Finnish Sauna Bathing for Beginners

For the uninitiated, Finnish sauna bathing can seem a bit intimidating. This style of steam bathing has been adopted by many cultures around the world - including the Finnish traditions of nudity, icy cool-downs, and beating the skin with birch twigs - so it’s best to get an idea what to expect before you take the plunge!

Take a Seat and Relax

The traditional Finnish sauna bathing session is called a kylpy. It begins with a shower, then joining your hosts or other guests in the sauna. Yes, it can be mixed company in private saunas and being naked is de rigueur - but public saunas are segregated. In either case, it’s considered impolite in Finland to wear clothes in a sauna. Just be polite, relax and enjoy the Finnish steam bath.

It Gets Hot

Finnish Sauna Bathing - © Photographer:Krzysztof Subicki -

Take a small towel to place on the bench to sit on. Finns and Europeans start with a dry sauna for the first session, followed by a brief cool-down period outside of the sauna.

During the second round of Finnish sauna bathing, someone will pour a ladle or two full of water on the hot stones on top of the kiuas, the wood stove used to heat the Finnish sauna.

This produces steam called löyly which makes the sauna bath even hotter. You may want to use this time to flay your skin with leafy birch twigs (vihta) to promote circulation and cleanse the skin.

Rinse and Repeat

Enjoy this wet sauna for five or ten minutes, or longer if you’re comfortable with the temperature, and then exit for another cool-down. The whole Finnish kylpy can last from 30 minutes to two hours.

If you don’t plan to re-enter for another sauna bathing session, take a cool shower and scrub with a loofa brush. It’s not going to do much good to spend time detoxifying and refreshing your body if you don’t wash off those toxins afterwards.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

After a Finnish sauna bath and shower, be sure to rehydrate by drinking plenty of fluids be it water, beer or an electrolyte drink. Since you are also losing minerals while sweating, it’s a good idea to add additional calcium and magnesium to your diet if you will be a frequent sauna visitor.

Kill those Viruses

Sweating in a Finnish type sauna several times a week not only helps to detox the body and revive the spirit, it also boosts the cardiovascular and immune systems. Yes, sauna bathing can even help you from catching a cold or flu and many Europeans use saunas for this reason. The high temperature in a sauna is just too hot for viruses to survive.

So take the plunge yourself and become one of the millions of health-conscious individuals who enjoy the cleansing steam of Finnish sauna bathing for socializing and relaxing on a regular basis.

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