- The Finnish sauna is a room or a small house heated up to 80-90 degrees (Celsius) or more. It is also a place for relaxation, sweating as well as physical and mental cleansing.
- Bathing in sauna can be a quick 10-minute steam session or a social sauna event lasting all evening – or anything in-between.
- There are over 3 million saunas in Finland. The population of the country is only 5,5 million.
- The Finnish saunas are located on people’s houses, flats and summer cottages, public buildings, companies, trailers, boats and so on.
- Nearly all Finns (99 %) go to sauna at least once a week. The most common sauna day is traditionally Saturday.
How do the Finns Do It?
We warm up the sauna either by switching on an electric hot stove or shoving chopped firewood into the wooden hot stove.
In about one hour, sauna is ready! We take our clothes off, take a shower and fill up a small pail with water.
We sit on the top bench of the hot room and throw water on the stones with a small ladle. Then we lean back and close our eyes.
When we are nicely sweating and hot it is a time to cool down on a balcony or terrace or in a tub, lake or the see. In winter, we access the lake through a whole drilled in the ice. Or we roll in the snow.
It is recommended to drink enough during a sauna session. We usually sip a beer or cider with ice or cold stone cubes in the glass to keep the drink cold. Sometimes we put a grill sausage, in a foil or a special sauna sausage stone, on the hot sauna stones.
Quite often we beat ourselves or our spouse with a birch whisk in sauna. This is actually very good for your skin and muscles. The whisk also gives the sauna nice fresh birch smell.
We warmly recommend you to try the Finnish birch whisk beating ceremony!
Photo: Harri Tarvainen, Ruka Saunatour, Visit Finland
How Healthy is Sauna?
Sauna is said to be good for everybody and cure everything. “If sauna, booze and tar won’t cure you, nothing will.”
The Finns start going to sauna already at the age of one month.
There are several health benefits of bathing in sauna:
- Sauna relaxes sore muscles, softens the skins and can help different skin problems.
- Bathing in sauna increases endorphin hormone production in brain which often relieves physical pain and depression.
- The hot steam of sauna eases asthma and allergy symptoms.
- Bathing in sauna lowers blood pressure and improves peripheral circulation. If you have a heart disease, it may be wise to consult a doctor before going to sauna.
- There is no harm going to sauna during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Photo: Eero Ahanen, Visit Finland
Naked with Strangers in Sauna?
Yes, Finns go to sauna naked even with strangers. However, if you don’t feel comfortable with the idea you can wear a swimsuit or a bath towel.
No, sauna has nothing to do with sex.
Families often go to sauna together. For other groups there are usually separate bathing turns or saunas for men and women.
Sauna Invitation is an Honour
If you visit a Finn in Finland you are likely to end up in a sauna. Getting invited to a sauna in Finland is an honour. Bathing in sauna almost or totally naked with people is also a bonding process.
In sauna, the shy and reserved Finns often open up and reveal their secrets, as well as can have deep conversations. It is also said that, in Finland, the most important decisions are made in sauna.
Photo: Harri Tarvainen, Ruka Saunatour, Visit Finland
We prepared a list of some essential common sauna-related words with explanations for you:
Sauna aroma (saunatuoksu) is etherical or synthetical oil giving lovely scent of, for example, smoke sauna, birch, tar, eucalyptus or herbs. Pour a few drops directly to the ladle and throw it onto the stove stones.
Sauna elf (saunatonttu) is a small human-like creature who usually baths in the last steams of sauna after people. The sauna elf came to the Finnish folklore with other elves.
Sauna hat (saunahattu) or Sauna hair towel (hiuspyyhe) protects your head, neck and ears from the heat of the sauna. It also protects hair color and other hair treatments as well as prevents your hair from drying. The hat or towel is recommended for everbody wanting to enjoy the sauna heat a bit longer.
Sauna honey (saunahunaja) moisturises, cleanses and softens your skin in sauna or shower. Spread the honey on your skin, let it do its magic and rinse off.
Sauna pillow (saunatyyny) you can put under your head or behind your back while relaxing in sauna. The pillow is often made of high-quality linen and filled with non-flammable and hygienic cotton. The pillow dries quickly and can be washed in a washing machine.
Sauna seat cover (laudeliina) protects your skin and the sauna bench. The seat cover is often made of high-quality linen. In public saunas, there are often disposable sauna seat covers.
Smoke sauna (savusauna) is the original and traditional sauna. In former times, children were born and the dead bodies were given the last wash in smoke sauna.
The smoke sauna has no chimney. Smoke from the burning firewood in the hot stove fills the room. The smoke gets out only through a small hole in the ceiling and through the door which is usually kept slightly open during heating.
There are about 25 000 smoke saunas still in use in Finland. Don’t miss the chance to experience the soft smoke-smelling steams of the original Finnish sauna!
Photo: Visit Finland
Steam (löyly) in sauna is crucial. It is created by throwing water on the stove stones. The Finnish word löyly also means the heat, humidity and temperature in the sauna in general.
Steam stone (saunakivi) is a small deco steam stone on the stove stones to increase the humidity in sauna. Simply fill the stone with water, add a drop of your favourite sauna aroma and enjoy.
Steam ladle (löylykauha) is used to throw water on the stove stones. In Finnish saunas, you can freely throw the water on the stones youself. Of course, when there are others it is polite to ask if they mind you doing so.
Sauna Pail (kiulu) for the water thrown on the hot stones to increase the heat and steam. Pail is usually made of wood but you also find stylish plastic and metal pails with a matching ladle.
Sauna stove stones (kiuaskivet). The stones are heated by wood in the stove or electrical heating elements. The amount, size, layout and quality of the stones greatly affects the steam in sauna.
Whisk made of birch bundle (vasta or vihta, depending in which part of Finland you are) is used for beating the body in sauna which relaxes muscles and stimulates the skin blood circulation.
The whisks are often self-made from young and thin birch branches. The whisks can also be bought frozen or dried. Keep the dried whisk in water for about half an hour and it is ready to be used a few times.
Duodecim terveyskirjasto (in Finnish only)
The Finnish Sauna Society