In Finland, we love our saunas. They’re ingrained into Finnish history—they were where women gave birth!—and present-day culture. This is where Finns go to relax, rest, and connect with other people. If a Finnish person ever invites you to the sauna, you know they see you as a friend!
Sauna is a must-try experience when visiting or living in Finland. And with over 3 million in the country, there’s no shortage of saunas to check out. Here’s how to enjoy the sauna like a Finn to make the most of your experience.
Finnish Sauna 101
As mentioned, there are literally millions of saunas around Finland. These are made from both private and public saunas. Public saunas are shared with other people, typically require swimwear, and drinking is prohibited.
Private saunas are owned by individuals who can set their own rules. This is what we’ll focus on here in this guide, as it’s the most authentic Finnish sauna experience. Before visiting a sauna, there are some key things to know:
1. What to bring to a Finnish sauna
When visiting a sauna, come prepared. Here’s what you need to bring:
- A towel or robe
- Fresh clothes to wear after the sauna
- Water to drink
- Swimwear (optional)
- Alcoholic or other beverage of choice (optional)
2. Sauna terminology
If you’re visiting the sauna with Finnish people, get familiar with some of the terms and words we use. Here are the main ones you need to know:
- Pefletti: A linen towel to sit on; it helps with the heat on your bottom and is more hygienic
- Laude/Lauteet: The bench you sit on
- Kiuas: The stove you throw water on to create steam
- Kiulu: The bucket with water that gets thrown onto the kiuas
- Löylykauha: The scooper or dipper used to throw water onto the kiuas
- Löyly: The act of throwing water onto the kiuas or the steam you get from it
So, to put it all together: In the sauna, put your pefletti down on the laude and take a seat. Then, use your löylykauha to scoop water from your kiulu and löyly it onto the kiuas to create steam. Easy, right?
How to Experience Sauna in Finland
To enjoy a sauna like a Finn, there are just a few simple steps to follow:
- Turn it on: Most saunas are electric, though some still burn wood to heat up. Turn up the dial and let it heat up for about 30-45 minutes, or until it reaches the ideal temperature of 70-100 °C (158-212 °F).
- Get naked and take a shower: Yep, sauna is best enjoyed naked. It’s totally normal for people of all ages to be naked in sauna—there’s nothing sexual to it and is very common in private saunas. Shower off before entering the sauna so you are clean.
- Throw löyly to create steam: Use the tools described earlier to create steam in the sauna. There are two ways to do it: gently pour the water onto the stove or throw it. If you’re a beginner, 1-2 scoops of water may be enough for you, but you can go up to 3-4 and see how much steam you like. If you scoop more water than that, it can get too hot.
- Relax. This is the whole point of sauna—to sit back, rest, and relax. This is a good time to connect with your friends and have some deep conversations. Honestly, Finns become more open and sociable the less clothes they’re wearing!
- Take a break: After about 10-15 minutes, exit the sauna to take a break and cool down. Remember that you’ve been dehydrating yourself through sweat, so drink some water. It’s a great time to go for a swim if you’re close to a lake, too! Then, take a shower before heading back inside.
Sauna is all about relaxation and connection, so spend as much time as you want doing that. Some people will enjoy a few alcoholic beverages while in the sauna, chat with their friends, or just sit in silence and rest. I usually have alcohol or drinks in sauna when I have friends over.
Dos and Don’ts of Sauna
Sauna is simple enough, but there are some essential things you need to know if it’s your first time. Here are some dos and don’ts for using sauna in Finland:
- DO use water to cool down the laude (bench) if it’s too hot
- DON’T stare at other people… it’s weird
- DO sit on the lower level if it’s too hot for you
- DON’T read or use your phone—use this time to relax and connect with people!
- DO use sauna scent for an extra boost. This is a scent that’s added to the water and smells like forest or eucalyptus, adding to the comfortable environment
- DON’T drink from the löylykauha—bring a water bottle instead
- DO enjoy some drinks if you want. Remember to say, “kippis!” (cheers!). Aluminum cans are the best option for sauna
- DON’T let the door open and have the heat escape
- DO hydrate and drink water while you’re in the sauna
If you’re unsure what to do in the sauna, just ask the Finnish people you’re with or observe others enjoying the sauna too. And, above all, relax—the sauna is a no-stress zone.
You are now ready to enjoy the sauna like a Finnish person. It might feel like a new experience for you or even out of your comfort zone, but it’s an authentic experience you can’t miss while visiting or living in Finland. If you want to see all these sauna tips in action (nakedness and all!), head over to my YouTube channel. I make videos about Finland and Finnish culture. I hope you’ll join me for the ride. You can find useful Finland-related resources here.