When did people start taking saunas?
From the Roman Baths to Turkish Hammams, the practice of using intense heat to induce sweat has been around for ages and has been used for many purposes, evolving over the years.
There is now significant evidence that the use of heat therapy in this manner can decrease your chances of suffering from a number of ailments, including chronic illness, muscle atrophy, and sudden cardiac death—as well as neurovascular diseases like Alzheimer’s and stroke.
And that risk reduction is correlated with frequency of use. With all of these proven benefits, more and more people are purchasing saunas to enhance their daily lives and ensure long-term well-being. And what could feel better after a long, stressful day than lounging in a quiet room while heat relaxes and detoxifies your body and mind?
As you start the search for your perfect sauna, you might begin to wonder: Who invented saunas? When were saunas invented? And how and why did they become so mainstream?
Let’s take a moment to explore the history of the sauna so we can fully appreciate the reasons their health benefits have stood the test of time and how we can benefit from the modern saunas of today in our fast-paced world.
Northern Europe 2,000 BC
Although nobody knows exactly where saunas come from, they are believed to have originated from northern Europe in 2,000 BC. In Finland, the oldest known saunas were used as dwellings to keep warm in the winter and also as a form of bath, where women often gave birth. These simple structures were dug into the side of a hill and featured fireplaces with stones that were heated to a high temperature.
Traditional Finnish saunas, or smoke houses, were built of logs and contained a blazing central fire that heated rocks for hours on end. After the smoke from the burning wood was released, water was then tossed onto the stones to create steam and raise the perceived temperature even more. This generated enough heat to last half a day.
These smoke saunas evolved as the Industrial Revolution provided the means to create metal wood stoves with chimneys to vent the smoke, with its temperatures now exceeding 230 degrees Fahrenheit. As the Finnish people migrated to other areas of the world, they shared their traditions with others—and people began to improve upon them with their own innovations.
One of those inventions was the electric sauna stove, which was developed in the late 1930s. It provided the means to control the heat more accurately than previous iterations—and to heat the sauna more quickly. This improvement allowed for widespread use in homes, with saunas becoming so commonplace that today there are more than there are cars in Finland.
The popularity of the sauna took off in Scandinavia, Germany, and Austria after the second World War, when German and Finnish soldiers fought together against the Soviet Union. Saunas were such an important part of their wellbeing that the latter actually built them in their tents and bunkers. Germany’s neighboring countries, including Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, also eventually embraced this tradition.
Although archaeological and written evidence of saunas has been suggested in places like Greenland, Newfoundland, Scotland, and Korea, most of today’s saunas originate from Finland. They feature low humidity levels by pouring water on hot stones. The steam generated allows for higher heat (ranging from 150–190 degrees) to be safely tolerated for longer periods of time.
A more modern take, the infrared sauna, was invented in the late 19th century with the advent of electricity. John Harvey Kellogg’s cabinet-like structures were heated with exposed incandescent light bulbs that emit infrared energy to induce therapeutic sweating and detoxification. In the 1960s, NASA discovered far-infrared wavelengths created through the infrared, which allowed a Japanese doctor to patent a ceramic infrared sauna. Broad spectrum saunas became available in the US in 1979 and have since been improved for optimal and safe use.
While the methods of heating a sauna have changed over the years, the health benefits remain the same and are enjoyed across the continents. Today, the Finnish company TylöHelo, the world’s leading sauna and steam manufacturer, carry on this revered tradition. As an authorized dealer, we invite you to explore our wide selection of saunas and accessories that will help you take advantage of this holistic wellness experience from the country where saunas were invented.
Make your health a priority.