7 things you probably didn't know about saunas

There’s a reason why the Fins are crazy for them, y’know…

Peter Iantorno May 26, 2015

As summer approaches here in the Gulf and the hot and humid weather descends, the outdoor conditions can take on a rather sauna-like feel which, let’s face it, is pretty unpleasant. However, in the right situation – namely a luxurious gentleman’s spa in the Burj Al Arab, or perhaps in the comfort of our own home thanks to an awesome home upgrade – there’s little that we find more relaxing than kicking back in the heat of a sauna and feeling the sweat (and stress) pour out of our body.

While we were relaxing in our favourite sauna, we got around to wondering about how this idea of sitting around in a boiling hot wooden box came about. And it turns out there is actually a hell of a lot to know about saunas. 

Here are seven sauna facts that you probably weren’t aware of:

They love them in Finland
OK, you probably did know that – in fact, we’d be worried if you didn’t – but did you know quite how much they love them? Try this statistic out for size: Finland has around 5.4 million inhabitants and more than 3.3 million saunas – an average of at least one per household. 

There is almost no limit to where the Fins will put them
As well as pretty much every household in the country, the Finnair Premium Lounge in Helsinki Airport and even the Pyhasalmi Mine, which runs almost 1,500 metres below ground, has one in its depths – not surprisingly, the deepest sauna in the world. 

They played a vital part in Finnish politics
Finland’s president from 1956 to 1982, Urho Kekkonen, was a big believer in the diplomatic healing powers of the sauna – so much so that he held his negotiations with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in there! Thankfully for them it seemed to work and Finland were able to remain neutral throughout the heights of the Cold War hostilities. 

There are three different types
As well as the now-standard electric saunas most Finnish residences are equipped with, the original smoke sauna and wood-heated sauna are still used in rural areas of the country today. The smoke saunas use a wood-burning stove that covers the walls in a thick layer of soot, before the smoke is released through a small hole in the ceiling as people enter, whereas the wood-heated use a chimney so there is no soot. In either case, both pose a pretty major fire hazard, which is why most saunas nowadays are electric. 


They are strictly NOT used for sex
Despite the seemingly clear sexual connotations of hopping into a sauna completely naked, in Finland, saunas are absolutely nothing to do with sex. In fact, in most cases men and women go in separately.

They have been used in medicine
From trivial ailments like cold and flu to serious conditions such as heart disease and hypertension, saunas have been prescribed to cure pretty much everything down the years, with many mothers even giving birth in them before the rise of public health care in Finland.

They can get you out of doing work
The Fins have a word – “saunanjalkeinen”, meaning “after the sauna” – which is pretty much a free pass to not doing something you’ve been asked to do. So next time your boss dumps a load of work on your desk straight after lunch, plead “saunanjalkeinen” and you don’t have to do it*. (*There is a good chance this will end up in you being fired…)