Comparing Saunas: Wood
Poplar is the most expensive sauna 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.
Read more about our premium polar sauna wood here.
Hemlock has a much more visibly defined wood grain when compared with Poplar. It also has a wood odor with a nice character, and combined with its appearance, provides a distinctly more traditional wood-sauna experience and may complement some home interiors quite well.
Our analysis has found that the Hemlock from particular Canadian forests and aged for a while, is an option for saunas that is much lower in formaldehyde than Cedar and with a lower VOC profile as well.
Hemlock is not recommended for those who are chemically sensitive. Poplar is the only choice for those that are chemically sensitive or are dealing with an environmental illness.
Western Red Cedar
Cedar has been traditionally used as a sauna wood 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 volatile oils called terpenes, two of which are cedrene and cedral. Cedrene is an unsaturated, aliphatic cyclic hydrocarbon. Both are lung irritants and even used in insecticides. There have been studies showing the toxicity of terpenes to insects, as well as hepatotoxicity (liver toxicity), and a study showing that people with chemical sensitivities cannot tolerate these oils. If you are sensitive to perfumes and chemicals at all, you do not want a cedar sauna in your home.
Many people find the odor from Cedar quite pleasant and tolerable. But 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.
Basswood is one of the least expensive sauna wood types 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. It's strong odor makes 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 the level of reaction by people with sensitivity . A 2002 study, however, did find that Basswood dust has been shown to potentially cause 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 sauna wood types 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. This makes 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.