The History of Saunas

The first sauna was nothing like what we have today, they were dug in the ground with a fire in the middle with two to three layers of small stones at the bottom. A tarp covered the sauna to have a warm place to bathe. This type of sauna is similar to the Native American sweat lodge. Over the years people of all cultures have indulged in sweat baths.

Later the sauna evolved into single-room log buildings, heated by fire and smoke. Smoke saunas have a fireplace with no chimney, causing the stones to heat directly. The smoke would exit through a small hole just below the roof. The chimney was built without using mortar and would take half a day to warm up. Once the smoke cleared out it was safe to go into bathe. A smoke sauna was used for multi-purposes, such as drying meats, children being born, women purifying themselves before marriage and old people dying. Smoke saunas had several problems from the room being covered in smoke to the benches covered in soot.

The cased-in smoke stove was introduced in the late 1920s. This stove has three separate sections; the lowest one for burning wood, the middle for the stones and the top for the smoke before it escaped into the room. This kind of new smoke sauna made it possible to construct separate saunas in towns where most dwellings were built of wood, where as the old smoke saunas were a fire hazard.

The electric stove, replacing the smoke stove, was introduced in the late 1940’s. It is easy to use and can be installed where wood-burning saunas cannot. Electric resistors heat up the stones by just a push of a button. You can also set the temperature to what is most enjoyable for you.

Today’s technology has revolutionized the sauna. The infrared sauna works by using infrared heaters to convert light directly to heat. This heat warms the bather instead of the surrounding air. Some sauna bathers may not like this type of sauna, due to the different materials creating a different environment.

The sauna was originally separated from the main house and was often a single room, used for washing and warming up on benches. Eventually they became separate rooms by the invention of running water, making it easier to place the washroom away from water sources such as a lake or well.


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