Traditional Finnish sauna is a major part of the culture of Finland. The Finns treat saunas as a necessity rather than a luxury. In fact, years ago, nearly all Finnish women gave birth in saunas.
And with 5 million people living in Finland, there are 2 million home saunas, nearly one per household. For Finns, the sauna is a place to relax with friends and family.
The sauna has been apart of Finnish culture so long that it’s impossible to put a date on its beginning.
Finnish bathing habits were not documented until sometime in the 1500s. Bathing was quite rare hundreds of years ago and yet the Finns were cleaning themselves at least weekly in the sauna. Today, you can find saunas throughout Finland – outdoor saunas near lakes, in apartments, in offices, and even in the Parliament of Finland.
Finnish saunas are actually quite versatile. When a family would move to a new area, often the first thing they did was build a sauna. They could live in it initially like a small apartment. A sauna gave you a place to prepare food, stay warm, have babies, and clean yourself. See Home Sauna Benefits for modern sauna uses.
Taking a sauna starts by washing and then sitting in the heated room, typically 80 to 110 degrees Celsius (170 to 230 degrees Fahrenheit). Water is poured on the best sauna rocks in the sauna. This produces steam, known as löyly, which raises the moisture level but makes the heat more bearable.
Sometimes men and women go to the sauna together, sometimes not. For someone brought up in Finland, the rules are instinctive but they are difficult to put into words.
Depending on the structure of the group involved, you may find that everyone will go to the sauna at the same time, or men and women will sauna separately, or each family may sauna separately. It’s common with younger people to have mixed saunas with non-family members, yet this is quite rare for older people.
In traditional sauna, clothes are not worn, however, it is acceptable to sit on a towel. Mixed saunas are quite common, but for a typical Finn, the sauna is a non-sexual place. Finnish sauna is only a sauna, not a sex club.
Foreign visitors to Finland may be invited to sauna. As a course of business, it may be acceptable to refuse the invitation but it will not be accepted well. This invitation in a business setting can indicate that negotiations went well. Personal invites to the sauna in private homes or summer homes indicate an honor for the guest and refusal is not expected.