Near Infrared VS Far Infrared Saunas: 7 Key Differences To Know Before Buying

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There is so much misinformation in the sauna industry, and every single sauna company you call will tell you theirs is “the best.”  It gets even more complicated when we have slick salespeople telling us about full spectrum, and some even try to sell us on the fact that mid infrared is necessary. Trouble is, when looking at the research behind near infrared vs far infrared sauna, hardly anything supports that mid infrared does anything extraordinary. And my own experience trying several types of saunas, backs that up with a real world seat of the pants feel comparison. So what’s the real truth when it comes to far infrared saunas performing differently than near infrared saunas? In this article, we’ll explore what I found to be true through my own testing, building heat lamp saunas (that someone sold me on the “near infrared” idea, even though these bulbs hardly emit NIR, and would be scorching hot at close range anyway), and testing several far infrared saunas brands, including full spectrum saunas.

Summary: If You’re Looking For The Cliff Notes On NIR VS FIR – Watch This Video

7 Key Differences Between Far Infrared & Near Infrared Saunas

A lot of people have asked questions about the major differences between near infrared and far infrared. Specifically relating to saunas, there are some pretty significant differences, and below you can find my experiences from trying them all.

1) What Most People Are Calling “Near Infrared” Isn’t Really Near Infrared

If you look at the research very closely, most of the near infrared studies are for LED red light therapy arrays, not incandescent bulbs ceramic heating elemtns.

You’ve got infrared sauna companies like Sauna Space and others, now calling themselves “near infrared” sauna makers, but there is a discrepancy between red incandescent heat lamp bulbs, and LED bulbs.

The research, and most all of the true NIR therapy devices like the Joove Light, all use 100’s of LED’s to generate NIR spectrum output, complete with fans to keep them cool, so you can use them at ultra close range in order to absorb the NIR.

Contrast that with a heat lamp bulb, which gets scorching hot, and there is speculation that the majority of its output is closer to the far infrared spectrum altogether to begin with. Even if it does emit near infrared, there is no possible way you would be able to use it two to three inches away without burning yourself.

This creates a HUGE controversy, because every single Near Infrared Therapy device on the market that isn’t a sauna, advises you to use their NIR lights super close to the skin so you can absorb it.

It is my opinion, that most near infrared saunas, are not really near infrared emitting at all…  and are mostly far infrared wavelengths at a distance of 20 inches or so.

Caveat – now that doesn’t mean there is no benefit to near infrared at all. Quite the contrary! I’m just saying, from what I’ve experienced, near infrared does not heat you up, nor is it really intended to detoxify you. Thus, it has a different place than being the primary element in an infrared sauna, and according to some very smart people, should actually be used separately from your saunas sessions… so A) your sweat doesn’t create an additional barrier on the skin that potentially dilutes NIR absorption, and B) so the body is not in a super heated state when the NIR therapy is applied.

2) I Only Got A Deep Penetrating Sweat From Far Infrared In Less Than 30 Minutes

I built two different heat lamp sauna arrays, one with 4 bulbs in accordance with Dr. Wilson’s original design, and one with 6 bulbs to try and amp up the heat in a sealed enclosure.

Both took quite a while to get me sweating, and only produced localized sweat on my core. I also had to introduce an external heater inside the enclosure, to try and speed up the preheat times, and get the overall temperature hot enough for the rest of my body to sweat that wasn’t directly in front of the heat lamps. (like my legs)

Compare that with my experiences in a far infrared sauna, where my whole body is sweating in 5-6 minutes, and within 15 – 20 minutes, sweat is dripping from my fingers, toes, elbows, scalp, everywhere really.

In the interest of time, and my gut feeling on how well rounded my toxin releasing sweat is, far infrared is a much better option for me. It feels like my body releases a ton more sweat overall in a 45 minutes sauna sessions, compared to my torso just beginning to release a good sweat toward the end of a 45 minutes session with a near infrared sauna. (really just a heat lamp array)

Additionally, I don’t like how hot the heat lamps get, and there is no way around having to rotate like a rotisserie to avoid getting too hot on one side. That and I don’t like the price of the premade units on the market, since you can add these heat lamps to any far infrared sauna you want for about $200 bucks if you’re dead set on them.

Personally, I still want the far infrared sauna as my preferred method of regular use. I will add in some other types of infrared therapies, but I’m convinced you need far infrared for detoxing heavy metals and other toxins within a reasonable time frame.

3) There Are Usually More Sources Of EMF In A Far Infrared Sauna Than Near Infrared Lamp Saunas (what you need to know)

Because most heat lamp saunas don’t really come with an enclosure, stereo, or hardly anything for that matter, you don’t have electrical wiring that needs to be shielded in the walls, or heaters that need to be addressed.

There are pros and cons to each, but it’s not really an apples to apples comparison to begin with. Part of the reason near infrared saunas are lower emf, is because they only have heat on one side… thus, only having power cables on one side. It’s very easy to keep the body away from them with this design.

The downside, is that only one side of your body is exposed to heat curing the entire sauna session. You have to rotate in this, which presents several problems such as, a warm front and cold back, vice versa, and much longer sweating times since you’re not wrapped in infrared for the whole session.

That said, I look for low emf far infrared saunas, since the detox experience seems to be much faster in those. So long as you don’t buy a cheap Chinese sauna from Amazon or Costco like I did when I started out, there are plenty of low emf far infrared sauna brands on the market.

To recap, EMF’s shouldn’t deter you from seriously looking into getting a far infrared sauna, just be mindful of fake EMF claims by a lot of sauna companies, who routinely like to fall back on bullshit “3rd party verified” EMF testing reports.  (hanging an infrared emitter from a forklift, or testing it in a lab, just to get a report to use in your marketing, is hardly an accurate assumption of what the sauna is really like inside.)

*X*) Bonus EMF Tip: The Truth About Mitigating EMF Levels In Saunas

Most all sauna companies say their sauna is low emf, but 9 times out of 10, they are only talking about magnetic fields.

Three types of EMF that can be present in any sauna:

  1. Magnetic Fields
  2. Electric Fields
  3. RF Radiation

Electric and Magnetic fields are typically generated from the wiring, power supply, and infrared heaters. Sometimes, chromotherapy lights, control panels, stereo systems, and other gadgets can contribute to this as well, but normally the major culprits are the wiring, emitters, and power supply.

I’ve found that cheaper saunas that do not trim the cabling that runs to their heaters, and just zip tie the excess wiring in a circular fashion, also creates an unnecessary localized magnetic field, that can easily be avoided.  (you commonly see these spikes on one side of the heater during an gaussmeter (EMF Meter) test)

In all the saunas I’ve tested, I’ve never seen any sauna on the market emit RF Radiation from any heater, ever.

The RF radiation always comes from the WiFi modules in the roof, the Bluetooth stereo system, etc… I don’t generally worry about the Bluetooth so much, but the WiFi can be a concern if it isn’t shielded at all.

Any saunas that have a smartphone app controller, wireless power supply controller, etc… normally have wifi in them somewhere, and should be tested with an RF meter, not just a EMF meter that people usually use to test magnetic and electric fields. (gaussmeter)

I’m explaining this in detail, so you know how to structure your criteria based on importance.  It is EXTREMELY difficult to shield or mitigate magnetic fields in an infrared sauna, and next to impossible for the everyday user.

Electric fields and RF radiation are very easy to shield against by comparison, and there is always something that can be done to lower these levels fairly easily if you can use a drill and some tin snips.

I’m telling you this because many people are either stuck with a sauna that they bought before they knew about EMF’s, or just bought one and didn’t look it up until after they’ve purchased it. Others have older saunas from the early 2000’s, or have purchased a used sauna from Craigslist due to budget constraints.

My rule of thumb is, if it has high magnetic fields, don’t buy it.  If those were to ever become a problem, there isn’t much you can do about it besides create distance between you and the sources… which is counter-intuitive in an infrared sauna.

If it has electric fields or RF radiation, it isn’t the end of the world. Everyone tries to scare the hell out of people with every little thing these days, just to make a sale.

Truth is, you can mitigate RF radiation 50% very easily, with nothing more than aluminum screening from Home Depot, and some tin foil from your kitchen. The reason I deter people from buying saunas with WiFi in the roof, is because no one wants to spend $5 on a brand new sauna, and then have to tear it apart just to line the electronics with shielding material.

If you have an older sauna that has high electric fields, and you are concerned about it, with a little ingenuity and some guidance from me, you can easily make an electric field shield for less than $100.

When shopping for a new sauna, just be mindful of these criteria, and use them to educate yourself so you can make better purchase decisions. EMF’s are meant to be understood, not used as fear marketing like most of the sauna industry does.  They aren’t going away, so this is the best way forward.

4) You Can Easily Add NIR Heat Lamp Bulbs To Any Far Infrared Sauna (for less than $200 bucks!)

So let’s be real here, part of the reason I stopped recommending these heat lamp saunas that everyone is calling near infrared, is because the pricing of the premade models for sale is outrageous.

If you truly believe in these bulbs, and must have them, you can easily add them to any sauna for just a few bucks. The bulbs themselves that power these heat lamp saunas, are about $10-$25 dollars each, and all you need from there is a light socket to plug them into.

I hate to see people spend hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on types of saunas that don’t even come with a glass door.

But, just to make sure I wasn’t missing something here, I custom mounted a couple of these NIR red heat lamp bulbs in my saunas, just to see if it makes a difference.

It DOES indeed get hotter, but any time you add output wattage to a sauna, it’s going to get hotter. The benefits of having the lamps in there with the far infrared carbon emitters, is hard to tell.

Either way, this is something that’s easy to do if you believe in the need for these, and are dead set on having them. Just buy a low emf far infrared sauna that’s affordable, and then adding these bulbs is super cheap and easy to do… with nothing more than drilling two holes, 4 screws, and plugging in a power strip. If you’d like to see a tutorial on how to do this, let me know in the comments below.

5) True Near Infrared Light Therapy Devices Aren’t To Be Used In A Sauna

This is a moot point, but as you’ll see in the below section, most of the near infrared therapy devices out there, all suggest you need to be very close (as in less than 4 inches away) to the red light source in order for the skin to properly absorb it.

Companies like Joove, wouldn’t shove over 100 LED’s in a single near infrared panel, and specifically want you to stand within 3 inches of the darn thing if this wasn’t the case.

The point I’m trying to get at here, in case you missed it in another section, is that heating your core temp, having a layer of sweat on your whole body, does not create the ideal circumstances for the skin to absorb near infrared.

If it did, everyone would be using Joove lights in their steam rooms at the gym.

6) Full Spectrum Saunas Claim To Have Near Infrared (but do they really?) An Interesting Twist Of Truth…

If you look at all the red light therapy devices, whether outside of the near infrared wavelength or not, every single one of them has instructions that conflict the conditions your body is in during sauna use.

The only companies on the planet that suggest getting into a super heated state, sitting far away from the NIR light source, and combining sweating with red light absorption, are sauna companies.

To make matters worse, if you ask any of the salesman how in the hell you’re supposed to absorb near infrared through a heater grill cover, they won’t be able to answer you.

In fact, the whole point of near infrared on the visible light spectrum, is to be able to absorb the visible light portion of the wavelength right? So tell me, how in the hell are you supposed to do that, when a tiny led panel is placed behind a heater mesh grill guard, or supposed NIR heaters are 20 inches away from your chest in other saunas?

Truth is, when you get down to it, there is a lot of speculation with this stuff, not actual testing. Slick sauna salespeople are happy to charge you $3,000 bucks for nothing more than 4 NIR bulbs, a stick frame, and a tent to call it a day. Terrible investment in my opinion… you don’t even get a door for crying out loud!!!

Other sauna companies will regularly recommend a full spectrum model for $2,000 more than just a far infrared, claiming you need it for detox. However, it is unlikely that it warrants $2,000 dollars worth of a better detox, and unless you can try and test both, my response would be to the sauna salesman…”exactly how many saunas have you personally been in, and what are the brands”?

If it’s anything less than 5, you know this person cannot really help you, and is just trying to make a sale.

7) So Near Infrared Saunas Are Worthless Then?

Quite the contrary. At the end of the day, anything that makes you sweat can help you detox. I mean let’s get real here…. at the end of the day, whichever sauna you use or buy, as long as it makes people sweating, you’re better off than not having it all right? Agreed.

The key is to sweat the most, without moving, so you can do it consistently without overworking the body… unlike being a marathon runner.

Near infrared saunas can work to an extent, I built two of them when I couldn’t afford far infrared saunas. But without adding extra heaters, making a true insulated enclosure, it’s going to be hard to get the kind of heat you need to get sweat dripping from your legs, fingers, and entire body during a sauna session.

Not to mention, almost all far infrared saunas have even infrared coverage, whereas anything that’s true near infrared whether using an incandescent bulb or LED source, is going to be very directional.

So unless you’re going to have near infrared bulbs, LED’s, ceramic heating elements, or whatever happens to be in the claiming to give you near infrared, ON ALL SIDES OF YOU, I don’t see how it’s going to be near infrared that you’re getting from the sauna.

Perhaps in the future there will be a new sauna on the market that fixes this, but as of now I see them as two separate therapies, and anyone trying to tell you otherwise without showing some kind of personal research they are doing (outside of selling their product of course!), is meh.

Related Reading:

So Which Is Better, A Near Infrared Sauna Or Far Infrared Sauna?

I think they both have their place, it really just depends on what you’re trying to do. If your goal is to detox, there simply is no replacement for far infrared. it my opinion that far infrared is a must in a sauna, and I won’t use one without it. I also think that “full spectrum” far infrared saunas are gimmicky, and the near infrared that might be present in the sauna, isn’t going to be absorbed by the body.

If it makes you feel better knowing you’re in a full spectrum sauna with supposed near infrared, buy it. Otherwise, I would recommend saving your money by buying a less expensive far infrared sauna, and then getting a true near infrared light therapy device like I have.

Far infrared covers the entire body with infrared, especially if you’re using a 360 degree sauna like I use, and the amount of time it will take you to detox, will be much less than near infrared.

I have both, just so you know. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, and probably can’t explain the differences in light or wavelengths to you if you wanted to get in a technical debate, even though I love the smart comments in the comment system below… it helps us all continue an unbiased discussion of these things, because every year new models come out claiming all kinds of stuff.

Bottom line is, all I know is I’ve tried both, and one makes me drip sweat from my legs and fingertips (far infrared), and the other does not. (near infrared)

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9 thoughts on “Near Infrared VS Far Infrared Saunas: 7 Key Differences To Know Before Buying”

    • Hi Denis,

      I have about 40 videos on youtube on saunas, have you come across any of them?

      You can also list out your questions in bullet point, and I can take a stab at them if you’re stuck somewhere…

    • Hi Sami,

      Generally no I don’t agree. Most of the time, the full spectrum saunas are more gimmicky than they are at delivering functional nir therapy.

      However, they are right about one thing in the distance illustration… that is true. Distance matters with near infrared, but in every Sunlighten M Pulse I’ve ever been in, there was always only one single 4″ x 8″ array of led’s, stuffed behind the grill on either side. In a two person + size sauna, that was pretty ineffective (and funny to me really).

      But it looks like maybe they did something about it for 2020 models coming out?… and stuffed more arrays in the sauna for new models, I’m not sure. It would be great if they weren’t behind a grill anymore as well.

      Other than that, I would be mindful of the EMF levels in an M Pulse. Build quality in Sunlighten’s have always been top notch, it was the EMF levels that I wasn’t a fan of. But maybe they’re improving those as well now too, I don’t know.

      There are plenty of good completely vetted options here too:

  1. Hi Matt,

    What do you think of daily FIR sauna and daly separate NIR (joovv) ex: morning I do

    10 min joovv front
    10 min joovv back


    20 min FIR sauna

    Is this safe or we shouldn’t mix the infrared in general



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