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Which is Better a Wet or Dry Sauna?

If you’re trying to decide what type of sauna would best suit your personal situation, you may be asking, “Which is better a wet or dry sauna?”  Although a legitimate question, it can also bring up a whole range of other questions.  For example, there is a lot of debate over the naming of saunas in the first place.  For some people, a wet sauna is the equivalent of a steam room.  Some people believe that there is no such thing as a dry sauna.  Others distinguish between a wet and dry sauna as the difference between a traditional sauna and an infrared sauna.  And yet even others believe that infrared therapy should not be considered a sauna at all.  For the sake of comparison, in this article we’ll cover the differences between traditional saunas, infrared saunas and steam rooms and allow you to decide what’s best for you.

Traditional Sauna

For some, traditional saunas can be divided into wet sauna and dry sauna categories.  In this instance, both wet and dry saunas reach high temperatures by heating a pile of sauna rocks.  Most present day traditional saunas use electricity to superheat the rocks, but they may also be heated by fire.  In what would be considered a wet sauna, the user pours water over the heated rocks to create steam and increase the humidity in the room.  In a so-called dry sauna, no water is poured over the rocks and no excess steam is created.  Because of the humidity created in a wet sauna, some people find them more comfortable for the mucous membranes in the nose and throat.  However, if the goal of spending time in the sauna is to break a sweat, some people find that wet saunas feel hotter because the sweat isn’t wicked away as quickly in high humidity conditions.  In a dry sauna, where the humidity is relatively low, sweat dries faster, the body temperature is cooled more efficiently and the high temperatures may feel more bearable. 

Infrared Sauna

As mentioned in the introduction, some people, such as many Finnish sauna societies, believe infrared saunas are not saunas at all.  This is because rather than warming the air and heating the body through convection and conduction, infrared saunas do not warm the air directly, but heat the body with infrared light waves which penetrate the skin.  However, because light waves, rather steam or humidity, are used to create heat within the body, infrared saunas are actually a prime example of a dry sauna.  Many people find it easier to spend longer periods of time in infrared saunas because the ambient air temperature gets nowhere near as high as in a traditional sauna.  And because no steam or humidity is produced, sweat evaporates from the skin surface very quickly and provides an efficient cooling sensation. 

Steam Rooms

Steam rooms depend on high levels of humidity to heat up a room.  A boiler is used to bring water to the boiling point and the resulting steam is forced into a sealed room.  This results in near 100% humidity levels and could be considered a wet experience – although it’s generally accepted that a steam room is not a sauna.  Because of the high humidity, any sweat produced does not readily evaporate and the body temperature rises accordingly.  This may make it more uncomfortable for those who don’t do well in high temperatures.  But it can provide relief to those with allergies, sinus problems and other afflictions of the mucous membranes.

Which Is Better A Wet Or Dry Sauna?

As shown in the above descriptions, deciding which is better really depends on how you react to high temperatures and humidity.  For those who feel more comfortable in hot, humid environments, a wet sauna or steam room would be the best bet.  For those who aren’t as keen on high temperatures and prefer a dry heat, a dry or infrared sauna would be the better choice.

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