Procedures and etiquette
Over hundreds of years, sauna procedures have remained similar to what was practiced back in the days. Such a few changes in the procedures and etiquette can be explained with the fact that sauna for Finns is an important part of life, much like eating or sleeping. The essential idea behind every sauna session is to enjoy it and to feel better.
Although there are no strict rules about the procedures, there are steps driven by common sense, which will make your sauna experience a pleasant one.Photo: Julia Kivelä
Seven steps to enjoy Finnish sauna
1. Take a shower before the sauna. This will cleanse and refresh your body.
2. Finns usually sauna bathe naked, but it’s perfectly okay to wear a swimsuit or cover yourself with a towel. Many Finns prefer to cover up a bit too, especially in mixed saunas. Remember to take a seat towel with you whether you bathe in the nude or in a bathing suit. This helps maintaining a good level of hygiene in a sauna.
3. Sauna bathe approximately 10-15 minutes so the body starts to sweat. If the air feels too dry, grab a ladle and throw some water onto the stove; this creates a warm and enjoyable steam. Before throwing water (‘löyly’), remember to make sure if it is okay for the fellow sauna bathers.
4. Take a contrast shower. The first sign that your body has definitely warmed up is the fact that the contrast shower does not feel that cold but rather pleasant and refreshing. Good way to refresh yourself is to take a dip in a lake. If you dare, this can also be done during winter through a hole in the ice. Some Finns also roll in the snow after sauna bathing – that ought to cool things down!
5. After cooling off you can either enjoy a glass of fresh water, a cold beer, or repeat the session with 10-15 minutes more.
6. In between the sessions give your body time to cool down. After the final session take a warm shower to wash yourself properly and rub yourself with a dry towel.
7. Enjoy some light food and drinks after the sauna. The most common dish is grilled sausages with mustard or ketchup. Sausages can also be cooked conveniently on a sauna stove using a special tinfoil bag!
In terms of etiquette, there are perhaps only few points to remember. Firstly, not all the Finnish saunas are mixed saunas. Spas and swimming pools have separate saunas for men and women. If there is only one sauna in a public facility, there are separate turns for men and women. Mixed saunas are common among some Finnish families.
Secondly, throwing water on the stones is usually not a task for the oldest or more experienced sauna lovers. If you happen to be the closest person to the bucket, you would be the one responsible for adding ‘löyly’ (heat).
Finally, it is an honor to get an invitation to a Finnish sauna. So say yes to the invitation if possible, and have a fun sauna evening!