Saunas have been used in almost all cultures since ancient times. They vary from smoke huts to natural formations powered by geothermal energy. They have been common throughout Europe, and especially in Finland, since the middle ages. Despite the many health benefits attributed to saunas, they have been largely relegated to spas, gyms, and expensive hotels...until now.
In this Instructable, I'll share how to build your own personal sauna for under a $100 and you don't have to add a special room onto your house. It sets up in minutes and is so easy, you can take it with you camping. Let's get started!
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels
Photo by Estonian Saunas on Unsplash
Step 1: Materials and Tools
- 10'x12' waterproof tarp.
- 1" diameter PVC pipe - Qty 30'
- 1/2" diameter PVC pipe - Qty 10'
- 3 way Tee fittings for 1" PVC pipe - Qty 6
- 1 in. to 1/2 in. PVC reducer bushing - Qty 4
- Snap Clamps for 1" PVC Pipe - Qty 12
- Snap Clamp for 1/2" PVC Pipe - Qty 8
- Adhesive velcro strips - Qty 1 pack of 8 strips
- PVC cement
- Plastic or lawn chair
- 1 Slow Cooker :-)
- PVC cutter or saw
- Work gloves
- Something to boil water
- Sewing machine- optional
I suspect you could get all of the consumables you need in one trip to the hardware store though I ordered all the small parts online. The PVC pipe is all standard schedule 40 white pipe.
Step 2: Step 1 - Cut the Tarp
The tarp needs to be cut into a long, mostly rectangular strip that will wrap all the way around the middle and two quarter circle edge pieces for the sides. The rectangular piece has a split at one edge and flares out so that it can overlap to close.
While I had a sketch of the design, I modified the dimensions as I worked to ensure a proper fit. To that end, I suggest only cutting the rectangular piece at this time (see step 4).
Hemming: I hemmed the cut edges of the tarp caused I thought it would last better or look better. Looking back, I think this was totally unnecessary for my tarp. The cut edges don't look to fray. If I were to do it again, I wouldn't hem them. If it becomes a problem, you can always get another tarp and repeat this step. Think of all the time you can be enjoying your sauna instead of sewing. If you do decide to hem, be sure to expand the tarp dimensions to account for the hem.
At the top of the slit, cut a round hole the size of your neck. I sewed a piece of scrap fabric around the edge were it touched my neck. Besides adding some class (and nothing says class like sitting in your personal sauna), I think this might be worth the effort for the additional comfort. I'm not much of a seamster so this gave me a chance to practice my sewing and it didn't take long given I already had the machine setup.
Step 3: Step 2 - Cutting PVC
Cut the PVC pipe to the following lengths. I cut some of the pieces long at first and then shorten them to fit the tarp and front arches better. The lengths shown are my final dimensions but the cut long and recut approach often works better for me than trying to be accurate and ending up with something too small.
- Uprights - Qty 2 - 40"
- Floor - Qty 2 - 38"
- Horizontals - Qty 3 - 30"
- Front arches - Qty 2 - 60"
Assemble all the 1" pieces together but don't cement them just yet. You can bend the 1/2" pieces if you force them but they won't like it. Try wrapping the center tarp section around to test for fit. You'll likely need to use some of those snap clamps to gauge the fit. Adjust the PVC lengths as needed so that the tarp overhangs the edges on both sides by a few inches and overlaps itself near the bottom by a few inches.
Step 4: Step 3 - Bending the Arches
If you tried to assemble the PVC in the previous step, you know that the arches were under considerable strain. In this step, we'll bend them so the fit without Herculean effort. First measure (or calculate) the straight line (hypotenuse) of the triangle formed by the floor pieces and the uprights.
There are several ways to bend PVC. I find that using boiling water is the fastest and easiest. Relocate to someplace where spilled water isn't a problem. Place the reducer bushings on the ends of the 1/2" pipe. This is important as otherwise the ends may deform enough to make it difficult to fit the bushings later. Thread some rope through the arch pieces and tie it such that the exposed string is roughly equal to your hypotenuse. Put your gloves on and pour boiling water into the pipe. You may need a funnel for this step depending on your kettle. Place the pipes someplace where they will hold the water while they cool. It should only take about 5 minutes after which the pipes will permanently hold their bent shape.
Step 5: Step 4 - Cut the Tarp Edge Pieces
I first measured and cut the edges with a string but I didn't allow enough overhang. I would suggest that you assemble the PVC frame, flip it on it's side and use it as a template to cut the edges. Just be sure to allow plenty of extra (at least 6") to wrap around the PVC pipe and overhang on all sides. As your frame is taller than it is deep, mark the top corner for easier assembly later.
I folded corners to fit fairly tightly and sewed them. If you have access to a sewing machine, I recommend taking the time to do this. You could even hand sew this. They make assembly quicker and ensure the heat and moisture stay inside the sauna.
You should be ready to cement some of the PVC fittings together now. I chose to only cement the fittings to the horizontal pieces so that I could transport and store the sauna easier.
Step 6: Step 5 - Velcro Closures
I used velcro to keep the "door closed". Assemble the sauna and mark the positions for 4 velcro strips along the front split and 4 strips along the bottom seam. Stick them on and sew them if you wish.
Step 7: Step 6 - Heating
My original plan was to fashion an alternative lid for a rice cooker or slow cooker with a pipe to channeled the steam into the sauna. However, in initial testing, the sauna didn't heat up enough with my small slow cooker (or maybe I wasn't patient enough, the stress of the build was getting to me). Instead, I located a larger 20quart slow roaster and just sat it under the chair, using the lid to separate my legs from anything hot. This approach worked well and quickly raised the internal temperate to 50 degrees C and enough humidity. Exercise caution to keep hot things away from plastic and people. I encourage you to experiment with whatever approach provides you with the safety and heat you desire. You can buy commercial infrared heaters for this application.
Step 8: Step 7 - Optional Add-ons
You may want to consider one or more of these add-ons to increase the pleasure of your personal sauna.
Option A - Hand holes. Want to read or text while relaxing? Add some hand holes and maybe an outside pocket.
Option B - I'm pleased with the addition of some ultrasonic mist makers to increase the humidity of the sauna. Perhaps more importantly, the addition of some essentials oils to the water introduces aspects of aroma therapy. Mine have some lights that add to the ambiance of the inside as well.
Option C - Who can relax when you are feeling guilty about something not getting done? Now you can be confident that while you are sweating out those toxins, you are also accomplishing a needed task at the same time! Throw some rice, celery, and herbs into that slow cooker. By the time you've finished your meditation you'll be half way done with dinner. The addition of some herbs also amps up the aroma-therapy factor.
OK OK, I admit that I kinda built this as a joke. After all, you do look kinda goofy with your head poking out of something from an 1970 British sci-fi show. What surprised me was how well it actually worked. Now please excuse me while I go have a sauna session and contemplate how to tell my brother-in-law that I've added a sauna to the house.
This is my first entry to a contest on Instructables. I would appreciate your vote in the "water contest".