The Cedar Sauna : deciding if this wood is right for you

The cedar sauna is one of the most popular types sold and there are good reasons for it. Cedar wood, though, is not the right choice for everyone...

Is a sauna constructed out of cedar right for you?

On this page:
• Why cedar wood is such a popular choice for far infrared auna manufacturers
• What to look out for in a cedar infrared sauna
• Modular cedar saunas and sauna kits using cedar (see our upcoming page on sauna kits)
• Cedar and your health

While cedar wood has long been used to build traditional (Finnish-style) saunas, it is now also used to build far infrared (fir) saunas , cedar barrel saunas, outdoor saunas, and cedar sauna kits, too.

Most of the higher quality far infrared saunas are constructed out of western red cedar.

Why cedar has been so popular for saunas

Helpful properties of cedar wood:

• Repels insects and resists rotting
• Boards are durable and don’t shrink much
• Excellent insulator of both heat and sound (the best insulator among the most common softwood species)
• Typically free of sap
• Drawback: extremely moisture absorbent (will absorb sweat easily, and must be covered if used as an outdoor sauna)

Cedar infrared saunas—durable and resistant to fungi and insects

Cedar is a popular far infrared sauna building material because cedar wood is weather and decay-resistant, as well as pleasantly scented.

Cedar oil is a natural repellant to moths and other insects, as well as a natural deodorizer. (This is why cedar closets are great for storing clothes).

Cedar wood is highly durable due to its ability to resists rotting. We can thank the presence of substances in cedar that are toxic to a number of wood-rotting fungi for this benefit. These substances are mainly thujaplicins (yes, that’s how it’s spelled!) and – in more of a supporting role - certain water-soluble phenolics (some of which are responsible for the nice smell of cedar).

These substances are known as extractives—while you can extract them from wood, the are not part of its chemical composition.

Grades of cedar—what are you buying?

Tongue and groove cedar comes in a range of grades -- from the highest quality Clear Heart to a grade that is only marginally suitable for exterior usage. Cedar infrared sauna manufacturers don’t all use the same grades.

The cedar grading system from highest to lowest quality is:

• Clear Heart
• A clear
• B clear
• Select Knotty
• Quality Knotty
• Proprietary Grades
• Standard and better

The tongue & groove cedar classified as Proprietary Grade has a full range of subjective grades based on the manufacturer’s descriptions.

Attractive features of a modular cedar infrared sauna

A modular cedar far infrared sauna is a sauna that is pre-built and requires minimal assembly.

Two of the features that make cedar saunas attractive are their insulating and acoustical properties:

The heat insulating properties of cedar make it a great choice if you are purchasing an outdoor sauna or a combo sauna. A combo sauna is a sauna that has both traditional and far infrared heaters in the same wood cabinet.

Cedar is also an economical and effective sound insulator. This quality helps add to the relaxing experience of taking a sauna by blocking out external noises.

Cedar Sauna Kits

Infrared sauna kits and build-your-own sauna room plans are very popular amongst handy home owners — you can choose cedar for these, of course.

Precut packages (also called material packages) come as a kit that contains all necessary building materials for your cedar sauna, plus a set of plans. Most of these sauna kits supply 1” x 4” T&G Clear Western Red Cedar (although actual board thickness is closer to ¾”), the sauna door, the infrared sauna heaters , windows, and an accessories package.

Take special care when assembling these kits to avoid using solvents, plastics, and glue which will later outgas (leak chemicals into the air) and be inhaled by users. The same rule goes for panel assembly – no adhesives or glues!

Make sure not to use any oils, stains, or adhesives in the sauna either. Some modular sauna manufactures laminate tongue and groove boards to backer boards or to inner support wood using “non-toxic” adhesives. There is no such thing as a non-toxic adhesive, so look carefully at the construction of every component of the kit you are thinking of buying. More on infrared sauna equipment.

Choosing and caring for your Cedar Sauna

If you plan to use your sauna recreationally – just for a relaxing, healthful sweat –you won’t notice any performance differences between a far infrared sauna constructed from cedar and one constructed from some other species of wood.

As you make your purchase, there are a few important considerations to keep in mind are:

• Only buy a far infrared sauna from a reputable manufacturer and check that the highest grade of untreated cedar is being used

• If the sauna is to be used outside, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to cover and protect it from the weather

• Since cedar wood absorbs moisture easily, sit on enough towels to prevent your sweat coming in contact with the sauna bench

• When not in use, keep the doors, vents, and window(s) of the sauna open to reduce the concentration of phenol odor that will naturally accumulate in the sauna

• Clean the sauna as per the manufacturer’s recommendations

Cedar and health.

Studies on animals have revealed some potential dangers with cedar wood. Other wood toxicity studies have been conducted on people who are exposed regularly to these woods and their byproducts (like sawdust) in the wood products industry (such as those who work in lumber mills) — also revealing health threats.

While cedar smells nice due to the natural volatile compounds in the wood (chemicals that can escape the wood into the air) called phenols, these same compounds have been implicated as a potential health risk—especially with regards to the respiratory system (problems (asthma, inflammation, allergic responses) and changes in the liver.

Studies of laboratory animals have shown fairly dramatic changes in liver enzymes on animals housed on cedar bedding. These liver effects in turn can effect the metabolism of drugs, including anesthetics, but there is not much information on a direct link between these changes and specific diseases or clinical symptoms.

Health conditions that could be aggravated by a cedar saunaThousand of people have used traditional cedar saunas and far infrared cedar saunas without incident, but no two people share the same biochemistry.

Who might be based choosing another more nontoxic infrared sauna?

Based on the studies that implicate the compounds from cedar in allergic and respiratory ailments as well as their impact on liver enzymes, if you have a family history of respiratory disease, suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity, have respiratory allergies or a compromised liver, you may want to consider a different species of wood for your sauna - a poplar sauna would be the best choice. More on dangers of the far infrared sauna in general (not to worry, there are very few!).

Did you know?

• Cedar was used to build King Solomon’s Temple In 1000 BC
• Cedar shingles on roofs absorb water and swell to help make the roof water tight
• Cedar is used to make shoe trees because it absorbs moisture and deodorizes
• Phenols that out gas from cedar wood shavings can be deadly to your pets
• When used outdoors, and untreated Eastern Cedar will develop a silver-gray patina while Western Red Cedar will blacken

Move on from cedar saunas to benefits of the infrared sauna