When choosing a sauna, there are two main types: dry and wet. But what are the differences between them? And which one is the best for you?
Dry saunas use dry heat, either from infrared rays in an infrared sauna or an electric or wood-fired sauna heater, to raise your body temperature. Wet saunas, on the other hand, use steam to increase the humidity of the air, which can make the heat feel more intense.
The thermal conductivity of water is much higher than that of air. This means that more heat is conducted into your body in a wet sauna, and that’s why dry saunas typically have higher temperatures compared to wet saunas. Dry sauna temperatures range from 160°F to 200°F (71°C – 93°C) and wet sauna temperatures range from 90°F to 120°F (32°C – 49°C). The humidity in a dry sauna is below 50% but the relative humidity in a wet sauna can be 100%.
So, which is the better option? It really depends on your personal preferences. Some people find dry saunas more comfortable, while others prefer wet saunas.
In this article, I will go through the differences between dry vs wet saunas in detail. I’ll also explain the differences in the benefits and which one is the better option for you. Keep reading!
What is a Dry or Traditional Finnish-Style sauna?
- Heat source: Electric or wood-fired heater (or infrared panels in an infrared sauna)
- Typical temperature range: 160°F to 200°F (71°C – 93°C)
- Optimal temperature: 160°F (71°C)
- Humidity range: 10% to 100% (Finnish sauna is dry without water, and wet when you throw water on the stones)
- Pre-heating time: 30 to 60 minutes depending on the size of the room and the heater
A dry sauna, also known as a Traditional Finnish-Style sauna, is a type of sauna that uses dry heat. Dry heat is produced by heating rocks using an electric or wood-fired sauna heater, then pouring water over the rocks to produce steam.
This steam heats the air in the sauna, which in turn warms the body.
Dry saunas are usually built from wood, and they can range in size from small, personal saunas to large public saunas. The temperature in a dry sauna is typically between 80 and 100 degrees Celsius (176 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit), with the humidity level around 10-50%. Although, the humidity in a Finnish-style sauna can climb up to 100% if you throw a lot of water on the stones.
What is a Wet Sauna?
- Heat source: Steam generator, or a sauna heater with rocks when you throw a lot of water on the stones
- Typical temperature range: 90°F to 120°F (32°C – 49°C)
- Optimal temperature: 110°F (43°C)
- Humidity range: 100%
- Pre-heating time: 30 to 60 minutes depending on the steam generator
A wet sauna is a sauna that uses steam to heat the air. This type of sauna is usually found in gyms or health clubs, but can also be built into a home.
Some people prefer the lower temperatures of wet saunas. I have also heard many people say it is easier to breathe in a wet sauna.
Differences & Similarities Between Dry and Wet Saunas
|Type of sauna
|Typical sauna temperature range
|Humidity level range
|Electric heater or wood-fired sauna
|160°F to 200°F (71°C – 93°C)
|10% to 100%
(Finnish sauna is dry without water, and wet when you throw water on the stones)
|30 to 60 minutes depending on the size of the room and the heater
|90°F to 120°F (32°C – 49°C)
|30 to 60 minutes depending on the steam generator
Most people are familiar with the traditional Finnish sauna, which is a dry sauna. In a dry sauna, the air inside is heated to between 150-200 degrees Fahrenheit. This kind of sauna is usually made out of wood, like cedar or aspen, and rocks are heated in a stove until they’re hot. Water is then thrown on the rocks to create steam.
The main difference between dry and wet saunas is the level of humidity inside the room. In a wet or “Turkish” sauna, the air is also heated to around 150-200 degrees Fahrenheit. However, there is also a source of water inside, whether it be a sprayer or a bucket of water that can be thrown on the rocks. This creates a much more humid environment, as the steam immediately condenses on your skin.
Health Benefits of Wet vs. Dry Saunas?
In short, both wet and dry saunas offer similar health benefits, including
- Cardio-vascular health benefits, such as lower blood pressure
- Relief to patients with asthma and chronic bronchitis
- Relief joint pain
- Skin and hair benefits
But do dry and wet saunas affect your body differently?
I was able to find a couple of studies about the differences between wet and dry heat stress to your body.
One study published in the Biology of Sport found that participants lost more weight in a dry sauna (because of sweating) but their heart rate and body temperatures increased more in the wet sauna.
The researcher of the study wrote:
It can be concluded that due to high humidity and reduction of thermoregulation mechanisms, the wet sauna is more stressful for the organism than the dry sauna, where the temperature is higher with low humidity.
However, another study comparing dry and wet heat stress found that the differences were significant only after 10 minutes in the sauna, but after 20 minutes there were no significant differences in body temperature blood pressure, or other parameters.
Dry or Wet Sauna – Which One is Right for You?
Choosing between a dry and wet sauna comes down to your personal preference. Try out both and see which one feels best for you!
Both types of saunas offer similar benefits, and although studies have shown some differences between dry and wet heat, the differences don’t seem to be significant after more than 10 minutes in the sauna.
Did you find this article helpful? If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Pilch W, Szygula Z, Palka T, et al. COMPARISON OF PHYSIOLOGICAL REACTIONS AND PHYSIOLOGICAL STRAIN IN HEALTHY MEN UNDER HEAT STRESS IN DRY AND STEAM HEAT SAUNAS. Biology of Sport. 2014;31(2):145-149. doi:10.5604/20831862.1099045.
Shoenfeld Y, Sohar E, Ohry A, Shapiro Y. Heat stress: comparison of short exposure to severe dry and wet heat in saunas. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 1976 Mar;57(3):126-129. PMID: 1267582.