For Finns a trip to the sauna is a much a revered activity. There are certain etiquettes that must be followed and respected. For the less aware entering a public sauna for the first time can be a daunting social experience.
There are some specific dos and don'ts and not many people may realize what is considered appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. For Finns being nude in saunas is not a big deal which might not feel liberating in first go. Thus it is good to know certain etiquettes and rules that shouldn’t be forgotten so let us clear up a few things.
1. Get ready for heat and löyly
Saunas are heated up using a stove to heat up rocks and humidity is added by throwing water over the hot rocks, creating a soothing and sometimes exhilarating heat wave that is referred to in Finnish as a “löyly” (pronounced “LOW-loo”). The heat of the sauna is usually kept between 75 and 85 °C and can be adjusted by tending to the fire (or adjusting the thermostat if it’s electric). Most Finns believe that wood-heated saunas give the best heat, but electric saunas are more common in the city. Gas stoves have also been used in the past, but they are quite rare these days.
2. Expect some health benefits
Numerous studies have proven the positive health effects of taking a sauna due to the soothing heat and relaxing steam, but also thanks to the social aspect. According to an old Finnish proverb, “If sauna, liquor and tar don’t help, the disease is probably fatal.”
3. Social sauna evenings
Taking a sauna is also about socialising with others, and sauna evenings are common among friends, neighbours, students and work colleagues. It’s claimed that many pivotal decisions in Finnish political and business life have been made in the sauna. Inviting someone to your sauna is a mark of respect, so remember to act accordingly when you are a guest in someone else’s sauna.
4. It's all about relaxing
The sauna is for cleansing and relaxing. Although saunas involve nudity, this has nothing to do with sex.
5. Nudity is no big deal
Finns prefer to take saunas completely naked, even among strangers. This is no big deal. Nudity is natural, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of your own body. Still, if you prefer to wear a swimsuit or towel, that’s your prerogative – and in some public saunas it is even required to do so.
6. Men and women often take turns
Women and men usually take saunas separately, but mixed saunas are also popular. Saunas that are open to the public usually have separate times for women and men, or you can agree together with your fellow sauna-goers who should go first.
7. Silence is respected
Aromatic fragrances, relaxing music and strict rules traditionally have no place in the Finnish sauna. You are allowed to speak freely and socialise, but it’s also quite normal for Finns to sit quietly in their own thoughts.
8. Take breaks and cool off
You can throw water over the rocks whenever you feel like it. If you think the sauna is too hot already, feel free to voice your opinion to fellow sauna-goers. It’s quite normal to take regular breaks to cool down and prolong the sauna experience. After your sauna you should cool off with a towel around you before getting dressed to avoid sweating in your clothes.
9. Add birch scent with a sauna whisk
Finns like to stimulate the blood flow and create a pleasant scent by whipping themselves with a whisk made of fresh birch branches. It may look like self-flagellation, but it’s really quite pleasant! Sauna whisks are particularly popular at summer cottages in the countryside, where birch branches are readily available, but these days you can also buy them frozen.
10. Keep yourself hydrated
You can’t avoid sweating when taking a sauna, so remember to keep yourself hydrated. The most popular sauna beverages are water, beer and cider.
Sources: Visit Finland, Finnish Sauna Society, sauna evenings.