What is the best wood for an infrared sauna?

Historically, the answer is cedar

Written by Christopher Kiggins

Why Wood Matters Within Infrared Saunas Why Wood Matters Within Infrared Saunas

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.

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.

Let’s examine, in depth, the biggest factors to consider when choosing a type of wood for your sauna:

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Wood Toxicity 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 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 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 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

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.

Common Woods Used for Infrared Saunas Common Woods Used for Infrared Saunas Common Woods Used for Infrared Saunas

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 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 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 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 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.

Pine Pine

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.

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I am glad infrared saunas have developed the way they have, because I couldn’t imagine my life without the benefits they provide, like deep sleep, lower blood pressure, less joint pain, weight loss, and a boosted immune system. Here at SaunaCloud I sell saunas that are some of the best history has offered. My far infrared saunas use advanced ceramic-carbon combination heaters for an amazing sauna experience. For more information on how SaunaCloud’s infrared saunas work and how they can improve your health, download my book The Definitive Guide to Infrared Saunas. Just give us a call at SaunaCloud 1.800.370.0820.

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Christopher Kiggins | Sauna Enthusiast

Christopher Kiggins | Sauna Enthusiast

I have been writing, learning, educating and generally pointing people in the right direction infrared sauna wise since 2012. Let me know how I can help: chris@saunacloud.com - (530) 417-1220