4 Ways to Heat a Sauna

Updated: Feb. 17, 2023

Choosing a heating method is one of the first steps to building a sauna. Here we look at four of the most common methods.


There are basically two ways to heat a sauna. Traditional saunas rely on a moist heat to achieve the therapeutic benefit, warming the user from the outside in. Newer, infrared saunas create a dry heat, warming users from the inside out.

Traditional sauna heaters include wood-fired, gas and electric models. Sometimes called steam saunas, these raise the temperature of the air around you, causing you to sweat. In an infrared sauna, infrared wavelengths similar to those from the sun warm the user directly.

Here is a closer look at each type of heating method.

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Fhm Wood Fired Sauna
Family Handyman

Wood-Fired Sauna

The true, old-school classic. Wood-fired saunas employ a traditional wood-burning stove to provide heat to the sauna.

A steel or cast-iron stove burns wood, transferring the heat to a basket of rocks on top. The warm rocks evenly heat the sauna, creating a nice, soft heat. To add heat and moisture content to the air, sprinkle water across the hot rocks. The resulting steam raises the overall temperature in the sauna.

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Fhm Electric Sauna Heater
Family Handyman

Electric Sauna Heater

By far the most common sauna heating element, electric heaters account for an estimated 95% of all sauna heaters. Similar to the wood-fired stove but different than baseboard heaters, electric heaters warm a basket of rocks to raise the ambient temperature inside the sauna.

Electric heaters require 20-, 30- or 40-amp dedicated circuits for home use. Most models have control modules built into the heater itself, or via a wall-mounted unit.

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Fhm Infrared Sauna Heater
Family Handyman

Infrared Sauna Heater

Infrared heating is a newer sauna technology, gaining more steam (pun intended) in recent years. While traditional sauna methods heat the air around the user, infrared saunas heat your body directly, without affecting the air around you.

These saunas use light frequencies via electromagnetic radiation to provide the heat. They produce less heat than other saunas, staying right around 140 degrees. Infrared saunas can even be retrofitted into areas like a small closet space with special modular lighting panels.

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Fhm Gas Sauna Heater
Family Handyman

Gas Sauna Heater

Gas saunas feature natural gas or propane as their heat source. Typically larger than wood or electric saunas, these tend to cost more upfront but require less maintenance over the long term. Gas saunas are also cheaper to operate than electric types. They heat up faster than electric or wood-fired saunas.