This post was prompted by an interview I did with www.saunatimes.com, a kindred spirit website run by Glenn Auerbach of Minnesota.
Like everyone lucky enough to have a home sauna, I have a routine. It’s evolved over the years, and there are many different types of routine depending on (a) how long I have and (b) what the season is. I’ll document these routines in full in The Fine Science of Sauning over the coming months and years, but here’s an overview of my current modus sweaterandi.
The Sauna Itself
- My sauna was originally purchased by myself and fours other dear friends (then housemates) off eBay. Life moved on, and I kept the sauna when the rental house finally got sold and we had to move out 4 years later. Comrade Dave Drayton is the only one still living in Sydney, and he still comes round to sweat in the box.
- It’s about 6 ft wide and 4 ft deep, so fits 2 nicely, 3 pretty well, and 4 touching hip. Room for two standing if necessary.
- It has a 4.5kw electric heater (Helo, a Finnish brand). So it heats the small space really well. A 3kw would work fine, but I like the heavy artillery.
- I’m pretty sure the sauna was built by the people we bought it from (a funny old German couple). It has measurement marks in pencil that don’t look like a factory job. And Horst built the house they lived in, which was lovely, big, proper house on a 12 acre property. So he could definitely build a sauna. I didn’t ask but I’m pretty sure.
- The sauna packed down into 4 walls, a roof, and the door, plus the heater and rocks. It was a crazy drive – 2400km in 40 hours. Also a crazy installation effort at home. Stories for another time.
- The sauna takes about 45 mins to reach 110ºC (230ºF). That’s usually the temp I sweat at, but the box is easily turned down to 80º or 90º, which is sometimes good when guests are around. It makes a big difference being a little lower, especially when you get the steam cranking.
- The most regular time I sweat is in the morning, as soon as I wake up. This is only possible because I live with an amazing woman who always gets up earlier than me, and always turns the sauna on.
- When that doesn’t happen and I have 90 mins or more before leaving the house, I turn the box on and potter around – checking emails, having breakfast, whatever. I used to work from home a lot. Then I could turn the box on, start the day, have a sauna with 3-5 sets, then hit the day properly. Pretty glorious.
- But I often sweat in the afternoon or evening, especially on weekends. In this case I turn the box on and do something for 45 minutes – usually working/reading up in my study.
- In summer I have an extensive ice bucket routine. Water out of the tap isn’t cold enough, so I fill a bucket with water and a heap of ice, which melts while I saun. I’ll write about this later, but it’s part of the prep before entering the box.
- I typically enter the sauna with towel, water bottle, bucket, and ladle. Sometimes I use a sauna hat, but not that often. I always offer a hat to friends and suggest it to newbies.
- At the sharehouse we had a subscription to TIME Magazine, so every week we’d take the new edition in too. It was great. I should do it again. It’s perfect sauna reading material. Highly recommended if you’re happy to toss an issue once it’s read! Leave it in the sauna to dry it out. I even built a magazine holder on the wall with mesh and stables. Worked a treat.
- I usually have 2-3 sets per session, especially in the morning. On the weekend I’ll take more heat, more like 3-5 sets. Can’t get enough.
- I’ll usually sauna dry for 10 mins until I’m drenched in sweat, then start hitting the steam on the rocks for 5 minutes or so. Then take a break, and have 1-2 more sets of 5-10 minutes. Depends how long until I have to leave the house. Often it’s only 2 sets.
- When I take breaks, I always have a few scoops of water from the ice bucket over the head (using a cup). If the weather is cold enough then the hose is fine, but in Sydney that’s only half the year at best.
- The final set is always REALLY hot. I try to push things to the limit with a hectic amount of löyly.
- I also have 2 different ladles, one much bigger than the other. I got them both in Helsinki, at Stockmann Department Store (level 5). They’re awesome.
- The smaller ladle is more polite and measured. It’s what I use with friends most of the time. (If you look closely, you can see it in the shadow top right in the pic at the top of the page.)
- I call the big one The Firebomb. I always use the big one when solo. I hit a few serious firebombs during the final set. It’s intense and amazing.
- If I’m clever, I’ve left a bottle of water in the fridge so it’s nice and cold. I drink some, but also give myself a micro-douse of cold water during the heat, which feels great. It’s a throwback to the Russian Room at the Russian Turkish Baths in New York, one of my favourite places on earth. In the Russian Room there’s a well of ice cold water IN the room itself, so you can douse with buckets while sitting in 120º very dry hot heat. It’s bliss. The water bottle at home is a pale comparison, but often earns me a few extra minutes in the heat before having to eject.
- I often use sauna scrubs too – usually a home-made salt scrub, but I’ve had store-bought ones that are lovely. Actually I’m still using the last of some scrubs I bought in Helsinki along with the ladles. Certainly not every sauna, but once or twice a week I like to soap it up a bit. Home luxury, if a sauna wasn’t already good enough.
- In summer, I always save enough ice water to have a solid douse for when you need it most – at the end of the session. Outside of winter I always do this, because Sydney is a pretty warm place. I’m pretty fanatical about this part. I have a LOT of summer saunas and virtually never without ice.
- In winter the tap is sufficient. I have a hose-head with a “shower” setting, so it’s perfect for sitting and having a lazy cool down. If you point it up the water falls like rain, it’s pretty spectacular. Honestly, better than it sounds. Makes you shiver the way it hits.
- Point is, I take the cool down very seriously. It’s not only just as satisfying as actually sitting in the sauna (still part of the same ride), but it’s also important if you need to put clothes on quickly and can’t strut around for half an hour. Every sauna enthusiast has made the mistake of getting clothed too early and sweating into their garments. It’s not very nice. But it happens from time to time, even with an ice bucket, and I don’t really mind. People suffer a lot worse in life.
These are the rudiments of my home sauna routine. You can see there’s a lot of variables, which shows you always need to be thinking about the conditions.
Another common play I have is called the “Swim & Sweat” – I turn the sauna on, walk 5 minutes to the local swimming pool, swim 10-20 laps, then come home and get straight in the box. One of the truly great hangover cures. Great for when you hate yourself on a weekend morning. I often get out the pool and walk home in swimming trunks. It’s pretty funny.
If you would like to do a guest post about your home sauna routine (even a short one), then please contact me and we’ll arrange it.