Portable saunas have burst on the scene over the last couple of years, and have become a compelling alternative to traditional multiple-person saunas or custom saunas. This article will consider the question: do portable saunas really work? And are they worth the cost?
The basic answer is a resounding “yes”, but with some caveats. We’ll go over all this below.
Are you looking for a way to help keep your body relaxed and healthy? Do you want to have a spa-like experience at your home but at an affordable price?
Portable saunas work similarly to traditional saunas but dispense with the lovely wood frame structure, and replace that system with a tent-like design. These systems certainly don’t look as beautiful as a traditional built-in sauna, but their functionality is remarkably similar.
Below you’ll find more information about portable saunas and how they can help you.
- 1 What is a Portable Sauna?
- 2 Do Portable Saunas Really Work?
- 3 Parts of a Portable Sauna
- 4 The Benefits of Using A Portable Sauna
- 5 Conclusion: Are Portable Saunas Worth Trying?
What is a Portable Sauna?
A portable sauna is exactly what its name implies – it’s a sauna that you can transport around. It is generally constructed of a woven tent frame that can be folded out for use, and then collapsed when you’re done. The aesthetics are not ideal, but most who use saunas use them for the heat that they provide, not for their looks!
Portable suanas are typically heated by infrared heat, though some use steam heat to provide their significant warmth. We’ll discuss both of these designs below.
How Does a Portable Sauna Work?
This sauna works very easily. To use it, you usually need to set up a chair inside so you can sit in it. You can then place the portable sauna chamber around you, zip it up, and then turn it on with a remote attached either on the exterior or interior.
After turning it on, the interior of the portable sauna will start to heat up thanks to the heating system.
Infrared Portable Saunas
Infrared saunas are by far the most common type of portable sauna and are probably the best choice in most circumstances. The system works by providing infrared heat to the inside of the tent. Infrared heat is a dry heat and is reasonably similar to the traditional-style charcoal heat that one might find in an actual sauna building.
However, a charcoal sauna will likely have a system to provide steam moisture to the room, allowing for finer control over the moisture level. Portable infrared saunas don’t provide an option like this.
See our article on the best portable infrared saunas for more information.
What is Infrared Heat?
As mentioned above, portable saunas use infrared heat. This heat is created by infrared emitting panels inside the sauna. These work to emit energy to your body with the heat rather than just creating steam as traditional saunas do.
Infrared heat is radiant heat, and it heats your body directly, as opposed to heating the space around your body (which is what convection heat does). See this article for a deep dive on how radiant heating works.
Infrared heat is also safe to use on the skin, and the overall temperature of an infrared sauna is actually about 20′ lower than what you would typically encounter in a steam sauna. Most infrared saunas max out at about 150′, while charcoal saunas can get up to 170′. This means you can spend more time in an infrared sauna without overheating than you can in a traditional wood or charcoal-fired sauna.
Many are often hesitant at first to shine infrared heating elements on their skin for fear of it damaging it, but it’s very safe to use the heat on your skin. In fact, it’s believed that infrared heat can even help to tighten your skin and help build collagen in it (see below for more information).
Infrared vs. Ultraviolet Spectrum
The infrared spectrum is the opposite end of the light spectrum from ultraviolet light (common in tanning beds). Ultraviolet rays are potentially quite harmful, and care should be used in exposure to UV rays (sunblock, etc.). Infrared is not harmful, and there is no concern about exposure to infrared light and heat.
This is a very helpful article illuminating the effects of infrared light on the skin from McGill University researchers.
Steam Portable Saunas
As you can see, steam portable saunas look very similar to portable infrared saunas. However, attached to a steam sauna is an object that looks a lot like a rice cooker. This container holds water, which is heated, and channeled through the tent area, heating the tent with steam directly. This heat is very moist and isn’t quite the same as what you would encounter in a traditional sauna.
Steam heating is convection heating, and steam heats the air around the body, not just the body itself as an infrared sauna would.
It is great for those who suffer from frequent congestion, though. And some simply love highly humid heating. They’re also a bit easier to combine with sauna essential oils than infrared saunas are.
Additionally, these saunas are typically cheaper than infrared saunas, which is always nice!
See here to learn more about the best portable steam saunas.
It’s not clear whether the famed longevity and general health benefits associated with regular sauna use carry over to steam saunas since the type of heat is so different. However, steam saunas are fantastic for clearing congestion, and may well result in the same sorts of health benefits that are commonly found in other types of saunas.
Do Portable Saunas Really Work?
For most users, we would suggest sticking with a portable infrared sauna as opposed to going with a steam version. These units provide an experience that is pretty similar to what you’d get in a full-scale, two-person infrared sauna for many hundreds of dollars more. Steam may be slightly cheaper, but the infrared sauna will more closely approximate the traditional setup.
Sure, the Dynamic Saunas one above looks nicer than a tent-style portable sauna. But in the end, the heat and dryness levels are the same because the infrared heater is essentially the same as what you get with a portable infrared sauna! The housing for the setup is clearly not as nice, but the functionality is the same.
And good luck packing up the Dynamic Saunas and taking it with you on a trip!
The health benefits of an infrared sauna are often completely exaggerated, especially by the manufacturers themselves! In the end, your sauna will help you relax, rejuvenate yourself, and may have some small medical benefits in certain circumstances. See our article on portable infrared saunas for details on what realistically you can expect for health benefits.
In the next section, we’ll look at all of the parts of a portable sauna, and how it all goes together.
Finding Relaxation in a Portable Sauna
It’s pretty obvious that sitting in a fabric tent is going to be a bit less serene of an experience than sitting in a cedar-lined full-scale sauna space will be. The environment just isn’t the same.
But you can still achieve deep relaxation and rejuvenation in a portable sauna space if you approach the experience with the right mindset.
While virtually all of the saunas include pockets to allow you to use your hands, one of the most important things you can do is try to avoid using your phone or tablet. Most of us don’t get a break from technology, and the stints in the sauna are a great opportunity to relax, restore, and clear the mind of the constant stimulation of technology. Instead, meditate, read a book, clear your mind, and try to find some peace.
Treat your time in the sauna as you would your time in a spa you’ve paid good money for. If you’re getting a spa treatment, you’re not likely to be using your phone much during that time! Consider your time in the portable sauna in the same way, and you’ll get a lot more out of the experience.
Put on some relaxing music, and find your center calm place. Much of the benefit of a sauna is disconnecting and decompressing. It’s not just the heat, it’s taking time to care for yourself, physically and mentally.
Parts of a Portable Sauna
Some models come with a chair you can use, although many tend to buy a fold-up chair to use inside it. However, many find that the chairs that come with these saunas are unsatisfactory. Consider purchasing a more stylish and comfortable sauna chair if you are finding that you use the sauna frequently.
This is the main part of the portable sauna. It contains panels inside where the infrared heaters are, or piping from the steam pot in the case of a steam sauna.
The chamber also has a zipper in the front so you can easily step inside, sit down, and zip the chamber panels up. Sometimes you’ll even find holes in the front so you can read or play on your phone while sitting inside.
Not every portable sauna has a heating footpad, but many do. This pad is located on the bottom of the chamber and helps to heat up your feet, a place where some of the infrared heat doesn’t always reach.
The timer or remote tends to be located on the exterior of the portable sauna. With it, you can time sessions to last for a certain amount of time and then automatically turn the sauna off. Sometimes you can also adjust the temperature and other settings of the sauna with the remote.
How long is a Sauna Session?
Typically, a session in a sauna lasts somewhere around 30 minutes. You likely want to start out at less time than that, and then build up to a full-length session. You can also vary the temperature until you find the right mix for your body and your needs.
Always listen to your body, and if you start to feel light-headed or sick, be sure to stop your session and rehydrate.
The Benefits of Using A Portable Sauna
There are multiple benefits that come with using a portable sauna compared to other sauna formats, whether it is a steam version or an infrared version. Below are a few of them.
They Are Compact
Portable saunas are extremely compact. You can open it up to sit inside without it taking up much space and fold it up and put it away without it making a mess. This makes them ideal to use in one’s home or even in a space that might not have much room.
You can set it up semi-permanently in the bathroom, in the basement, on a carpet, on wood, or concrete floor. And setup and take down are typically accomplished in just a few minutes.
They are Inexpensive
Unlike traditional saunas which tend to come with high costs, portable saunas are very inexpensive. Better yet, they come with many of the same benefits as regular saunas but at a much more affordable price.
Steam saunas are even less expensive than infrared saunas, but in general, it’s best to spend the slightly more money and go with infrared.
They are Easy to Use
Another great thing about portable saunas is that they are easy to use. You just sit inside, zip it up, and control the settings with the remote attached. It’s not hard to figure out or use making it the perfect device for those who don’t want to spend much time trying to set it up.
Certainly, they’re much easier to set up and get going than a full-scale two-person sauna system.
They May Provide Health Benefits
It does seem that there are some real concrete health benefits to spending some time in a portable sauna, but it’s easy to find wildly-inflated claims that a steam sauna will help you lose weight, cure cancer, lower blood pressure, etc. Some of the manufacturers make these crazy claims, and while there may be some study that possibly, maybe a tiny bit shows promise, it’s really unclear that the health benefits are significant.
If you want to dig into some of the health benefits of infrared saunas, see this article for details.
They Can Help You Relax
One benefit they certainly provide is relaxation if used correctly. As mentioned above, try to use your time in the sauna as me time, as the saying goes. Light a few candles, put on some soft music, and let the heat take you away. You’ll feel restored and energized after your time in the sauna, and not necessarily due to the heat itself!
Conclusion: Are Portable Saunas Worth Trying?
If you like spending time in a sauna at the spa, or feel that the benefits to a sauna would be good for you, then a portable sauna is a great solution! They’re surprisingly inexpensive, and provide a significant portion of the experience that a larger-scale sauna will provide (just now the housing).
They’re a great choice for those who aren’t ready to spend over $1,000 on a home sauna but still want to spend some time in the heat. And they’re a great stop-gap for those saving up for a larger-scale two person+ sauna. Once you’re in a financial position to purchase a larger one, you can always use the portable one for travel only!