I bought the insane $200 personal sauna on Amazon—is it actually worth the money?
Until I feel comfortable going to a spa again, this is my best bet.
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As we enter the second or what feels like the unending wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, like a lot of people, I miss traveling. One of my favorite trips last year was to Finland. The people were great, the food was surprisingly good, and I embraced the Finnish love of saunas. I’d experienced saunas before at spas, but Finns truly love the sauna experience and I now understand why.
This is kind of ironic considering I hate the heat, but I absolutely love that post-sauna refreshed feeling. And after dealing with intense and then annoying pain and discomfort in my hand related to cubital tunnel syndrome, I was on the hunt for anything that might make my body feel more relaxed.
Since I won’t be heading to the spa anytime soon due to restrictions, let alone Finland, I decided to opt for a sauna in my home. While most saunas cost an arm and a leg and need to be hooked up to your home, I found one that’s less than $200 and is portable. This made it perfect for my 500-square-foot one-bedroom apartment.
I remember telling a friend I purchased a sauna and she blew it off as a random pandemic purchase, but it turned out to be the best $200 I’ve spent in a while.
What is the SereneLife Portable Infrared Sauna?
With more than 2,000 reviews and a near-perfect 5-star rating on Amazon, the SereneLife Portable Infrared Sauna immediately caught my eye. It claims to reduce stress and remove toxins, though I don’t know if that’s true, there have been studies linking sauna use to lower blood pressure, improved heart health, and even deceased inflammation.
This boxy contraption is essentially a sauna cube with a small seat and openings for your head and arms, allowing you to use your phone or read while inside. It looks pretty bizarre, which is why the internet was obsessed with it when it first surfaced. The cube measures 27-inches-long, 31-inches-wide, and 37-inches-tall, which seemed plenty big enough to fit my 5'2" stature. It can also be folded up and transported for all your traveling sauna needs.
The sauna goes up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and sessions can last for up to one hour, though the company doesn’t recommend sitting in there longer than 30 minutes to prevent dehydration. There’s also an included foot heat pad that is optional to use and is turned on separately.
When the box arrived, it was a large, but manageable size for me to lug from my building’s lobby to the elevator and through my apartment door.
What it’s like to use the portable sauna
Many of the Amazon reviews mention how easy the setup process was, and they were right. Though the sauna didn’t come with instructions—but let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have read them anyway—it was simple as unfolding the contraption and securing two of the internal bars so the sauna holds its shape. I plugged it in and was ready to go.
For my first go with the sauna, I set a timer for 20 minutes and the temperature to 120 degrees. The attached handheld control reads the current temperature and after about five minutes, the sauna reached the desired heat. I unzipped, stepped in, sat on the included tiny chair, and zipped myself back up. The zippers can be accessed from both in and outside the sauna, so they’re easy to use and it doesn't make you feel trapped.
Immediately, I realized I didn’t turn the footbed on, but upon activating it the regret set in. The footbed, which can’t fully be removed, got scorching hot on my toes. The sauna was already at 120 degrees, but the footbed was completely unbearable. I decided to just turn it off and set it to the side, and I vowed to never use it again.
Once I was situated, began profusely sweating in a matter of minutes, despite my entire body not being enclosed. I didn’t even realize how sweaty I was until I snapped a picture for Instagram and my face was completely drenched. I knew I looked and felt completely silly while trapped inside the hot cube, but it felt absolutely amazing and my muscles were more relaxed.
But things got a little dicey when I tried to move around. I had my phone in the sauna’s front pocket (it can’t hold much more than a phone or the control) and reached through the armholes. Let’s just say metal zippers and heat don’t mix. The zipper didn’t burn my fingertips, but it was uncomfortably hot when it came in contact with my skin. The same thing briefly happened to my thighs from the metal grommets on the folding chair, which isn’t a huge issue but should be made aware of for future sauna sessions.
I did my 20 minutes and unzipped it to reveal a sweaty mess. There was a massive sweat print on my seat. But despite the pool I left behind, I felt relaxed and hopped into the shower to rinse off.
Is the portable sauna easy to put away?
I wasn’t going to leave a large black cube in the middle of my living room forever, so I waited for the sauna to cool, which only took a few minutes, and broke it down. The process was simple and the sauna easily folds into itself, measuring about two-feet-wide and four-feet-long. I've been storing it under my full-sized bed and it takes up about half the space under there.
How to clean the inflatable sauna
Since there’s no water or steam with this sauna, there’s no need to worry about mildew—but you do need to worry about sweat. After a few uses, I noticed the inside started to smell a bit, well, it wasn’t the freshest. Now when I’m done with my session, I wipe down the walls with a damp towel, spritz with my fave tea tree oil or lavender, and place a towel over the chair to absorb most of the sweat.
Though packing the sauna away is pretty easy and quick, sometimes I just leave it out to give it some air, especially when I know I’ll be using it again within two days.
What I don’t love about the portable sauna
After the first go-around, I found a routine with using my at-home sauna every few days. Same drill, 120 degrees and for 20 minutes—but now I don’t even bother with the footbed. Sometimes the temperature of the heat box doesn’t fully kick in until a few minutes, but if I ever feel overheated, I dial the temperature back and unzip it to cool down.
When I do crank the sauna to a 30-minute session, I find that the provided folded chair becomes uncomfortable, which is more of a reason not to spend too much time in there. There’s no real back support (though I do love basking in the heat for those extra minutes).
Another slight issue I’ve had is with the height of the sauna. I’m 5’2” and my neck barely pokes out from the opening. I could see this being a problem for someone a few inches shorter than me, and they might need to sit on a pillow so their head actually fits through the hole. For those who are taller, Amazon reviewers over six feet tall have mentioned it’s comfortable, but they barely fit, so be aware of the measurements before you buy.
Is the SereneLife Portable Infrared Sauna worth it?
The SereneLife Portable Infrared Sauna has a high upfront cost, but it’s already paid for itself. A spa near me charges $30 for a 30-minute sauna session, and although I don’t get any of the frills of going to the spa, I’m able to use my at-home sauna twice a week for free. Plus, larger home saunas can cost upwards of $1,000, so this is a great affordable option, as well.
I may look completely silly with my head and arms sticking out of a hot box, but I’ve found my sauna sessions to be quality and relaxing. I’ve even noticed a diminish in the pain in my hands after using it consistently, which I think is in part due to the sauna, and it’s a quarantine purchase I’ll continue to use over time.
The SereneLife Portable Infrared Sauna comes in black, gray, or silver and currently retails for $200 in the black and costs $20 more in gray and silver. This funky sauna has been on backorder and inventory can fluctuate, so I recommend adding it to your cart ASAP to start reaping the benefits of an at-home sauna.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.