Hot Tub vs sauna: we compare the two top brands

Mother and daughter in a hot tub
(Image credit: Getty)

When it comes to heat therapy, hot tub vs sauna is a hot debate. Both contraptions work in similar ways by heating the body, boosting relaxation, and targeting muscle soreness or body aches. However, that’s where the likeness ends.

The number one difference between a hot tub and a sauna is that while a hot tub is filled with heated water, the sauna soothes the body using dry heat. A sauna can reach temperatures of 158 to 212°F, but the hottest a hot tub reaches is typically 90 to 104 °F. 

As a result, the sauna produces similar results to exercise, causing the skin temperature to rise, the heart rate to accelerate, and the body to sweat profusely. The end game is to reduce stress and boost cardiovascular health. 

On the other hand, the best hot tubs are designed as sociable spaces for gatherings or family time. Therefore, they are far more likely to be kitted out with entertainment features such as LED lighting, Bluetooth speakers, and Wi-Fi compatibility. Bench-style seating is as far as saunas go in the way of promoting parties; the temperatures are just too high inside for them to be used as a space to socialize.

If you’re only investing in one piece of apparatus, you’re going to want to know the differences between the features, price, and care requirements of a hot tub vs sauna. Are you looking to get the cardiovascular benefits of a sauna or the best swim spas? Or, are you more interested in hot tub hydrotherapy, where massage jets can help target rheumatoid arthritis pain or muscle aches? 

Hot Tub vs Sauna: Features

When you line up the features of a hot tub and sauna side by side, it becomes increasingly easy to tell the difference between the two. Appearance-wise, hot tubs are highly customizable. There’s almost always the option to pick out different cabinetry wood and colors. Plus, the design of hot tubs varies drastically from model to model and brand to brand.

The options for saunas are more limited and restricted to different wood types and heating mechanisms. Aspen and cedar are durable scented woods that provide aromatherapy, while hemlock is unscented and suited to allergy sufferers. An infrared heater can be carbon or ceramic. The latter heats up quicker, but carbon heaters have a lower (and safer) surface temperature. Very few sauna models have the option of adding glass windows or doors, and when they do, this comes at a high cost.

While it’s normal for hot tubs to come with ergonomic benches (or luxury biomagnetic therapy seats), saunas typically only have bench-style seating. Integrated ergonomic seating is uncommon unless you’re willing to pay a premium price.

Hot tubs are also far ahead in terms of the number of entertainment features. Easily available features include energy-efficient LED lighting and Bluetooth speakers, and additional smart features such as a digital control panel or Wi-Fi allow users to pick out a playlist directly from a smartphone. Only very high-end saunas can boast features like LED lighting, smart controls, and sound systems, as the sauna is just not as geared toward entertainment as a hot tub is.

The main function of a sauna is heat therapy. Therefore, functional automatic timers are the main customizable feature and allow users to keep track of how long they spend sweating. Chromotherapy lights, only available in an infrared sauna, can also inject color light therapy, a meditative therapy feature associated with producing a stronger sense of calmness. 

In general, hot tubs are far more customizable than saunas. A cooling system can automatically adjust the water temperature. Smart controls allow users to tweak the temperature settings themselves, often from a mobile app. The water sanitation systems are varied, too, with UV-C sanitation, saltwater sanitation, and ozone sanitation being three of the main systems available.

This variety extends to massage jets. All hot tubs are fitted out with a number of massage jets, which are directed to manipulate specific areas of the body, such as the feet or neck. For example, Sundance Spas’ Silent Air Injector jets eject fragrances, and Bullfrog Spas’ JetPak jets are interchangeable, making it easy to target a different area of the body. 

Hot Tub vs Sauna: Price

A sauna is almost certainly going to set you back by more than a hot tub. You can expect to pay around $2000 for an entry-level sauna, but with less durable materials and fewer health benefits, you’re likely to encounter repair or replacement costs down the line. A more sensible mid-level sauna typically costs between $7000 and $10,000. Meanwhile, a top-of-the-range sauna will cost you over $10,000. 

The fine line is that the bigger the sauna and the more bench seating it has, the more you’ll pay. Cedar, an aromatic and durable wood that withstands heat well, is costlier than less-durable timber like plywood or pine. Also, a traditional steam sauna costs more upfront than an infrared sauna but is associated with greater health benefits. 

Hot tub prices are considerably easier on your pocket. Entry-level hot tubs typically go for $3000 to $7000, but the compromise is that they have limited features. Premium features such as massage jets, waterfall features, and Wi-Fi compatibility are more common when you push into mid-level or luxury territory. A value-priced or premium hot tub will cost around $8000 to $14,000, and a luxury hot tub will cost over $15,000. 

Aside from the upfront cost of a hot tub or sauna, you also need to take into consideration the cost of installation. It’s more expensive to install a sauna than a hot tub, mainly because they typically require special plumbing, electrics, and a complex ventilation system. Most hot tubs can be installed yourself, especially the ‘plug and play’ design, which only requires a 110V electric connection. 

Running costs are another important factor to think about. When switched off, a sauna won’t cost you a dollar. However, when it’s being used several times per week, running costs of a steam sauna are around $20 to $30 per month, and running costs of an infrared sauna are half of that. Hot tubs aren’t that different. Most hot tub manufacturers claim that their hot tubs cost as little as $1 per day to run (that’s the equivalent of $28 to $32 per month). 

Hot Tub vs Sauna: Care and maintenance

Once your hot tub or sauna is safely set up in your home, you can’t sit completely idle. It’s also your job to maintain and care for your appliance. Too much responsibility might not fit into a busy schedule. Likewise, heavy maintenance could irritate arthritis or former injuries, the very opposite of what you’re likely trying to achieve. 

A hot tub comes with its own water filtration system, so there’s not much left for you to do aside from showering without soap before taking a soak and draining, hosing, and refilling the tub between uses. Any soap residue or small dirt stains are easy to scrub away using a non-sudsing cleaner and a soft rag. Users should also perform a weekly water test to check that the chemical balance is all in order, which involves inserting a small test strip into the water and adding the necessary sanitizing agents.

The hot tub filters should also be replaced around once every three years. To prevent them from clogging in between, they can be popped in the dishwasher (if compatible) or sprayed down with a garden hose.

A hot tub cover can protect the hot tub when it’s not in use, but if you want to store your hot tub in a storage unit or garage, that’ll require the most elbow grease as you must move the entire unit by hand. Winterizing your hot tub also requires some effort, as you’ll need to install a winter blanket, periodically adjust the water pH, and remove snow and ice with a brush.

Like hot tubs, saunas mostly look after themselves as long they have been properly installed with a good ventilation system (or a carbon monoxide detector and chimney for the woodburning edition). The main problem with saunas is that the high temperatures can cause the wood to swell or morph into different shapes. When this happens, you’ll need to sand down the wood manually. 

A quick wipe down in between uses or the occasional hosing down of the interior should keep your sauna clean in most cases. Any more serious stains, such as mildew, will require scrubbing with bleach, and wine or sticky drinks can be scrubbed away with cleaning agents. If the sauna is of the outdoor kind, pressure washing may also be necessary. 


When you’re choosing between a hot tub or sauna, it’s too easy to think about just the health or entertainment benefits and neglect to consider simple but important factors like ongoing care and maintenance or running costs. 

Running costs of a hot tub and a sauna are pretty equal, so the price tag of your hot tub or sauna is going to be the main thing that drains your wallet. As the larger of the two, a sauna typically costs considerably more than a hot tub. If you’re on a budget, with a couple of clicks on a search engine, you can easily find a budget-friendly hot tub for two or three people. It’s also likely that you can install it yourself using a 110V electrical connection, saving you more money.

Hydrotherapy is a huge benefit of owning a hot tub, but most of the time, it’s the social aspect that is the most attractive. With numerous easy-available entertainment features like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and LED lighting, hot tubs are superior for gatherings and family time compared to a sauna. They’re also slightly easier to maintain, as saunas (especially entry-level models) often require sanding as time wears on and the wood morphs.

If you’re primarily seeking out relaxation (and a number of beauty and health benefits for extra measure), saunas have the edge over hot tubs. All of the aspects of a sauna are geared towards effective relaxation, and this begins with choosing the wood and burner type. Automic timers and chromotherapy lighting, two of the few optional features typically available with a premium sauna, also prove that heat therapy this is the main benefit of a sauna.

Katie Treharne

Katie is a journalist who covers everything from hobbies to luxury travel and wellness. Also an editor for a luxury travel magazine, she is fascinated with the digital sphere and how it helps to inform and inspire people to get the most out of their lives.