Can You Stain the Wood in a Sauna? What You Need to Know!

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Saunas are one of the best ways to carve out an oasis of relaxation amid the daily routine. There’s no question that adding a sauna is probably one of the best things a person can add to their home. This is one of the biggest ways to ensure you get proper self-care, and it’s one of the most incredible ways to end a stressful day or punctuate a strenuous workout. However, if you’re working on building your own sauna, one of the big questions you may have is whether or not you should stain the wood.

If you want a dark, sleek-looking sauna, you can stain the wood on the outside to match your aesthetic preference. But you should never stain the inside of a sauna because of the high temperatures that the inside of the sauna will experience.

Though no one knows when the first sauna was built, we know they originated in Northern Europe in 2000 BC. You can be sure nobody was bothering to stain their sauna back then, so it’s obviously not a requirement. But let’s dive in and talk a little bit more about your staining options, and why you shouldn’t stain the inside of your sauna.

Can You Stain The Interior Sauna Wood

Sauna with long benches and a bucket

Staining the inside of your sauna can significantly disrupt how it works. The sauna works by producing steam and humidity, or dry heat in the case of an infrared sauna. Part of the reason wood is used for a sauna is because it is a breathable material. It holds in heat, but it also absorbs any humidity in the sauna, either from steam or from your sweat. Staining this wood can be detrimental to your sauna because it disrupts the wood’s breathability.

One of the best features of a sauna is that it requires minimal maintenance. If you want to maintain a sleek look, you can use paraffin oil used specifically for saunas. This oil actually helps the wood take in more moisture proving to be an excellent way to maintain the wood. If you apply anything to the wood on the inside of your sauna it should be something like this, not stain.

There are just a few small exceptions, like door handles and other features that are going to be touched and used often. You can get away with staining those, and it may help them stay a little cleaner, or make them easier to clean when they’re dirty.

Can You Stain Exterior Sauna Wood?

If you want a sleek-looking sauna, you can stain the exterior wood. Still, it is not necessary for maintaining your sauna. You still want to avoid using varnish or paint on the exterior of your sauna. Varnish will keep the moisture from escaping the heated room even outside, and paint will chip away over time.

The best way to pick something out is to go to your local paint shop and ask for something to use on the outside of a sauna. They may have a better handle on what you need for your specific situation. Different types of woods may require different stains. And you need a stain that still allows the sauna wood to breathe at least a little. To better understand this concept of wood breathing, let’s discuss how a sauna works.

How Does A Sauna Work Anyway?

Saunas are small wood rooms that are kept incredibly warm when in use; they can be heated between 150°F and 195°F. In some saunas, there may be a small heating source under a pile of rocks. These rocks help retain and also amplify the heat simultaneously, and typically there is a small water bucket where you can ladle the water onto the heated rocks to create more heat and steam.

There are four different main types of saunas on the market, which vary by heating source. In addition to considering the heat source, there are traditional Finnish saunas, dry heat, steam bath, or Turkish bath saunas, all of which have different humidity moisture concentrations in the heat it’s on air. All of these options are fantastic pre or post-workout and will help you relax after a long day. Here’s a quick comparison of the main sauna types.


In 1979, the infrared sauna became available. These use lamps that generate (safe) electromagnetic radiation that heats your body directly. This means the room you are in is usually at a lower temperature because your body is being heated and not the room. While the word doesn’t need to breathe as much in this case, you should still avoid staining the interior due to the high heat.


This is the traditional way to heat up a sauna: wood burning. The embers heat up the rocks which then help heat up the room. Many of these saunas have a bucket full of water that you can ladle on to the stones to add moisture into the room. The sauna walls need a way for this moisture to escape, so it is vital to keep the insides of a sauna bare and unstained.


You will find this style mostly in gyms or spas. Instead of wood-burning and rocks, you will see an electrical box with stones on top. These types of saunas may or may not have a wood bucket of water and ladle for you to use to produce steam.


This is also known as the Turkish-style sauna, which uses boiling water to steam up the whole room. This is a room full of humidity and moisture, so it is essential to allow the moisture to escape. No matter what type you use, there will be a certain amount of humidity in the air and steam that is produced. Your sauna needs a way to breathe, and the wood is a great way to allow it to do that over other materials that are less breathable. 

In Conclusion

Staining your sauna should be a no-go for everyone. You can maintain your sauna with oil, and you don’t have to do it often. Make sure you clean your sauna often, and germs will be kept to a minimum. Your sauna needs a way for the moisture to escape, and wood does a great job; using any type of varnish could negatively impact your sauna experience. If you decide not to go the wooden route, you can always try a portable sauna like the Sauna Rocket (on Amazon).

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