Finnish Sauna: The Rituals & Etiquette Of Saunas in Finland

If you’re looking for a unique cultural experience in Finland, look no further than the Finnish sauna. Saunas have been a part of Finnish culture for centuries and are deeply ingrained in the national identity.

In fact, it’s estimated that there are over 3 million saunas in Finland, which is impressive considering the country’s population is just over 5 million people.

Key Takeaways

  • Saunas are an integral part of Finnish culture and national identity.
  • Saunas have been used for centuries for cleansing and healing and have many health benefits.
  • There are many different types of saunas in Finland, from traditional wood-burning saunas to modern electric saunas.
  • The sauna etiquette is critical to understand and follow if you plan to visit a Finnish sauna.

Origins and History of Finnish Sauna

Finnish sauna has a long and rich history that dates back thousands of years. In fact, the sauna in Finland is an old phenomenon and its roots are difficult to trace. The earliest versions of the sauna are believed to be from 7000 BC. Bath houses were recorded in Europe during the same time period, but Finnish bathing habits were poorly documented for most of history.

Today, the Finnish sauna is still seen as a place to relax and unwind, but it also has many health benefits. The high heat and humidity can help improve circulation, relieve stress, and even boost the immune system.

Evolution of the Finnish Sauna

The Finnish sauna has come a long way since its primitive beginnings. The first saunas were dug into the ground and covered with animal skins or furs.

Later, saunas were built above ground using wooden logs and heated with wood-burning stoves. These saunas were known as smoke saunas because they were heated by burning wood and the smoke was allowed to circulate inside the sauna before being released through a chimney.

Over time, the design and construction of saunas evolved, and today there are many different types of saunas available. These include traditional wood-burning saunas, electric saunas, and infrared saunas.

Cultural Significance Of Sauna in Finland

The Finnish sauna is an integral part of the country’s national identity and cultural heritage. It is believed to have originated in the area that is now Finland, and is thought to have been used as a form of spiritual cleansing and healing.

Historically, the sauna has been used to relax and socialize, and was a place of refuge during the harsh winter months. Today, the Finnish sauna continues to be a popular pastime, and many Finns take pride in their sauna culture.

Saunas are found in almost every home, apartment building, and public place in Finland. They are often used for social gatherings and family events, and many Finns consider the sauna to be an essential part of their daily routine.

The Finnish sauna has a rich and fascinating history that spans thousands of years. Its evolution and cultural significance have made it an integral part of Finnish life and identity.

Whether you’re a visitor or a local, experiencing a Finnish sauna is a must-do activity that will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Finnish Sauna Design and Types

When it comes to Finnish sauna, design and types play an important role in the overall experience. There are several types of Finnish saunas available, each with its unique features, benefits, and drawbacks. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the different types of Finnish saunas and their designs.

Traditional Smoke Saunas

Traditional smoke saunas, also known as wood-burning saunas, are the oldest and most traditional type of Finnish sauna. These saunas are heated by burning wood, and the smoke from the fire is used to heat the stones.

Traditional Smoke Sauna
Traditional Smoke Sauna

The stones are then used to create steam, which is used to heat the sauna. Smoke saunas are known for their intense heat and unique aroma, which is created by the burning of wood.

Modern Electric Saunas

Modern electric saunas are a more recent development in Finnish sauna design. These saunas are heated by electric heaters, which are much easier to use than wood-burning stoves.

sauna with black walls and modern seating
Modern sauna with black walls and seating

Electric saunas are also more convenient, as they can be turned on and off with the flip of a switch. They are also easier to maintain, as there is no need to chop wood or clean up ash.

Outdoor Saunas, Often Lakeside Setting (oh yeah, we Love Our Lakes)

Not as smokey as the smoke sauna, a traditional outdoor sauna, often equipped with a wood-burning stove and no running water, is a fairly regular type of sauna in Finland. This is what we normally see featured as the sauna by a lake, or dry sauna.

Finnish sauna by a lake
Finnish sauna by a lake

Public vs. Private Saunas

Finnish saunas can be either public or private. Public saunas are available for anyone to use, while private saunas are usually found in homes or private clubs.

Public sauna in Finland
Public sauna in Finland

Public saunas are often larger and more spacious than private saunas, and they are usually heated to a higher temperature. Private saunas, on the other hand, offer more privacy and are often more comfortable.

In terms of design, Finnish saunas are often made of wood, with pine being the most common type of wood used. The wood is chosen for its ability to withstand high temperatures and its natural aroma, which adds to the overall sauna experience. Saunas can be designed in a variety of styles, from rustic and traditional to modern and sleek.

Whether you prefer a traditional smoke sauna or a modern electric sauna, there is a sauna out there that will meet your needs. Public and private saunas also offer different benefits, so it’s important to consider both options when choosing a sauna.

Finnish Sauna Etiquette

Finnish sauna etiquette is a set of unwritten rules that dictate how to behave in the sauna. The sauna is considered a sacred space, and it’s important to respect the traditions and customs that have been passed down through generations.

Understanding sauna etiquette will not only make your experience more enjoyable, but it will also show respect for Finnish culture. Here are some great tips to remember

Sauna Etiquette In Finland

If you’re new to Finnish saunas, it’s important to understand the basic sauna etiquette.

Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Before entering the sauna, take a shower to clean yourself.
  • Remove all clothing and wear a towel or a sheet.
  • Sit on a towel to keep the benches clean.
  • Do not pour water on the stove unless you are familiar with the sauna.
  • Do not talk loudly or disturb others.
  • Do not bring food or drinks into the sauna.
  • Do not use your phone or any electronic devices in the sauna.

Behavior Inside The Sauna

When entering the sauna, you should always greet others with a simple “hei” (hello). Once inside, it’s important to remain quiet and respectful of others’ desire for relaxation. You should avoid any loud conversations or disruptive behavior that could disturb the peaceful atmosphere.

Nudity Is Normal In Finnish Saunas

Even in mixed saunas, nudity is common, and it’s important to respect others’ comfort levels. If you’re unsure about nudity, it’s best to ask before entering the sauna.

Do Not Flirt or Stare At People

If you are uncomfortable with nudity, you should probably stay away from the Finnish sauna. The saunas are for cleaning and relaxation, not for hooking up och flirting. In fact, flirting with a Finnish person in sauna is the last thing you want to do.

Respect And Personal Space

Respect for personal space is essential in the sauna. You should always choose a spot that is not too close to others, and avoid touching or leaning on others. If you’re unsure where to sit, it’s best to ask for guidance rather than assuming a spot is available.

Use Of Löyly

Löyly refers to the steam created by pouring water on the hot stones in the sauna. It’s customary to take turns pouring water on the stones, and to ask others if they would like more löyly before pouring. You should also avoid pouring water directly on others, as this can be uncomfortable or even painful.

In mixed saunas, nudity is common, but it’s important to respect others’ comfort levels. If you’re unsure about nudity, it’s best to ask before entering the sauna.

By following these basic guidelines, you can enjoy the relaxing and rejuvenating benefits of Finnish saunas while respecting others and their desire for relaxation.

Cooling Down Rituals

After spending some time in the sauna, it is essential to cool down your body gradually. Here are some common ways to cool down:

  • Take a dip in a lake or a cold shower.
  • Use a vihta or a vasta, which is a bundle of birch twigs, to gently beat your skin. This practice is believed to improve circulation and exfoliate the skin.
  • Relax on a bench and drink water or a non-alcoholic beverage.

Remember to take your time and listen to your body. If you feel uncomfortable or dizzy, leave the sauna immediately and cool down.

The Finnish sauna experience is a unique and relaxing way to unwind and improve your health. By following the sauna etiquette, generating the perfect löyly, and cooling down gradually, you can enjoy the benefits of the sauna fully.

Finnish Sauna Traditions and Customs

Vihta and Vasta

One of the most important elements of Finnish sauna culture is the use of birch branches, known as “vihta” or “vasta.” These branches are used to gently beat the skin, which helps to improve circulation and release tension. In addition, the scent of birch is believed to have a calming effect on the mind and body.

Traditionally, vihta and vasta were made by hand, with the branches being carefully selected and tied together. Today, you can find pre-made vihta and vasta in many Finnish stores, but some people still prefer to make their own.

Sauna Elf and Folklore

Finnish sauna culture is steeped in folklore and tradition, and one of the most beloved characters in this mythology is the “sauna elf.” According to legend, the sauna elf lives in the sauna and is responsible for ensuring that the sauna is treated with respect and reverence. If someone behaves improperly in the sauna, the elf may become angry and even burn down the sauna in a fit of rage.

In addition to the sauna elf, there are many other stories and traditions associated with Finnish sauna culture. For example, it is said that if you throw water on the sauna stove, you should always throw it to the side, rather than directly onto the rocks. This is because it is believed that throwing water directly onto the rocks can anger the sauna spirits.

Sauna Day Celebrations

In Finland, sauna culture is so important that there is even a national “Sauna Day” celebration. This day is typically held in early March, and it is a time for people to come together and enjoy the sauna experience.

During Sauna Day, many public saunas offer free or discounted admission, and there are often special events and activities held to celebrate the occasion. Whether you are a seasoned sauna veteran or a newcomer to the experience, Sauna Day is a great opportunity to explore Finnish sauna culture and connect with others who share your love of this ancient tradition.

But also, keep in mind that since we Finns bathe regularly, we also call Saturdays as sauna days. Of Fridays…

Sauna in Finnish Society

Sauna has been an essential part of the Finnish culture for centuries. In Finnish culture, the sauna is a place where people come together to bond and relax. It is a place where people can leave their worries behind and enjoy each other’s company. Public saunas are also popular in Finland, and they offer a great opportunity for people to socialize and meet new people.

In Finnish society, it is common for families to have a sauna in their home, and it is absolutely an non-negotiable to have a sauna at their summer cottage. Sauna parties are also a common occurrence in Finland, where friends and family gather to enjoy each other’s company, food, and drinks.

Sauna and National Identity of Finns

Sauna is an essential part of Finnish national identity. Finnish people take pride in their sauna culture, and it is considered an integral part of Finnish life. Sauna has been a part of Finnish culture for centuries, and it is deeply ingrained in Finnish mentality.

Sauna culture in Finland is unique, and it has evolved over the years. Saunas are no longer just a place to bathe; they have become a place to relax, socialize, and even conduct business. Sauna culture in Finland is a testament to the Finnish way of life, where people value simplicity, nature, and togetherness.

Building a Finnish Sauna

Building a sauna can be a fun and rewarding DIY project. The most important thing to consider is the type of wood you use. Cedar and spruce are popular choices because they are durable and have a pleasant aroma. You should also consider the size of your sauna, the type of heater you want to use, and the type of door you want to install.

Sauna Maintenance and Hygiene

Maintaining a clean and hygienic sauna is essential to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. You should regularly clean the sauna with a mild detergent and water to remove sweat and dirt.

You should also avoid using harsh chemicals that can damage the wood. To prevent the spread of germs, it’s important to bring your own towel and avoid sharing it with others.

Read: How My Finnish Grandmother Kept Their Sauna Clean With Natural Household Products

Sauna Safety Tips

While saunas can be relaxing and therapeutic, they can also be dangerous if not used properly. It’s important to follow these safety tips to avoid accidents:

  • Always make sure the sauna is properly ventilated to prevent a buildup of carbon monoxide.
  • Never use an electric heater in a wet sauna, as it can cause an electrical shock.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before or during a sauna session, as it can cause dehydration and impair your judgment.
  • Take breaks between sauna sessions to cool down and rehydrate.
  • If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, leave the sauna immediately and seek medical attention if necessary.
Read: Sauna Safety Tips

Sauna Destinations in Finland

If you’re planning a trip to Finland, experiencing a traditional Finnish sauna is a must-do activity. Here are some of the best sauna destinations in Finland that you should check out:

Famous Public Saunas

  • Kulttuurisauna: Located in Helsinki, Kulttuurisauna is a public sauna that offers a unique experience. It is built entirely out of wood and has a large window that offers a beautiful view of the sea. The sauna is heated with wood and the water is heated with solar panels. It is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the Finnish sauna culture.
  • Kotiharjun Sauna: This public sauna is located in Helsinki and is one of the oldest saunas in the city. It has been around since 1928 and is still popular today. It is a traditional Finnish sauna that is heated with wood. It is a great place to experience the Finnish sauna culture and meet locals.
  • Allas Sea Pool: This public sauna is located in Helsinki and offers a unique experience. It is a sauna complex that is built on the sea. It has multiple saunas, a heated pool, and a restaurant. It is a great place to relax and enjoy the Finnish sauna culture while enjoying the beautiful view of the sea.

Sauna Experiences in Helsinki

  • Arctic Sauna World: Located in Helsinki, Arctic Sauna World offers a unique sauna experience. It is a mobile sauna that can be moved to different locations. It is built on a trailer and can accommodate up to 20 people. It is a great way to experience the Finnish sauna culture while exploring the city.
  • Sompasauna: This public sauna is located in Helsinki and is a community-run sauna. It is built entirely out of recycled materials and is heated with wood. It is a great place to meet locals and experience the Finnish sauna culture.

Saunas in Finnish Lapland

  • Jätkänkämppä: Located in Finnish Lapland, Jätkänkämppä is a traditional Finnish sauna that is heated with wood. It is a great place to experience the Finnish sauna culture while enjoying the beautiful scenery of Lapland.
  • Arla Sauna: This private sauna is located in Finnish Lapland and offers a unique experience. It is a traditional Finnish sauna that is heated with wood and has a hot tub outside. It is a great place to relax and enjoy the Finnish sauna culture while enjoying the beautiful scenery of Lapland.
  • Kuusijärvi: Located in Vantaa, Kuusijärvi is a public sauna that is located in a beautiful forest. It is a great place to relax and enjoy the Finnish sauna culture while enjoying the beautiful scenery of Finland.
  • Rajaportti Sauna: Located in Tampere, Rajaportti Sauna is the oldest public sauna in Finland that is still in use today. It was built in 1906 and is a great place to experience the Finnish sauna culture while enjoying the beautiful scenery of Tampere.

Overall, there are many sauna destinations in Finland that offer a unique experience. Whether you are in Helsinki or Finnish Lapland, there is a sauna for everyone to enjoy.

Contemporary Sauna Culture

Sauna culture in Finland has evolved over time and continues to be an important part of Finnish lifestyle. While traditional saunas remain popular, contemporary sauna culture has also emerged, with new events and innovations that attract both locals and tourists.

Sauna Events and Competitions

Sauna events and competitions have become increasingly popular in Finland. One such event is the World Sauna Championships, which was held annually in Heinola until 2010.

The competition involved sitting in a sauna with temperatures reaching up to 110°C. The winner was the last person to remain in the sauna without leaving or passing out. Although the event was discontinued due to safety concerns, it demonstrates the popularity of sauna culture in Finland.

The annual Sauna Festival in Finland
The annual Sauna Festival in Finland. Image source

Another popular event is the Finnish Sauna Festival, held in Ikaalinen every year. The festival includes various sauna experiences, such as smoke saunas, lakeside saunas, and urban saunas. Participants can also enjoy live music, food, and drinks. The festival attracts both locals and tourists and is a great way to experience Finnish sauna culture.

Innovations and Sauna Startups

In recent years, sauna startups and innovations have emerged, bringing new ideas and technologies to the sauna industry. For example the Skysauna, which is a sauna built in one of the cabins in the Helsinki Wheel. Cool?! Yes, very cool! (note: I haven’t tested it as every time my children want to take a tour with the wheel, I send my hubby with them and stay securely on the ground…)

Skysauna in Helsinki
Skysauna in Helsinki

Another innovation is the use of virtual reality in saunas, which can enhance the sauna experience by creating immersive environments for meditation and relaxation.

Sauna culture has also become more accessible to people outside of Finland. For example, the Finnish company, Kiuas Wathches, has developed a smart sauna watch that you can use in a sauna.

Sauna truly has been, and continues to be, part of the Finnish identity and source of wellbeing, socializing, and innovation!

FAQ: The Rituals & Etiquette Of Finnish Sauna

Finnish Sauna

What’s the ideal temperature for a sauna session?

The ideal temperature for a sauna session varies from person to person. However, the most common temperature range for a Finnish sauna is between 70 to 100 degrees Celsius (158 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit). It is recommended to start with a lower temperature and gradually increase it to avoid discomfort or overheating.

Finnish Sauna

Can you guide me through the process of building my own sauna?

Building your own sauna can be a fun and rewarding project. However, it requires careful planning and knowledge of the necessary materials and tools. The process involves building the sauna room, installing the heating unit, and adding the necessary sauna accessories. It is recommended to consult with a professional or experienced builder before starting the project.

Finnish Sauna

What are the health benefits of using a sauna regularly?

Using a sauna regularly has been associated with various health benefits, including improved cardiovascular function, reduced stress levels, and increased relaxation. Sauna sessions have also been linked to improved skin health, reduced inflammation, and improved respiratory function.

Finnish Sauna

Is there a specific etiquette to follow when using a sauna in Finland?

Yes, there is a specific etiquette to follow when using a sauna in Finland. It is customary to shower before entering the sauna and to sit on a towel or a wooden bench to avoid sweating directly on the wood. It is also important to maintain a quiet and respectful atmosphere and to avoid using mobile phones or other electronic devices inside the sauna.

Finnish Sauna

Should I wear clothing inside the sauna, or is it better to go without?

Go without clothing inside the sauna to allow the skin to breathe and to avoid trapping heat and moisture. You need a towel to cover the bench under your butt.

Finnish Sauna

How do saunas in Finland differ from those in other countries?

Saunas in Finland differ from those in other countries in various ways, including the use of wood-burning stoves, the practice of “löyly” or throwing water on the hot stones to create steam, and the emphasis on relaxation and well-being rather than socializing. Additionally, saunas in Finland are often located in private homes or in public settings such as hotels, gyms, or swimming pools.

Read: Different Sauna Cultures and Etiquettes

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