I’ve written extensively about infrared sauna wood in the past. Tons of different sauna wood options exist, including basswood, hemlock, eucalyptus, and others. Today I’ll focus on one specific infrared sauna wood type: cedar wood. Cedar wood can be considered the “Rolls-Royce” of the sauna wood types and I’ll explain why to you today.
Let’s first start with some background information:
Cedar Wood For Sauna: A Background
In this section, I’ll explain more about what cedar wood is and what its qualities are. From a biology standpoint, the name “cedar” is derived from the genus Cedrus (1; 2). A genus is a classification system of different organisms, including ones that have already gone extinct.
Within the Cedrus genus, many different types of cedar plants exist (3; 4; 5). For instance, there’s the Lebanese Cedar (Cedrus libani), a pine tree that - unlike his name - is mostly found in Turkey. Then there’s Melia azedarach also known as white cedar, found in India. And finally there’s the Thuja plicata that I’ll talk about in this blog post - the famous Canadian red cedar.
That cedar has many different names, such as Western red cedar, Pacific redcedar, or just plain “cedar”. That Western red cedar, moreover, is not strictly part of the Cedrus genus, although it’s very often associated with it.
Right now, the Western red cedar is mostly found in the Pacific north of the USA and the Pacific south of Canada. That area roughly consists of the south of Alaska all the way to the north of California.
The Western red cedar has been used for thousands of years, originally in indigenous American populations. The wood has and had many different purposes, ranging from being used as building material for houses, boats, clothing, decorative objects, musical instruments, tools, containers such as bowls, and other goals.
Traditionally, Western red cedar is not only beloved because of its versatility in constructing different things. The cedar also has a very unique profile because of the essential oils contained therein (6; 7; 8; 9). These essential oils are emitted into the air over time long after the cedar tree was originally cut down. As a result, there’s a strong olfactory dimension associated with Western red cedar as well.
So in the same way a new Rolls-Royce has a very distinct car smell, you’ll also be able to enjoy the olfactory experience of Western red cedar over time. For that reason, this cedar is frequently used as an essential oil in natural health and wellness circles.
I’ll get back to that topic later…
What makes the Western red cedar very valuable is that it’s very resistant to the elements and so-called “straight grained” (10; 11). In simple terms, that means the wood fibres are oriented in the same way the tree grows vertically. The straight grain is therefore very structurally integer, making it ideal for saunas. With a straight grain, you also won’t see any patterns in the wood, except mostly straight lines.
The Western red cedar also has few “knots” (12; 13; 14). Knotting originates when branches fall off or are cut, and the main trunk of the wood continues growing. Over time, this means you’ll see circular patterns in the wood. Knots can be compared to scar tissue on human skin in the sense that they leave a lasting impression after the original injury has healed.
Knots have consequences for saunas though. Structurally, the knot itself is very tough but the area around it can be less structurally integer. Generally, the more knots a wood has, the lower its quality is rated.
For infrared saunas that statement is also true, as knots have a higher propensity to give you splinters. For that reason you don’t want sauna benches with lots of knots. Another problem with knotted areas is that they’re more prone to damage. As a result, knots can fall out over time or get really dry.
As Western red cedar has few knots and a straight grain, you’ll immediately understand why it’s so beloved for creating infrared saunas and other premium products like furniture. In the next section, I'll look at cedar wood as a choice for infrared saunas specifically and tell you about all the benefits and downsides:
Cedar Wood Sauna: Why It’s The Perfect Choice For Most
Now that you have a deeper understanding of cedar wood, let’s explore why it’s the perfect choice for a sauna. In my previous blog post on infrared sauna wood, I created a list of the properties an ideal sauna should have. These properties are:
- Structural integrity. With more knotting - such as with pine - and non-straight grains, the risk of structural damage over time increases.
- Insulation. Saunas are used to keep the heat inside a small room so that you start sweating profusely and gain other health benefits. Poor insulation leads to you getting fewer health benefits. Also, some types of wood conduct heat much better than others, which can be a downside if you’re sitting on a surface that gets piping hot.
- Toxicity. Some wood types can expose you to a tiny amount of toxins, thereby countering goals like detoxification.
- Hypoallergenic. Many wood types have a smell - Western red cedar included - which can cause allergic reactions in some. Some wood types are more prone to make people allergic. If you’re specifically allergic to cedar though, you’ll have to avoid this wood type.
- Aesthetic appeal. Many people want a wood type that simply looks good in their bathroom, bedroom, or outdoors.
- Heat and water resistance. You don’t want your sauna to be damaged under high temperatures. Some sauna woods also better deal with increases and decreases of temperature. Cracking and warping can happen if a sauna wood isn’t resistant to temperature changes. Of course, because of sweating in a sauna, you’ll also want to prevent stains in the wood over time to retain the aesthetic appeal.
- Design. Even if you have the most expensive wood type, a poor design of a sauna will take away from the aesthetic appeal.
- Type of sauna used. Infrared saunas are relatively dry while traditional saunas - such as a Finnish sauna - are hot and humid. Different goals require different materials.
- EMF exposure. This domain has more to do with the electronics and wiring inside a sauna - with poor design in this area, your body will be exposed to higher levels of Electro-Magnetic fields (EMFs), detracting from the health benefits you get.
- Price. Not everyone is willing to spend money for the best materials. If you’re on a tight budget, you might not be willing to buy an infrared sauna made from premium materials.
So let’s explore how the cedar wood for sauna choice does in all of these areas:
- Structural integrity. Western red cedar has amazing structural integrity because it has straight grains and few knots. The wood lasts an incredible amount of time, which is why we can offer a lifetime warranty on residential saunas and 5 years warranty on infrared saunas for commercial use.
- Insulation. Western red cedar keeps the temperature of the sauna indoors very well and also doesn’t get hot on touch. So you won’t burn your buttocks when you’re sitting on western red cedar.
- Toxicity. Western red cedar doesn’t contain natural toxins like hemlock, making it an excellent choice. Also, we test all our saunas for emitted wood toxins such as “Volatile Organic Compounds” (VOCs) to ensure all your sauna sessions are healing and don’t add to your toxic load.
- Hypoallergenic. Few people are allergic to western red cedar. If you are allergic to this wood type, we offer Nordic spruce as an alternative.
- Aesthetic appeal. All our Western cedarwood infrared saunas are made from premium-quality eco-certified cedar. We specifically use Canadian red cedar for its exquisite aesthetic appeal.
- Heat and water resistance. Even at high temperatures, the Western red cedar doesn’t crack or warp. Many other wood types aren’t as protective against water and heat. For an outdoor sauna, Western red cedar is an excellent choice because it is very resistant to the elements.
- Design. We’ve got 20+ years of experience designing the most beautiful Western red cedar saunas on the market. Any infrared sauna model you buy will therefore look exquisite in almost any room and garner the compliments of friends and family.
- Type of sauna used. Western red cedar is ideal for the low-heat low-humidity infrared saunas, especially over time.
- EMF exposure. We’ve designed and tested our sauna models over and over again so that you’re exposed to as minimal amount of EMFs during any sauna session as possible. Exposure to magnetic and electric fields have been reduced to almost zero. Also, radio waves - coming from BlueTooth, for instance, can be deactivated for people who want to further reduce exposure.
- Price. Here’s the only clear downside of our cedar infrared saunas: you get what you pay for. Yes, our saunas are pricier but if you want a Rolls-Royce-equivalent offering on the sauna market, you’ll have to invest more. As almost always, the best products on the market are not the cheapest but will last you up to a lifetime.
Hopefully you can see why Western red cedar is our cedar wood for sauna choice…
DIY Cedar Wood Sauna Options
Some people ask us: “how about buying cedar wood planks for sauna, such as an infrared sauna?”
Sure, you can create a Western red cedar sauna all by yourself but doing so requires a lot of know-how and context. As we’ve got several decades of experience making cedar saunas, we’re offering a DIY service for creating a sauna that fits your exact requirements.
During that process, you give us the exact dimensions of the room or outdoor area that you want to fit with a sauna. You’ll inform us about the seating arrangements that you want, the wood type, heaters, sauna door, and extras. Wood types such as eucalyptus, spruce, and Western red cedar are available for that process.
And, most importantly, we’ll guide you through that process. That guidance is extremely important as people who don’t have experience building saunas inadvertently end up making mistakes.
Finally, you’ll receive a kit allowing you to construct the sauna yourself or with the aid of a professional. This entire process saves you a lot of time and potential mistakes, while still allowing you to set the requirements of the overall process.
Maintaining Sauna Cedar Wood - The Cedar Sauna Wood Treatment Guide
I’ve written extensively about maintaining sauna wood in the past. Those principles for maintaining a sauna are very important, as you don’t want to keep your sauna beautiful over time and also not add to your toxic load.
The first step is to focus on preventing your sauna from getting dirty in the first place. Using towels to catch any sweat is an excellent way to lower the amount of sweat that ends up on the sauna cedar wood.
Make sure to also place a towel under your buttocks to prevent sweat from contacting the wood there. And, after a session, make sure to remove any remaining sweat you didn’t catch.
For the occasional cleaning, a combination of water and white vinegar will do the trick. You can optionally add 10% hydrogen peroxide as well. The backrests, sauna wood, and glass can be cleaned with these compounds. Of course, also use the vacuum cleaner occasionally so remove dust from the sauna.
With natural cleaning products, you prevent toxins from being added to your body. The combination of an enclosed space, toxic cleaning products, and heat increases the likelihood of toxins ending up in your lungs and body massively.
If you really have stains, then very light sanding as cedar sauna wood treatment is possible. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, check my guide on how to clean an infrared sauna.
Conclusion: Cedar Wood Saunas Are An Amazing High-End Option
In the introduction of this blog post, I equated a cedar wood sauna to a Rolls-Royce. And, I’ve hopefully convinced you that this analogy is correct, due to the cedar wood for saunas lasting extremely long and being durable, looking beautiful, low in toxins, and generally hypoallergenic.
And, combined with the exquisite design of our infrared sauna models and lifetime warranty, you cannot go wrong with this choice!