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Sauna is the only Finnish word in the English dictionary and many languages have borrowed the word to refer to manufactured heating equipment designed to help the body sweat profusely, but it actually simply means bathhouse.  It’s also undeniable that the Finns have been ardent sauna ambassadors.  The Finns embrace it as part of their culture and export it to the rest of the world.

Learning this, you might believe that the sauna is originally from Finland, but you should think again.  The truth is that history is not clear about the origin of the steam bath or sauna, and on the contrary, it suggests saunas have not one origin, but multiple origins.  Whether for cleaning, warming shelters in winter, relaxation, social gathering, healing, spiritual, or mystic reasons, steam bathing has been present in human life from Prehistoric times until the present day, where traditional sauna rooms and the modern infrared sauna at home are available to meet human needs and preferences.

Prehistoric Man heated stones in natural or man-made caves or ground holes to warm themselves. Once the fire went out, the smoke sanitized the space, and they soaked the stones with water to generate the glorious steam they used to prolong the heat, cleaning, pleasure, medical treatments, or rituals.  This ancient practice appears to be as old as 4,000 B.C.: scorched stones found in an ancient monument recently discovered in Woodhenge at Yorkshire, Britain suggest the site was used for steam bathing purposes and death-related rituals.

Besides Prehistoric man, the Greeks and Romans also integrated steam bathing into their cultures. They had steam rooms among their heat therapies, and soon it became an extended social gathering practice enhanced with herbs, salts, and oils that help make the experience even more pleasant.

Steam bathing was also present in Russia, Northern and Eastern Europe, native American Indies, and Maya culture in Central America.  While different types, styles, and motivations, the sweat lodges of the Native American Indies, the Mayan-Aztec Temescal in Central America, the Finnish Sauna, the Russian Banja, and the Turkish Hamman all share the same purpose: steam bathing as a treatment or purification ritual.

Bathhouses, with steam rooms available, flourished in the world for centuries. But in the 17th to early 18th century, bathhouses almost disappeared completely. Wars might have contributed to their decline; however, it’s believed the enlightenment movement had the most to do with their reduction.  Sweat bathing practices and their relaxation and healing effects were not yet supported by science and thus were considered as out of order in this new knowledge-based era.

The Industrial Revolution helped revive steam room use as the steam generator allowed the development of different equipment for the steam rooms.  And not too much later, after electricity usage promulgated, electrical heating stoves were invented.  Finally, some years later, infrared saunas made their way into use.

Science started to study heat therapies in the 1800s, when the positive effects of hyperthermia in tumors treatments were noted. But it wasn’t until the 1960s when serious heat as medicine experiments began.  In the 1970s, the medical community started to meet yearly to discuss the results of hyperthermia in oncology treatments.  And the Thermal Medicine Society was born (under an initially different name) offering yearly meetings where medical research focused on thermal therapies could be presented, the sauna included.  As a result, now science acknowledges the cardiovascular and other health benefits of sauna use on mind and body health.

After so many years of sauna history, an interesting question arises:

What kinds of sweat bathing are available today?

Although some might argue differently, three basic types remain popular each with its own variations:


  1. Dry Sauna:

    A dry sauna uses hot air to heat the body. Air is heated using wood-burning, gas, or electric heaters with temperature ranges from 150 to 195 degrees Fahrenheit (65 to 90 degrees Celsius).  Included in this category are variations that offer humidity levels up to 30%.
  2. Infrared Sauna:

    This sauna type uses near, mid and far wavelengths of the light spectrum to warm the body. The heaters are ceramics, carbon fiber made or a combination, with different effects. It is interesting to know that FIR sauna technique allows deep penetration and profuse sweating with rather low air temperatures, since it’s the body that is heated versus the air. It makes for a more comfortable, sauna experience although purists would consider it an aberration. Using infrared, temperatures ranges from 80 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit (26 to 55 degrees Celsius).  A full-spectrum sauna offers the most benefits of all infrared options.
  3. Steam Room:

    Steam rooms use wet steam produced by a steam generator to warm the body. Temperatures reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius), and humidity can be as high as 100%.

At Vital Hydrotherapy, we also offer hybrids that combine traditional sauna technology with infrared in one unit providing a complete experience and offering the best results for health.

In years past you had to visit a spa, gym, or bathhouse to enjoy a sweat bath. Modern manufacturing brings us the possibility to enjoy the type of hydrotherapy we prefer in the comfort of our home.  Indoor or outdoor, sized for one or even six people, we offer some beautiful models with a variety of features.  There is a model that fits your preferences and budget.