Health benefits – Traditional dry saunas have similar health benefits to a far infrared sauna, but it’s worth mentioning both are great for your overall health and wellness.
  7. Cold plunges – If you are acquainted with Finnish sauna culture, it is tradition to couple your sauna session with a cold plunge. We won’t cover the health benefits in this article but there is a lot of evidence to suggest it’s great for your health.

And while there is a lot to like about traditional dry saunas, there are also a few downsides to note.

Here are 4 of the cons:

4 cons of traditional dry saunas

  1. Slower to heat up — Traditional dry saunas can take longer to heat up than infrared saunas, and they can also take longer to cool down.
  2. Expensive to operate – While many traditional Finnish saunas are heated by wood, electric versions are much more expensive than infrared saunas due to the constant heat requirement. Firewood can also be expensive in many parts of the world (I paid $300 for a half cord of birchwood last summer here in Canada!)
  3. Intense heat – Traditional sauna rooms are a much higher temperature than infrared, which can be dangerous for those with underlying health conditions. The risk of dehydration and dizziness can be higher in traditional saunas.
  4. Shorter sessions – Due to the higher temperature, most people find it harder to log long sessions in a traditional sauna.
  5. Cleaning and maintenance – Traditional saunas tend to be large standalone buildings or rooms, meaning more cleaning and maintenance than smaller infrared units.
Wood panel infrared sauna with bench and infrared heaters on wall

What is a far infrared Sauna?

Before we get into the pros and cons, let’s quickly define what a far infrared sauna is. For a deep dive, check out our health benefits of infrared saunas article here.

A far infrared sauna uses infrared heaters to emit “far” infrared light to penetrate the skin and heat the body directly. Most infrared saunas use solely “far” infrared light for heating purposes, while some higher end models use both “near” and far infrared to create a “full spectrum” infrared sauna experience.

There are probably more than 6 distinct pros of far infrared saunas, but to keep this article to a reasonable length, we’ll cap it at that.

Here are 6 pros:

6 pros of far infrared saunas

  1. Heat up faster – Far infrared saunas heat up more quickly than traditional dry saunas, typically in 10-15 minutes.
  2. Lower temperatures – Infrared saunas can be operated a much lower temperature than traditional saunas.
  3. Energy efficiency – Infrared saunas are typically much more energy efficient than traditional saunas that are powered by electric heaters, saving money on your energy bills.
  4. Deeper heat penetration – Infrared saunas heat your body directly, rather than the air, which can better alleviate muscle and joint pain.
  5. Smaller, more compact – Infrared saunas are typically smaller and more compact, allowing for setup in smaller spaces.
  6. Long, enjoyable sessions – Because you can easily control the temperature of infrared saunas, it’s easy to find a comfortable temperature and extend your sauna session.

There are also a few downsides to far infrared saunas compared to a traditional dry sauna.

Here are 4 cons:

4 cons of far infrared saunas

  1. Small (and cramped) – We mentioned infrared saunas are typically smaller than traditional dry saunas, which means that they are typically built to accommodate 1-3 people at a time, often in close quarters.
  2. Initial cost – An entry level infrared sauna start above $2,000 USD, and for a good quality unit it can easily cost you $5,000 or more.
  3. Intense heat – I know we mentioned this one for traditional saunas, but infrared heat can also be very intense. It’s important to listen to your body when using one!
  4. Indoor use only – If you live in a place that gets below 0 degrees Celsius (32 Fahrenheit), it’s not recommended to set up an infrared sauna outdoors or in an uninsulated indoor space (it DEFINITELY gets colder than that here in Canada so no outdoor infrared sauna for us).
Split image, left half is a wood panel far infrared sauna in a grey stone tile room. Right half is an outdoor wood barrel traditional dry sauna in a forest.

So, which is better, traditional dry or infrared sauna?

Alright, so which is actually better: a traditional dry (Finnish) sauna or an infrared sauna? We’ve thrown a lot of information at you in this article. And despite what we promised off the top, I’m not sure if that was necessarily the Thunderdome per se, but there are certainly some distinct benefits and drawbacks of both traditional dry and far infrared saunas.  

If you’re on a tight budget, a small low EMF infrared sauna may be the best bang for your buck. However, if you’re looking for a traditional sauna experience like our Finnish friends, then the traditional dry sauna is the way to go. Especially one heated by a wood stove and near a body of water.

In our opinion the real answer as to which sauna type is better is… WHATEVER YOUR PERSONAL PREFERENCE IS! Seriously, they’re both great.


In conclusion, there are likely a ton of people who would argue that a traditional dry sauna is way more beneficial than an infrared sauna. I’m sure the entire country of Finland would agree with that sentiment.

However, there are also many, many people who would argue that far infrared saunas are superior. The deep heat penetration that far infrared saunas provide can be more beneficial than the intense dry heat of a traditional sauna.

So in the end, it depends what you value.

If you prefer a traditional sauna experience, then the Finnish sauna experience is probably best for you. If you’re looking to sweat it out in your basement on a nightly basis like my wife and I, then a far infrared sauna is probably better for you. It’d also likely save you some money on your electricity bill.

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