How to Spot a Cheap Infrared Sauna and What to Look for When Buying a Home Sauna
I’ve been lucky when it comes to infrared saunas. The first sauna I ever tried was high quality; it was expertly built and used the most effective heaters on the market. I have, however, heard horror stories from people who have not been so fortunate, people who have had bad experiences with ineffective and uncomfortable saunas. Understandably, those incidents have caused some of the people I know to give up on infrared saunas altogether.
These bad experiences are almost always due to low-quality saunas. Infrared sauna models on the cheaper end of the spectrum are just not able to yield the same intensive health benefits as their better and more elaborate cousins. In other words, with infrared saunas, you get what you pay for. With that in mind, I think it’s important to learn how to spot the signs of a cheaply made sauna so that you don’t waste your time and money. A good infrared sauna can help you lose weight, sleep better, lower your cholesterol, and feel less stress, whereas a cheap infrared sauna may do just one or two–or none–of those things.
Sign #1: Heater Panels
The concept behind an infrared sauna is a simple one for something with a name that sounds so sci-fi: an object is heated until it begins to give off infrared energy, which raises your body’s metabolism, causing you to sweat and leaving you with a bevy of great health benefits. The type of object that is used as a heater inside an infrared sauna, however, is a more complex topic. For many reasons, I have always prefered a carbon/ceramic combo heater–it’s more effective at heating the body, it creates infrared rays of the optimum wavelengths, and it’s comfortable to use. Only high quality saunas will use these carefully designed heaters that combine the benefits of carbon and ceramic.
On the other side of the quality spectrum are many of the saunas that use only carbon panels, which can be much cheaper to manufacture. Carbon panels are new within the last decade or so, but they also don’t heat the body nearly as well as the alternatives, largely because they have a surface temperature that maxes out around 150 degrees. That’s simply not hot enough to get your body to sweat the way you need it to. To compensate, manufacturers who use carbon heaters in their saunas tend to increase the surface area size of their heating panels, extending them almost to the ceiling of the sauna. But doing this just means the panels are heating the air inside the sauna, not directing their infrared rays (which, like visible light rays, travel in a straight line) at your body to heat you up. Heating panels in an infrared sauna only need to be high enough to stretch up to the top of your head when you’re sitting down on the bench.
Sign #2: The Bench
One of the primary reasons I began to use infrared saunas on a regular basis was because, due to my health, I dealt with discomfort on a daily basis. I couldn’t sleep, my cholesterol was skyrocketing, and I needed caffeine to power through each day. Infrared saunas have completely changed that for me. With that in mind, I think it’s important to never forget that the entire point of infrared sauna useage is to make yourself healthier and more comfortable. If you’re using a sauna to soothe aches and pains or clear your head, an uncomfortable bench inside your sauna can stress you out and keep you on edge.
The bench is also a tangible place to judge how much thought and effort a manufacturer is willing to invest in his products. It’s one of the only pieces of the sauna that every person who uses it is guaranteed to physically touch. The least a conscientious sauna company can do is ensure that is of high enough quality that you’ll actually want to spend 30 or 40 minutes sitting on it. If a manufacturer hasn’t even done that much, chances are very good that they’ve cut corners on other aspects of their products, too.
Sign #3: Craftsmanship
Staying on the subject of the bench for a moment, it can also serve as a window into the craftsmanship of an infrared sauna. If a sauna bench is so flimsy that it moves or sways when you sit down on it, that may mean that the craftsmanship in the rest of the sauna is not up to par either.
There can be other tell-tale signs that a manufacturer skimped on the building process, too. Cheap manufacturers almost always leave signs of rushed work and a lack of effort or quality control. A sauna is a major expenditure that also has great potential to improve your life. If the exterior of a sauna is carelessly put together, you shouldn’t trust that manufacturer with something as complex as the sauna’s heaters.
Sign #4: The Walls
There are more ways for the walls to tell you if a sauna is cheap or not. In my opinion, thin walls are one of the most common flaws of cheap saunas. The problem with thin walls is that they aren’t good at resisting the hot and cold temperature swings that are inherent to a sauna. Walls that are only three to five millimeters thick are more likely to split or warp.
Cheap saunas are often made of wood that hasn’t been dried properly, and this will also lead to warping. A high quality infrared sauna should have walls at least five millimeters thick made of a properly treated, quality wood, such as cedar (which is resistant to moisture, and has antibacterial and antifungal qualities) or spruce (which is hypoallergenic).
Sign #5: The Technology
Infrared saunas, unlike traditional steam saunas, rely on technology, and if we know what to look for, we can examine the electronic components of an infrared sauna to find out whether or not it was cheaply made.
Wiring is one big giveaway. Many infrared saunas have cheap wiring configurations. I’ve seen inexpensive infrared saunas with central processing units, circuit boards, junction blocks, and power converters that are right out in the open. On the more complex side of things, the presence of an oxygen ionizer is also a good indicator that you’re dealing with a company that uses cheaper carbon heaters. An ionizer is installed to kill bacteria in the air, but ceramic or combination carbon/ceramic heaters are natural air ionizers that produce negative ions that kill bacteria the same way.
Sign #6: The Salesman
It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that not all sauna companies put your interests first and foremost. I only say that because when you’re making a purchase of this size, trust in the sales team is important. When you’re dealing with a salesperson, feel free to let your questions rip. It’s important to get to know the company before you make a purchase from them.
Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- How long has the company been in business? A longer history means good word of mouth and repeat business. These are strong signs a company can be trusted.
- What is their online reputation? You don’t even have to ask this question directly. Just set aside some time and Google them.
- How aggressive is their sales team? Over-aggression by the sales team is an indicator that the company is compensating, likely for a low-quality product.
- What is their warranty? The best companies cover the infrared sauna they sell you for as you own it. This tells you the company is confident in the sauna’s workmanship and parts.
- Will they let you try the sauna out for 30 days? If they do, they’re interested in making sure you’re happy with what you bought and that you chose the right sauna to fit your lifestyle and health needs.
As you can tell, I’m not shy when it comes to telling folks about the positive impact infrared saunas have had on my life. However, when I talk about infrared saunas to the uninitiated, I always mention one vital thing: new users need to make sure they always seek out a high quality model, because it makes a difference. I’d hate for someone to miss out on all that infrared saunas have to offer because of a bad experience with a cheaper model. I’ve distilled the tips offered above from years in the industry, and they should help make sure your money is wisely spent.