Löyly - the Essence of the Sauna - by Craig Lahti
Löyly is a Finnish word, which has deep meaning in Finnish culture. Loosely, it means the steam radiating from the rocks when you sprinkle water. More deeply, it has an almost spiritual meaning for the entire feeling of enveloping heat and steam which fills the room when one ladles water over the rocks. It is even a point of honor, when taking sauna with a group, to be given the duty of adding the löyly to the room. Most sauna afficianados take great care to find the right amount of steam for all bathers in the room.. To most, this löyly, or steam, is the essence of what makes a sauna different from any other heat bathing experience, because the bather works with the heater and water to create the perfect environment for his experience. The sauna is the only heat bath in the world where the user controls both the temperature and the humidity.
Today, many sauna bathers, whether new or well-seasoned, have questions about pouring water over the rocks. Since many modern heaters utilize electricity as the power source, some bathers are concerned about safety issues of pouring water over the rocks. Sauna heaters built and sold by reputable manufacturers have passed safety regulations established by UL (Underwriters' Laboratory), ETL (Edison Testing Laboratories), or in some cases CSA. These regulations ensure the heaters are constructed with safety mechanisms in place to protect the electrical components from water to provide a safe bathing experience.
In commercial venues, like health clubs, hotels, and day spas, the use of water may be limited or prohibited, depending on the facility's experience with saunas. Often this is due to a health club running the temperatures too high, and then only the most polished users enjoy steam at such a high temperature. Many a club would have happier sauna bathers and a cheaper electric bill, by lowering their temperature, and providing a bucket and ladle for fresh water to be sprinkled over the stones. Though the facilities strive to provide the best experience for each customer, they also need to create a standard experience, so customers know what to expect each time. Part of the Health Club logic, by not providing water, the sauna experience is standardized. Since the bulk of all sauna users prefer some steam/humidity in the room, a club would likely be best served allowing some level of steam use and backing their temperature down 10 to 15 degrees.
For personal saunas, the use of water will help transform your experience from one where the bather controls the heat to one where she controls every aspect of the environment, from heat to humidity to fragrance. Shangri-La can be found in a sauna.
Let's start with the basics. Before water is sprinkled over the rocks, the air temperature should be 150°F or greater to ensure the water evaporates immediately. As the room is heating, fill the bucket with water. Now is the decision time - to add essential oils to the water or leave it natural? What do you want the sauna experience to be this time?
To some, fresh, clean water is perfect. The steam produced is cleansing and refreshing. To others, the fragrance of essential oils can help them achieve the experience they desire. If congested or suffering from allergies, or they just want a clean invigorating smell, a few drops of Eucalyptus Oil in the water gets them back on their feet. If at the end of the day a person wants to relax and unwind, a few drop of Lavender Oil will help stress and tension fade away. With a little research into aromatherapy, a bather can learn ways of enhancing the sauna experience in ways they had not anticipated.
Others will state the added humidity increases their ability to induce a sweat. Much like a humid day feels hotter, so too does a sauna with water sprinkled on the rocks.
Lastly, in terms of getting a handle on the combination of heat and humidity, there is a tenet called the Rule of 200. This rule is the combination of temperature Fahrenheit plus the % humidity added together. This states that anything over this combination is typically uncomfortable for most bathers. Under that combination, it’s typically comfortable. For example, if you are running your sauna at 180" F, the comfortable level of humidity in a sauna would be 20% or less. This is very dry compared to ambient, but considering the sauna can lower to levels of 5% to 10% at full operating mode, this can feel quite comfortable. By comparison, if you like to sauna at low temperatures, say 150 degrees F, one can typically handle humidity levels of 50%.
To learn more about constructing a sauna so you can start enjoying löyly, contact your local dealer, or you can request a brochure. Your dealer may also have some recommendations on popular aromatherapy scents.