Finland, a country of 5,5 million habitants, has some 3,2 million saunas. This means, that in theory, every single Finnish person could go take a sauna at the same time if they so wished. And quite many people do, as taking a sauna is associated with several public holidays such as Midsummer and Christmas. The national sauna day is on 27.7. And on top of all the special celebrations and holidays, there is Saturday evening, the holy grail of sauna time in Finland.

Video about Finnish sauna has subtitles in english.

Social aspect of sauna bathing

Sauna bathing in Finland is linked to many social interactions with family, friends and colleagues. Even though most people have a sauna at home, it is still customary to meet friends after work in a public sauna or rent a sauna for special occasions like birthdays or bachelorette parties. Many companies own saunas for the employee’s benefit and for entertaining special guests. Universities and public institutions also have their own saunas that can be reserved and where they host events.

Saturday evening is the holy grail of sauna time in Finland

Going to the sauna for Finns has been compared to going to the church. A place for renewing and healing. It is also said that taking the sauna in a rush is a sin. This means that sauna is not a place to go in a hurry with a timetable and a watch. Sauna, whether it is a community sauna, company sauna, or the army sauna, is indeed a space without time or titles.


Sauna bathing starts by first washing up and sitting on the wooden benches and throwing water on the hot stones. Throwing water on the stones results in increasing the temperature and creating hot steam inside the room. This wave of hot steam is called löyly.

People tend to compare the löyly of different saunas as it is thought to be the defining factor in the quality of the sauna. After taking the sauna it is customary to ask if the löyly was any good. Usually, the wood-heated saunas are thought to have a better löyly than the electric ones. The traditional smoke sauna, which has no chimney and is slowly heated with wood, is still thought by many to be the ultimate champion of the sauna universe in regards to the löyly and ambience. We will talk more about löyly in a separate posting.

The Finnish sauna

Traditionally a wooden structure, the Finnish sauna has kept its form throughout centuries. The sauna is typically heated to 80 – 100 celsius degrees using kiuas. Kiuas is a stove with stones on top. The stones are heated either by burning wood or with electricity.

In “foreign” saunas there are sometimes very clear instructions as to how many minutes you are supposed to take the sauna at a time etc. Finns generally find these kinds of rules funny. It is thought that every Finn is an expert on how to sauna bathe and every way an equally good way. Everyone stays in the sauna as long as it feels good, respecting other people when throwing steam, and cooling off between throwing steam. Children often sit on the lower benches. As the last step, it is the norm to wash throughout either in the lake or a shower. After the sauna, it is common to have a cooling and hydrating drink. Older folk like to take a sauna coffee after the sauna.

a traditional Finnish sauna on a beach
Kaukonen, Väinö 1943. Birch trees by the beach and a sauna on Teppana Dobrini’s estate. Finnish Heritage Agency.

A living tradition

Throughout the Finnish history, the sauna has always kept its standing in local folklore, beliefs and habits. Finnish children are no longer being born in the sauna but start going to the sauna on average at the age of 4,5 months and henceforth take the sauna about once per week for the rest of their lives.

For a modern country to have kept this ancient tradition alive and running throughout history is pretty phenomenal. Indeed the tradition of sauna bathing amongst folks has not lessened but instead seems to be gaining popularity amongst young people and even outside the country’s borders. New trendy saunas have been built in recent years in urban areas around Finland. In 2020 the sauna culture in Finland has been inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Sauna bathing culture in Finland can be expected to continue long into the future as new mothers and fathers of today show their children the custom of sauna bathing deeply rooted in the spirit of the people.

Also, find out about the health benefits of sauna bathing:

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