Infrared Sauna Heaters - Ceramic, Carbon & How They Compare

Infrared Sauna Heaters - Carbon/Ceramic Heating Panel

The most recent addition to the world of saunas is the infrared sauna heater. This is a unique type of heater that is distinctly different from traditional sauna heaters in that it uses near and far infrared wavelengths to heat the water molecules in the body. Traditional saunas that use hot rocks heat the air around the body and that heat is then conducted into the body.

Because your body absorbs the infrared wavelengths directly and transforms them into energy in your cells it can produce a multitude of health benefits including improved blood circulation and metabolism.

The far infrared rays created in a warm inviting sauna are natural radiant energy. The effect is similar to what happens when you sit in the sun and feel your body warming up.

Far infrared rays are not damaging to the skin or harsh on the lungs of the bather and because they don’t require heating of the air first, that means you can work up a sweat in an infrared sauna at much lower temperatures, so you can enjoy longer sauna sessions.

Additionally, an infrared heater uses significantly less power than an electric or gas heater; the average cost per use of an infrared sauna is about 5-10 cents versus 35-75 cents per use in a traditional sauna. Not surprisingly, this makes the infrared sauna a popular choice among sauna enthusiasts who want to get the most out of their sauna experience.

What are the Types of Infrared Sauna?

Carbon vs ceramic sauna heaters

There are several different types of Far Infrared (FIR) heaters on the market today, with the two most prominent being ceramic and carbon fiber.  These emitters give off different types and amounts of infrared light based primarily on the emissivity and surface temperature of the source.

Emissivity is the measure of an object’s ability to emit low, middle and far infrared energy, with levels ranging from 0 (shiny) to 1.0 (black body). A “black body” describes an infrared emitter that absorbs as much energy as it puts out.

The best infrared sauna heater will fall into this black body or perfect category and boast of 90-95% emissivity between 4 and 20 microns. This is optimum because the human body can absorb close to 93% of the infrared waves reaching the skin.

Ceramic Sauna Heaters

Ceramic infrared heaters use ceramic rods to emit infrared wavelengths. The effectiveness of a ceramic heater depends on the shape of the heating element itself. In units that use single rod elements, the energy produced is near infrared, meaning it is short wavelengths that are only capable of shallow penetration into the body. The effectiveness can be improved by using a concave, or cone shaped, element which allows for greater emissivity and deeper penetration with far infrared wavelengths.

The several advantages to ceramic infrared heaters:

·       They have an estimated life of 10,000 operational hours

·       Low surface temperatures make the heater safe to touch

·       The concave shape of ceramic infrared heaters maximizes radiant efficiency

·       They have proven test results of 93% emissivity which closely corresponds to perfect far infrared

·       The ceramic emitter is in a reflective housing case that bounces nearly 90% of the rays back into the room to be absorbed by the bather

A ceramic far infrared sauna heater will last for many years, which is why manufacturers can offer a lifetime warranty on these units. The superior design of ceramic emitters in FIR saunas results in improved health benefits, long life for your sauna, and saving you money in operating costs.

Carbon Sauna Heaters

Around 2009, the infrared sauna industry was expanded with the development of carbon fiber technology.  Carbon fiber panels are softer and more malleable than ceramic elements, which means they can cover a wider surface of your body for a more effective sauna experience. The larger surface area also allows for longer far infrared wavelengths and lower surface temperatures, allowing for longer sauna sessions.

Here are several other advantages of carbon infrared heaters:

·       They operate at a lower temperature, allowing them to reach peak temperature quicker and more efficiently.

·       The lower temperature also makes them safer for users, with less risk of burns or overheating.

·       They heat the room evenly, unlike ceramic elements that can create hot spots, which means all users can get the same effect no matter where in the room they are sitting.

·       The ability to heat up faster saves money in the long run as you don’t need to run them as long as traditional electric or gas heaters.

·       They have a longer lifespan than ceramic heaters. Most carbon heaters last for anywhere from 50,000-100,000 hours compared to 5,000 hours for ceramic heaters.

For manufacturers, the biggest advantage of using carbon is that it is cheaper to produce than ceramic, allowing them to keep their expenses down.  For the consumer that can often translate to more affordable prices.

Health Benefits of Infrared Sauna

One of the primary advantages of infrared sauna heaters is the potential health benefits that can be derived from this much more direct form of sauna therapy.

Because they operate at much lower temperatures and work to heat the body directly, infrared saunas have been incorporated into many forms of alternative therapies and many practitioners swear by their ability to help with any number of medical issues.

Since infrared technology is still relatively new, there is not as much sold proof of its benefits though there has been some limited evidence of specific effects of infrared wavelengths in reducing inflammation as well as reducing the incidence of congestive heart failure and hypertension in individuals with Type 2 Diabetes. Infrared sauna use has even been linked to improved skin health as well as weight loss.

What are the Best Infrared Sauna Heaters?

Best infrared sauna heaters - Clearlight/Jacuzzi

There are several top manufacturers offering a wide range of infrared saunas, from small 2-4 person units to larger rooms for 6 or more people.

There are different aspects you need to take into consideration when choosing the right sauna for you, including the type of heating element, the wood used, the specific features of each unit and of course, the price. 

Here are two of our top picks for quality infrared saunas: 

Clearlight/Jacuzzi Infrared Saunas

Founded by a chiropractor, Dr. Raleigh Duncan, over 20 years ago Clearlight is one of the originators in the infrared industry and their products have some of the most proven health benefits.

The Clearlight team has researched and studied infrared therapy to bring you the best and most effective product possible. Within the last few years they have partnered with Jacuzzi, one of the most well known and highly regarded names in the industry, which allows them to combine the best quality with their therapeutic benefits.

The current Clearlight/Jacuzzi lineup features a wide range of models, which incorporate far infrared, mid infrared and near infrared wavelengths for maximum benefits. They have three different series, Premier, Sanctuary and Outdoor that can house from 1-5 people.

All models boast furniture quality construction using Western Red Canadian Cedar or North American Basswood and include the high end features you’d expect from the Jacuzzi name: windows for light, roof ventilation, recessed LED accent lights, a Never Fail digital keypad both inside and outside the sauna that lets you control temperature, time and lights, and Bluetooth/AUX/MP3 Audio inputs and stereo speakers.

Clearlight/Jacuzzi doesn’t allow purchase directly from their website so you’ll have to request a price list but you can be confident that you are getting the best quality on the market with customer service to match. 

Sunlighten Infrared Saunas

Sunlighten stands out from the pack with their patented 3 in 1 sauna, which employs all three infrared wavelengths for maximum health benefits. They also have a high emissivity patent for having the most far infrared (fIR) in a sauna. Unlike many other sauna manufacturers, Sunlighten backs up all of their claims with actual proof so you can be confident in your choice.

Currently, the Sunlighten lineup includes three distinctive collections: mPulse, Signature and Amplify, as well as a unique Solo System and a LumiNIR wand. Each of the three main collections has a range of models designed to house from 1-5 people.

They’re available in Basswood or Cedar and the mPulse collection is also available in Eucalyptus. All of their saunas feature ergonomically designed benches and back supports that are higher and deeper than those in standard saunas for added comfort.  You can remove the benches in most of the models to accommodate sauna yoga for an enhanced sauna experience.

With their focus on health benefits, Sunlighten’s most unique offering is their 7 different wellness programs that allow you to select the ideal wavelength for the specific health issue you are trying to treat. The mPulse collection also features a personal monitor that lets you track your heart rate and calories burned while you’re in the sauna to help personalize your sauna experience even more.  The Amplify collection has two additional heaters which allow these models to reach higher temperatures for more of a traditional sauna experience.

Prices for Sunlighten saunas are typical for high end saunas, ranging from $3,300-$6,800 for the Signature collection and $5,000 and up for the mPulse and Amplify collections. Sunlighten also offers custom sauna kits created specifically to your dimensions which are available with either far infrared only or full spectrum heat and come with a control panel, premium Eucalpytus wood, benches, guide, diagrams and a user’s manual.

What's the Bottom Line on Infrared Sauna Heaters?

If you want to take the therapeutic benefits of sauna bathing to the next level, then infrared saunas might be a good choice. The healing warmth of the far, mid and near infrared spectrums can help you enjoy your sauna at much lower temperatures for a more comfortable, relaxing experience. 

While sauna purists may prefer the traditional feel of wood, electric, gas, or propane heaters, there is no denying the growing popularity of infrared saunas.

With models available for both indoor and outdoor use, you can get the benefits of an infrared sauna no matter where you are. Consider all of your options and let your body feel the difference with a full spectrum or far infrared sauna.  

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