DIY Sauna: Make Your Own Near Infrared Sauna Today!
A DIY sauna does not get any easier than this!
You can make your own near infrared sauna today, no tools required except scissors (unless you have to install a coat hook on the wall).
If you are looking at a DIY near infrared sauna, you probably already know the benefits. For instance, NIR saunas kill cancer cells (these days, that's enough incentive, right?), reduce inflammation and stress.
If you need to be reminded why you'd sit in a near infrared sauna everyday, go here for Dr. Wilson's take (he's the first person to really promote NIR saunas), here (< which is where I'd go if I developed cancer), here for Erin Elizabeth's detailed list or just get the book. Plus, time in an NIR sauna feels really good!!!
NIR vs FIR (Far Infrared) and why I DON'T use or recommend FIR
A FIR sauna is what you sit in at the gym: very, very hot dry heat coming from a heavy-duty space heater, as opposed to NIR with heat coming from hot lights shining on you.
FIR is heavy on EMFs (emf.mercola.com). Most alternative healers and experts state unequivocally that EMFs are dangerous to human health. I don't claim to understand how exactly, but I'm definitely going to err on the side of caution. There are too many verified pollutants to add a "maybe"!
FIR is in the microwave spectrum (we haven't owned a microwave since 2007). If the sauna is putting out the IR needed to be effective, then you're being EMFed. Most FIR sauna companies today recognize the problem and mitigate the EMF radiation as much as possible. If you love the FIR sauna, go with the lowest EMF you can afford.
If you need to read the actual science (I did), click here to skip to the bottom and read Footnotes for Nerds. Don't worry, there's an arrow lower right of every page to return to the top.
Ok, here's how to make your own near infrared sauna.
Please note that finicky measurements are not required. I'm not an engineer and this is not the Rolling Bridge. If I had to spend all day measuring twice and cutting once, this would never have gotten done. I wanted an NIR sauna and I wanted it now. I put this together a year ago and it still gets the job done.
Supplies/Equipment for a DIY Sauna
3 250W red heat bulbs [like this] You can get cheaper bulbs, but these are worth the price, mostly because the cheap ones wear out really fast.
3 lamp clamps wired for at least 250W with BULB GUARDS [like this]
1 power strip with a long enough cord to reach your outlet [like this]
An 18" long piece of sturdy PVC pipe or wood or curtain rod or something 18" long. The pipe is good because you can run the cord through it, but if you use something that's not hollow, just tie the cord to the ends.
Long cable ties to attach clamps to pipe (otherwise, they fall off)
Scissors to cut the cord and trim the cable ties
Round stool with rungs to rest your feet. Round so you can turn easily and be comfortable. You are only going to be in there 20 to 30 minutes. This swivel-top stool is PERFECT and you get two!
Music for timing - if a song is 3-4 minutes, one or two songs is plenty per side. Way more pleasant than a timer!
Sunglasses? Nope. You don't need special sunglasses in an NIR sauna and here's why.
Everything brand new is less than $200. Plus you'd have an extra bar stool!
The photo below shows it all. I like simple!
Locate or install your hanger. If you are using a bathtub and hanging your rig from a towel rod, I would use the ceramic ends to hold the weight. This will change your cord length/configuration somewhat. I installed a coat hook above the towel rod. I did not want this thing falling into my bathtub.
Run a good length of cord through the PVC pipe, knot it and hang your pipe. Don't trim the cord yet in case you have to adjust the length.
Put bulbs in lamp clamps and install guards.
Clamp lights to PVC pipe, then cable tie the clamps to the pipe. Center light is clamped above the pipe, left and right are clamped to hang down.
I can adjust the lamps during the sauna by tapping the bulb guards. These don't seem to get too hot. Do that at your own risk, of course. (I'm assuming 10yo boys don't read my blog.)
Plug cords into power strip. I leave mine unplugged until I'm going to use it. The outlet I use is around the corner outside the little room, so my strip has a 10' cord. When not in use, I have a cute basket that the power strip sits in on the floor next to the toilet.
Best Locations for DIY Sauna
Any small enclosed area will do, at least 2' wide by 4' deep because a) you want to be a comfortable distance from the lights, and b) you don't want the space so big it won't get warm. Think small closet, bathroom, big shower stall, bathtub or even a grow tent (see below).
At first we used the bathtub, but our bedroom toilet is in it's own small room, so now we use that. The lights are hung over the toilet.
Tips for Using the Bathtub
If you are using your bathtub, there are two considerations: 1) what to do with the lights while you take a shower, and 2) not gassing yourself with fumes from a heated shower curtain. You want to cover that shower curtain during a sauna. Here are 3 options:
Using clothespins, hang a top sheet (twin is big enough) in front of the shower curtain during the sauna. Pain in the butt to do this each time, so we actually got a second tension rod and hung the sheet on it (open the wide top hem to make a perfect rod pocket). When we weren't using the sauna, this stayed pushed all the way to the back, away from the shower head and near the lights so clear of shower spray. This was also back in the day we were moving the lights in and out of the shower every time we wanted to do a sauna... bigger pain in the butt. Those lights are heavy and you have to hang 'em high, so I'm standing on the side of the tub doing a trapeze act with a heavy sauna rig... There had to be a better way. See the next two options.
Hang a Mylar blanket in front of the shower curtain. [Mylar blanket] If our rig were still in the bathtub, I'd use this. PLUS I'd sew a rod pocket and hang it on it's own rod, pulling it into place during a sauna. Then, during a shower, I'd stretch it across the lights to protect them from shower spray so no more moving that rig!
Build a folding screen made from rolled insulation. This roll is 16" x 25' so you could cut it into 4 pieces, tape together longways and you'd have a folding screen to set along the edge of the tub. It won't be quite long enough for the span, but I don't think the bit of shower curtain showing at the far end away from the lights is enough to worry about in 30 minutes. You could also place this folding screen in front of the lights when not in use to protect them from shower spray.
Use a Grow Tent
These are made to hold lights, but not necessarily in the location you'll need which is middle of a side wall. I looked at one that was set up in a grow shop and you'll probably need to reinforce the bar that holds the sauna rig. Remember: this is not the Rolling Bridge. Think McGyver!
To Make the Space Really Warm
Turn the lights on 10-15 minutes before you get in there.
Use a space heater and get the room warm before you get in.
Line the entire space with silver insulation -- you'd be warm!
Don't get this for $299 (although very cool looking and great idea). The bulbs are only 150W and apparently the stand wobbles. Too bad.
My DIY sauna is clearly the low-end of DIY. There's a bunch of videos on YouTube, as well as many, many blog posts on building these. If you are handy with tools and electricity, you can get pretty fancy for not much more money.
In fact, this is what someone handy could build for you. Someone handy around this house, ahem, has been toying with building one for me. Someday.
How to Use
Almost forgot this critical instruction! Ok, pay attention here: turn on the music, take off all your clothes, turn on the lights, sit on the stool, toast 5-8 minutes a side: front, side, back, other side.
Voilà! Let the healing begin!
FOOTNOTES for Nerds who need to know (I did)
I have a friend we call Dr. Science. Not Mr. Science! His real name is Bruce and he's an engineer-chemist-smart-guy type. I asked for his take on two points:
Do NIR saunas work and how?
The possible toxicity of shower curtains and mylar (click to skip to that).
1. Do NIR Saunas Work and How?
I asked Dr. Science to read the recent Healthy Home Economist (HHE) article and tell me if he thought that, overall, an NIR sauna was worth the time. Here's his response:
If it feels good, do it! It's not just a 60s hippie slogan. There is a solid basis for this belief in evolutionary biology. There's your scientific endorsement of hedonism. :-D
Barring information to the contrary, I'm inclined to favor sunlight as natural and healthy for humans. We're told by "the experts" that ultraviolet radiation is bad. It causes cancer. There is no safe exposure. The more you get, the greater your chances of developing cancer. So we cover ourselves, slather on the SPF 30 sunscreen and stay indoors... and cancer rates increase. Derp.
I reviewed the forwarded email and references.
Reference 1 is a NASA/DARPA funded research journal article explaining positive results in wound healing in mice when exposed to modest amounts of 670 nm near IR light, similar to what could be obtained with a home IR sauna. Seems legit.
The HHE article stated that there are no receptors for far IR in the human body and thus no health benefits are associated with far IR, but I saw no references to studies or data to validate that claim. It seems reasonable, given the reduced amount of far IR in sunlight. I'd still like to see a study exploring various health benefits of no light, visible light, UV (known to have health benefits including immune system stimulation), near IR and far IR.
I also did some independent research. A quick search found a link to a page that I had previously visited when I was researching the health benefits and hazards of light.
This would seem to invalidate the HHE claim that 650-950 nm IR penetrates tissue best. Apparently longer wavelengths penetrate well too, far into the range that the graph in the HHE email disparages as "skin heating". I assume what that graph actually refers to as "skin heating" is IR that penetrates well but doesn't activate chromophores so it only warms the tissue without any other health benefits.
BTW - There are many different ways to categorize the IR spectrum, but the portion of the graph labeled "skin heating" is not far IR by anyone's standard. It's the slightly farther range of near infrared. In that regard the HHE email seemed misleading to me, although probably not intentionally so.
Here's the effective tissue penetration depth of near UV (left, to 400 nm), visible light (400-750 nm) and IR (middle and right, 750-2000 nm). Click to see larger.
The HHE email's claim that far IR doesn't penetrate well is true. Water in our bodies absorbs far infrared frequencies. For the same reason, the far IR produced by the sun doesn't penetrate our atmosphere because it's absorbed by atmospheric water vapor, but again, this is much farther into the IR spectrum (5500 to 7500 nm) than the HHE email seems to imply. Click to see larger.
The "LED Lightbulbs" link in the HHE email leads to awful pseudo-science nonsense. For example, she compares the tiny trace amounts of arsenic doping agent in an LED to mercury in compact fluorescent bulbs.
First, the amount of arsenic is extremely minuscule, probably picograms or less. More importantly, the arsenic is part of the silicon die. It's chemically diffused into the surface of solid silicon. It's not going anywhere, just as trace amounts of arsenic in igneous rock is not leaching into the environment.
Furthermore, the silicon die is completely encapsulated in the polymer resin that forms the lens and body of the LED. So we're talking about a trace amount of arsenic that's permanently embedded in inert silicon, that's then completely encapsulated in solid plastic.
Then she claims that if an LED bulb is broken, we should use the same hazmat procedures used to contain mercury in compact fluorescent bulbs. That statement demonstrates either a profound ignorance of the composition and construction of LED bulbs or a deliberate attempt to deceive for the purpose of unjustly maligning LED lighting.
The HHE email's Reference 2 is a link to an IR sauna book that looks a bit like pseudo-science to me based on the description and the less favorable comments, but I haven't read it, so I can't say for sure. [Hey, Dr. Science, I read that book and highly recommend it!!!]
The HHE email attributes disappearing eye floaters to near IR sauna therapy. My friend Tom attributes his disappearing floaters to Gerson therapy. They're probably both right!
Calling far IR LEDs "artificial" sounds like pseudo-science to me. By definition, anything but sunlight is artificial. It would be sufficient to show research that near IR has health benefits (done) and far IR doesn't confer health benefits (not done, although it does sound like a reasonable theory to me).
However, I think there does seem to be some valid experimental evidence for the health benefits of near IR, but even more compelling to me is the personal experience I share with other humans. When I'm sick, I crave sunshine. The heat (infrared) feels good. It feels healing.
I previously speculated that it may be the UV that is stimulating our immune systems, but evolutionarily, we got UV in sunlight, our bodies can perceive the warmth of the IR and can't perceive UV, so we evolved to crave the IR to get the UV. Now, based on chromophore research and healing benefits of near IR, it seems that we need both near IR and UVB for optimal health.
Based on that, I'd like a sauna that bathes me in near IR (somewhere around the 670 nm that conferred healing benefits to the mice in the study) and UVB... in other words, a spectrum that simulates sunlight, or at least the most health promoting portions of sunlight. Maybe add a UVB tanning bulb to your near IR sauna?
Then again, it seems that the more we learn, the more we learn that sunlight is good for us. It's like we evolved on a planet with this solar spectrum at the surface. :-/
I'm looking forward to spring!
Next, I asked Dr. Science about the possible toxicity of shower curtains and mylar. He says:
Most shower curtains are vinyl (PVC, polyvinyl chloride) and would off gas when heated. As volatile organic chemicals go, these fumes are probably not all that toxic in small quantities, but they are stinky. I try to avoid fumes like this.
Aluminized mylar reflects a lot more IR so it could sustain more IR radiation before emitting any fumes.
Mylar has low toxicity. PET is used in a lot of food packaging. It's even used for roasting bags at elevated temperatures, including microwaving, although I don't eat anything microwaved in or on plastic.
Mylar is polyester... essentially a carbohydrate. The nastiest polymer decomposition products are from halogenated polymers containing chlorine, bromine or fluorine, and that's not the case with Mylar. Mylar's decompostion products are carbon monoxide and other oxides of carbohydrates which can be dangerous in greater concentrations but not acutely toxic in the manner of phosgene, etc.
Here's the MSDS for Mylar.
Mylar film is so thin that you will probably see deformation when it starts to overheat and decompose. Don't let it get that hot.
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