How to Sauna – 9 Steps for a Perfect Finnish Sauna Experience

Wooden Sauna - Benches and Towels

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Sauna is a core part of Finnish life, and Finns know how to use it properly. There are over 2 million saunas in a country with only 5 million people. Whether you are an expat in Finland, traveling to the Nordics or just interested in a traditional sauna experience, you have to try the Finnish sauna at least once in your life. Our short guide will walk you through the most important steps of how to use a sauna.

How to Sauna

Sauna in Finland and in the Nordic countries is tightly bonded to everyday life for centuries. Women used to give birth in the sauna – as it was a warm and sterile place in the households. Nowadays, it is connected to a healthy lifestyle, relaxation, and social activities. Check out the Finnish sauna etiquette and the best tips on how to use a sauna properly to have the most refreshing experience.
Wooden Sauna - Benches and Towels

Types of Sauna in Finland

First of all, identify what type of sauna it is. They have small differences in usage.

– Smoke Sauna (savusauna)

traditional wood-heated sauna, without a chimney. After the fire is over, the sauna is ventilated and then it can be used. Your skin will smell like smoke, but don’t worry, it is a unique experience to sit in the dark, windowless smoke sauna as people used to do a long time ago.

– Wood-Heated Sauna

the sauna stove is heated by firewood, usually birch, as it smells good and burns well. My favorite type. Everyone’s. If you have a chance, try it!

– Electric Sauna

households usually have an electric sauna, as it is easy to control, some of the stoves (kiuas) will keep the heat for long hours and can be more flexibly used. At home (as most Finns and public saunas) have this type of stove.

– Sauna Boat

Are you looking for something even more special? During the summer months, you can enjoy an outdoor sauna, on a boat! Most cities offer services like this, just ask around.

– Ice Swimming

The winter version of the sauna includes dipping into the freezing water. You read it correctly. Submerging into the around zero degrees Celcius water through an ice hole (hence called: ice hole swimming). Scary and liberating at once.  You can read more about it here how it feels for the first time and what you need to know about ice-hole swimming. A unique Nordic sauna experience.

how to use finnish sauna accessories: wooden water bucket

How to Use a Finnish Sauna – Sauna Tips

Finnish sauna rules are rather simple.

0. Step: heat it up (if it’s your job)

In a public sauna, swimming pools, the sauna will be pre-heated for you. You only need to enjoy it.

In case your accommodation or cottage has a private sauna, you need to operate it yourself.
If your sauna has a wood stove, you will need to make a fire to warm up the stones, and later keep adding more firewood.

An Electric sauna is easier to use, usually, you push several buttons – follow the instructions – and in 1-2 hours it will reach a pleasant temperature.

You can aim for 80 to 90°C (°F) air temperature, you can check it on the thermometer on the sauna wall.

1. Step: stay hydrated at all times (not with booze)

It is essential that you drink enough. Water. Before you had to the sauna and while you are visiting it too.
You will lose a lot of water by sweating, make sure you don’t get dehydrated. Take a water bottle with you and refill when needed.
Alcohol extracts the water from your body. Drinking a beer or anything stronger is not the most efficient way to stay hydrated, and alcohol can affect your hearth performance as well.

2. Step Get naked and take a shower – Finland Sauna Etiquette

Take off your clothes. Yes, that’s right. Finns usually don’t wear anything in the sauna. Respect for others and to your own health and safety, take a shower to clean yourself and wash off perfume and makeups. Your pores will like it too.

Finns go to sauna naked, without any clothes. Be brave! If you feel uncomfortable, wrap a towel around you.

– Men and women sauna (turns): public saunas are (usually) either for men or women (in swimming pools), or they have dedicated times when each gender can use it (in apartment buildings).

3. Step: grab a sauna towel

Public saunas offer throwable sauna towels, but you can use your own (clean) towel too. We have sauna pads at home. You will sit on it.

4. Get seated – choose a bench

In bigger saunas, you can find benches on two levels. The higher ones are hotter. Choose based on your preference, and don’t be shy to relocate if it turns out to be too hot.

5. Sprinkle some water on the stones (a.k.a. ‘löyly’)

The steam will suddenly increase the temperature Make sure you first just throw one spoon of water and wait for the effect. Never pour the water from the bucket and don’t pour water on you. Oils might have been used to give a nice scent to the water, and it can cause nasty burns.

6. Relax.

Enjoy the tranquility or chat with your friends. Be happy. Relax. After 10-20 minutes, it is time for a break.

7. Go outside and cool down.

Your body needs time to cool down. Go outside, dip into cold water, jump into the snow or just take a cold shower. Wait and drink water. Stay outside about as much time as you were in the sauna.
These warm-up and cool-down cycles carry several health benefits. They improve your cardiovascular system, and that can help lower your blood pressure (after regular use).

8. Return for a next round (Step 5-7)

Get into the sauna again, throw some water on the stove, enjoy the heat. Repeat the cycles as long as you have the pleasure (probably 1 hour is a good limit to start with).

9. Take a final shower and finish your sauna experience

Give enough time for your body to return to its normal temperature. Don’t be in rush, wait with dressing up. A quick shower will not stop you from sweating. Take on your clothes and drink more. 🙂

Extra items to make your sauna visit more memorable

1. A sauna hat.

The most practical invention. Your head (obviously) will warm up the fastest, and it helps to keep the heat away from it. As a girl with long hair, it was simply magic. I enjoy sauna much more.

2. sauna seats or sauna towels

if you become a regular visitor (or you have a sauna at home), get one of the easily cleanable seats or just use a small-sized washable towel.

3. essential oil scents

my favorite scent is ‘terva’ (tar), but you can enjoy lemon, eucalyptus or beer as well. Check this for more sauna fragrances.

4. ‘vihta’

Vihta is a leafy birch bouquet. You can gently rub and hit your body with it for refreshment. you should try it. You can craft it yourself, but during the summer, bigger shops sell them too.

Sauna with kids

In Finland, kids use the sauna from an early age. According to sauna society research, the average age for the first sauna session is 4 months. Interesting sauna fact: 12% of the 1-year-old babies have visited the sauna.
Of course, you have to be cautious, as young children don’t sweat and regulate their body temperature like adults, so short turns without pouring water onto the stove is the way to start.

Saunas in Finland

Wherever you travel in Finland, you will find plenty of public saunas. There are saunas in swimming pools but don’t forget about the dedicated sauna places and ice swimming clubs. Don’t forget to check out one of the most popular ones in Helsinki.


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Sauna safety note:

If you have any medical condition or doubt using a sauna, consult your doctor beforehand. If you feel unwell any time, leave the sauna room immediately.

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