There is sometimes confusion between the terms ‘steam bath’ and ‘sauna.’ Many people think they refer to the same thing. Not so. Even though they both are hot baths, one uses dry heat while the other uses moist heat.
Health benefits include losing weight, cleansing the body of toxins, lowering cholesterol, relieving the symptoms of arthritis and treating respiratory problems like bronchitis and laryngitis. However, while both offer many health benefits there are some differences.
- Saunas have low humidity. This means it can be much hotter than a steam bath. Saunas are usually between 80°C and 100°C while a steam bath is usually 40°C. If the steam bath was any hotter, it could scald the skin, but the dry heat of the sauna is safe.
- Saunas are heated with stones placed on a heater — usually electric or wood-burning. From time to time, water is poured on the stones to produce a thick cloud of steam. This has the effect of raising the temperature in the sauna by several degrees.
- A steam bath on is heated by a steam generator. The steam is fed into the almost airtight room where it builds up to create humidity level of around 100%.
- The different type of heat determines the type of materials that each can be made of. Saunas are usually wood-lined and have wooden benches to sit on. They are insulated to retain the heat but there is no concern about moisture damage to the outside structure.
- Steam baths need to be made to contain the moisture created by the steam. They are usually finished in ceramic tile and the ceiling must be slanted so that the steam buildup does not drip from the ceiling onto the bathers.
Advantages / Disadvantages
Both Saunas and Steam Baths have therapeutic benefits. They are good for blood circulation and can cleanse and rejuvenate the skin through heavy perspiration. They are good for easing muscle tension and promoting feelings of relaxation and well-being.
Some people find the dry heat of the sauna to be uncomfortable to breathe. Those with respiratory problems like sinus congestion and asthma may prefer the moist heat of the steam bath. Steam inhalation is often used for treating bronchitis, sinusitis and allergies so people with these conditions may benefit from steam baths.
If you are thinking of installing either in your home, there are several considerations to keep in mind. Generally speaking, saunas are easier to build and require less material and labor than a steam bath. You can buy self-enclosed steam baths, however, which can be easily installed in any bathroom. These cut down on construction and installation costs.
Both types of bath can be installed in a small space. Pre-built saunas can be placed in a bedroom or basement and can be put together in less than half an hour. Steam bath enclosures are usually installed in a bathroom and require the services of a plumber to connect the steam generator.
If you plan on converting an existing bathroom into a steam bath, all the walls and ceilings of the bathroom must be finished with a material like ceramic tile to prevent moisture from escaping. The room has to be airtight with only a small opening at the bottom of the door to allow a fresh air intake.
Both saunas and steam baths require relatively little maintenance. The steam bath simply needs to be washed with a ceramic tile cleaner once a week or so, and the sauna can be vacuumed or swept out occasionally. The natural wood of the sauna can become stained after a while, but the stains can be removed with light sanding or by washing the wood with an acidic solution.