Surviving Finland: Sauna

Sauna is sacred place for Finns. Whatever disorder, trouble or sickness you have sauna will cure you. If you don’t visit sauna while in Finland, we will not let you exit our small but determined country. So you just better give in, get naked and be prepared to get spanked or drown to lake. (Yes that’s literally what we do in sauna…)


So What Is Sauna?

Small warm room where people torture themselves in the heat. Usually over 100 Celsius (about 212 F for my USA followers). People sit on wood stairs that fill the whole small room and throw water to heated metal box full of rocks. The water transforms to steam.


Anatomy of Sauna

Like I already said there is wood stairs for sitting (called laude in Finnish). When you are first timer in sauna I recommend sitting on the lowest stair where it is not so hot.

The most important part of sauna is the heater (called kiuas in Finnish). It’s usually made of metal and has rocks in it. Kiuas either works with electricity or by burning wood.

Then there is metal bucket full of water and scoop in it. (Scoop is called löylykauha and bucket kiulu.) You use these to throw the water to the kiuas and that will cause steam (called löyly).

Pefletti is sheet of paper, fabric or other material and you sit on it in sauna.


How to use Sauna?

  1. You probably get asked to come someone’s sauna or you will visit public sauna so you don’t need to wonder how to start it. Let’s just skip this part.
  2. Take towel, swimming suit, pefletti, clean clothes and soap/shampoo with you. If you are visiting someone’s sauna they probably have pefletti and soap/shampoo for you (sometimes even towel, you should ask what to take with you). In public sauna they may have pefletti for you but if they don’t you can use your towel.
  3. When arriving at sauna first thing to do is get naked. Usually it’s men’s and women’s saunas in different time or place but sometimes it will be mixed sauna. If you feel uncomfortable feel free to use swimsuit.
  4. After getting naked you can use the shower. Some people don’t shower before sauna and some do so feel free to decide.
  5. Go inside of the sauna. Sit where ever you want but be sure to not be in anyone’s way. (Finns are shy and may not be able to ask you move when they want to leave.) If the sauna is full of Finns I recommend sitting on the bottom seat. It’s going to get hot.
  6. Someone will throw water to the kiuas(heater). If you are alone, throw water from the bucket to the metal box full of rocks. There will be steam and it’s going to be hot. You can leave anytime you want. Don’t feel embarrassed.
  7. At winter time you can go out and swim in frozen lake or play in the snow (after that come back to sauna to get warm). At summer you can beat yourself gently with branches or swim in lake (the water is still cold so run quickly back to sauna).
  8. After exiting sauna go to shower, dress up and feel freshened.


How to survive Sauna with Finns?

  1. If you feel uncomfortable, just say it out loud. Sometimes Finns don’t remember everyone haven’t got used to being in sauna.
  2. Don’t be scared of being naked. It’s traditional thing and everyone does it. However it’s okay to use swimming suit or towel if you feel shy (expect in some swimming halls’ saunas swimsuits are banned.)
  3. If you want to make Finn open up for you, sauna is good place to make friends.
  4. Do Finns have sex in the sauna? Well I can’t answer that… It’s national secret.
  5. Don’t forget to use pefletti. (It’s sheet of paper, fabric or other material and you sit on it.) Never sit on the sauna’s food stairs without pefletti.
  6. If you don’t know what to talk about, speaking about weather is good bet. Usually saunas’ have window so you can even check if it’s snowing or raining.
  7. My last advice is what happens in sauna also stays in sauna


Sauna Traditions

When visiting Finnish sauna at summer time you may get shocked. When Finn starts to beat you up with birch boughs (usually called vihta or vasta) he/she isn’t angry at you neither does he/she want to murder you or hurt you. It’s traditions that we do in sauna. Gently beat yourself or the others with it. However almost every time Finns will explain this to you and not try to scare you away beating you up out of nowhere.

Winter isn’t any calmer time for Finns being at sauna. It’s totally normal to go out and roll in snow or swim in hole made to frozen lake (the hole in lake is called avanto). Don’t however expect all Finns to swim in frozen lakes. There is many people (like me) who have never tried it. You however can find public sauna with avanto almost anywhere in Finland.


Mixed Sauna (aka let’s be naked together)

Every time I end up talking with someone about Finnish culture and sauna they get shocked when I tell them that yes I have been in sauna with twenty people all naked. I get afraid that they will faint that I continue quietly that there were men and women.

For someone abroad it may be hard to distinguish when it’s appropriate for men and women go to sauna together. It’s even hard for me to explain that. You should just ask from someone if you should be naked or dressed they will not judge you (probably).

Mixed saunas may be naked or not naked happenings. Usually young adults, university students, friends, families etc. may go to sauna naked. Even then there may be some Finns in swimsuits. My advice is go with the flow and spy what the locals are doing.

You shouldn’t tress too much. Sauna is meant to be relaxing place and whatever you do Finns will probably forgive you. So enjoy and welcome to Finland!


This is my new blog post series of my home country Finland and how to survive visiting here. Feel free to ask anything and tell me about what I should write my Surviving Finland posts. Follow me for more info of Finland and my travel stories! (And don’t take too seriously anything I write.)

Next time the subject is surviving cold weather and I have a lot of things to tell you about that. You can find more Surviving Finland (guide by Finn) HERE


With love and Finnish spirit,

Viivi Severina

PS. Fun fact, the image of sauna is from small flat. We have saunas everywhere (even in student dormitories).