I love the sauna, and so do you. It’s the perfect place to sweat your stressors and rejuvenate your body. So, it’s understandable that more people are building private saunas for relaxation.
But, what’s the best wood for sauna? This is the most common question homeowners building a sauna ask. For instance, is pine a good wood choice for a sauna? What about walnut wood?
Best Wood for Sauna
The most popular wood types for a sauna are;
- Nordic spruce
- Common aspen
- Douglas fir
What Are Saunas Made of Wood?
The main reason sauna walls are made of wood is that wood is heat resistant and thus remains cool to the touch under high temperatures.
Moreover, wooden sauna walls won’t bend, warp, or splinter under high temperatures. The heat resistance protects sauna bathers from skin burns when they lean against the walls.
Stone and brick sauna walls are also common. However, These materials are only practical when building permanent saunas. Additionally, stone and brick saunas are expensive.
Types of Sauna
However, different saunas require different types of wood. Indeed, some sauna types work better with materials other than wood.
Traditional sauna vs infrared saunas
Traditional saunas and infrared saunas work differently and are often made from different materials. Traditional saunas work by heating the air around you.
Then your body absorbs the heat from the surrounding air. Meanwhile, infrared saunas use infrared light to heat your body directly.
Indoor saunas vs outdoor saunas
You can build a sauna inside a building or outside; it’s your choice. However, remember that outdoor saunas are exposed to weather and other outdoor elements. So, you need highly weather-resistant wood for outdoor saunas. Outdoor cedar saunas are recommended.
Hardwood or softwood for sauna?
Saunas built with hardwood lumber are generally known as hardwood saunas, while those made from softwoods are known as softwood saunas. Therefore, you should find hardwood lumber if you want a hardwood sauna and vice versa.
Additionally, hardwood is the best wood for walking sticks due to its strength and durability, providing reliable support and longevity for outdoor adventures and hiking.
Factors to Consider When Selecting Right Sauna Wood Types
Once you’ve decided on the type of sauna you want, you can choose the right wood for your sauna. The following are several factors to consider;
- Durability: If you want to build a long-lasting sauna, find durable wood. Otherwise, you’ll need to replace the sauna sooner than you can imagine.
- Resistant to mold: Saunas are damp most of the time. Therefore, mold is a constant risk. So, it’s wise to use mold-resistant wood or treat the wood for mold resistance.
- Water resistance: Since saunas are almost always damp, you need to find wood that doesn’t readily absorb water. So, consider tight-grained woods with very tiny pores.
- Temperature resistance: The best wood for a sauna wood resists shrinking and swelling associated with temperature changes.
- Health benefits: The ideal sauna wood boasts several health benefits. For instance, consider wood with antifungal and antibacterial properties.
- Dimensionally stable: Avoid wood types that warp or lose shape when exposed to damp conditions or constant temperature changes.
- Insulation properties: The wood’s heat conduction is critical. You want wood with a low conductivity that stays cool to touch during use.
- Aesthetically appealing: Finally, no sauna design is complete without aesthetic highlights. So, find beautiful wood that lights up your heart.
Top 11 Best Wood for Sauna Room
Using the above criteria, you can identify several wood types for use in a sauna room. The following are our eleven best picks.
1. Western red cedar
I believe that the western red cedar is one of the best sauna woods for several reasons. First, cedar tree is a softwood, that is ideal for saunas as it doesn’t overheat.
I have learned that hardwoods tend to retain a lot of heat, which can cause sauna users to get burned. Softwoods like cedar don’t absorb heat as readily, making them a better option.
Secondly, I know that cedar wood is highly dimensionally stable, which means it is resistant to warping and cracking even under high temperatures. It doesn’t bleed much sap when heated, which is great for maintaining high hygiene levels.
Remember, western red cedar saunas are very beautiful wood and have an unmistakable aroma that adds to the overall experience. The only slight worry is Cedar’s toxicity. Some cedars are slightly toxic. So, you should be careful with your choice.
- Cedar is strong and durable
- It is highly dimensionally stable
- It doesn’t warp or crack
- Some cedars are toxic
2. Poplar wood
Poplar is another very popular choice for wooden saunas. Most health professionals I have talked to recommend poplar wood as their choice of health clinic worldwide.
The main reason poplar wood saunas are so popular is that it’s the only truly hypoallergenic wood species on this list.
A hypoallergenic wood is one that people who suffer from chemical insensitivity, an affliction that renders patients intolerant to anything mildly toxic, can use. Unfortunately, the likes of cedar aren’t truly hypoallergenic.
To me, the main downside of poplar wood saunas is cost. Poplar saunas are expensive and only a good choice if you have a big budget.
Here’s also a comparison between poplar and pine for sauna usage.
- It’s is 100% hypoallergenic
- Poplar is strong and knot-free
- It’s a lightweight wood
- It is expensive
3. Nordic spruce
Nordic spruce, also known as the European spruce or Norway spruce, is a softwood tree species native to Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe.
I prefer it to other spruce species, such as the Finland spruce, because of its higher density and firmly ingrown structure.
Additionally, Nordic spruce has a beautiful light coloring and doesn’t change color throughout its lifespan. It also boasts a subtle, therapeutic aroma that enhances sauna experiences.
Finally, its natural terpene hydrocarbons make the Nordic spruce naturally pest-repellent. Nordic spruces have very little sapwood.
Therefore, sap seepage is unlikely. It’s also easy to maintain. Allow it to cool down after use, then scrape the dirt and clean the residue by rubbing with alcohol.
- It’s strong and durable
- It has a therapeutic aroma
- It’s naturally pest-resistant
- It contains terpene hydrocarbons
4. Hemlock wood
Not all hemlocks are ideal for sauna construction. However, a few species are very good candidates. For instance, the Eastern hemlock, better known as the Canadian Hemlock, is different.
It makes beautiful and durable indoor and infrared saunas. The wood’s uniform texture with few knots makes it naturally beautiful. Moreover, it boasts a lovely white color that doesn’t darken.
Canadian hemlocks also offer plenty of benefits, such as moisture resistance and low resin content. Another species I’d recommend is the western hemlock.
It’s a great choice for indoor saunas, thanks to its light color and refined texture. Western hemlock is also used in sauna benches, doorways, and detail work.
- Hemlock is strong and durable
- It is moisture-resistant and doesn’t rot easily
- It is affordable
- Hemlock is a little toxic
5. Pinewood (especially white pine)
Another type of wood that comes up quite often when discussing sauna woods is pine. The pine family comprises cost-effective wood species that are easily available and highly workable.
Moreover, pinewood species are naturally rot-resistant and don’t decay easily. Pine’s health benefits are another major attraction.
Pinewood is traditionally used to treat upper respiratory swelling and stuffy nose. In addition, it relieves hoarseness, common cold, bronchitis/cough, and blood pressure problems.
These qualities make it a wonderful choice for a sauna. Unfortunately, pinewood saunas aren’t very common for two reasons. First, pine is a heavily knotted wood.
The large, loose knots can result in a structurally weak sauna room. Additionally, pine has a high resin content that often produces dripping sap and resin emission.
- It has a pleasant scent
- Boasts numerous health benefits
- Pinewood is inexpensive
- It has a high resin content
6. Common aspen
Common aspen is a member of the willow family. It is a bright-colored deciduous hardwood commonly found in the cooler regions of Europe and Asia.
Aspen makes a great choice for building a sauna room for several reasons. First, it’s one of the few resin-free wood species on this list. It doesn’t produce resin. Secondly, aspen doesn’t splinter. Above all, aspen doesn’t get too hot.
Its characteristic light tone and smooth texture further endear aspen to sauna builders. You can paint or stain it as you wish.
Though mainly used on sauna walls, aspen can also be used for sauna benches thanks to its resin-free properties and low thermal conductivity.
- It has a low thermal conductivity
- It’s a beautiful wood with a smooth texture
- Aspen doesn’t splinter or crack easily
- It’s a tad expensive
7. Eucalyptus wood
Anytime I use a public sauna, I notice that the facilities add eucalyptus oils to enhance the guest experience.
Eucalyptus oils promote relaxation and healing. The scent penetrates deep into the lungs, cleansing the airways and improving energy. Moreover, eucalyptus oils improve sauna hygiene.
I, therefore, understood why many people love eucalyptus saunas. Eucalyptus lumber contains all the natural oils in Eucalyptus essential oils.
Moreover, eucalyptus provides a characteristic scent that I instantly associate with a professional sauna. The best part is that eucalyptus wood has all the physical properties required of sauna wood.
It’s a strong wood that lives for many years. It’s also naturally resistant to pests and insects and can live in contact with water for many years without rotting.
Important Read: Can You Stain Eucalyptus Wood?
- It’s hard, strong, and durable
- It’s insect and rot-resistant
- It has a ton of health benefits
- Some people are allergic to eucalyptus chemicals
I believe that basswood is the best wood for a sauna. The light-colored wood was introduced by sauna companies because of its resemblance to poplar and has since become more popular than poplar within the industry.
First, it’s highly hypoallergenic, making it a great choice for people with allergies or other chemical sensitivities. It is also scent-free and qualifies are food-safe. Above all, basswood is a lightweight hardwood with low thermal conduction.
Be warned, however, that recent scientific studies indicate that basswood dust causes genetic damage. So, you may want to research further before embracing it.
- It’s strong and durable
- It’s highly hypoallergenic
- Basswood makes a beautiful sauna
- Basswood dust may cause genetic damage
9. Douglas fir
Douglas fir is a member of the pine family, native to western North America and commonly found in the coastal ranges.
It’s a highly sustainable wood species, yielding more timber than any other wood species in North America. It’s also the tree most commonly used as the Christmas tree.
However, the Douglas fir is more than just an ornamental treasure. Being one of the best wood for outdoor use, Doug fir is highly valued for its strength, durability, and appearance.
A douglas fir sauna room is beautiful, with straight grains and a light brown color. More importantly, Douglas fir has no scent. So, it’s the perfect choice for people with allergic reactions. It also doesn’t seep resin.
As for staining, Douglas fir takes well to various finishes. Its open-pored structure allows it to absorb stains evenly, providing you with flexibility in achieving the desired color and finish for your project. Here is how to stain douglas fir.
- Douglas fir is strong and durable
- It’s scent-free
- It doesn’t seep resin
- It’s susceptible to denting and scratching
10. Common alder
The common alder, better known as black alder, is a reddish-brown wood with a pleasant, smooth texture. It’s a perennial deciduous wood from the birch family and grows in many places around Europe and southwestern Asia.
We consider common alder one of the best wood for a sauna because of its hardy nature and water resistance. Common alder doesn’t absorb water and therefore doesn’t rot with ease. It’s also highly resistant to decay.
Above all, black alder doesn’t overheat and boasts multiple health benefits. Extracts from the leaves and trunks treat bleeding, sore throat, swelling, fever, and constipation. These natural health benefits are invaluable in the sauna room.
- Boasts a ton of health benefits
- Black alder has a low thermal conductivity
- It’s a lightweight, low-density wood
- Black alder is prone to pest/insect attacks
11. American ash
Finally, another high-quality wood commonly used in building saunas is American ash. American Ash is a perennial deciduous hardwood from the olive family.
It produces dark brown wood with a beautiful straight-grain pattern. Many people brush the lumber to highlight the distinctive grain pattern. The main advantages of American ash saunas are strength and health benefits.
Ashwood is rated 1300 on the Janka hardness scale, making it harder and thus stronger than popular hardwoods such as the northern red oak and American beech. It’s also resistant to scratching and general damage.
Additionally, American ashwood is a wide range of health benefits, from improved fertility to enhanced sleep and treating arthritis.
- Ash is a beautiful wood
- Multiple health benefits
- It’s cost-effective
- Ashwood is prone to rotting
How to Care for a Sauna
Choosing the right wood for your sauna is only the first step. Caring for and maintaining the wooden surfaces after constructing the sauna is just as important. The following are basic maintenance guidelines to consider;
- Wash your feet before entering the sauna: This precautionary step helps keep the sauna clean and reduces cleaning frequency.
- Wear proper clothing inside the sauna: The wrong clothing items can accelerate dirt and debris buildup inside the sauna. So, wear acceptable clothing.
- Only use soft or distilled water in the sauna: Hard water contains magnesium and calcium salts that accelerate sauna room degradation.
- Air out your sauna every session: Wipe dry the interior sauna surfaces after you’re finished. Then leave the door and vents open for the sauna to “breathe.”
- Deep-clean the sauna interior periodically: We recommend deep-cleaning your sauna every two weeks with a soft brush, mild detergent, and clean water.
What is the Difference Between Sauna Wood and Construction Wood?
Sauna wood and construction wood differ in several ways.
Sauna wood is treated with heat-resistant resins and glues, has higher insulation values, and often has a protective finish to repel moisture and steam.
Construction wood is not designed to withstand intense heat and is less dense, meaning it cannot retain or circulate heat efficiently. It also lacks a protective finish, making it vulnerable to warping or cracking when exposed to moisture.
Here is a guide if you are wondering what wood to use for pergola building.
Is pine okay for a sauna?
Yes, pine is both practical and cost-effective for a traditional sauna. It is similar to spruce, except that it has larger knots that fall out when the lumber dries. Therefore, it’s not ideal for an infrared sauna. Additionally, pine is not a great choice for steam saunas as it may heat up and burn you, but it is a strong wood for bed frame making.
Is cedar toxic in saunas?
Cedar is a non-toxic sauna material. However, it may cause allergic reactions in the eyes and respiratory system in very rare cases. In addition, cedarwood saunas contain traces of terpene hydrocarbons with strong odors and harmful chemicals. These toxins enter the body through inhalation or contact with the skin. For this reason, you should only consider red cedar. Also, avoid cedar wood for workbenches; opt for hardwoods like oak or maple for superior strength and durability.
Read also: what type of wood is used for welcome signs?
Which is better for saunas? Cedar or hemlock?
In sauna construction, you should use wood that is strong and pliable. Cedar is reflective of these traits and therefore works excellently in the sauna. Unfortunately, hemlock is not as pliable. Moreover, cedar is smoother and more durable than hemlock. That said, hemlock is a wonderful cedar alternative for sauna building.
What’s the cheapest sauna wood?
Spruce (also common as Finnish white pine) is the wood most commonly used in cheap sauna rooms and kits. It is a cheap and strong wood species, albeit with tiny knots. Spruce also gives off a pleasant smell in the sauna that aids relaxation and therapy. As a result, it’s often used in the walls and ceilings of sauna rooms.
Read: Best wood for shutters
What are the benefits and considerations of using poplar wood in sauna construction?
Poplar wood is known for its excellent durability and resistance to moisture, making it suitable for the humid sauna environment. Additionally, due to its smooth texture and light color, allowing for intricate designs on the wood surface, most woodworkers use poplar wood for pyrography and art.
Can hemlock wood be used to build a birdhouse?
Yes, Hemlock wood can be used to build cool wooden bird houses. It is a lightweight and easy-to-work-with softwood with natural decay resistance. While not as durable as some hardwoods, using a protective finish can enhance its lifespan for outdoor use.
Next read: best hardwood for countertops
Final Thought on What Wood is Used in Saunas
Wooden saunas are beautiful and durable. Moreover, most sauna wood types provide valuable scents and vital health benefits that enhance the sauna experience.
However, you can only enjoy these benefits if you use the right wood. The best wood for sauna is cedar, followed by hemlock, Nordic spruce, common aspen, and Douglas fir.