Sauna (from Finnish sauna). In Russia (as well as some other countries), by sauna people usually mean a dry steam room, which is not always the case. The Finnish sauna is the closest relative to the Russian banya (or banja) which can also be heated with wet steam and Finns like Russians also use birch brooms. The temperature is normally maintained within the 70-110 °C range and the level of humidity is controlled by the amount of water poured from a jug to the hot stone stove (Finnish kiuas).

Saunas and banyas can be heated with or without a chimney. Modern saunas usually have electric heaters.

Saunas are extremely popular in Finland where, statistically, every second household has a sauna with 2 mln. saunas for a population of slightly over 5 mln. people. If an apartment has no private sauna, there will be a common sauna in the apartment building which is usually installed in the basement. Sauna is a national symbol of Finland and is in the core and heart of its culture, along with Sisu, Kalevala and Jean Sibelius.


Originally, saunas had only one room which was heated to very high temperatures. The fire in the stove heated the stones that were placed on the surface of the stove. In smoke saunas, that had no chimneys, the smoke was let out from window gaps and a vent. People used to take time to sweat in the steam room sitting on the bench and pouring water on the stone stove and then rinse and wash their bodies with water and soap. Modern saunas usually have separate shower and changing rooms. Traditionally, in addition to steam bathing, saunas had other purposes too; thanks to the very high temperatures from the heat and smoke and to the freezing and well below zero temperatures through most of the year, which was believed to kill germs, saunas were the cleanest and almost totally germ-free room in the house and were used to treat those suffering from illness and to assist labor during childbirth. Saunas were also a place where people made malt and, in West Finland, smoked meat. Traditionally, saunas were used as temporary dwellings while the permanent house was being built.

The world’s largest wood-heated sauna was built in Suomenlinna in 1904 for the Finnish Naval Academy (Merisotakoulu). Its steam-room area is 65 square meters and ceilings are almost 5 meters high and its shelves can fit 180 people. The sauna is still very popular among the students, faculty and staff of the Naval Academy.