Who doesn’t love a sauna session? Relax a bit, heat up your whole body, and just let your worries melt away…it’s just great.
But traditional saunas have a few problems. The primary ones being they get far TOO hot and steamy.
The excess steam can mess with your breathing after a while, and while the heat is nice, it can lead to danger with prolonged exposure.
Infrared saunas eliminate most of these issues, and make the dream of having your own sauna at home a very achievable reality.
But what makes one good? How do you narrow down the market to just the ones that ARE good?
Today I’m going to answer these questions, but if you’re in a rush I’m going to list my top picks so you can get back to your busy life. But if you have a few more minutes to spare, settle in and I’ll give you the in depth hows and whys of infrared saunas.
Only Have a Minute? Our Top Choices:
TOP Overall Choice: SA2420DX Tuscon Monticello 4 Person
Top Far Infrared Choice:Empava 2-3 Person
Top 2-Person Choice: JNH Lifestyles
Health Benefits: Should You Get One?
Saunas of all kinds have documented health benefits. While further study needs to be done to determine the extent and full nature of these benefits, there are still apparent benefits that mitigate or stall the ongoing effects of chronic diseases like headaches and migraines, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
The first few of these in particular make perfect sense. The higher your body heat the less viscous your blood is (the same as any liquid or semi-liquid), which can help the blood flow better with less blockage as your veins loosen and the blood in them thins slightly. As many headaches are (in part) caused by constricting blood vessels, the lowering of your blood pressure will in turn aid in getting rid of the headache.
While many of the other benefits of infrared saunas are unproven, these same benefits logically extend to lessening the effects of symptoms for many chronic diseases, which often cause muscle tightness or restricted blood flow (both of which are helped by a higher body temperature).
The other primary supposed benefits of any kind of sauna are “detoxification” and for weight loss. The former is sheer bunk: humans do not detoxify through sweat (that’s the job of your kidneys and liver), and infrared saunas do not magically fix that issue. The science simply isn’t there for that benefit.
Weight loss has a grain of truth to it, though I’d caution against using a sauna as your primary means of weight loss. Most of what you shed is “water weight”. One of the minerals you DO shed through sweating is salt, which is one of the primary causes for water retention. Sweating in a sauna won’t let you “sweat out” your fat reserves with any degree of efficiency. Saunas are not a replacement for eating right and working out.
Given that there are some medical benefits to a sauna, and no drawbacks, and they feel nice I would recommend getting one. Just make sure you know WHY you’re getting it and don’t get caught up in the pseudo-science “detox” hype.
Infrared vs Steam Saunas
The difference between infrared and tradition steam (or hot rock) saunas is pretty simple: traditional saunas heat the air, infrared saunas heat YOU.
Traditional saunas involve hot steam permeating the air and heating the entire room to the temperature needed for the sauna to work. You then heat up along with the room. The main downside to this is that the air quickly becomes stifling, and staying in a traditional sauna too long can be detrimental to your health.
Infrared saunas work by radiating heat directly into your body using infrared light (invisible to the naked eye) and heating panels. The air remains cool and free of moisture (aside what’s already there) while you heat up and reap the benefits of a higher core temperature for a while.
While you don’t want to stay in either over long, infrared saunas are safer and more comfortable to use.
What Do We Look For In The Perfect One?
There are two main types of heating panel in infrared saunas: ceramic and carbon.
Carbon panels are generally preferable; they’re more efficient, last longer, and more comfortable to be around.
Ceramic panels heat up considerably when in use and tend to let that heat “bleed” into the air more than carbon panels do, introducing many of the same issues a traditional sauna has to the infrared version. They also tend to heat less evenly, leaving cold spots (and some that are extra hot), and since they themselves heat up a lot they can’t be leaned on.
Carbon panels stay cool to the touch and offer a more directed heat while heating up close to three times faster than ceramic panels do.
If possible, always get carbon heating panels, and ones imported from Japan of those (they tend to be the highest quality).
The number and placement of heating panels is also important. In general, more is better. The more panels there are (and the better they’re placed) the more evenly the heat will be distributed, and the better the sauna experience.
For a truly great infrared sauna, you want one made of wood (sustainably sourced is a plus) that is held together by strong screws or bolt and held tight.
Watch out for saunas that cut corners by simply gluing the wood together. Glue has a tendency to melt with heat and moisture, both of which will be abundant in a sauna (though the latter less so in an infrared sauna) and you may find your sauna literally coming apart at the seams within a few months.
We’ll be looking at some cheaper (even portable) options today, but for true quality, the above are non-negotiable.
Infrared saunas commonly come in three primary sizes: portable, single person, and two-person.
Portables infrared saunas are sort of like tents with a chair you sit in that is just large enough to cover your body up to the neck. They do in a pinch, I suppose, but are hardly ideal.
Single person saunas are exactly what they sound like. They give just enough space for one person in a small, closet-like space to enjoy with little room to move around.
Two person saunas are a bit larger and can comfortably accommodate two people.
Larger sizes exist, certainly, but MOST infrared saunas will fall into this range where two people are the max without getting into exorbitantly expensive six to eight person models.
Note your size needs and budget before you buy. Portable and single person saunas absolutely cannot accommodate multiple people.
As nice and relaxing as sitting in a warm box can be, it can also be…well, boring. Many higher end saunas come with built in radios or DVD players to help alleviate that boredom, and I definitely recommend trying to get one with entertainment features.
Infrared saunas are relatively expensive, surprisingly enough. They’re not cheap, but with the lower end for portable saunas running you under $200 and some of the higher end models being around $3000, it’s pretty good pricing for a luxury item that also doubles as a health and wellness tool.
That out of the way, let’s get cracking!
Top CHOICE: SA2420DX Tuscon Monticello 4 Person
While I’ll get more into detail down below about its features, suffice it to say for now that this has everything I’ve been looking for in an infrared sauna. In every capacity it meets or exceed the benchmarks set by competitors.
In function it remains unsurpassed (being larger than most with more panels and more amenities) and I feel its shape makes it a lot more aesthetically pleasing than a simple square or rectangular box. Even its price (a bit under $2000) doesn’t faze me, considering it’s only about $500 more than considerably smaller units that perform the same in other regards.
If you want to hedge your bets and just get a model large enough to fit your whole family or closest friends, while not missing out on anything a smaller unit could provide, this is absolutely the best option.
Value Choice: Giantex Portable Far Infrared
For what it is and what it will cost you, this honestly isn’t all that bad. Does it look ridiculous? Absolutely. Are many of the components cheap and unremarkable? Yes (especially the chair), but for under $100 you get, if nothing else, a nice little chamber to warm you up and get a little bit of a sweat in.
This sauna can heat up between 60 to 140 degrees for up to an hour with its far infrared “negative ion” heater. That phrase will come up fairly often, so I’ll take the time to point out here: this phrase is largely meaningless and has no proven medical benefit, but no discernible side effects either. You don’t need to worry about it harming you but it is not a selling point.
It comes with a foot warmer and massager as well as a folding chair, which increases the value somewhat. A decent foot massager can run you close to $100 on its own.
If you want to try out an infrared sauna and see if it’s something you’d at all be interested in spending more money on later, you can do a lot worse than this.
Top Far Infrared Choice: Empava 8 Carbon Fiber
Jumping up, we have this beauty.
I like this one. It’s a two to three person sauna that makes a very nice “relaxation chamber”.
It’s made primarily of Canadian hemlock wood (a quite nice looking light wood, and I say this as someone who usually prefers dark woods for furniture) with tempered, scratch resistant glass on the door. Its construction should make it vaguely soundproof, enough to block out most low ambient sounds at least.
The heat radiates from eight carbon fiber panels placed around the interior (each of the roughly 4 x 3 strips of black cubes in the picture make up one of these) and it can reach temperatures up to 141 degrees Fahrenheit (the recommended temperature is closer to 124 degrees though) and can hit that in about 15 minutes.
Its extras include a soft reading light and a stereo surround system with MP3 hook up if you want to play a little music or read while you relax.
I’d be tempted to get one of these if I had the space. It’s only around $1300 and would make a very nice, relaxing place to read in the evenings while I heat away some aches and wind down before bed. I suggest getting this one if you want an infrared sauna with enough room for you and your significant other or a friend, or just one with space for you to lay down.
Top Portable Choice: SereneLife Portable Infrared Home Spa
Back to the portable saunas for a moment, with a somewhat better entry.
While it is nearly double the price of the last portable infrared sauna we looked at, it’s subtly better in a few important ways. It reaches most of the same basic benchmarks: it can heat up to 140 degrees for an hour, and it has a foot warmer plus massager and chair included.
The main differences are size (it’s a bit bigger) and stronger construction. The chair and tent portions are built a little stronger and a little more comfortably, along with it having more efficient carbon heating panels. It boasts being able to warm you to the proper temperature in 10 minutes or less, unlike others.
While a more stationary model is still preferable, this is a good alternative if you just need something quick and cheap to set up and use.
Top One Person Choice: DYNAMIC SAUNAS AMZ-DYN-6106-01 Barcelona
Quite nice, inside and out.
While fitting two people inside is a bit of a stretch (or a squeeze, as the case may be), it makes for a comfortably roomy one person sauna with just about any amenity you could ask for in an infrared sauna.
Six carbon fiber panels provide the heating (plenty for a single person unit) and can easily hit the standard 140 degree Fahrenheit temperature you should expect from an infrared sauna (though again, the recommended temperature is between 120 and 130 degrees).
Again made from Canadian hemlock (reforested, which is nice of them), though this time stained black, with the same tempered and scratch resistant glass of the Empava. It likewise has an MP3 aux connection and speakers.
The control panels are a nice addition, having both an interior and exterior panel so the temperature and everything ese can be controlled and adjusted once you get inside without having to step into the relatively cool air and undo some of the loosening up you’ve done.
Its other main claim to fame is “chromotherapy”, which just amounts to “it has some colored light bulbs inside”. The science on this idea is quite thoroughly bunk as well in regards to medical benefits, but the psychological benefits of color scheming is well documented, and many colors are relatively well proven to help you relax or evoke other emotions (in general, cool colors to relax and warm colors to stimulate), so mood lighting is always nice to have.
All in all, a very nice sauna, and one anyone would be glad to own. It’s a bit pricy for a one person model (a little over $1200) but it offers just a bit extra over many of its competitors, so that can be overlooked.
Top Two Person Sauna: JNH Lifestyles 2 Person
A quite nice “few frills” far infrared sauna.
This was a strong contender for the “best far infrared sauna” slot, but lost out mostly to the Empava’s larger size. In terms of two person infrared saunas though, this can’t be beat.
Its main charm comes from the fact that it’s just well made. Double walls for greater insulation, the Canadian hemlock we’ve come to expect, and easy “tongue and groove” construction that can be further reinforced with bolts or nails if need be.
It has seven carbon heating panels and a stereo system (as we’ve come to expect from install models) and the likewise standard scratch resistant tempered glass. It does have an interior control panel, which is always a big plus, though I will air one minor gripe here: it’s up a bit high to easily reach. Still, you shouldn’t need to get to it very often so it’s not a huge deal.
You can do a lot worse for less than $1100, that’s for sure, and it looks incredibly comfortable (particularly since it has those double insulated walls which should make it even quieter inside).
Top Four Person Choice: SA2420DX Tuscon Monticello
Probably the best sauna around, if you think you need the space.
This is sort of the culmination of all the infrared saunas we’ve looked at today. It has every feature the others have, and a few more besides.
Solid hemlock? Check. Tempered, scratch resistant glass? Also check. Sound system? You betcha.
You can go down the line, it has the standard 141 degree temperature, carbon panels (10 of them), interior and exterior control panels, and even “chromotherapy” mood lighting.
In addition to all that it has a bit more interior space for things like magazine racks and cushiony back rests (which sound quite nice and cozy in there) with room to stretch your legs and just enjoy everything the sauna has to offer.
Given all that the price is very reasonable, well under $2000. This one gets my wholehearted seal of approval. I like the look (the octagon shape is nice and fits in a corner), the function, and everything else about it.
The clear standout infrared saunas are the Tuscon Monticello and Empava Far Infrared units. Not only are they the biggest ones on the list, they are also the most comfortable and do the most.
It was a hard race between the two but I eventually went with the Monticello for simple fact that it’s bigger and does more (even if all the “more” it does is the mood lighting and interior control panel).
All the others on this list are great in their specific niche, but these two are the ones that stand out as transcending their niche and being truly good when taken as part of the whole market of infrared saunas.