Even Small Space Dwellers Can Carve Out a Spot at Home for the Best Infrared Saunas
One is just 3-by-3 feet.
Published Jun 1, 2022 6:45 PM
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Maybe you’ve experienced an infrared sauna at a spa once and totally loved it, or perhaps you’ve thought about how nice it would be to book time at your local fitness studio’s infrared sauna. Either way, while it is hygge, that’s not entirely convenient. But what if one, with access to all of its feel-good treatments, was just steps from your bedroom or right outside your back door?
“An infrared sauna uses dry heat rather than steam, so it’s more gentle and provides a more comfortable experience when compared to a traditional sauna,” explains Tim Waanders, PT, DPT, of Finish Line Physical Therapy. “Traditional saunas rely on warming the air inside the sauna, which can take much longer to heat up and does not penetrate the body tissues as well.” Infrared saunas can be a lot easier to install and maintain than traditional ones, and now there are blanket and dome options for those who don’t want to commit a ton of space.
Check out the best infrared saunas for renters and homeowners, from small-scale ones where you can squeeze a bit of relaxation into a walk-in closet, to others that will complete the look of your lush outdoor space and can fit your whole group.
- Best overall: Clearlight Sanctuary 3 Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna
- Best small space: Radiant Health Saunas E-1H 1 Person Elite Model
- Best dome: The Curve Sauna Dome
- Best budget: Higher Dose Infrared Sauna Blanket
- Best outdoors: Enlighten Sauna® Rustic – 3 Peak
Best Overall: Clearlight Sanctuary 3 Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna
Size options: Models available for 1, 2, 3, or 4 people, plus there’s a handicap-accessible model with an ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp and door handle | Material: Western Red Canadian cedar or basswood | Power: 240V/15 amp | Portable: No | Reservation mode: Yes
What we like:
- Wood is very high quality and FSC certified
- Sleek design, thoughtful features, and smart capabilities
- Freight shipping is well organized, and white-glove delivery is available
- Like most infrared saunas, it does not come preassembled
Why we chose it: A beautifully designed, technically advanced sauna with major fans.
Clearlight isn’t a household name, but its buyers are. According to the company, its saunas are owned by the likes of Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis, tennis champion Novak Djokovic, and wellness fanatic Gwyneth Paltrow. The brand is also in the training centers of a number of major league sports teams.
This is a full-spectrum sauna, providing near-, far-, and midrange infrared heat. (Far-infrared saunas only use far-infrared heat, but a full-spectrum system can target things like muscle soreness and inflammation.) The infrared heaters are optimally placed to maximize exposure; built-in speakers and LED colored lighting make for a multisensory sauna experience. Many saunas have large glass-panel doors, but in this case, the glass continues overhead with a third of the roof also composed of glass for a more expansive feel. The door handle works as a tablet or phone stand, and sauna settings can be controlled via an app, including preprogramming a session up to 36 hours in advance.
Best Small Space: Radiant Health Saunas E-1H 1 Person Elite Model
Size options: Models available for 1, 2, 2.5 (a slightly roomier model), 3, or 4 people | Material: Hemlock wood | Power: 110V/15 amp | Portable: No | Reservation mode: Yes
What we like:
- Smallest size has a footprint of only 16 square feet
- Lifetime warranty on wood and heaters
- Gets rave reviews from longtime users
- Only big enough for 1 person at time, but larger models are available
- 5-year warranty for the electrical parts
Why we chose it: A teeny option made by a brand with the user’s well-being at the forefront of every decision.
Those without a dedicated room for wellness/workout equipment aren’t out of luck. At 3-by-3 feet, this is Radiant Health Sauna’s smallest model. According to the brand, it can even be installed in a walk-in closet.
Because far-infrared saunas have been subjected to the most extensive testing, some people prefer to use them instead of full-spectrum models. In addition to being far-spectrum, this one has been independently tested and has no VOCs (volatile organic compounds)—i.e., it does not contain toxins. As its outline of safety certifications shows, this brand does not take shortcuts when it comes to consumer health, which means its saunas can be enjoyed stress-free.
Best Dome: The Curve Sauna Dome
Size options: 1 person | Material: Organic hemp exterior, memory foam pad | Power: 120V/15 amp | Portable: Yes | Reservation mode: No, but you don’t really need one for this type of model
What we like:
- Easy to use and doesn’t take up too much space when not in use
- Headrest included for maximum comfort
- While domes are lightweight, all components together weigh 80 pounds
Why we chose it: A super-comfortable option that doesn’t require the space or commitment of a full sauna.
A dome infrared sauna is ideal for renters, apartment dwellers, and those who prefer more flexibility in their space. Price-wise, it sits in between a sauna blanket and a full-on sauna. But it’s more spacious internally than a sauna blanket without taking up the real estate of a traditional sauna.
This one comes with a comfortable memory foam infrared pad, uses the carbon and ceramic heating style found in larger models, and plugs into a standard outlet. After usage, the smaller dome can be inserted into the larger one, which can then be tucked away. (The control panel and infrared pad are heavier, so it’s ideal to keep them near where you plan to use the dome.) The lightweight domes are finished in an olive green hemp and with a simple geometric design, and they wouldn’t look bad in the corner of a living room.
Best Budget: Higher Dose Infrared Sauna Blanket
Size options: 1 person | Material: Waterproof polyurethane leather | Power: 120V/15 amp | Portable: Yes, the most portable option we’re recommending | Reservation mode: No, but you don’t really need one for this type of model, just preheat for 10 minutes
What we like:
- Hyperenthusiastic reviews from hundreds of customers
- A portable and powerful option
- Warranty is 1 year long and limited
Why we chose it: Way more affordable than a traditional sauna, Higher Dose’s sauna blanket still packs a serious punch.
This far-spectrum option is super-easy to use—plug in, preheat for 10 minutes, then slip in the sleeping bag–like structure for a serious sweat session. This is the smallest and most portable infrared sauna option we’re featuring. Among Higher Dose’s many fans is Emily Henderson, author of The New Design Rules. After using it for a year, she offered some all-caps endorsements and a very enthusiastic review. “It makes my brain and body feel really, really good, and it’s a healthy substitute to less healthy nighttime wind-down habits,” she wrote, calling it a great replacement for an evening glass of wine. “It’s a ritual that I could do while watching bad TV by myself, and then afterward I take a shower, crawl into bed and I’m out.”
Best Outdoors: Enlighten Sauna® Rustic – 3 Peak
Size options: 2, 3, 4, or 5 people | Material: Western Canadian red cedar | Power: 110/120 V / 20 amp minimum, 30 amp recommended | Portable: No | Reservation mode: No
What we like:
- Pick between a peak or sloped roof
- Has a Bluetooth player with built-in speakers
- Windows on 3 sides for optimal views
- Requires a dry and level base, so it can’t go directly on the ground outside
Why we chose it: A durable option for the great outdoors or, at least, enjoying the great outdoors through glass.
“The sauna came into my life at a can’t-believe-I-lived-without-this caliber after several public bathhouse experiences in Japan and Belgium,” says photographer Caroline LeFevre. But finding an at-home model that lived up to her standards proved challenging. “It needed to get really hot really quickly, have windows, and be easy to assemble and plug into my house,” she adds. This Enlighten model met those requirements and then some. “Some nice bonus features are the chromatherapy mode, timer setting, and Bluetooth speaker, which opened me up to adding sound to the whole experience. Curating my sauna playlist has become a major part of the catharsis,” notes LeFevre.
For maximum comfort, the backrest is ergonomic and the bench is especially deep. With nice extras like a cup holder, magazine rack, and towel rack, it’s hard to leave. Thankfully this model is meant to last and will hold up to all sorts of weather forecasts. The glass walls are double paned and made of tempered glass, which is much stronger than standard glass. With two roof options—a traditional peak or a more modern slope—the sauna will complement a variety of home styles. With a wall of glass, it’s perfect for taking in the seasons’ changes, all while staying adequately warm. Imagine posting up during a snowy day and catching the sunset while sweating it out or doing a little bird-watching after a strenuous run.
How We Chose These Products
We scoured the market, looking for brands with devoted customers and infrared saunas that can stand up to serious use. We assessed price, performance, and promises, looking for high-quality wood, useful features, and good design. We zeroed in on three key styles, options for both far- and full-spectrum models, and different price points.
Our Shopping Checklist
Design and Size
The first thing to sort out is where your infrared sauna will go. An indoor sauna doesn’t need to hold up to inclement weather and can simply be moved outdoors if you decide you’d rather have it in the backyard after a few years. A lot of infrared saunas these days have large glass doors, which makes even a one-person-size sauna feel more spacious. Review measurements before purchasing to make sure it will fit. A second home or vacation getaway that’s often used for hosting guests would benefit from a larger, multi-person sauna. A big home sauna has benefits beyond avoiding squishing.“ In Scandinavia, sauna use is social, which potentially has additional emotional and mental health benefits,” says Dr. Denise Millstine, director of Integrative Medicine and Health at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Then there are smaller options for when a dedicated permanent space isn’t possible, like an infrared sauna dome or blanket.
Doctor’s Orders and Safety
Before investing in an at-home sauna, check in 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.
“Unlike a traditional sauna, infrared heats the body directly,” the Clearlight manual points out. “Air temperature in the sauna is not as important as the type and quality of the infrared being received.” That’s why it’s best to buy an infrared sauna from a reputable brand with solid reviews, so you feel confident that the heating equipment is well made. It also means that those who find a traditional sauna too overwhelmingly hot might really enjoy an infrared sauna.
The text of a warranty tends to be long and boring, but it’s worth taking a look before ordering to really understand how much the company is willing to back its product and what will happen if problems arise down the line. 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 years of regular use. Different components of the sauna may have different warranty timelines, from a lifetime guarantee to a year. Outdoor saunas tend to have shorter warranties than indoor ones. Don’t attempt to make repairs to an infrared sauna before getting in touch with the sauna maker as, in some cases, attempted repairs or alterations can void the warranty.
Placement can impact the model and size you go with, so sort it out before ordering. For indoor use, if it’s possible to orient the sauna toward a window for natural light and/or views, that’s ideal, but some homes only have room for a sauna in a basement gym or garage, in which case orienting it so that the door is able to open properly is important. In an unheated space, it may take longer for the sauna to heat up. A sauna should not be placed right against a wall. Give it a few inches of clearance on all sides, and check the install instructions for precise clearance specifications. Do not use an extension cord and make sure the outlet offers sufficient power.
Outdoors, balance privacy with views. In a backyard, consider orienting the sauna so the entrance (and largest glass panel) is perpendicular to the back door. That way, instead of facing into the house, someone using the sauna will face into the yard, for a bit more privacy and better views. On a larger property, consider a more remote placement, like in the trees or with a nice nature view. Outdoors, a concrete foundation poured beneath where the sauna will sit is likely necessary, but check the install guidelines provided by the manufacturer. Saunas weigh hundreds of pounds, so if you’re planning to put it on a deck, make sure the weight isn’t going to cause any issues.
Q: I love a feel-good routine. What’s the best way to use an infrared sauna?
An infrared sauna is a great way to promote relaxation and connection. Use built-in phone compatibility and speakers that come in many models to meditate with the help of an app or just listen to relaxing music. Always bring a water bottle in with you to stay hydrated. Alternatively, invite a friend over for a shared sweat session. A two-person sauna is a great place to catch up and makes for a fun and healthy alternative to meeting for drinks. Because sauna usage can be relaxing, it works as a nice end-of-day wind-down, but there’s really no bad time to use a sauna. Even when using the reservation setting, it’s useful to give an infrared sauna 10 to 15 minutes to heat up once it’s activated. If it gets too hot, adjust the temperature settings, prop open the door for instant fresh air, or pop out for a few minutes.
Q: I want an infrared sauna blanket, but I’ve never tried one. Any advice?
If you live in New York City or happen to be visiting soon, you can book an appointment at Higher Dose locations in Williamsburg and SoHo. It makes our favorite sauna blanket and also has partner locations in Boston and Westchester, New York. Sitting in an infrared sauna isn’t exactly the same, since you’re more physically contained in an infrared blanket, but it’s a good alternative. Search your location and infrared saunas online; there are a lot of boutique spas and wellness centers that offer infrared sauna treatments, as do some physical therapy offices.
Q: Is using an infrared sauna like exercising?
“Yes, in the same way that heart rate increases, respiratory rate increases, cardiac output goes up, and flushing occurs,” says Millstine. It can also be a nice complement to vigorous exercise like a long bike ride or a strenuous run. “The infrared sauna usually becomes very popular right around major races and is great for relieving sore muscles and joints, especially after a grueling training cycle,” says Waanders. “Increased blood circulation helps to remove waste and supply muscles with more oxygen for faster recovery, as well as reducing muscle tension. This in turn can help improve muscle flexibility and joint range of motion.”
Q: What does it mean when a sauna says it’s going to “detoxify” or “clear out toxins”?
A lot of sauna retailers promise “detoxification.” We turned to Millstine to get her thoughts on this claim: “Sauna use increases sweating—and sweat is more than simply water. It contains electrolytes (salt) and potentially other components such as some heavy metals. Whether this is clinically meaningful and in whom this is important is unknown. I’m skeptical of the importance of sauna detoxification above what can be accomplished from exercising (at intensity that includes sweating), clean eating, and drinking plenty of water.”
That said, adding a relaxing ritual does have health benefits. As Waanders points out, “Stress reduction is a key benefit of using an infrared sauna. By allowing the muscles to relax, the body feels less tense. This in turn inhibits the sympathetic nervous system (which controls our fight-or-flight response) and places the body in a parasympathetic state, allowing for proper healing.”
Q: How do I keep my infrared sauna clean?
The brand Jacuzzi has shared a great break down of cleaning tips. Two standouts are prevention and gentle cleaning. On the bench, “perspiration stains are common to form from your body, and are nothing to worry about,” it explains, but always lay down a towel on the bench to reduce staining. Also, stains can be removed with light sanding, according to Jacuzzi®. It recommends damp cloths, occasional vacuuming, and cracking the door after usage so moisture can more easily evaporate. Always check the retailer’s site for cleaning instructions, which may appear on the product page or in the FAQs. Higher Dose sells a cleaning solution for its sauna blanket.
The Last Word
An at-home sauna is an ideal way to boost relaxation, stay healthy, and have fun. It’s a great addition to a basement, at-home gym, or outdoor space. Now that there are more portable and packable options, lacking square footage doesn’t rule out at-home sauna usage.
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