With the increasing popularity in home saunas, many people have begun researching all the details, and one common question that comes up is “What’s the difference between dry saunas and steam saunas?”
The end result of dry saunas or steam rooms is much the same: both make you hot, induce sweating, and increase your heart rate & blood flow. Both offer a wide range of therapeutic benefits, including relief of muscle soreness and tension, reducing inflammation, promoting relaxation, and increasing general well-being.
The obvious difference between the two is dry vs. wet.
…But there are some differences to discuss and things to consider that may make one – steam room or sauna – better for your personal situation.
Sauna & Steam Room Differences
First off, let’s cover some of the factors that make steam rooms and saunas different…
Saunas generate a dry heat, from an electric or wood burning heater, which in turn heat rocks that hold and dissipate that heat into the room. If it’s too dry, you can add some humidity by pouring water over the hot rocks, creating steam that spreads through the air in the sauna, but that is only temporary, as fresh air is vented in to keep the sauna air humidity low. (An efficient sauna ventilation system will exchange the air 3 to 8 times in an hour)
Whereas, steam rooms are heated by a steam generating machine…this steam generator boils water, creating a continuous release of steam into the room. Unlike saunas that vent in fresh air, steam rooms are airtight, allowing the steam to build up the moisture in the steam room to 100% humidity.
Because your body can tolerate higher temperatures at lower humidity, saunas will be hotter than steam rooms. The typical sauna will be heated to a range of 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity of 5 to 30%.
A steam room’s temperature will be somewhere more in the range of 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. But, because the humidity is close to 100%, your sweat won’t evaporate, causing you to feel much hotter.
In both saunas AND steam rooms, the higher you sit, the hotter the temperature will be, as the heat rises to the top of the room.
Interior Materials Used
Interiors of saunas are comprised almost completely of wood, partly because it won’t burn you at temperatures near 200 degrees, but mainly because it is a material that will absorb humidity from the air, helping keep the sauna room dry so those higher temperatures can be reached. Woods used are typically Spruce, Pine, or Cedar, all hardwoods that can be found in Nordic countries, where the sauna originated.
Because the humidity in steam rooms needs to be high, materials that don’t absorb moisture are used, such as glass, tile, & plastic.
Sauna or Steam Room – Which Is Better For You?
If you want a higher temperature, saunas with their dry heat, will allow you to crank the temperature up much higher and still be bearable.
If you suffer from arthritis or joint pain, you may find that a steam room’s higher humidity causes your condition to flare up, so a sauna may be the better choice.
In contrast, if you have respiratory issues, like Asthma, the dry heat of a sauna can induce coughing or breathing discomfort, so a steam room could be the better choice for you. The high humidity of a steam room could be quite soothing for your respiratory system, can relieve congestion, and provide relief from sinusitis.
If you have skin conditions, such as eczema, the dryness of a sauna can irritate your skin, so the humidity of a steam room could work better for you.
However, if you have oily skin, you may find the dryness of a sauna to be better.
Maintenance & Cleaning
With the constant moisture and high humidity, a steam room will require more work to keep clean and sterile.
But a sauna is not without its own maintenance requirements. You’ll need to stain and seal the wood every 6 to 12 months with a protective heat resistant oil or sealant.
Be prepared for the warm & dry conditions of a sauna to attract some critters like mice or cockroaches that are looking for a warm & dry place to live.
What Are Your Goals?
While both saunas and steam rooms will increase circulation to the skin’s surface and induce sweating, if your intention is to sweat as much as possible, the dry sauna is the choice for you, as the low humidity and higher temperatures will allow your body’s sweat to evaporate more and faster.
In general, because of the higher temperature, a sauna will provide the most effects (if it fits your health conditions and circumstances), elevating your mood, reducing muscle soreness and stiffness, reducing inflammation, and detoxing.
If time is a consideration, you’ll raise the body temperature higher and faster in a dry sauna.
If you want one in your own home, regarding ease of construction, the sauna is easier and cheaper to build, requiring less labor and material than a steam room.
Q: Can Steam Rooms Or Saunas Help with Weight Loss?
A: It’s a common myth that time spent in a steam room or sauna leads to weight loss. You very likely will lose weight from a session in the steam room or sauna, but it’s almost entirely water weight lost from sweating, which will be regained as your body retains water later on.
You’ll also increase metabolism from time in a sauna, because the heat increases your heart rate, which in turn burns more calories and increases metabolism, but it won’t be enough to lead to weight loss by itself…However, with that said, adding sauna time into a fitness routine can definitely help you in achieving that weight loss goal.
Sauna Safety Tips:
Limit sessions to 15 to 20 minutes. Avoid alcohol use. Exit the sauna if you feel light-headed, unwell, or stop sweating. Consult your doctor before use if you have a health or heart condition, are pregnant, or are on medication.