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For those of you who have never been in a smoke sauna, some aspects might be surprising, unexpected or might even spoil the sauna experience. The smoke sauna differs from other saunas in many ways, so it is recommended to learn a few basic concepts.

  • You must set aside sufficient time, because a smoke sauna is not the place for a quick wash.
  • The smoke is present in the sauna only during the heating process, after which it will be let out – so the air will be clear when you go inside.
  • When entering the sauna, words of greeting are spoken. When leaving the sauna, gratitude is rendered. For instance, the most common words of greeting are “Jummal sekka!” (or: May the Lord be with us!), and the people in sauna answer “Jummal hää miis!” (or: The Lord is a good man!). To show your gratitude you can say “Aitüma sannakütjale, aitüma sausüüjale, aitüma viituujale, aitüma vihahaudjale!” (or: Thanks to the sauna-heater, thanks to the smoke-eater, thanks to the water-carrier, thanks to the whisk-soaker!).
  • The door of the sauna is kept closed.
  • While using the sauna, no wood is added to the oven, nor is the ash or charcoal in the oven stirred. Likewise, rubbish must not be thrown into the hearth.
  • It is not wise to lean against the walls – they are hot and grimy. Likewise, it is not recommended to rake the walls or ceiling with a whisk, because the whisk will become grimy and this will make the body dirty, too.
  • Even the walls of the sauna vestibule can be grimy. Bear this in mind while removing your clothes.
  • If your body or clothes become dirty, you must clean them with cold or cool water.
  • The water used to make steam must not be thrown in the heater all in one go, but must be allowed to trickle around the stones in the heater. You cannot use cold water for making the steam – the water must be hot or at least lukewarm.
  • The steam from a smoke sauna is not sharp and hot, but very damp and long-lasting.
  • A dry threshing whisk is soaked in a separate bowl or a bucket filled with hot water, until the leaves of the whisk are soft. The whisk must not be placed into the heater, because the leaves can fall between the stones and release carbon monoxide into the room.
  • When rinsing with hot water in between several bouts of taking steam and threshing, the body becomes clean even without the use of modern washing facilities. You can ask the sauna’s owner about washing customs and about which washing facilities are customarily used.
  • Smoke saunas are usually not equipped with electricity. During darkness, oil lamps, candles and other sources of open flame are used. But one must be careful while using them!
  • The water (especially hot water) must be used sparingly, because it is usually not available in large quantities.
  • The sauna is a place for healing one’s body and mind, so no contentious or irritating stories are to be told in the sauna.
  • While threshing, it is good manners to offer thanks.
  • You do not thank the person who washes your back or gives you a massage, but offer him/her some kind of healing wishes in return.
  • After the sauna you must rest and refrain from work. A light meal is taken, and a small drop of alcohol may be consumed if you wish.

Every smoke sauna is a little different and sauna customs can vary from one family to the next, so it would be wise to ask for assistance and observe the local customs carefully.

Smoke saunas in tourist farms of historical Võromaa and Setomaa