Red Cedar, Spruce, or Poplar? What Is the Best Type of Wood for an Infrared Sauna?
When I first became involved in the infrared sauna industry, I assumed the wood that makes up the panels of the cabin and the bench was purely aesthetic. When I’d read sauna specs and see the section on wood, I assumed that people picked different types of wood based mostly on their home decorating scheme. I mean, these saunas are serious pieces of furniture, large boxes of elegant wood that go in the corner of a workout room, or on a deck overlooking a wooded backyard. But, the more I learned about them, the more I discovered that the type of wood used in a sauna is important because every material in a sauna has the potential to affect a user’s health.
And that’s not the only reason wood matters. The type of wood used makes a difference in how well the sauna will age, how well it will stand up to repeated use, and whether your sauna will be comfortable enough that you’ll want to continue using it over time.
Why Wood Matters Within Infrared Saunas
Let’s examine, in depth, the biggest factors to consider when choosing a type of wood for your sauna:
● Wood toxicity: This is one of the biggest concerns users have when I talk with them about choosing wood for a custom sauna. The majority of potential sauna users come to me because they are interested in detoxifying their bodies. With that in mind, they definitely don’t want wood that will introduce new toxins into their environment while they’re using the sauna. Toxicity of building material is a concern for any health facility, and infrared saunas are no exception. There is a very simple solution to this problem. Choose a high quality wood like a Western Red Cedar that is naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial, which does not allow for fungus or other allergens to grow. High-quality sauna manufacturers will also specially dry the wood they use in order to burn away oils, resins, and other allergens that may emerge when a sauna is repeatedly heated and cooled during use.
● Wood weight: This is a concern for some folks, especially those who are having their sauna delivered over long distances to their homes. Of course, a purchase as significant as a sauna should be made well, durable, and built to last, but harder wood isn’t necessarily better. Softer wood won’t crack as easily, and it insulates better. Also, wood that is too hard is heavy, and will present logistical problems when it comes time to have it installed in your home. At the same time, the wood panels in infrared saunas can also warp over time if the wood is not dense enough. The solution to this is to find a wood for your sauna with a density per cubic foot that is on the low side, but not too low. These numbers are typically measured in pounds. In my opinion anything over 30 lb/ft 3 will prove to be unnecessarily heavy, but anything lower than 18 lb/ft 3 may not hold up to the rigors of use. The neighborhood you want is between 20 and 25 lb/ft 3 .
● Resistance to decay: Warping due to flimsy wood is one serious concern, general decay is another. Wood used in saunas is susceptible to the same problem as any other wood over time: steady decay. While there isn’t a metric or numerical system to measure which woods stand up best to decay, there are a few woods that are well known for holding up well over time. The best solution for your sauna is to pick a wood that’s naturally decay resistant, and then have any wood you choose treated with a wood preservative to enhance that resistance.
● Appearance: This one is pretty much self evident. In my opinion, infrared saunas can look beautiful when you weave them into the decorating scheme in your home or your backyard. This may not be as technical a consideration as other factors, but it’s still worth considering. Just take into account the area in which you plan to install your sauna, and ensure that the wood you choose is an aesthetic fit.
● Crushing strength: Crushing strength, which is sometimes known as compression strength, is a measurement of how much weight wood can handle before becoming crushed or broken. Whereas density speaks more to weight, this property speaks more to durability. Your sauna is a haven, a place you can relax and enjoy the many health benefits provided by the process, and that means not having to worry about accidentally cracking the slats of wood in your sauna. Of course, construction and design make a difference too when it comes to durability (that’s why you don’t want a cheap infrared sauna), but the strength of the actual wood is just as important. I’d recommend against less sturdy woods such as hemlock, aspen, and pine.
Types of Wood
While there are too many different types of wood to discuss in depth here, here are some of the kinds of wood that are most commonly used to make saunas:
Western Red Canadian Cedar: Western red cedar has the ideal density for this kind of application, in my opinion, coming in at a spry 23 pounds per cubic foot. It’s also a great thermal insulator due to this relatively low density and to its high proportion of air space. It has high durability, and cedar is also naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial, which prevents the growth of fungus or other allergens. Even though infrared saunas are dry (unlike traditional steam saunas), which reduces the likelihood of fungal and bacterial growth, antiseptic qualities are still desirable traits since a sauna is a place where you go to sweat profusely, releasing moisture and bacteria. Cedar is also highly resistant to warping, denting, and cracking, even given the broad fluctuation of temperatures in saunas. For these reasons, and because of its hardiness in wet conditions and its natural ability to repel insects, cedar has been the defacto choice of those who build traditional steam saunas for hundreds of years. These last two qualities also make red cedar perfectly suited for infrared saunas that are going to be kept outdoors.
Hemlock: If you’ve ever done any model building or serious wood carving, you may know this wood, which is as inexpensive as it is low in strength. Simply put, Hemlock is just too soft to handle the temperature bursts that saunas subject it to. It makes great material for a picture frame, though.
Basswood: One of the major benefits of basswood is that it is free of harmful toxins and allergens that could bother users; when treated properly it is considered hypoallergenic. Basswood also boasts an excellent strength to weight ratio, and a density that is about 25 pounds per cubic foot.
Poplar: There are many species of poplar, and, unfortunately, most of them are soft and porous, which means they get average marks in tests for strength, resistance to decay, and durability. Poplar isn’t all that well suited for varied hot and cold conditions, either, because of its porous nature and middling strength. While it dents easily, it does score great marks for durability, coming in at 22-31 pounds per cubic foot on average.
Pines: Honestly, when it comes to wood choices for an infrared sauna, pine of any kind is the worst possible choice, in my opinion. This wood is low in strength, overly lightweight, and has poor decay resistance. Pine is also more likely to splinter than many of the other choices on our list, and it’s high in resin content, which is liable to irritate your eyes and sinuses during use. Stay away.
Pick the Perfect Wood for You
In order to pick the best wood for your sauna, you must know all you can about your options, specifically how each wood interacts with the sauna environment. The section above should have you well-versed by this point, enough to make an educated decision. It’s probably clear that I prefer cedar for both indoor and outdoor saunas for all the reasons I’ve listed above. In addition, I just think it’s a good looking wood, and with its red or pinkish hue, it looks sharp in any room, and especially so outdoors on a patio or deck. Nordic spruce is also another good option, with its low-odor, hypoallergenic properties.
With equipment that will affect your personal health, every component matters, from the heaters to the wood panels that make up the sides. There are many health benefits to be gained from regular use of a far infrared sauna, including weight loss, stress relief, and detoxification, but you don’t want to limit the potential of your sauna by choosing a wood that prevents it from doing its job properly.
SaunaCloud only sells sauna made from the highest quality materials– from the heaters to the wood–and built in a way that doesn’t cut corners. Over the years, I’ve done extensive research into what materials make the best infrared saunas, and I wouldn’t sell a sauna that didn’t line up with what I’ve found in my research is best. With Sauna Cloud, you can rest assured that you’ll be getting wood of the utmost quality, uniquely suited for the job it’s performing.