How To Create An Infrared Sauna At Home
Based on instructions by Dr. L. Wilson, follow this plan to build your own at-home near-infrared sauna at a more affordable cost.
What you need for your at-home infrared sauna:
An electrical heating unit
This consists of three infrared heat lamps mounted on a piece of wood or other material.
A sauna frame enclosure
This can be a frame with fabric, canvas or blankets covers, or even a bathtub area, a tiny bathroom, or small closet.
THE ELECTRICAL HEATING UNIT
Three 250-watt, red ‘heat bulbs’ or ‘heat lamps’. These are sold at hardware stores or online and each cost under $15. Typical brand names include Philips, General Electric, Sylvania, Havel-Sli, Feat, and Westinghouse. They are all okay. Brass screw bases are preferable, which most of them have. Some companies may coat their lamps with Teflon, which reduces the danger of breakage, but the lamps could outgas somewhat when heated, so just leave them on for a few hours when you buy them and they should outgas and not be a problem. Do not use clear heat lamps because their frequency spectrum is not correct for development.
Three ceramic or plastic lamp sockets designed for 250-watt bulbs. Sockets are available that wire from the front or from the back. Another type of socket unscrews so that one places half the socket behind a thin piece of wood or metal.
Fifteen feet of heavy lamp cord. Use a standard 15-foot extension cord because it comes with a male plug attached, and simply cut off the female plug on the extension cord. The cord need not be grounded.
A switch or timer-switch capable of handling seven amps for three light bulbs or about 11 amps if you will use four lamps. You may use a standard wall switch with a box and switch cover plate. Other types of switches are rocker, push button, or toggle switches. You may also use a mechanical or electronic timer-switch, although they cost about $20-50 more. Do not use a dimmer switch as they often emit strong electromagnetic fields.
A piece of hardware cloth or welded wire mesh about 15" by 31". This will be bent around the lamps as a guard to prevent anything from touching them. The openings of the hardware cloth or wire mesh should be ¼ to ½ inch.
Four wood screws and four 3/16" x 1" fender washers. These are to fasten the lamp guard to the board or enclosure. You could also use a staple gun to secure the guard to the wood.
The board to mount the sockets on should be about 12” high and 24” wide. The extra width is to mount the switch to one side of the lamps. The board can be of solid wood, masonite, veneer or plywood. If you decide to use 2-piece sockets that mount through a hole in the board, you must use a thin board such as veneer or masonite. For chemically sensitive people, one could use sheet metal or hard plastic like Lucite if one is not sensitive to this material. To avoid all outgassing, use a metallic material or a poplar, oak, or fir shelf board. To hide the wiring, you can install a second thin board behind the main board. This is nice, but not necessary.
2 wood screws or machine screws and nuts for mounting the switch to a board or enclosure. Hardware to mount the sockets to the board are not necessary if your use two-piece sockets and a thin board. Six wood screws or machine screws and nuts are needed to attach three sockets to the board if you use a solid wood board and sockets that simply screw to the board. Tools required include a screwdriver, wire cutters, and a drill to cut holes in the board for wires, sockets and mounting screws.
Disclaimer: Use extreme care when assembling, wiring, and using any electrical device of your own design. We cannot be responsible for misuse of a sauna, poor construction techniques, or improper wiring that can cause fires, shocks or other accidents.
Warning #1: Always unplug the unit from the wall before changing any bulbs. Accidents happen in saunas. Always move slowly and carefully near a sauna. Never allow young children to play in or use a sauna unaccompanied.
Warning #2: Please do not alter this design if you want safety and the best results. Many people create their own sauna with lamps in the corners, or on several sides, or on the ceiling. These are not acceptable designs for various reasons: Bulbs on the ceiling are dangerous if they shine on your head. More than four bulbs is too much. The reason for putting all the bulbs on one panel is that there is less chance of turning around in the sauna and bumping into them.
Here are the only possible modifications suggested for the unit:
1) You can use four bulbs instead of three, with the fourth lamp near your knees or even feet. This will heat up faster and provide more infrared. It is necessary if your enclosure is larger.
2) You can design the unit so you can lie down inside, instead of sitting. This is necessary for people who are disabled or weak and cannot sit for the half hour needed for a sauna session. The book, Sauna Therapy, contains details for modifying the design for laying down in the sauna. However, sitting is better, in our view, if sitting is possible.
3) A few people don’t use a board. They buy three clamp-on sockets. These have light sockets on one end and have a large clamp on the other end. Photographers use them. One clamps the sockets to a 2 x 4 piece of wood. Instead of a switch, one plugs all three clamp-on sockets into a power strip that has a switch on it. This arrangement can work if you can secure the clamp-on sockets so they don’t move, which is not easy. It is not safe if they can move around! Also, you may still need a guard covering the light bulbs to prevent accidentally touching them.
To Begin Construction Of The Basic Unit
Mount the sockets to the board or enclosure in a triangle shape. If you are using a board that is 12” high by 24” wide, the top socket is placed in the center, 2” from the top of the board. The lower sockets are mounted two inches from the bottom of the board and 9 to 10” apart.
Place the switch or timer-switch as far away from the lamps as possible, either to one side or above them.
Wiring. Wire the sockets in parallel. The lamps will not work properly if the sockets are wired in series. When wiring the sockets, one need not cut the lamp cord.
It may be faster to connect two wires to one socket and then run the cord to the next socket. Separate the wires at the next socket, strip the wires just where the terminal screws are, and screw down the terminals over the wires. Then continue similarly to the third socket.
Run the wires to the switch.
The switch should be on the “hot” or black wire for maximum safety.
For the protective guard in front of the lamps, bend the hardware cloth into a C shape with 1" flanges at each end. (It is easiest to bend it over a sharp edge of a table or desk.)
Make the bends in the 31” length, so the 15” dimension of the hardware cloth becomes the width of the guard.
First bend the 31" piece of mesh 90° at 1".
Make another 90° bend at 9", another at 22" and another at 30".
Make all bends in the same direction.
This should form a C shape with 1" flanges at each end for fastening to the wood with wood screws and large washers, two on the bottom and two on top.
To mount the board in an enclosure, you may drill holes in the corners for screws.
If you will mount the electrical unit on a PVC pipe frame, you will need mounting holes for four 3/4” pipe straps.
Mounting and Ventilation
If one’s unit is for a bathroom or closet, secure it to a wall so it will not fall over if accidentally bumped.
In a bathroom tub area, the unit can be hung from the shower pipe (also tie it back so it will not move).
If you mount it in a wooden or other enclosure, you can secure it using four wood screws, one in each corner.
To mount to a PVC pipe frame, use four pipe straps.
Ventilation can be important—most bathrooms have ventilation.
In a closet, the door may not fit tightly at the top.
If necessary, open the door slightly every 10 minutes or so as needed to provide ventilation.
If building an enclosure, leave a 1" wide opening across the top at the front and back.
Cautions and Disclaimer: Always unplug the unit from the wall before changing any bulbs. Observe all cautions as with any electrical appliance exposed to heat and moisture. Do not touch the lamps during use, or let water, sweat, towels or anything touch them. I will repeat, accidents can happen in saunas. Always move slowly and carefully. Never allow young children to play in or use a sauna unaccompanied. The author cannot be responsible for misuse of a sauna or poor construction.
SAUNA FRAME ENCLOSURE PLANS
The electrical heat unit described above may be mounted in any suitable enclosure including a small closet, wooden box, frame enclosure, or other space. If the space is larger than about 4' by 4' and 5'- 6' high, it will likely need an auxiliary heater or another heat lamp to bring the sauna to 110° F. within 20-30 minutes.
An excellent inexpensive enclosure suitable for apartments and portable use consists of a frame over which one places blankets, a cloth drop cloth or other fabric.
It works well, though it may be a bit delicate and requires care in its use.
The frame parts cost less than $50.00.
The sauna enclosure plans below call for bending the PVC pipe.
Another stable design is to build a rectangular box out of PVC pipe, although either works.
Bent Frame Unit Materials
The frame requires five 10-foot sticks of either:
3/4” PVC water pipe OR
The thicker (SCH 40, 480 PSI) 1-inch PVC water pipe. Either size will work fine.
Also required are four PVC T-connectors and eight PVC elbows of the same size as your PVC pipe (either 1” or ¾”).
You will also need four pipe clamps (either ¾” or 1”) and eight machine screws and nuts to fasten the clamps to the lamp unit. (PVC cement is not needed.)
If you are chemically sensitive and are concerned about using PVC pipe, you could build the frame out of another material.
For example, building supply stores sell long pieces of L-shaped, thin steel used for stucco walls.
It is inexpensive and already has holes in it along its length.
It can be cut with tin snips and could be used to make a metal frame.
Wood, such as pieces of 2”x 2” or 2” x 4”, could also be used for the frame members.
Tools required are a hack saw or pipe cutter to cut PVC pipe, tape measure, and a rubber hammer to tap pieces together if they are stiff. (No PVC glue is needed.)
The enclosure is designed to be connected to an electrical unit that contains the lamps with guards over them for safety and with all safety requirements needed for any home appliance or piece of equipment.
One forces the PVC frame to narrow where it connects to the board.
It will flare out and become wider as one moves away from the board.
The design is five feet high—high enough for most people.
PVC Pipe Enclosure Assembly
Cut the PVC pipe into four 5-foot sections, six 4-foot sections and four 3-inch sections.
Push pipe sections into the connectors and use a rubber hammer to gently tap the pipe firmly into the connectors.
Assembling the unit on a hard floor will help, as one can place the pipe on the floor when tapping them with a hammer.
No cement should be necessary unless pipe is very loose in the connectors.
The order of assembly of the sections does not matter.
Secure a board about 24 inches wide containing the lamp sockets to the PVC frame with four 1-inch pipe clamps.
The frame will bend to accommodate the size of the board.
In fact, this adds rigidity to the structure.
The lamp height will be adjustable by moving the board up or down along the vertical PVC pipe sections.
The upper lamp should be at chest height when sitting, and the lower lamps at abdomen height.
COVERING THE FRAME
You may cover the frame with two queen or king-size blankets, fabric such as fleece, flannel or velour, quilts, comforters, or canvas. A canvas painter's drop cloth that is 14’ x 24’ is sold at Home Depot and works beautifully as long as the width of the frame is reduced to three-foot wide instead of 4-foot wide.
To fasten fabric or blankets to the frame, an excellent way is to buy large (2”) paper clasps, sometimes called butterfly clips, at an office supply store. These work very well. One could also use large safety pins or clothespins to hold the blankets or fabric in place.
It is important that the door area closes tightly.
It can consist of a flap of canvas or other material, or a curtain made of fabric.
Clips or clothespins can hold it closed, if needed.
THE LAST STEPS
1) Get an outdoor thermometer that reads up to 120 degrees F
This can be a standard, inexpensive, outdoor thermometer sold in hardware stores.
It is important to make sure your sauna is at the right temperature, which is between 110 and 120 degrees F.
Attach the thermometer to the frame at about eye level when sitting down (about 3-4 feet off the ground).
If the sauna is well-insulated, it should not take more than about 15 minutes to heat to 110 degrees F when the sauna is placed in a room at standard room temperature.
If you will place the sauna in a cold garage or other cold room, it needs to be insulated better in order to heat up properly.
2) Get towels for the enclosure
This enclosure design does not have a floor.
Instead, just place a few towels under the stool where you will sit.
The sauna is dry, so it will not make a mess.
However, sweat will drip do it is wise to cover the floor.
3) Get a stool to sit on
You will also need a small stool or chair without a back to sit on. A shower stool works well. The stool or chair may be of metal, wood or plastic, and could even be painted. The bottom part of the sauna does not get too hot, so outgassing is usually not a problem. A fancy stool that rotates is nice, but not necessary.
Warnings: Be sure to have a guard in front of the lamps to protect the bather from touching the hot lamps. Also, be sure that all fabric or blankets are 12 inches or more from the heat lamps to avoid a fire hazard. Pull blankets or fabric tight near the lamps so they do not hang loosely near the lamps. Avoid leaving the lamps on when no one is present, except to pre-heat the sauna.
With your electrical heat unit, frame enclosure, towels, and a stool to sit on, you are ready to use your sauna.
You can pre-heat it for 10 or 15 minutes, or you can enter it when it is cold so you can warm up in the sauna.
Wear a bathing suit or less, so the light strikes your skin.
For women, a two-piece bathing suit is better than a one-piece suit.
Rotate your body 90 degrees every 2-5 minutes or so to let the infrared penetrate the body evenly.
We do not recommend staring at the lamps. (Wear sunglasses if you are very sensitive to the light.)
Wipe off sweat with a small towel.
Please never stay in a sauna more than 20 minutes, at first, and extend the time in the sauna up to 50 minutes or so only as you begin to sweat, which can take days or weeks to occur.
Leave the sauna immediately if you feel very weak, if your heart starts racing, or if your face turns very red.
Please contact us with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and always be safe when using sauna therapy!