Smoke Sauna: a Truly Unique Sauna Experience

Smoke sauna

The smoke sauna is one of the oldest known forms of heating and healing. It was used as an infant birth chamber for centuries and a place for spiritual cleansing and healing.

Today, the smoke sauna is a popular tourist attraction in Estonia and Finland, but almost extinct for practical reasons among regular households.

This article will explore what a smoke sauna is, how it works, and its traditions.

What is a Smoke Sauna?

Smoke sauna in Rõuge, Estonia

A smoke sauna is a wood-heated sauna that does not have a chimney. Instead, the combustion smoke remains in the room during the heating process, which lasts 4-5 hours.

The stove is built into a corner of the room with stones placed on top. They must be relatively large to retain heat for a long time.

After the sauna has been heated, the rooms are ventilated by opening the door and windows. This allows the smoke to escape and fresh air to enter.

Water is then thrown on the hot stones to create steam. This humidifies the air and makes the sauna even more relaxing.

The temperature inside a smoke sauna is usually between 70-80 degrees Celsius (160-180 Fahrenheit) but can go even higher.

The ancient smoke sauna was built separately from the other buildings. Whenever possible, it was built close to water.

According to the old traditions, the building process had to start only when the weather was clear; otherwise, it was supposed to cause a failed sauna.

Before you try…, photo: Kaisa Äärmaa

If you’ve never been to a smoke sauna before, some things can turn out to be unexpected, surprising, or can really mess up your sauna experience.

A smoke sauna is quite different from other saunas in many ways, so it’s a good idea to know some basics before you go.

  • The smoke sauna is not a place for a quick wash. It’s an opportunity for relaxation and meditation – take your time!
  • Once the sauna is ready to use, you cannot add any more wood to the stove. You can, however, keep adding water to the stones to create more steam.
  • Do not lean against the walls (hot and sticky!)
  • Do not throw cold water on the stove; the water should be hot or warm.
  • There is no electricity in a traditional smoke sauna – oil lamps, candles, and other open fires are used for lighting.
  • Use water (especially hot water) wisely in the sauna, as there is usually not very much of it.
  • You don’t have to socialize or talk about anything in a smoke sauna – it’s ok to just sit in silence and enjoy the heat.
  • After the session, you should rest and not plan any work for the remaining day.
  • A light meal or drink (such as sauna beer) is often taken after the sauna.

The smoke sauna is a unique and truly relaxing experience that is becoming increasingly rare. If you have the opportunity to visit one, be sure to take your time and enjoy all it has to offer. 

Remember to drink plenty of water and not do anything strenuous after your session!


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