Beyond soaking in a natural hot spring, it’s difficult to imagine a more grounding and soothing outdoor experience than enjoying a cedar hot tub full of steaming hot water, feeling the crisp air around you with nothing but the sound of a crackling fire and scent of cedar in the background (admittedly, an outdoor sauna experience is pretty nice too). Investing in a wood fired hot tub is an ideal way to make your space feel like a personal sanctuary while getting back to basics.
Simple and timeless with an elemental design, the wood fired hot tub has a rich history of wellness for the mind, body, and soul, and is still a way that many people reconnect to both themselves and nature today. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain the background history of wood fired hot tubs, how they work, and how to pick the perfect one for your own oasis, be it a mountain cabin, coastal surf shack, desert oasis, or even simply a suburban backyard.
Ready to take the plunge? Read on to learn more about wood fired hot tubs (Spoiler: scroll to the bottom to find our top 8 picks for the best wood fired hot tubs you can buy right now).
What is a Wood Fired Hot Tub?
A wood fired hot tub is a soaking tub that uses a wood-burning stove rather than an electric heater to heat either fresh or saltwater. They typically have a circular or barrel shape, although they can also be rectangular, and are most often made from cedar wood. The modern American version that we know of today was inspired by the traditional Japanese ofuros—deep soaking tubs crafted from hinoki cypress wood that were intended to be a place of deep spiritual, mental, and physical restoration that cleansed more than just your pores. Since there is no electricity, no jets or lights, the wood fired hot tub is a quiet and aromatic experience.
A classic wood fired hot tub is made with a barrel-and-hoop design, with a series of vertical cedar staves placed tightly together in a barrel shape and secured by stainless steel hoops. More modern shapes, like the rectangular Goodland hot tub, offer more room to strech out. Regardless, with a naturally durable and decay-resistant material like cedar and some basic care, it’s not uncommon for wood fired hot tubs to last for as long as 20 years, which means it’s a far more sustainable option than its acrylic counterpart.
How Does a Wood Fired Hot Tub Work?
The back-to-basics design of a wood fired hot tub means that there is no electricity or electric hookups that heat the water. Instead, things get nice and steamy (104-105 degrees fahrenheit) thanks to a wood fired stove. There are two different kinds of stoves that power a wood fired hot tub: a submersible stove and an external stove.
A metal or wooden hot tub with a submersible stove features a hot tub heater made from a durable marine grade aluminum that resists corrosion, and surprise, is submersed in the hot tub. An underwater stove might sound oxymoronic, but what makes it work are the above-water stove pipe, chimney, and stove door that allow you to build a fire and control air intake, thus controlling the temperature. Hot tubbers and the stove are safely kept apart by a built-in wooden fence.
A hot tub with an external stove features a stove that sits outside of the hot tub that’s connected to the tub by two hoses. One pulls cooler water in to heat the water, while the other pushes the hot water out and into the hot tub, so water is constantly circulating, this process is known as thermosiphoning. In freezing temperatures, the hoses need to be drained, however, an external heater does provide more space inside the hot tub, whereas a submersible stove takes up about as much room as one more person in your hot tub party.
Overall, submersible stoves are often considered the best choice because they heat water twice as fast (which may still be a couple hours) as an external stove by making the transfer of heat more efficient. Just make sure you’ve got plenty of kindling and well-seasoned split firewood ready to go for your soak.
How Long does a Wood Fired Hot Tub Take to Heat?
To bring your wood fired hot tub water temperature to 105° F expect a period of three to four hours, depending on the size of your hot tub and the heating method, as described above. A smaller ~350 gallon tub may take as little as 2.5 hours, whereas a larger tub two to three times the size will, surprise, take to to three times the time to heat.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy soaking solution, a traditional electric tub is likely a better route (many cedar hot tub manufacturers, as shown below, also offer electric iterations). If you enjoy the process of building a fire and keeping it stoked while anticipating the eventual soak, then a wood fired tub is for you. In other words, it’s about “the process.”
Saltwater vs Fresh Water in Hot Tubs
When it comes to choosing saltwater or freshwater for your wood fired hot tub, it’s really a matter of personal preference. Saltwater is inherently more gentle on sensitive skin and naturally relieves inflammation, so it has therapeutic benefits that go beyond just soaking. Instead of adding the typical amount of chlorine to the water, you can purchase a sanitizing saltwater system that enhances the saltwater’s natural ability to create chlorine and purify the water.
On the other hand, freshwater hot tubs that require you to add chlorine may be a little harsher on the skin and eyes, but it will kill off more viruses and bacteria that build up overtime. Alternatively, you can forgo chlorine altogether, which means you’ll have to drain the water after 2-3 uses, wipe down the inside of the tub with a mild water/bleach solution, and refill it again for next time. Overall, that’s a lot of wasted water and not a very sustainable option.
What is the Best Type of Wood for a Wood Fired Hot Tub?
Cedar reigns supreme as the best type of fuel for a wood fired hot tub due to its high tannin content, which makes it naturally waterproof and prevents decay and wood rot. However, some brands successfully use wood like spruce to construct their tubs, but there are two kinds of cedar in particular coming in at the top of the list.
Alaskan yellow cedar has a beautifully clear and smooth grain that rarely has knots and a pale yellow color that gives it a natural look. It’s not only durable wood, but it’s ideal for wet conditions (like being totally submerged with water for example) because of its ability to resist rot and warping.
Western red cedar is by and large the most popular choice for a wood hot tub. It has the same durability and toughness as Alaskan yellow cedar, in addition to the rot resistance just with a more budget-friendly cost. Plus, its earthy, reddish hue stands out while blending in with its natural surroundings. Pro tip: Stain the outside of the tub—never the inside—to preserve the wood’s colorations and prevent it from turning grey.
Teak deserves an honorable mention because it’s also a hearty wood when it comes to water contact and can have an attractive weathered look after being exposed to the elements that’s also easy to be restored to its original state. The kicker? Teak is quite expensive, but worth the splurge.
Cold Plunge Pools and Ice Baths
After enjoying the hot tub, many bathers will quickly cool themselves down by getting into a cold plunge pool or ice bath that is around 44-54 degrees Fahrenheit. What the heat does to encourage blood flow all throughout the body, the cold water immersion does to restrict circulation so it goes directly to the internal organs and reduces inflammation. These cold plunge pools and ice baths are popularly used in tandem with hot tubs or saunas for the ultimate therapy pool experience. Cold plunge pools require a programmable thermostat to keep the temperature cold enough. B2B Cabins and Outdoors offers a well-designed cold plunge pool with a wooden surface for a natural look.
7 of the Best Wood Fired Hot Tub Makers Available in North America
Every hot tubber and every landscape may demand something different. It's up to you to decide which design speak to you. For us, the following are our top picks for the best wood fired hot tubs, from traditional to truly unique. Enjoy!
Forest Cooperage crafts barrel hot tubs that can be powered by wood stoves or electric heaters, and traditional Japanese ofuros that also double as an ice bath. The tubs start at $2,199 USD with additional accessories available for purchase, and ofuros starting at $2,799 for a two-person soaking tub. Prices may vary due to the fluctuating cost of lumber.
This Canadian brand prides itself on using locally-sourced materials and sustainable Western red cedar to make its rectangular soaking tub. For the price of $5,975, you’ll get both a two-person (with room for a kiddo or two, too) wooden tub and the submersible wood fired stove. Easy to move and assemble, Goodland promises a simple ten-minute setup.
Handcrafted in BC, Canada with over 20 years experience, AlumiTubs specializes in wood fired cedar hot tubs built to last a lifetime—and guaranteed to never leak. The marine grade aluminum foundation makes it compatible for saltwater use, arrives preassembled, is easy to maintain, and offers superior heat properties compared to wooden tubs. Each material is locally sourced and 100% recyclable. Tubs are available in two sizes: 4-5 person tub and 6-8 person tub, with prices starting at $4,471 USD.
Get the full therapy pool treatment with BZB’s wood fired hot tub and cold plunge pool kits, made individually in Estonia (a leading country in prefab architecture). Both arrive onsite already assembled. The hot tub goes for $3,875 while the wood cold plunge pool is currently on sale for $1,950.
This Pacific Northwest company gets bragging rights as one of the key companies responsible for putting wood fired hot tubs on the map for Westerners. Since 1979, it has been making submersible wood fired stoves and barrel cedar hot tubs that are still popular with bathers today. Tubs and stoves are available for purchase together and separately. A tub and stove starts at $5,265.