Estonian Sauna traditions – How to enjoy the sauna in Estonia?
“Take off your clothes, step into a tiny, darkroom. Don’t worry about the heat, it’s normal that you start sweating and it’s hard to breathe. There are also some birch tree branches, tied together. Most likely they are soaking in a water bucket. But don’t feel afraid in Estonian sauna, you can use these to beat yourself!”
This article is a short and practical guide about Estonian sauna culture. You might have heard about Finnish sauna culture, but what is happening in Estonia? We do have our sauna traditions in Estonia as well. Let’s dive in – how to enjoy a sauna like an Estonian and what are the key elements of the Estonian sauna etiquette? And how do expats in Estonia feel about it all?
First off there are different types of saunas.
Wood Stove Sauna, called also a Finnish sauna or Soome saun.
This is the most common type of sauna. To heat it, somebody has to gather wood, get a fire going and keep adding woods the entire night to keep the sauna going.
Most countryside houses with saunas have exactly this kind of sauna.
Electric Sauna – Electric saunas can be found in gyms and hotels. If the apartment comes with a sauna, it’s most likely an electric one.
Smoke Sauna (suitsusaun) and Steam Sauna (aurusaun) – simply put the difference between these two is what’s inside the sauna. In one case all you can see is smoke, in the other steam. Smoke saunas in South of Estonia are also UNESCO-listed, the
Estonians love to mix up their traditions, try out new things and experience new things. That’s why, in SPA’s you may also find infrared sauna (infrapunasaun) and salt saunas (soolasaun).
An infrared sauna uses a (safe) kind of radiation to create heat instead of steam or hot air. Salt sauna is the most gentle kind of sauna – it’s not humid and you use sea salt as an exfoliator to massage it into your skin. Leave it for about 5 to 10 minutes before washing it off in the shower outside.
Barrel sauna (Tünnisaun or kümblustünn) – A barrel sauna reminds most English speakers of ‘hot tub’, but with a lot less technology involved. So instead of sitting inside a heated room, this time you are going to sit in the warm water.
Our Estonian barrel saunas are made from wood and have a wood-fired stove inside the water to heat them. A wooden barrier is used to separate the stove so people inside don’t accidentally burn themselves. The name “barrel” comes from the fact, that its standard shape reminds of a barrel.
This is also the most common type of sauna to be in with swimming clothes 😉 Usually, you stay there for a longer period than you would stay in a steam or Finnish sauna and you enjoy drinking Estonian beer or cider in it.
Mobile saunas (mobiilne saun) – now it gets extra interesting! Namely, mobile saunas are the type of saunas, that you can move around! And since Estonians have a big love for saunas, we have also designed multiple solutions and products, that function like that. We have sauna-buses, sauna-tents, sauna-boats, and sauna-houses.
Estonians just love sauna!
Why do Estonians love sauna?
Good question! Growing up in Estonia, it’s been so common to just know that going to a sauna is just normal. Why do we do it? Because we have always done it?
It’s common to have team-building events in rental houses with saunas. Estonian sauna is the place where people sweat together, maybe drink a beer or cider and just chat about whatever topic there is. Unless it’s a public sauna in a gym, a sauna is a place where you talk with whoever sits next to you! That might just be one reason behind the desire to go to a sauna for Estonians?
There are also many health and natural benefits: include stress relief, help to relax the muscles, improve blood circulation and weight loss. The heat may also help to reduce joint pain and stiffness, improve mood, reduce oxidative stress, and support cardiovascular health.
If you have trouble finding topics to talk about in sauna, here’s a good resource for that!
Do you have to be naked inside the sauna?
Yes and no. In Estonia, it’s very common to go to a sauna completely naked if the genders are separate. For example, you might have an agreement that from 7 pm-9 pm it’s going to be women’s sauna and 9 pm-11 pm men’s sauna. In case you have a group of mixed people and you don’t make any specif agreements it’s totally normal to grab a towel and have it wrapped around your body while sitting in the sauna.
It’s the same for any SPA’s and gyms – if there is a mixed sauna, you are expected to attend it wearing your swimming suit. But if the sauna is next to showers, that are only used by women or only by men – it’s the most natural thing to use the sauna naked.
There is no rule, how often you should go to the sauna, how long you should be there exactly or with how many people you should stay there. The temperature is also something that varies based on the sauna type.
Depending on whether it’s a social event or you are in your gym, the way you spend time in the sauna varies slightly. If it’s a sauna in your friend’s cottage house in the countryside it’s very common for people to go inside the sauna, stay in the heat for maybe around 5-10 minutes, then walk out to cool down. Maybe swim if there is a possibility for that or jump the snow, when it’s wintertime. And repeat the same process 3-4 times. Pretty much walking inside and outside of sauna multiple times.
If you are going to the sauna in your gym, you are usually just sitting in the sauna as long as you wish, wash, and leave.
Making sauna fun
If you are still in defense of whether to try it or not – listen to what our guests at Found in Estonia podcast have said about their sauna experiences!
Also check out this inspirational video, how Estonians love to be creative with their sauna experiences!
What do you think about the Estonian sauna? How has your experience been? Share in the comments below!