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Sauna Maintenance: How to Keep Your Sauna in Good Condition

by Max
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Sauna Maintenance - How to Keep Your Sauna in Good Condition

If you are lucky enough to own your own personal sauna, that means you can take in and enjoy the benefits of sauna therapy on your own time. Having your own sauna may sound luxurious but there is a lot to know when it comes to sauna maintenance and keeping your sauna clean as well as safe for all of the people who use it. Saunas can become dirty and fall into disrepair rather quickly and while spas and sports clubs have whole teams dedicated to sauna upkeep, you’re likely on your own when it comes to maintaining a personal sauna. But don’t think that keeping your sauna clean is too much work to justify keeping it in the first place! With some simple tricks and regular practices, you can keep your sauna sparkling without spending more time cleaning it than enjoying it.

Keeping a Wood-burning Sauna Clean

Let’s begin with some best practices related to the most common type of household sauna, the wood-burning sauna.

Sauna Bench Maintenance

One of the biggest problems that come about in classic wood-burning saunas is that hand-made wooden benches have a tendency to attract mold and rot. Being that wood-burning saunas are remarkably dry, it may not be your first thought that such an environment could bring out mold but it surely can be less than well-kept saunas. So, how do you make sure that your benches stay mold-free? First, think about what your regular sauna guests are wearing when they use your sauna. This can be important because if your sauna users are already wearing wet clothes from outside your facility, that means they are producing exactly the environment that bacteria grows best in.

This means that one of the best precautions against bench mold is to tighten up your sauna dress code. A good idea is to keep clean towels on hand for all of your sauna guests. Sitting on a dry towel rather than a wet swimsuit will make a huge difference in the lifespan of your wooden benches.

Today, sauna owners have the choice between using real wood or plastic synthetics when installing their sauna benches. While plastic synthetics both hold in less heat and mold much slower than actual wood, it is more than reasonable that someone building a sauna in the tradition of classic Scandinavian sweat lodges would want to use authentic wood. But if you are intent on using wood rather than more resistant surfaces, there are some basic tricks you should take to heart that will help you save money in the long run by holding off major bench replacements.

First, consider giving your wood benches a wood finish. Finishing agents stop water from seeping into the wood itself which can be supremely helpful in a sauna. But finishing agents also have rather intense smells, so you may need to wait multiple days after finishing your benches to install them or use your sauna as the smell can quickly become overbearing and can even lead to headaches in some cases.  Leave your benches out in the sun after staining them if possible but if that is too difficult, be sure to air out your sauna for as long as is reasonably possible. Even if you don’t smell the wood finish at a normal temperature, starting up your stove too early can actually still melt the finish. If you can’t bring your benches into the sun, expect to wait at least two days.

The next basic bench cleaning trick is to use antibacterial wipes or an antibacterial solution with a rag and wipe them down each time your sauna is at normal temperatures. You should disinfect your sauna benches regularly even if you have a waterproof finish. Even if bacteria don’t show up as mold on your benches, there is still a good chance that there is a build-up of bacteria serious enough that it will grow under heated conditions.

Keep a very close eye on your benches for cracks and warps as these are the early signs that your benches have become too aged by water contact. A wooden bench that has started to split unfortunately ought to be replaced sooner rather than later as the warping will only continue as you heat and cool the sauna. Further, a wooden bench in the middle of warping is more likely to give off splinters which can be very dangerous for your sauna guests.

Sauna Stove Maintenance

Not every sauna wood stove is made in the same way but the most traditional and common type of stove is built like this: The base of the stove is a common wood stove with a door for putting in your wood. Above the stove is a piped vent that leads both into the open air and onto a pad of rocks that are set up above the stove. As you put in wood and get the fire rolling, heat will both come out of the normal flue and the flue that leads over the rocks. The stove is set up this way very often because the flue that spreads over the rocks is usually not big enough to allow out all of the heat from the stove. Plus, the rocks can get as hot as the stove rather quickly because they are lying right on top of the fire itself.

Before ever working in or around your woodstove, be completely certain that the stove is cooled and hasn’t been used for several hours. The last thing you’d want to do is to take up cleaning your stove in earnest and get a nasty burn. The first step to maintaining your woodstove is regularly cleaning out the ash that builds up between fires. This can be a tedious process especially if your sauna is very traditional and has absolutely no electricity. But if you don’t clear out the ash often, you’ll find that your fire won’t burn as well or as cleanly compared to if you had kept the cabin clean.

Consider getting a small wide-mouthed metal shovel for scooping the ash as well as a brush with thick metal fines to get the small bits of ash out. When you are cleaning out a wood stove, be certain to wear both eye protection and a face mask, as the ash can very easily get in our eyes, noses, and mouths when cleaning so close up. Your goal shouldn’t be to remove every single particle of ash in your stove but rather to clear up any accumulation that could slow down the flow of your future fires. Start by scooping out the large and visible piles of ash or charcoal that remain in your stove and either put them in your compost or consult your local trash authorities as to how you should dispose of charcoal and spent wood if you don’t have easy access to composting materials.

After the biggest pieces of ash and charcoal are out of your stove, this is where your tough brush comes in. Start with a dry wash of your stove by making quick disrupting swipes with your brush all around the inside of the stove. You’ll watch as loads of ash looking like dust comes up and around out of spots that you may not have seen outright. During this step, you’ll likely get quite a bit of dust and ash built up on the floor of your sauna. We’ll get to floor care in a future section but cleaning the floor of your sauna ought to almost always be the final step of your cleaning because just about every step before cleaning the floor has a good chance of getting the floor more dirty. Further, you should be wearing sturdy work shoes while taking care of the cleaning, so those are more than likely to track in a bit more grime.

The flues of your stove will also build up a good amount of ash and it is essential that you clean your flues as frequently as possible. The flues in your wood stove are the main way that heat moves through your sauna. If your flues become clogged with ash, you could be putting your sauna guests and yourself in very serious danger of carbon monoxide poisoning or other serious injury.

So, what is the best way to clean out the flues in your wood stove? Go to a hardware store and look for a wide-bristle pipe cleaner. Also, measure the length of your flue ahead of time and make sure to get a cleaner with a long enough shaft to reach all the way from the opening above the stove into the main chamber of the stove itself. Once you have your pipe cleaner in hand, scrub the inside of your flues until the soot and ash stop flowing out. While it may be tempting to add water or another cleaning agent when clearing out your flues, it’s actually generally advised that you use your pipe cleaner dry. A dry clean is more likely to disrupt the most ash while a wet wash may actually cause the ash to coagulate on the walls of your flue unless you are using a power washer.

Sauna Electric Oven Maintenance

Many of today’s modern home saunas actually use electric ovens that emulate the heat that comes from old school wood stoves but with a much cleaner burn and luckily considerably less maintenance. As the owner of an electric sauna oven, your biggest priority will likely be making sure that the upper metal grill of your oven remains unblocked. It’s normal for electric ovens for saunas to have a sliding mesh barrier underneath the upper grill that stops debris from falling into the hottest part of the oven. This is especially important since it’s normal to put rocks above the upper grill of an electric sauna oven. As long as you periodically clear the mesh under the upper grill and have read your specific grill’s manual, you are likely in good form for daily maintenance.

Sauna Floor Maintenance

We’ve saved the best for last when it comes to taking care of a classic wood-burning sauna, as cleaning the floor of your sauna ought to be taken care of last each time you take on a full cleaning. This is because each time you clean your sauna benches and wood stove, you’re bound to get quite a bit of ash and dirt on the floor of your sauna.

First, do a dry sweep of your floor which should take care of the majority of the ash and soot that built up from when you were cleaning out the wood stove itself. Once you’ve swept out the better part of the ash, you’ll likely get a good look at the hardest part of maintaining the floor of a sauna.

Most sauna floors are made of stone or concrete. When set with stone, the space between the stone is filled with a material called grout which can become moldy with mildew very easily in a sauna. If you don’t take good care of the grout between the stones on your sauna floor or take good care of a concrete floor as a whole, the mildew and mold will grow to a level that you’ll be able to smell it in the sauna which will obviously have a big effect on your enjoyment of your session as a whole. Your goal should be to beat out mildew and mold before it shows up at all. But if you already have a small amount of mildew buildup, you can take these same early precautions.

You don’t have to go out and buy a special chemical concoction to fight the early signs of mildew or prevent it from showing up. All you have to do to keep the floors of your sauna free from bacteria buildup is to spread baking soda on the parts of your floor that are the most susceptible to mold buildup. Once you’ve gotten baking soda spread well over the areas you are looking to protect, there are two different steps you can take depending on how serious your mold damage already is. You can either scrub the grout or concrete with a brush and water or a brush and white vinegar. You should only be using the white vinegar, however, if your mold damage is already visible. You’ll notice that the vinegar will make a visible reaction with the baking soda and fizzle quite a bit.

If your mold is intense enough that this remedy doesn’t clear it up, your next best choice is likely to invest in or rent a power washer that can manually spray out the mold. All of the steps listed above are also equally effective on sauna walls that are stone with grouting.

Keeping a Steam Room Clean

It’s not terribly common for people to install their own personal steam rooms because boilers strong enough to humidify an entire room are both expensive and require a dedicated water supply. But if you are running your own steam room, you can use most of the same advice regarding general sauna hall maintenance. The only difference between steam room and sauna maintenance is that all aging and problems that come about from humidity damage will happen much faster in a steam room. This is why steam room benches are almost always plastic composites or well-finished wood. Further, if your steam room has a stone floor like those described above, investing in a power washer is likely a necessity. This is because even with the cleanest people taking the best precautions it is simply impossible to stop all bacteria from coming into a steam room.

And a final note on boiler maintenance: unless you are a trained professional, it can be extremely dangerous to disrupt a very strong boiler as they are often pressurized. If you are worried about the condition of your steam room boiler, you reach out to a professional. If not, you risk both damaging it further and hurting yourself if you try to take on the maintenance by yourself.

Keeping an Infrared Sauna Clean

Compared to the maintenance of a full wood-burning sauna, there is luckily much less to worry about when it comes to taking care of an infrared sauna. But let’s still get into the best practices that you ought to carry out when maintaining your infrared sauna.

Regularly Disinfect the Seat

If you are using an infrared sauna in a public facility like a spa or a gym, it likely isn’t your choice whether or not you want to wipe down the seat. It’s common courtesy to wipe off and disinfect seats that you know are going to be shared but when it comes to our personal saunas, it’s far from unheard of to take some shortcuts. Consider this a reminder that there is a good reason we disinfect the seats on infrared saunas and it’s not just to be kind. Leaving sweat behind on your seat means that bacteria is going to grow on your seat and if left unchecked for long enough could even cause a rash on your skin.

Regularly Check Radiation Bulbs

In an infrared sauna, there are usually several lightbulbs all used for heating the body. Being that there are generally more than 40 or 50 bulbs in the average infrared sauna, it is more than possible for one or two to lose their intensity or burn out without you noticing outright.

Inspecting your bulb heads requires a bit of precaution, however, as starting directly at the bulbs of an infrared sauna without the guard can be very bad for your eyes. Consumer-grade sunglasses, also, may not give you enough protection either. It may be in your best interest to look into blackout protection shades like the type people use to watch a solar eclipse. This type of glass also focuses on sources of light and shortens their aura meaning that you can probably see even more clearly if one or two small bulbs have burned out or lost their intensity.

Conclusions on Sauna Maintenance

Getting your own sauna is a big investment in the first place but then keeping it clean and ready for use requires just as much of an investment of your time. If you are planning on taking up sauna maintenance on your own, however, be certain to not skip out on personal protective gear like goggles, face masks, and rubber gloves. Taking on any of these big jobs without the right tools is a great way to either damage your sauna or injure yourself. But if the upkeep and management of your sauna eventually becomes too big of a task, however, there are several private companies who actually specialize in sauna maintenance and restoration. But there is equally something very satisfying about maintaining and taking good care of your own personal sauna and then taking a relaxing soak. Knowing that you made that soak all the better by taking good care of your sauna can only go to make your sauna session more therapeutic.

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