AskDefine | Define sauna

Dictionary Definition

sauna n : a Finnish steam bath; steam is produced by pouring water over heated rocks [syn: sweat room]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Sauna





  1. A room or a house designed for heat sessions.
    The hotel has a sauna in the basement.
  2. An act of using a sauna.
    John had a sauna after his swim.
  3. A public sauna; a front for a brothel in some countries.


sauna room or house
  • Croatian: sauna
  • Czech: sauna
  • Estonian: saun
  • Finnish: sauna
  • German: Sauna
  • Interlingua: sauna
  • Swedish: bastu
act of using a sauna


  1. To use a sauna.


to use a sauna
  • Dutch: sauna
  • Finnish: saunoa
  • French: sauna
  • German: saunieren
  • Spanish: sauna
  • Swedish: basta, bada bastu



From sauna.


hr-noun f






From *savńa, which is from *sakńa. Cognates include Estonian saun, Karelian soakna and Northern Sami suovdnji.


  1. A sauna.
  2. Any bath where sweating is part of the bathing process.
    turkkilainen sauna
    Turkish bath
  3. In the context of "idiomatic|archaic|lang=fi": Opin sauna = school (lit: "sauna of learning")


fi-decl-kala saun

Derived terms



  1. sauna

See also


  1. sauna

Extensive Definition

A sauna (, or as Finnish [ˈsɑunɑ]) is a small room or house designed as a place to experience dry or wet heat sessions, or an establishment with one or more of these and auxiliary facilities. These facilities derive from the Finnish sauna. The word sauna is also used metaphorically to describe an unusually hot or humid environment.
A sauna session can be a social affair in which the participants disrobe and sit or recline in temperatures of over 80 °C (176 °F). This induces relaxation and promotes sweating.



The word sauna is an ancient Finnish word referring to the traditional Finnish bath as well as to the bathhouse itself. The proto-Finnic reconstruction is *savńa. There are etymological equivalents in the Baltic-Finnic languages such as the Ingrian and Votic word sauna, Estonian saun and Livonian sōna. The word suovdnji in Sámi means a pit dug out of the snow, such as a hole for a willow grouse. In Baltic-Finnish, sauna does not necessarily mean a building or space built for bathing. It can also mean a small cabin or cottage like a cabin for a fisherman.

First saunas

The oldest known saunas were pits dug in a slope in the ground and primarily used as dwellings in winter. The sauna featured a fireplace where stones were heated to a high temperature. Water was thrown over the hot stones to produce steam and to give a sensation of increased heat. This would raise the apparent temperature so high that people could take off their clothes.


Eventually the sauna evolved to use a metal woodstove, or kiuas [ˈkiu.ɑs], with a chimney. Air temperatures averaged around 70-80 degrees Celsius (160-180 degrees Fahrenheit) but sometimes exceeded 90 °C (200 °F) in a traditional Finnish sauna. Steam vapor, also called löyly [ˈløyly], was created by splashing water on the heated rocks.
The steam and high heat caused bathers to perspire. The Finns also used a vihta [ˈvihtɑ] (Western dialect, or vasta [ˈvɑstɑ] in Eastern dialect), which is a bundle of birch twigs with fresh leaves, to gently slap the skin and create further stimulation of the pores and cells.
The Finns also used the sauna as a place to cleanse the mind, rejuvenate and refresh the spirit, and prepare the dead for burial. The sauna was (and still is) an important part of daily life, and families bathed together in the home sauna. Indeed, the sauna was originally meant to be a place of mystical nature where gender/sex differences did not exist. Because the sauna was often the cleanest structure and had water readily available, Finnish women also gave birth in the sauna.
Although culture of sauna nowadays is more or less related to Finnish culture, it's important to note that the evolution of sauna have happened around the same time both in Finland and the Baltic countries sharing the same meaning and importance of sauna in daily life. The same sauna culture is shared in both places still to this day.
When the Finns migrated to other areas of the globe they brought their sauna designs and traditions with them, introducing other cultures to the enjoyment and health benefits of sauna. This led to further evolution of the sauna, including the electric sauna stove, which was introduced in the 1950s and far infrared saunas, which have become popular in the last several decades.

Modern saunas

Many North American and Western European college/university physical education complexes and many public sport centers and gyms include sauna facilities. They may also be present at public and private swimming pools. This may be a separate area where swim wear may be taken off or a smaller facility in the swimming pool area where one should keep the swim wear on.
Under many circumstances, temperatures approaching and exceeding 100 °C (212 °F) would be completely intolerable. Saunas overcome this problem by controlling the humidity. The hottest Finnish saunas have relatively low humidity levels in which steam is generated by pouring water on the hot stones. This allows air temperatures that could boil water to be tolerated and even enjoyed for longer periods of time. Steam baths, such as the hammam, where the humidity approaches 100%, will be set to a much lower temperature of around 40 °C (104 °F) to compensate. The "wet heat" would cause scalding if the temperature were set much higher.
Finer control over the temperature experienced can be achieved by choosing a higher level bench for those wishing a hotter experience or a lower level bench for a more moderate temperature. A good sauna has a relatively small temperature gradient between the various seating levels.
Good manners require that the door to a sauna not be kept open so long that it cools the sauna for those that are already in it. Leaving the door even slightly ajar or keeping it open for more than a few seconds will significantly cool down the relatively small amount of hot air inside the sauna.
Infrared saunas are growing in popularity, using far infrared rays emitted by infrared heaters to create warmth.
In Finland, the sauna was thought of as a healing refreshment. The old saying goes: "Jos ei viina, terva tai sauna auta, tauti on kuolemaksi." ("If booze, tar, or the sauna won't help, the illness is fatal.") The Finnish sauna is not thought as an easy way to get physical exercise, and it is not intended for weight loss; in fact, it predates these modern ideas.
In Finnish sauna culture, a beer afterwards is thought to be refreshing and relaxing. Pouring a few centilitres of beer into the water that is poured on the hot stones releases the odor of the grain used to brew the beer. This distinctive smell, however, sharply divides Finnish people. Also other scents can be used (for example pine tar or eucalyptus), but using any scents other than birch leaves is frowned upon by the traditionalists. A common method for adding birch leaf scent is to wet the leaves of a vihta in water, and then place the vihta on the hot stones for a second or two. This also conveniently heats the vihta for use to whip the users skin to increase blood circulation. According to Finnish lore, the human body is most beautiful thirty minutes after a sauna.
Social and mixed gender nudity with adults and children of the same family is common in the conventional sauna. Sometimes the sauna is considered not only a sex-free, but also almost a gender-free zone. In the dry sauna and on chairs one sometimes sits on a towel for hygiene and comfort; in the steam bath the towel is left outside. Some hotel sauna facilities and especially cruise ships and/or ferries have an area where refreshments (often alcoholic) are served in conjunction with the sauna/pool area; draping a towel around the waist is generally required in that part of such facilities.
As an additional facility a sauna may have one or more jacuzzis.

Finnish sauna

Records and other historical evidence indicate that the Finns built the first wooden saunas in the 5th or 8th century. Early saunas were dug into a hill or embankment. As tools and techniques advanced, they were later built above ground using wooden logs. Rocks were heated in a stone fireplace with a wood fire. The smoke from the fire filled the room as the air warmed.
Once the temperature reached desired levels, the smoke was allowed to clear and the bathers entered. The wood smoke aroma still lingered and was part of the cleansing ritual. This type of traditional smoke sauna was called a savusauna, which means "smoke sauna" in Finnish. Many people find the smell of smoke and wood to be relaxing.
In Finland swimsuits, towels, or any other garments are rarely worn in the sauna. Families often go to the sauna together, which is not considered eccentric since family saunas are an old tradition. In these private saunas swimsuits or towels are never worn. In public saunas it is more common that men and women go to the sauna separately, although people of both sexes may sometimes bathe together, for example in student clubs. Still, saunas are not associated with sex and sexuality. Quite the contrary, historically saunas have been the most sacred places after the church, and most houses which could afford to build a sauna had one. In older times women also used to give birth in the sauna because it was a warm and sterile environment. Children were occasionally born in saunas still in the beginning of the 20th century.
The lighting in a sauna is shady, and some Finns prefer to sit in the sauna in silence, relaxing. The temperature is usually between 80°C (176°F) and 110°C (230°F). Sometimes people make a 'vasta'; they tie together small fresh birch branches (with leaves on) and swat themselves and their fellow sauna bathers with it. One can even buy vihtas from a shop and store them into the freezer for later (winter) use. Using a vihta improves blood circulation, and its birch odour is considered pleasing.


Today there are a wide variety of sauna options. Heat sources include wood, electricity, gas and other more unconventional methods such as solar power. There are wet saunas, dry saunas, smoke saunas, steam saunas, and those that work with infrared waves. There are two main types of stoves: continuous heating and heat storage-type. Continuously heating stoves have a small heat capacity and can be heated up on a fast on-demand basis, whereas a heat storage stove has a large heat (stone) capacity and can take much longer to heat.

Heat storage-type

Smoke sauna

Smoke sauna (Finnish savusauna) is the original sauna. It is a room with a pile of rocks, with no chimney. A fire is lit directly under the rocks, then fire is put out, and the heat stored in the room and in the rocks is the heat source. Following this process, ash and ember are removed from the hearth, the benches and floor are cleaned, and the room air is allowed to freshen for a period of time. Temperature is low, about 60 °C, and humidity is high. The tradition nearly died out, but was revived by enthusiasts in the 1980s, and is considered by many to provide the highest quality sauna experience.

Heat storage-sauna

The smoke-sauna stove is also used with a sealed stone compartment and chimney (a heat storage-stove) which eliminates the smoke odour and eye irritation of the smoke sauna. A heat storage stove does not give up much heat in the sauna before bathing since the stone compartment has an insulated lid. When the sauna bath is started and the "löyly"-shutter opened a soft warmth flow into the otherwise relatively cold (60 °C) sauna. This heat is soft and clean because, thanks to combustion, the stove stones glow red, even white-hot, and are freed of dust at the same time. When bathing the heat-storage sauna will become as hot as a continuous fire type-sauna (80-110 °C) but more humid. The stones are usually durable heat proof and heat-retaining peridotite. The upper part of the stove is often insulated with rock wool and firebricks.

Continuous heat-type

Continuous fire sauna

A continuous fire stove, instead of stored heat, is a recent invention. There is a firebox and a smokestack, and stones are placed in a compartment directly above the firebox. It takes shorter time to heat than the heat storage-sauna, about 1 hour. A fire-heated sauna requires manual labor in the form of maintaining the fire during bathing; the fire is also a hazard.
Fire-heated saunas are common in cottages, where the extra work of maintaining the fire is not a problem. Many think of them as giving a superior experience compared to electric saunas.

Infrared sauna

Infrared saunas use a special heater that generates infrared radiation rays similar to that produced by the sun. Unlike the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, infrared is said to be beneficial to overall health. Infrared radiation has been shown to kill the bacteria responsible for acne. In an infrared sauna, the electric heaters warm the air and also penetrate the skin to encourage perspiration, producing many of the same health benefits of traditional steam saunas.

Similar sweat bathing facilities

The Finnish-style sauna (generally 70-80 °C (158-176 °F), but can vary from 60 to 120 °C (140-248 °F)) and the wet steam bath are the most widely known forms of sweat bathing.
Many cultures have close equivalents, such as the North American First Nations (in Canada) or Native American (in the United States) sweat lodge, the Turkish hammam, Roman thermae, Nahuatl (Aztec) temescalli, Maya temazcal, Russian banya, Estonian saun, the Jewish Shvitz, African Sifutu, Swedish bastu and Japanese Mushi-Buro. Public bathhouses that often contained a steam room were common in the 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s and were inexpensive places to go to wash when private facilities were not generally available.

Modern sauna culture around the world

As the home of the sauna, Finnish sauna culture is well established, there are built-in-sauna in almost every house in Finland. Although cultures in all corners of the world have imported and adapted the sauna, many of the traditional customs have not survived the journey. Today, public perception of saunas, sauna "etiquette" and sauna customs vary hugely from country to country. In many countries sauna going is a recent fashion and attitudes towards saunas are changing, while in others traditions have survived over generations. In Finland, Estonia and Russia sauna-going plays a central social role. These countries boast the hottest saunas and the tradition of beating fellow sauna-goers with leafy, wet birch bunches ('vasta' or 'vihta' in Finnish, 'viht' in Estonian, 'venik' in Russian). In Russia, public saunas are strictly single sex, while in Finland and Estonia, both types occur. During wintertime, Finns often run outdoors for either ice swimming or, in the absence of lake, just to roll around in the snow naked and then go back inside.
In Sweden saunas are found in many places, and are known as 'bastu'.
sauna in Chuvash: Мунча
sauna in Czech: Sauna
sauna in Danish: Sauna
sauna in German: Sauna
sauna in Estonian: Saun
sauna in Modern Greek (1453-): Σάουνα
sauna in Spanish: Sauna
sauna in Esperanto: Saŭno
sauna in French: Sauna
sauna in Irish: Sabhna
sauna in Korean: 사우나
sauna in Italian: Sauna
sauna in Hebrew: סאונה
sauna in Georgian: საუნა
sauna in Lithuanian: Sauna
sauna in Hungarian: Szauna
sauna in Dutch: Sauna
sauna in Japanese: サウナ風呂
sauna in Norwegian: Badstue
sauna in Polish: Sauna
sauna in Portuguese: Sauna
sauna in Russian: Сауна
sauna in Simple English: Sauna
sauna in Finnish: Suomalainen sauna
sauna in Swedish: Bastu
sauna in Turkish: Sauna
sauna in Yiddish: שוויצבאד
sauna in Chinese: 桑拿

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Finnish bath, Japanese bath, Russian bath, Swedish bath, Turkish bath, bagnio, balneae, balneum, bath, bathe, bathhouse, bathroom, baths, caldarium, cold shower, douche, hip bath, hummum, lavatory, mikvah, needle bath, plunge bath, public baths, rest room, sauna bath, shower, shower bath, sitz bath, spa, sponge, sponge bath, steam room, sudarium, sudatorium, sweat bath, sweat room, tepidarium, thermae, tub, washroom, watering place, whirlpool bath
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