Do you know the difference between a steam shower and a sauna?
The terms “steam shower” and “sauna” are sometimes used interchangeably. The two systems are actually quite different from one another, both in the way they work and in the therapeutic benefits they provide.
Let's explore how steam showers and saunas differ from one another.
Steam Shower Generator vs. Sauna Heater
Steam showers and saunas differ in terms of where equipment is placed.
A steamroom or steam shower has a steam generator located outside the room; a sauna's heater is located inside. The generator infuses steam into the room as a rejuvenating mist that envelopes you. A sauna generates intense heat from a traditional rock-laden stove.
Saunas often provide water to pour over the rocks to increase the humidity in the sauna, however not to the extent of a steam room according to Livestrong.com in Sauna vs. Steam Room.
Some saunas generate heat via an infrared heating system.
Steam Shower vs. Sauna Temperature
The main difference between a sauna and a steam shower has to do with temperature and atmosphere:
- Steam showers are commonly maintained between 105°F and 115°F with roughly 100 percent humidity.
- Saunas operate at a much higher temperature, ranging between 160°F and 200°F with very little humidity (typically between 10 percent and 20 percent) according to HealthyLiving.azcentral.com in Sauna vs. Steam Room Health Benefits.
The difference in humidity levels is why sometimes people refer to steam showers as “wet” and saunas as “dry” forms of heat therapy.
Steam Shower vs. Sauna Materials
The inside of a steam room looks very different than that of a sauna. Saunas - as you can observe from the photo above - are traditionally constructed from kiln-dried wood (often cedar or spruce) that can withstand the much higher temperatures and lower humidity. LiveStrong.com elaborates,
"...Wood absorbs moisture, which not only keeps the surfaces cooler but also helps pull humidity out of the air."
Steamrooms, on the other hand, are constructed from ceramic tiles, glass blocks, or other waterproof, nonporous materials which are conducive to a moist environment.
More importantly, given today’s shrinking floor plans, a steam shower can easily be incorporated into an existing shower footprint (see Yes, You Can Have a Steam Shower in a Small Bathroom); whereas a sauna requires a separate, dedicated room and additional bathroom real estate.
Saunas and Steam Showers Deliver Health and Wellness Benefits
Both steam showers and saunas help ease muscle tension and relieve stress at the end of a chaotic day.
Likewise, both may improve circulation and, of course, promote sweating, which opens up the pores and cleanses the skin.
Both saunas and steam rooms offer similar emotional and physical relaxation benefits according to HealthyLiving.azcentral.com:
"Wet and dry heat simulate sedative effects that generate feelings of calmness and relaxation, and some people who suffer emotional or mood disorder may find relief with regular trips to saunas or steam rooms."
Both environments are conducive to muscle relaxation which can offer pain relief for muscular injuries such as those from overuse or exercise.
What's Different Between Steam and Sauna Benefits?
Since a sauna is dry, the natural process of evaporation can leave perspiration and toxins to dry on the skin. The moist environment of a steamroom keeps the body perspiring constantly with no chance for sweat to evaporate or to dry on the skin.
“Unlike the dry heat of most saunas, steam soothes the nasal passages and respiratory tract, relieves congestion and clears the sinuses, I have long recommended steamtherapy for its health benefits and use it frequently myself... It relaxes mind and body and neutralizes stress.”
Here's a perspective on steam vs. sauna which comes from comments on BlogTour Blogger Linda Holt's article titled Getting Steamy with Mr. Steam:
However, if you can’t tolerate hot humid environments, the sauna is a better alternative.
If you're concerned about dry skin, you'll prefer the steam shower. That's according to Sauna vs. Steam Room: Which is Better?
"The steam shower is great for people with dry skin, who might suffer in a dry sauna. If your only intention is to sweat as much as possible, then consider that some people believe that you sweat more in a dry sauna, so perhaps that would be the better choice."
For more insights on skincare, read How to Achieve Glowing Skin: 7 SteamTherapy Tips.
Or, read more about the benefits of steam showers in Resolve to Get Steamy in 2014 and 44 Delicious Benefits of Steam Bathing. And for steam bathing tips, read Steam Bathing 101: Seven Steps For an Effective Steam Bath.
Sauna Watchout: Stay Hydrated!
The dry heat of the sauna can lead to dehydration. So be sure to drink plenty of water before and after using a sauna.
For both steam shower and sauna, try limiting your bathing time to 10 to 15 minutes the first few times to get used to the experience.
If you have any health concerns, have high blood pressure or are pregnant, please be sure to talk to your healthcare provider to make sure using a steamroom or sauna is safe for you.
Steam Shower or Sauna: Which is Best for You?
Steam showers and saunas differ from several perspectives. In the end, the choice between the two - low-heat/high-moisture environment (steambath) and a high-heat/low-moisture enclosure (sauna) - is a matter of your personal preference and health needs.
Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments.