This sauna had served M's parents well and having just rebuilt it, we wanted our "new" sauna to last. After some research, we endeavored to return this sauna to it former glory.
We were enjoying our sauna 4-5 times a week through June. While we wiped down our sauna after every use and cleaned it weekly, there was still maintenance I was not aware of that would keep our sauna clean and looking great for many years to come. I noticed the wood in the sauna was faded, and there was a buildup of dirt in the gaps of the benches and floor boards. To no one’s fault, there were also many scuffs throughout the sauna from its deconstruction in Jerry & Nelly’s house, and it's transport, storage, and reconstruction in our home. Remember, this sauna was nearly 20 years old, and had been sitting static in our basement for nearly 2 more years. It was due for some much needed TLC. I did my research, purchased supplies, and set out to refurbish the sauna in the fall, before winter set in and our need for the sauna increased. My refurbishing process had 6 steps, including deconstruction, cleaning, sanding, re-cleaning, oiling, and re-installing. First, I tested my process on the floor boards just in case my techniques resulted in something that was undesirable.
1. Deconstruction - I removed all the benches, railings, and wall hangings from the interior with the exception of the heater. This was a somewhat simple process, but it did require some muscle from my son to get everything out without further scuffing the wood.
2. Cleaning - To clean the sauna and its removed parts, I used a scouring sponge, a scrub brush, and a toothbrush. I purchased sauna cleaner from an online store, originally located in Michigan, called Superior Sauna & Steam (superiorsaunas.com). I had already purchased sauna rocks, loofas, sauna scent, and a sauna brush from them, and I liked the quality and service they provided. The cleaner they sell is called Sauna Clean by Stelon. This product safely cleans your wood surfaces without degrading wood fibers, as most other cleaners (bleach, etc) can do. You only need a single liter, as you will dilute the cleaner with water, so one bottle may last for years. The directions call for 2 capfuls of Sauna Clean diluted by 5 Liters (or 1.32 gallons) of water. I put my diluted cleaning mixture in an old windex spray bottle. This allows me to spray the solution across the sauna and into the hard to reach areas. I then wiped in the solution with a hand towel or sponge. While the solution is not toxic, it can dry your hands out, so I recommend (as does the manufacturer) wearing gloves. I judiciously applied the solution to all the interior walls of the sauna then wiped them down. To dry the interior of the sauna, I simply turned on the sauna for 1 hour with the vents open. I did the same for the benches and other parts, using the tooth brush to get into the tight areas, then left them dry in the sun.
3. Sanding - While only recommended, I knew a quick sanding with very fine (220 or finer) grit sand paper would really renew the look of the 20 year old benches and floor boards. So with a palm sander and 220 grit sandpaper, I sanded all of the finished portions of the wood. I spot sanded by hand any of the scuffs in the interior and exterior of the sauna using 220 and 600 grit sandpaper to blend the finish.
4. Re-cleaning - This step is not required if you do not sand your wood. I used the same process in step #2 above. Not only did this ensure that all of the sanding residue was removed, it also allowed me to clean any areas I may have missed, especially those tight spaces.
5. Oiling - From my research, I learned that cleaning alone may not help saunas with advanced deterioration of wood fibers and treating the sauna wood with paraffin oil was the best way to treat wood that may be deteriorating or is aging. While I didn’t think the wood was deteriorating, it was older and had been in storage for a couple of years. I decided that since I had the sauna disassembled, I would oil the interior to help its last longer and make cleaning easier (another benefit of oiling). I purchased a Sauna Wood Oil Treatment kit from Superior Saunas to accomplish this. The kit came with 5L of oil and a couple of sponges. paraffin oil is pure and completely free of color, fragrance, and toxins. It will help protect all types of sauna woods and will keep sauna benches and wall paneling protected by not allowing excess moisture to soak in. In hindsight, I would recommend purchasing just 1 liter of paraffin Oil and buying your sponges locally. The oil is somewhat expensive (1L is $55). While you will get a discount for buying the larger quantity, 1L of oil is plenty for a medium sized sauna (ours seats 4-6 people) and you will have some left over to reapply in your heavy use areas as the oil penetrates after several uses. I recommend heating your sauna prior to application for two reasons: First, to get rid of any moisture; second, the residual heat of the wood will help the oil absorb. Also, place your bottle of paraffin Oil in the sauna while you are heating it. I put it on the lowest bench. This will also help aid in application and absorption. Application is easy and gloves are not required. I filled a Solo cup to the halfway point for ease, then just dipped the sponge into the oil and then rubbed it onto the wood surface. I would do this for a couple square feet, then wipe the oil even with a lint free cloth. The oil brings out the highlights in the grain of the wood and has a beautiful natural look to it. Warning! Your sauna may darken depending on the age of the wood and the amount of oil in your application. From what I can tell so far, this is not permanent, but the change in the look can be significant. This was really apparent on the ceiling of our sauna, which absorbed the most oil, and turned the darkest. It has been two months since I applied the oil, and the ceiling has lightened significantly, but the wood grain is still beautiful. Wait about an hour and reapply to any areas that absorbed the oil quickly. I placed all the benches and parts back in the sauna and turned it on for an hour to help in the absorption and drying. I plan on re-applying paraffin oil to the horizontal surfaces and heavy use areas in the next month. Another benefit of oiling the sauna is that we have seen a 4-5 degree increase in temperature, without increasing the thermostat.
6. Re-installation - Once the oil has absorbed, the wood will feel dry to the touch, but it will also feel soft and smooth. I carefully reinstalled the benches, heater rail, handrails, back and head rests, and floor boards.
This entire process took about 4-6 hours over two days with the help and keen oversight of M. Feel free to reach out for more detail on sauna care. We hope you found this episode informative and interesting!
Until next time, always remember - Hyvä sauna on aina suomalainen!
At the time that we rebuilt our sauna it was nearly 20 years old as was in need of some care. You can imagine it was very dirty after sitting in the dark reaches of our basement for over two years.