Once you have your home sauna set up, you may be wondering what else you will need to optimise your sauna bathing sessions. The answer is not a whole lot. Saunas are places to sit and meditate or relax, and in many ways it’s beneficial to keep the space as simple and minimal as you can. Having said that, there are some accessories or additions that can really enhance your sauna experience.
Bucket and Ladle
Pouring some water onto the heated rocks is an essential part of the traditional sauna ritual. The resulting burst of bracing, evaporating steam and humidity is referred to as ‘leil’ in Estonia or ‘löyly’ in Finland. Some of the more modern public saunas actually discourage this practice, which is fairly baffling to sauna enthusiasts - such is the integral part that it plays in the cultural tradition.
The best way of adding water to the heated rocks on the stove is with an accessory called a ladle. The design of the ladle allows you to scoop water from the bucket and pour gently over the stones. It is usually made from wood - which won’t conduct heat in the same way as metal would - and has a long handle that will keep your arms clear of the steam. Ensure that the bucket is emptied and refilled with clean water regularly.
The ‘vihta’ is another cultural aspect of sauna bathing that is all too often absent from modern sauna environments. It may seem like an acquired taste at first, but it involves the use of bundles of birch branches and twigs (oak and eucalyptus branches are also commonly used) to gently massage, gently whip or beat the skin. These ‘sauna whisks’ are believed to have positive effects such as increasing blood circulation, stress and tension relief, or adding natural aromas. It’s customary to allow the branches to soak in warm water for up to 30 minutes before your session.
Towels/ Towel Rack
A soft, absorbent towel is always a good thing to have with you in the sauna. It can be used as a barrier between you and the hot bench surface. A towel can also be used to wipe sweat from your brow or to preserve modesty. Similarly, it can be used to wrap around your hair and prevent it from drying out. A towel is regarded as good etiquette in public saunas due to how it prevents direct skin contact on benches that can be used by multiple people throughout the day.
Aromatherapy and Essential Oils
Adding essential oils to your sauna experience can enhance wood-fired aromas or provide extra therapeutic benefits. Eucalyptus, lavender and birch tar oil are some popular choices for the sauna. In fact, since birch branches (the ‘vihta’ that is often used to whip or beat skin in Finnish and Estonian saunas) impart natural aromas, this has always been part of the traditional authentic sauna experience.
But if you’re not quite ready to start leathering each other with bundles of branches, you can add some essential oil to the water bucket. When it comes to your oils, less is always more. Just a couple of drops of your chosen oil should be added to the water before pouring over the rocks: any more than that and the effect can become somewhat unpleasant.
LED lighting provides a subtle, warm and inviting glow that is perfect for sauna ambience. A neat way to place them is along the back of your benches to gently illuminate them. Note: whatever you go for in the way of lighting, check the specifications to make sure that the lights can hold up in the high temperatures of the sauna.
A sauna thermometer can monitor the temperature and ensure that the sauna is not getting to a level of heat that you’re going to find uncomfortable. This is especially useful if you have a wood fired sauna, as there is less control over temperature than with an electric stove heater.
Neck and Head Support
Cushioned backrests can ensure that the wooden benches are comfortable to sit on, as well as maintaining good posture. Headrests or cervical traction pillows can also be used.
One thing that can really add some atmosphere and vibes to your sauna experience is some relaxing, hypnotic music. Specially designed sauna speakers and audio systems are available: perfect if you fancy chilling to some ambient music, wind chimes or maybe even some nature field recordings.
Wool Sauna Hat
It may seem kind of counter-intuitive, but wearing a wool hat in the sauna can actually have a beneficial cooling effect. Your head can heat up faster than the rest of your body, particularly as hot air rises. The hat provides a layer of protection from direct exposure to the hot air. It actually reduces sweating from the head, which can help you regulate body temperature better. The hat can also keep your hair from drying out in the sauna environment, which can often be a source of discomfort. (They are also very useful if you have no hair!) Specially-designed felt wool hats are available.