Skip the Spa Weekend: These Are the Best Home Saunas for Unwinding All Year Round
They’re calming, restorative, and rather nice-looking.
Published Jun 29, 2022 11:44 PM
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Reading up on Domino’s shopping guides is like having your own personal product concierge. We do the tedious part—deep-dive research, hands-on testing, and tapping experts for advice—so all you have to do is hit “add to cart.” That’s why we call them Simply the Best.
Gone are the days of not-so-hot saunas plunked down in damp suburban basements. The temperamental electric heater is now high powered, and today’s at-home saunas deserve a spot in the sun (aka your backyard) or a corner of your home gym. They’re efficient, oh-so-beautifully designed, and a great way to make your space feel well balanced and spalike.
We all can’t break a sweat and then take a dip in the Baltic Sea like the Finns, but you can take a page from that lifestyle and get your blood circulation flowing on the regular in the best home saunas. To make it a part of your daily pastime, here are the best for indoor and outdoor use, including ones with electric and wood-burning stoves, brands that do amazing custom work, and sauna kits and budget-friendly picks.
- Best barrel: Dundalk LeisureCraft Inc. Clear Cedar Outdoor Barrel
- Best small space: Cala Traditional Indoor Finnish Sauna by Auroom
- Best sauna kit: Dundalk LeisureCraft Inc. Pure Cube Outdoor CU580D
- Best budget: Almost Heaven Saunas Hillsboro 2-Person Indoor Sauna
- Best custom outdoors: Finnleo
- Best custom indoors: Tylö Sauna
Best Barrel: Dundalk LeisureCraft Inc. Clear Cedar Outdoor Barrel
Capacity: 6 different size options; the smallest can seat 4 | Heating type: Wood-burning or electric | Wood: Western red cedar | Additional features: Add-ons include a front porch, a changing room, an overhang, and a panoramic window
What we like:
- Loads of ways to customize the design
- 6 size options
- For outdoor use only
Why we chose it: This eye-catching design is also highly efficient, perfect for a satisfying sweat session on a cold day.
A barrel-shaped sauna is designed to maximize hot air. Without a flat-top roof, the heat doesn’t just rise to the top but circulates more easily. That efficiency and ability to heat up quickly is ideal in an outdoor model, particularly one that requires a trek through snow or chilly air to reach it. This one is available in a more traditional wood-burning stove or an easy-to-use electric style. Finnish saunas are traditionally powered by a wood-burning stove, and in both wood-burning and electric options, water is added to a stovetop basket of rocks to increase humidity.
There are extensive ways to customize this model, from adding a front porch or overhang to more windows or a changing room. Placement near a back door may require only an overhang, but a sauna further away would benefit from a changing room or larger front porch to leave shoes on. Capitalize on great views with additional windows, and add a rubber roof for particularly inclement regions.
Best Small Space: Cala Traditional Indoor Finnish Sauna by Auroom
Capacity: 1 person | Heating type: Electric via a Tylö 4.6 KW or a Huum Drop 4.5 KW heater | Wood: Aspen | Additional features: Wi-Fi-controlled heater is an add-on and it also sells sauna accessory kits
What we like:
- 3 different heater options, including a Wi-Fi-compatible one
- Sleek horizontal paneling
- Takes 4 to 6 hours for 2 people to put together, according to the brand
- Heater is not included in the price
Why we chose it: Small but mighty, this model features a powerful heater and two benches for optimizing heat or inviting in a friend.
At a little under 4-by-5-feet, this sauna is ideal for those who don’t have significant space to dedicate but want the full experience of an at-home sauna. Heater options are from Tylö or Huum (two well-regarded brands), and the interior benches allow for alternating between high heat and the slightly cooler lower bench. (Because heat rises, the higher bench will be hotter than the lower one.)
In smaller spaces, the sauna exterior matters even more. While a large home may have room for a sauna largely out of sight in the basement or home gym, squeezing a sauna into a smaller home means it’s likely to be way more visible. Thankfully, Auroom’s design, which features wax-finished horizontal panels of aspen, is easy to integrate into an existing design scheme.
Best Sauna Kit: Dundalk LeisureCraft Inc. Pure Cube Outdoor CU580D
Capacity: 3 people | Heating type: Wood-burning or electric heater | Wood: Western red cedar | Additional features: Built-in shower
What we like:
- Options for wood-burning or electric heater
- With a shower built in, this model is great by the pool
- This is an outdoor model, but there are Pure Cube indoor models
Why we chose it: It’s a beautiful outdoor model with a built-in shower that isn’t impossible to put together.
Bill Millette, the owner of Country Saunas by Design, has been working in the sauna industry for more than 20 years. Having handled over 600 sauna projects, both residential and commercial, he knows his stuff. His tightly curated offerings, including this Pure Cube model, are meant to provide serious relaxation. That means they’re well constructed and made to be used well without serious issues popping up. The Pure Cube kit comes with wall and roof panels, which makes assembly less of a jigsaw puzzle and more of a solid weekend project.
In Finland, it’s pretty standard to shower before hopping in a sauna, and this model makes it easy to do so. The shower hardware and door hinges are stainless steel. With two tiers of benches and a vent, it’s easy to control the heat. The optional semi-privacy panels (a cedar grill on the exterior of the sauna) are ideal for high-traffic areas or adding a bit more seclusion to a backyard sauna without blocking out all the light. The built-in shower is great for a post-sauna rinse or use after a swim if there’s a backyard pool.
Best Budget: Almost Heaven Saunas Hillsboro 2-Person Indoor Sauna
Capacity: 2 people | Heating type: Electric via a Harvia 4.5kW heater, but an upgrade to a 6kW heater is possible. | Wood: Nordic spruce | Additional features: Set start time up to 8 hours in advance, LED lighting.
What we like:
- Sections of the wall and roof, plus benches and backrests come preassembled
- Heats up quickly because of the small size
- “Midlevel handyman and assembly skills” needed
- Does not have a floor, so it must be placed on tile, ceramic, concrete, or laminate flooring
Why we chose it: A budget-friendly option that doesn’t skimp where it counts.
With a trusted Harvia heater (plus the option to upgrade to a more powerful model), this is a solid budget pick ideal for primary use by one person and occasional use by two. The hinges and fasteners are stainless steel; the window and glass door are both tempered and tinted. Especially in a small unit, a nicely sized door and window are key in preventing the sauna from feeling claustrophobic.
While spruce is a soft wood, Nordic spruce isn’t as porous as others, which means it’s less likely to absorb sweat and then smell. Lighter wood, like the one used here, is also less likely to show discoloration from wear over time. So this model is poised to handle steady use without quickly deteriorating. Taken together, the design decisions that make up this sauna will satisfy a budget shopper who doesn’t want to sacrifice quality.
Best Custom Outdoor: Finnleo
Capacity: Customizable | Heating type: Electric or wood-burning | Wood: Extensive options include Canadian hemlock, Nordic white spruce, European alder, and Western red cedar | Additional features: LED lighting, floating benches, heat- and moisture-resistant speakers, and mobile sauna control
What we like:
- Free design services includes 3D CAD renderings
- Solid warranties
- A brand with decades of experience
- Customization with Finnleo gets expensive
Why we chose it: A standout brand with an amazing array of customization options.
With meticulously selected woods, decades in the industry, and a team willing to help make custom sauna dreams a reality, Finnleo is a great choice for backyards and various outdoor structures like pool houses. The company has an extensive array of personalization options—from bench style to wood to door type—to ensure an outdoor sauna doesn’t stand out in a bad way but instead is both easy on the eyes and easily integrated into a backyard design.
Going the traditional route via a wood-burning heater doesn’t mean entirely forgoing technological upgrades. “Finnleo’s wood-burning heaters have been reinterpreted for modern living,” says Mark Raisanen, director of sales and marketing at Sauna360, Finnleo’s parent company. “The patented air-channeling system between the outer shroud and inner firebox allows heated air to efficiently pass through the rock chamber for faster and more even heating of the rocks. This improves steam generation and air circulation in the sauna.”
“I really loved working with Finnleo,” says interior designer Kristin Hildebrand, who used the brand for her most personal project to date—her home. “After doing extensive research, I felt it was a great manufacturer that produces really high-end, beautiful saunas.” While she went with an indoor model, a brand you can trust outdoors is also one worthy of indoor consideration, and what’s great about Finnleo is that it has varying levels of customization to accommodate a range of budgets.
Best Custom Indoors: Tylö Sauna
Capacity: Customizable | Heating type: Electric | Wood: A bevy of options, including aspen, taika, and Western red cedar | Additional features: Luxe control panel allows adjustment of auxiliary fans, fragrance, or lights
What we like:
- Extensive sizing, including a tiny sauna that’s only 16 square feet
- Sauna control system is high-tech, easy to use, and Wi-Fi enabled
- A fully custom sauna comes with a high price tag
Why we chose it: A brand known for its heaters also offers an array of custom saunas.
From plug-and-plays to prefabricated sauna rooms to fully custom designs, Tylö Sauna has quality choices at various price points. Industry experience to guide customers pairs perfectly with a plethora of personalization options. We particularly love the look of the Panorama interior and the unique black taika paneling.
But it’s not just about looks with this brand. Tylö’s electric heaters are known to be some of the best in the industry; they’re extremely efficient, high quality, and made to last. “Tylö heaters are unique in that they keep the rock chamber and air chambers separate,” says Raisanen, explaining that this design leads to a more rapid heat-up.
Infrared Saunas We Like
Some people prefer infrared saunas, where the heat feels way less intense. (Because it lacks a heater with rocks and the resulting steam, a number of sauna authorities reject applying the term sauna to infrared models, but it has become pretty standard terminology in the U.S.) We’ve put together a guide to the best infrared options here, but some standouts include:
- Clearlight’s Sanctuary 3 Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna is a beautifully designed, technically advanced sauna from a brand whose fans include major sports teams and wellness fanatics like Gwyneth Paltrow.
- For someone not quite ready to invest in an infrared sauna, the Higher Dose Infrared Sauna Blanket is a great option.
- Enlighten Sauna® Rustic – 3 Peak Sauna is an ideal outdoor option. It’s durable, well made, and easy to install.
How We Chose These Products
We talked to experts in the field—from a sauna dealer who has installed hundreds to a favorite architect who has used them in multimillion-dollar projects—to get a better sense of what makes a quality sauna. And because there’s no point in adding a relaxing feature to your home if it doesn’t work well or breaks down quickly, we looked for durable woods, solid tech specs, and high-quality heaters from trustworthy brands.
Our Shopping Checklist
When it comes to design, there are a few key things to consider—location, wood type, heater, and extras. First, determine whether your sauna will go indoors or outside, as the latter must be made to withstand the elements. In both locations, consider how custom you’ll go, which is often a budget-driven question but will impact location (a prefab model that can fit in an at-home gym versus a custom one that is more embedded in a primary bathroom). There are saunas available in a variety of wood types, with various pros and cons. As for heaters, “some choose the wood-burning heater to enjoy the ritual of cutting wood and tending the fire to heat up the sauna,” says Raisanen. “For cabins and remote locations, a wood-burning heater is chosen because no electricity is needed. Then they enjoy the relaxing crackle of the wood-fueled fire. Others choose the electric heaters for convenience.” (Note: Some wood-burning saunas do require electricity.) Both wood-burning and electric heaters have the traditional pile of stones that you ladle water on to create steam.
A wood-burning stove uses firepower, but wood must be cut to fit the size of the firebox, and it takes more effort and time to heat up the sauna. Electric saunas, by contrast, take about 15 to 30 minutes to reach a high temperature, and newer Wi-Fi-compatible interfaces streamline the process further. “I think the heater is the most important component when purchasing a sauna,” says Millette. “You can buy a heater online from any Joe Schmoe, but chances are it will come with little to no specifications or schematics on wiring it and usually no warranty assistance from the online seller.” Look for reputable brands like Tylö and Harvia. A heater is not a place to save money.
“Walls are mostly covered with Nordic white spruce, hemlock, or cedar wood types,” according to Finnleo. Benches aren’t always the same type of wood. For example, at Sauna360, abachi or aspen is often used on the benches and backrests since “it has no knots, which means the skin will not come in contact with any excessively hot surface,” Raisanen says. He reports that a Western red cedar “is a traditional North American sauna wood choice” with a “pleasant aroma” that “holds up well to moisture” and, due to its characteristics, is “comfortable at high temperatures,” which means it can act as a bench material in addition to a wall material.
Our small-space pick is aspen, but one that has been thermo-heated, which means it has been essentially “baked” to make it more resilient. As Raisman puts it, “Taika’s main quality is the low maintenance as well as the dramatic color variation from a lighter bench/backrest system.” Canadian hemlock is “gaining in popularity for its consistent color, clear vertical grain, and trademark odorless features.” It’s also a good option for those with sensitivities to the smell of woods like cedar.
“Nordic design is based on light colors, clean lines, and natural materials—all to make a warm and inviting space,” he says of the Nordic white spruce that is also popular. “The light-colored wood makes a small space feel larger and contributes to the overall calm and relaxation. Saunas smell fresher with this wood type, as sweat doesn’t impregnate the wood as it can with other woods.”
Millette has great advice when it comes to figuring out size. He recommends following what he calls an “80 percent usage capacity,” meaning size the sauna for how many people will be in it 80 percent of the time. “Don’t base it on how many people you think will want to come try out your sauna the first day it’s installed or when all the family is over for the holidays,” he says. “Instead, base it on daily usage by you and your family.” For tiny saunas, he wouldn’t recommend going smaller than 4 feet deep by 4 feet wide by 7 feet tall. The most popular size he sells for in-home use is 5-by-7-by-7. Cathy Purple Cherry, the founder and principal architect of Purple Cherry Architects, recommends a minimum of 7 feet in one direction so that lying down is possible. For two individuals to be able to lie down comfortably at the same time, she recommends a sauna that’s 7 feet deep and 7 feet wide.
All electric saunas require an electric hookup; some wood-burning ones do, too. Very small saunas can be plugged into a standard outlet, but larger ones require 220/240V power connected to a breaker with a 30-amp or 40-amp breaker. As Millette points out, in order for the warranty to be valid, many brands require a licensed electrician to complete the job. Cherry says, “My advice would be to understand where the electrical source is coming from and whether or not the sauna requires a separate circuit. Typically, power feeds from the top or the ceiling of a space. Before ordering and installing, make sure you can run wiring to the location that is desired for sauna placement.”
These days there are lots of options for lighting, bench design, doors, and controls. Even prefab models will sometimes allow an upgrade for nicer lighting or a different bench type. We particularly like the look of recessed lighting, which helps facilitate a relaxing, spalike atmosphere. Some electric heaters can now be linked to Wi-Fi, allowing preheating hours in advance or assuring the sauna is ready post-workout. As for benches, there are floating designs and varied slat thickness, ergonomic add-ons for upright sitting, and bench backs. The more custom the design, the more options there are to consider, which is why it’s nice to work with a quality retailer that can talk through the cost of various options and how said choices will impact the user experience.
Doctor’s Orders and Safety
Before investing in an at-home sauna, check with your doctor to make sure they don’t have any concerns given your particular health history and medication usage. Anyone who is pregnant or trying to become pregnant should also consult with their obstetrician. Even though it may seem obvious, always read the safety instructions that come with the sauna to understand best practices for safety. If others will be using the sauna as well, consider posting a copy of the safety instructions next to the sauna or include those instructions with any usage guidelines you offer guests.
Raisanen recommends looking at safety listings for the sauna brand. “There have been multiple companies entering the U.S. market that claim to have a U.S. Safety listing but are not listed under the all-important category of UL875 (which is the sauna safety category),” he says. “There are some heaters on the market that don’t even have a high-limit cutoff or meet some of the other very critical safety components of the U.S. Safety listing. You want the entire heating unit to be safety listed under the sauna category of UL875.”
The text of a warranty tends to be long and boring, but it’s worth taking a look before ordering a sauna to really understand how much the company is willing to back its product and what will happen if problems arise down the line. Also, it’s good to get a sense of how to manage installation to avoid voiding the warranty. As mentioned above, many brands require the use of a licensed electrician. A solid warranty can also act as an indicator of quality—if a company is offering an extensive and long-lasting warranty, that indicates a faith in its product’s ability to withstand regular use.
Q: Where in the house should I put my sauna?
Both Hildebrand and her husband are former pro athletes. “Over the course of our professional volleyball careers, we used and felt the benefit of saunas a lot,” she notes. So when they renovated their home gym, adding a sauna was a no-brainer. For a more integrated look, they considered the flooring used in their home (engineered white oak) and chose an unstained fir for the sauna to match the wood tone of the flooring in the rest of the house and “give it the organic look and feel of the saunas you see in Finland.”
This sauna placement isn’t just common with the pros. “The sauna is typically located in close proximity to a gym area, whether in a principal structure or in a detached structure,” says Cherry. “Post-gym is an ideal time for sauna use. In addition, placing a sauna next to a space that gets accessed regularly promotes more frequent use.” A fully custom sauna can be integrated into underutilized space, like beneath a staircase or as a replacement for a second walk-in closet off a primary bedroom.
Q: What is the difference between an infrared sauna, a regular sauna, and a wet sauna?
“Saunas can be custom-made or they can be purchased prefabricated,” Cherry explains. “This is not true of a wet sauna, also known as a steam room. Think of a steam room as a tiled room with a sloped ceiling—essentially a waterproof box. A custom sauna is typically built behind a wall so that you don’t even know the room is a sauna other than by the door, which is typically a smoky glass, wood-framed door. A prefabricated sauna unit is typically a freestanding element that is tucked into a corner.”
Infrared saunas rely on infrared heat; traditional saunas use electric or wood-burning heaters to produce heat and introduce humidity. Infrared saunas are a newer option and don’t reach as high temperatures, so some people prefer them because it’s not as heat intensive as a traditional sauna.
Q: What accessories do I need for my sauna?
Start with a bucket and ladle if it’s not included. Tylö has some really nice options, in addition to add-ons like a thermometer and an hourglass to track how long you’ve been in the sauna.
Q: With an at-home sauna, do I need to worry about mold?
If you’ve been to spas or fancy hotels with saunas, you may notice a drain in the sauna, which raises questions about moisture and what kind of issues at-home saunas may produce. It turns out, drains are only necessary for commercial saunas and are used for cleaning purposes, not moisture drainage from regular sauna use. Saunas have “a fairly dry humidity level, from 5 to 35 percent typically,” says Raisanen. “After use, leave the sauna door open to air it out completely. The heat remaining in the rocks and in the wood should dry the sauna completely, and can even help dry down the shower area if it is adjacent to the sauna room.” The most common mistake he sees in custom saunas is a failure to plan for ventilation. “It’s not that difficult, but it’s a super-important step to plan for an inlet vent and an exhaust vent,” he says.
When it comes to dealing with moisture, Millette points to the importance of a vapor barrier. “When installing all of our indoor saunas, the first step besides installing faced insulation is to put in a quality vapor barrier over the studs before the wood panels are installed,” he says. “This along with the high temperature and the cedarwood inside prevents the growth of mold.” While it’s not necessary, for a custom indoor sauna in a remodel, if a drain line is easily accessible, Millette recommends adding a drain to the sauna to make cleaning easier.
Q: How do I keep my sauna clean?
We turned to Raisanen for this question, and his advice demonstrates that a little bit of maintenance goes a long way with a sauna: “A good ritual for after a sauna session is to take a hand brush, tip it in the water bucket (plain water), and do a quick scrubbing of the benches and backrests that were used. This 30- to 60-second ritual will keep the sauna looking great for years. After you’re finished using the sauna and your cleaning process is complete, prop the duckboards off the floor and leave the door open. Occasionally wiping down the wood with a mild detergent and water is needed if dirt or sweat stains develop. Depending on how often you use your sauna, occasionally wet-mop with a liquid deodorizing cleaner such as Pine-Sol.”
The Last Word
Indulging in this Nordic tradition is a great way to decompress after a long workday, recover after a strenuous workout, or reconnect with friends. Whether it’s a barrel in the backyard or a fully custom design in the bathroom, adding the heat and hiss of a sauna to your home is the kind of addition that reduces stress rather than amplifying it.