Perhaps you are new to the sauna scene, and wondering how best to fit this new health habit into your lifestyle. Or maybe you have been bathing routinely in traditional saunas for years, but you’ve been hearing about people using sauna blankets in lieu of going to a traditional sauna and you just want to know more. What are the differences between sauna blankets vs traditional saunas?
The difference between a sauna blanket and a traditional sauna is primarily in form rather than function. A sauna blanket is a portable at-home or on-the-go option, while a traditional sauna has a fixed location. Both offer comparable health benefits, although the sauna blanket may be noticeably lacking in the ambiance of the spa sauna experience.
Stay tuned to learn more about the similarities and differences between sauna blankets and traditional saunas that will help you decide which method of sauna bathing is right for you!
Should you use a sauna blanket or a traditional sauna?
The type of sauna you should use hinges largely on how you want to use it. If you are prone to claustrophobia, zipping yourself into a heated blanket designed to place mild stress on your body may not be a pleasant experience.
People with limited mobility may find that using a sauna blanket at home suits their needs better than the ritual of leaving the house and visiting a traditional sauna which may be less accessible. On the other hand, some people may find that the ritual of going to a traditional sauna and sharing an atmosphere with others seeking the same therapy is crucial for their relaxation and mental reward.
If you are looking for a way to reap the benefits of a sauna session without leaving the house, but installing a traditional sauna in your home is financially out of reach, then a sauna blanket is just the thing for you. At the end of the day, sauna blankets and traditional saunas are both tools available for you to improve your health and well-being. You choose the tool that fits best in your hand.
Is a sauna blanket or a traditional sauna better?
If you are looking for a scientific study to tell you whether a sauna blanket or traditional sauna is superior, you will be disappointed.
All indications are that both sauna blankets and traditional saunas offer many of the same benefits with no clear winner in terms of efficacy.
Still, more research into the way sauna blankets stack up against their traditional brethren is still desperately needed.
Sauna blankets vs traditional saunas
In order to make a decision about the kind of sauna experience you want, you need to know a bit more about how sauna blankets stack up against traditional saunas.
For the sake of comparison, we will focus on the way each type of sauna functions and how you interact with each.
Traditional saunas rely on radiant heat to increase both your surface and core body temperatures and get you sweating. You spend similar lengths of time in traditional and blanket saunas.
Sauna blankets and infrared saunas both rely on the emission of infrared light waves to heat you from the inside out. As a result, they share a majority of their effects. There isn’t much available research specific to blankets, but all indications are that IR light brings its benefits regardless of your sauna bathing method.
In all cases, you put your body inside the sauna, get hot and sweaty for a duration of your choosing, and reap the health benefits for hours following your bathing session.
The majority of the contrast between infrared saunas and their blanket brethren comes down to the logistics of their use and maintenance. In other words, the greatest variation between sauna blanket and traditional sauna is found in the journey, not the destination.
Here are some of the differences between the two sauna experiences:
- Location or portability
- Heat source
- Warmup time
- Recommended attire
- Body coverage
Let’s dive into these differences in detail.
Perhaps the biggest difference of all is in the price.
A sauna blanket can be yours for a few hundred dollars, plus the minimal cost of the electricity it uses. Blankets generally plug into a standard wall outlet and require next to nothing in the way of setup or maintenance.
Traditional saunas, on the other hand, cost thousands of dollars to purchase. Then, there’s the cost of installation. You’ll probably have to pay an electrician to come out and configure the wiring, and after it’s all set up it will draw significant electricity every time you use it. Not to mention hundreds of dollars in potential maintenance.
Even if you decide to use a sauna at a gym or spa rather than having your own installed, you will still be charged a membership fee or possibly a fee for each sauna session.
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Location or portability
A traditional sauna requires its own space, designated explicitly for its installation and use. Once it is installed, it is essentially a permanent fixture.
A sauna blanket, on the other hand, can be moved around and put away when you need the space for something else or simply don’t want to look at it.
A sauna blanket can be used anywhere you have a flat surface to lie down on. You’d have a hard time fitting a traditional sauna into your suitcase, but a sauna blanket can go where you do.
Traditionally, saunas are heated by a stove or electric heater.
The air inside the sauna is heated, and this in turn heats your body from the skin inward. An infrared sauna uses a specialized light source to emit infrared radiation through the air to your body, heating you internally. As a result, the air is not as hot in an infrared sauna. Sauna blankets are limited to the use of infrared radiation as a heat source.
Blankets are generally not quite as hot as traditional saunas to the touch, which is good because you can burn your skin touching surfaces much cooler than your average sauna.
Whereas traditional saunas tend to take a while to heat up and even infrared saunas take upwards of 15 minutes, sauna blankets tend to take less than five minutes to get warmed up and ready.
They don’t have to heat up any air around you or waste time and electricity radiating energy into space. Sauna blankets radiate infrared directly to your body once you crawl inside.
In a traditional sauna, regardless of its heat source, minimal clothing generally provides you with the best bathing experience. In public saunas, bathing suits reign supreme. In private, your birthday suit is perfectly sufficient.
When you use a sauna blanket, though, you want to have most of your skin covered. This is partly to protect your skin (as mentioned above, it’s deceptively easy to burn yourself), but also important for sanitation.
Sauna blanket bathers are usually advised to wear light sweatpants and long sleeves, as well as socks, to absorb and wick away sweat. Not only is it more comfortable to be clothed inside a sauna blanket, but doing so makes it easier to clean and keep the blanket clean.
A traditional sauna unit is a full-body experience. It may seem obvious, but it is noteworthy all the same.
Your head and neck are generally exposed when using a sauna blanket, as well as your hands if you need to use them for anything at all.
It’s also worth noting that sauna blankets are inherently single-user items. Whereas traditional saunas may be used by multiple people at once, a sauna blanket can only ever be a one-person experience. This goes for sanitary reasons as well as space considerations since it is much easier to wipe down a shared bench surface than it is to completely clean a fabric sack into which you deliberately sweat.
Sauna blankets can be cleaned, but they are not ideal for sharing.
A huge component of the sauna bathing experience is just that – the experience.
A traditional sauna envelops you in an atmosphere curated to relieve stress and provide relaxation. You can’t bring in your phone or otherwise multitask, and the outside world is temporarily held at bay. By contrast, using a sauna blanket requires that you DIY your own ambiance.
It’s not as simple as walking in and closing the door to the outside world; if you want the stress-relieving benefits of a sauna session in blanket form, you have to be intentional about curtailing your stimuli and creating a relaxing environment.
Key characteristics of a sauna blanket
Sauna blankets are portable fabric devices (read: plug-in blankets) that use infrared radiation to provide you with an at-home or on-the-go sauna experience. They are essentially the love child of sleeping bags and infrared saunas.
These blankets tend to range in temperature between 120℉ and 140℉, heated by carbon fiber heating elements encased in the fabric of the blanket. They also come without the history and culture of a traditional sauna.
Keep reading to find out all about sauna blankets.
Potential benefits of a sauna blanket
Like a regular infrared sauna, sauna blankets have been shown to:
- Boost metabolism including Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption
- Trigger weight loss
- Help you detoxify by eliminating wastes like heavy metals by sweating
- Improve blood circulation
- Boost your mood
Are sauna blankets effective?
Sauna blankets are an effective and affordable alternative to traditional saunas, though they will likely never replace or fill the cultural role of the traditional sauna.
Are sauna blankets as effective as traditional saunas?
Research into sauna blankets is still pretty slim, but there is no evidence to suggest that they are any less effective than a traditional sauna. Infrared blankets may even more effective than a sauna, but there is not sufficient research to support that statement either.
In reality, the most effective sauna is the one you will use regularly. Whether it be in free-standing or blanket form, you get the most out of your sauna bathing when you do it on a frequent and regular basis.
Can you lose weight with a sauna blanket?
You may not lose weight solely by using a sauna blanket, but a sauna blanket can be a helpful addition to your weight loss program. Not only will you burn more calories as your body works to keep itself cool, but using a sauna blanket may help with your cardiovascular conditioning as well.
Ongoing research suggests that sauna use can provide cardio benefits similar to those resulting from light to moderate exercise of the same duration as your sauna bath, making your future exercise and resulting weight loss that much easier.
You will lose significant weight in the form of sweat with every sauna session, but it is important to rehydrate and maintain your body’s fluid levels, which will ultimately cancel out this temporary loss of water weight.
Potential risks of using a sauna blanket
Sauna blankets come with most of the same risks as traditional saunas. It may be easier to forget when you are cocooned inside one of these blankets, but there are risks involved.
Potential risks when using a sauna blanket include:
- Contact burns
- Electrolyte imbalance and related cramps
- Low blood pressure
- Heat exhaustion
While a couple of these risks are unique to sauna blankets, it’s worth pointing out that many of them are the same as the risks assumed when using any other type of sauna.
Key characteristics of a traditional sauna
Most people are least vaguely aware of traditional saunas, even if it’s just from seeing them in movies. Unlike many things on the big screen, the portrayal of the sauna experience is at least mostly accurate.
Traditional saunas use a stove or electric heater to heat stones which then radiate heat into the room. Generally, the temperature is kept somewhere around or above 175℉, and humidity is kept at or below 30%.
Popular in Europe and with a cultural history of being a place of community and healing, saunas are starting to catch on in the U.S. health and fitness industry.
Potential benefits of infrared sauna
More and more research is being published that showcases the potential benefits of infrared sauna use. Even better, these benefits are dose-dependent, meaning you get more benefits as you use a sauna more frequently!
Potential benefits of traditional sauna bathing include:
- Increased metabolism
- Heavy metal detox by sweating (aluminum, cobalt, cadmium, lead)
- Increased production of heat shock proteins (HSPs) meaning you will be able to comfortably withstand increased temperatures going forward
- Lower blood pressure
- Cardiovascular conditioning comparable to light exercise of the same duration
Do traditional saunas really work?
Traditional saunas really do work! A fantastic meta-analysis published in 2021 in the journal Experimental Gerontology compiled data from numerous what the authors referred to as the “myriad health benefits” of saunas known to date, and the breadth of research-backed benefits of sauna use is truly astounding.
This paper details various burgeoning areas of research into the effects of whole-body heating on things like the increased synthesis of heat shock proteins, prevention of neurodegenerative diseases, and improved heart health along with a reduction in risk of all-cause mortality.
Perhaps the most compelling data comes from a study published in 2015 which followed more than 2300 men in Finland over a twenty-year period. Researchers found that the risk of mortality by any cause was decreased by 40% in frequent sauna bathers, relative to infrequent sauna bathers. The risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) was reduced by 27% in men who used a sauna 2-3 times per week, and by 50% in men who used a sauna 4-7 times per week, as compared to men who only went once weekly!
What are the risks of using an infrared sauna?
While infrared saunas are generally considered safe for most populations, there are a few things to watch out for when you decide to use one.
Risks of infrared saunas include:
- Electrolyte imbalance and cramps
- Heat exhaustion
- Low blood pressure
Sauna blanket vs. traditional sauna: Which should you purchase?
Whether you purchase a sauna blanket or elect to use a traditional sauna ultimately comes down to personal preference.
Though each offers some individual merits, they share many of the same benefits. In the end, your decision will depend on the experience you seek.