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10 sauna tips for beginners
3 minute read
a man carrying firewood to the sauna

Credits:: Harri Tarvainen / North Karelia

What to do and what not to do in a Finnish sauna

There is nothing more Finnish than sauna; many Finns think you can’t grasp Finland or its culture without bathing in a sauna. However, Finns understand that visitors have certain inhibitions and concerns when it comes to stepping in a heated box with no clothes on. So have a look at our tips below and worry no more.

Woman sitting on benches and throwing water on the sauna stove
Finns often go to the sauna nude, but it’s also perfectly acceptable to wear a towel.
Credits: Emilia Hoisko

What are saunas good for?

Sauna is good for everybody. It relieves stress and has many proven health benefits. Only newborn babies and people with serious health conditions (like open wounds or heart problems) should avoid sauna. Everyone else can enjoy it with no worries – and in Finland, you’re more than likely to.

a man sitting on a terrace after a sauna in the sun
A couple walking down the path to the sauna
Credits:: Harri Tarvainen

Does sauna have something do with sex?

No. Finnish sauna has nothing to do with sex, and suggesting it will not score points with Finns. It is a place for physical and mental cleansing. Many even suggest one should behave in a sauna as they would in church. That’s not to say you shouldn’t relax – just kick back and take it easy.

A couple sitting close together on the sauna terrace while staring at the sea
Men and women often go to the sauna separately, but families tend to go together. If you’re not sure what to do, ask your host – they’ll be happy to help!
Credits: Emilia Hoisko

I got invited to a sauna. What do I do?

Getting invited to a sauna is an honour. If you have a reason for declining, fair enough, but it better be a good one! Bathing in a sauna with people is like a bonding process – when you’re bare in all senses of the word, you’re sure not to hide anything. It’s said that in Finland, more important decisions get made in saunas than in meetings.

A sauna full of people using birch whisks and enjoying themselves
Credits: Julia Kivelä

What is the Finnish sauna ambiance?

Coloured lights, aromatic fragrances and relaxing music have nothing to do with Finnish sauna. Real Finnish saunas are dimly lit, there’s no music or smells except for fresh birch and natural tar.

the women lift their cups to each other in the winter landscape on the terrace
A couple in sauna relaxing back to back
The Finnish smoke sauna offers a unique experience. While there isn’t any actual smoke while you’re bathing, the sauna’s walls have darkened due to a special heating process, which creates a wonderful ambiance.
Credits:: Harri Tarvainen

Is normal to be nude in the sauna?

Yes, Finns go to sauna in the nude even with strangers. Don’t worry – they’ve seen their fair share of naked human bodies and it’s not a “thing” for Finns. It’s only natural, and there’s no shame in being you, but if you can’t get over it, Finns will understand you wanting to wear a swimsuit or a towel.

The man throws in his towel and runs naked and at a pace to the lake for a swim
Credits: Julia Kivelä

Do men and women go to the sauna together?

It depends. In groups, women and men go to sauna often separately, but families go together. When in a mixed group that’s about to go to sauna, it’s perfectly fine to ask people and discuss who should go with who.

Four people of different ages and genders are sitting in the sauna laughing

What is the birch twig bundle in the sauna?

It is called a ‘vasta’ or ‘vihta’ (the name depends on the region). It is a bundle of fresh birch twigs that you gently whip yourself with. It sounds strange, but it’s really good for your skin – you’ll feel the smoothness afterwards.

a birch whisk and some peflettes hanging in the sauna locker room
Credits: : Emilia Hoisko
Very hot sauna stove
Credits:: Elina Sirparanta

How often do you throw water on the stones?

Throwing water on the hot stones is called ‘löyly’. There are no rules for how often you should throw more water on the stove. Whenever you feel like another wave of steam, go for it, but be considerate for the people around you. It should be nice for everyone.

Two women relaxing in a design sauna
Credits: Harri Tarvainen

Do I need to drink?

Yes. You’ll be sweating heavily in a sauna, so be sure to drink plenty. Water is the best thing to quench your thirst, but beer, cider and soft drinks are also commonly enjoyed. If you get hungry, cooking sausages either on the open fire or in tin foil directly on the stove is another key part of the sauna experience.

A wooden sauna hut above a frozen lake
Credits: : Istock / Riekkinen
A couple enjoying hot beverages outside in a snow after sauna bathing
After sweating in a sauna, it’s important to drink plenty of water. You can also try the Finnish specialty: blueberry (also known as bilberry) juice!
Credits:: Harri Tarvainen

How long should I stay in the sauna?

You can stay for 5-10 minutes or many hours with cooling dips into the lake. There are no real rules when it comes to sauna, and the way it’s done totally depends on the occasion. The most important thing is to relax, socialise, have a couple of drinks and enjoy the blissful post-sauna feeling of having cleaned both your body and your mind.

A smiling woman stepping out of a smoke sauna
Credits: : Julia Kivelä
a man standing in a lake while filling sauna pail
Credits:: Harri Tarvainen

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