Comparing Saunas: Wood
Poplar is the most expensive wood to buy of all the woods that saunas are made from. We use poplar for one important reason: it is and always has been the wood of choice for health clinics world-wide. Even the most discriminating clinics, such as Dr. William Rae’s Environmental Health Center in Dallas, Texas only use saunas made from Poplar wood. Only Poplar has allowed some of the very sickest people to detoxify.
Lots of sauna companies claim their wood is hypoallergenic too, but this is not true. If the wood emits a strong odor, it will always cause a reaction in some people, even if not right away. The ultimate test of a hypoallergenic wood is whether people who suffer from chemical sensitivity, an affliction that leaves the sufferer intolerant of anything even mildly toxic, can use the sauna and tolerate the wood in their home. Not only do the chemically sensitive react strongly to Cedar, Spruce, Pine, or Fir in their home, but even those people who are not sick get tired of the constant odor. We have a sample cedar sauna built in 1997 – it STILL emits a strong odor.
Our saunas were the only saunas mentioned in the book Detoxify or Die by environmental illness expert Sherry Rogers, MD. Since 2002 our saunas have been used by the sickest of people to detoxify clearly demonstrating their capability.
Western Red Cedar
Cedar has been traditionally used in saunas because of its ability to withstand wet conditions and repel infestation by insects. A modern far infrared sauna, which does not use steam, has no need for Cedar. Cedar’s ability to repel infestation by insects comes from the odor it emits. That odor is composed of two volatile oils: cedrene, and cedral. Cedrene is an unsaturated, aliphatic cyclic hydrocarbon. Both are lung irritants and even used in insecticides. Even though many people find the odor from Cedar quite pleasant and tolerable, our concern is that even those who are not initially sensitive to the smell of cedar can become sensitive to it when they are around it for huge amounts of time, such as when it is in their home.
Some companies claim they use ‘special’ cedar that has less or no odor – if there were such a thing, we might consider selling saunas made from it - like Poplar, Cedar can be quite attractive.
Hemlock is an inexpensive wood equivalent to Basswood, but without the peculiar odor of Basswood. Our experience is that it is typically not a good choice for chemically sensitive people due to its odor.
Our analysis has found that the Hemlock from particular Canadian forests and aged for a while, provide an option for saunas much lower in formaldehyde than Cedar and with a lower VOC profile as well.
Hemlock is an acceptable choice for people when wood-choice is not the highest priority and when they are looking to save some money while also benefiting from High Tech Health's uniquely low-EMF design.
Basswood is one of the least expensive woods on this list. It was introduced by sauna companies because of its similar appearance to Poplar in an attempt to copy High Tech Health saunas. Basswood has a peculiar odor that many people find objectionable, making it a poor substitute for Poplar. We have not spoken to anyone who is chemically sensitive and who has tried one of these saunas so we cannot speak to how off-the-mark the hypoallergenic claims actually are. A 2002 study, however, did find that Basswood dust appears to have the potential for causing genetic damage. It is important to note that every Basswood sauna we know of also uses Spruce wood for the frames, eliminating any claim of being hypoallergenic.
Spruce / Pine
These are the cheapest woods a manufacturer can buy that are strong enough to build a sauna. Most people are familiar with the strong scent these woods are famous for. These odors also come from terpene hydrocarbons, similar to the ones from Cedar. Pine terpene (specifically pinene) is used in the production of insecticide. Even if you aren’t concerned about their contribution to your total toxic burden, it is important to note that many people eventually grow very tired of the pine smell constantly permeating their home. Some people can develop an allergy for these woods. Besides these drawbacks, these woods are also inexpensive due to the knots in the wood making saunas built from them much less attractive.
Virtually every sauna from any other company uses one of these woods as framing wood in their saunas. So even if you buy a Cedar sauna from them, you are still getting a Spruce or Pine sauna too.