How Sweat Lodges Work

Sweat Lodge Construction

Native American sweat ­lodges come in several different shapes. A lodge may be shaped like a traditional teepee, or it may be round or oval. Some sweat lodges are built by digging a hole in the earth and then covering the area with wooden planks or tree trunks.

­The heat inside the sweat lodge is generated from large rocks. The rocks are heated outside of the sweat lodge in a large fire. Before the sweat begins, several of the rocks are put inside the lodge. Additional rocks are added throughout the sweat to keep the temperature in the sweat lodge high. Temperatures are usually around 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius).


If the participants want a particularly hot lodge, water is added to the rocks to create more steam and heat. But water-logged rocks cool down more quickly than dry rocks, so they have to be replaced with new ones more often.

Most of time, the door of the sweat lodge faces the fire outside where the rocks are heated. In traditional sweat lodges, the building may be oriented to show appreciation for a nearby lake, mountain or the sky. Traditional sweat lodges may also have strict codes of conduct during their construction. Some sweat lodges are built in silence. In other cases, the builders may fast during the construction, or a person beats drums and chants.

A growing number of commercial sweat lodges are hitting the marketplace. These lodges don't usually resemble the sweat lodges of Native American culture. Instead, they're often added to spas and resorts. They usually are designed to fit in with the landscape and attempt to present a relatively authentic sweat lodge experience to the participants.

While the sweating experience at a commercial lodge may be satisfactory for some, most devotees prefer the traditional Native American sweat.