The terms 'steam bath' and 'sauna' are sometimes confused with one another. Some people think these terms refer to the same thing. However, even though they both are hot baths, there is an essential difference. Saunas use dry heat, and a steam bath uses moist heat.
A sauna has very low humidity. It is usually much hotter than a steam bath, between 80 ° C and 100 ° C. It is safe because it is a dry heat. A steam bath stays at about 40 ° C. If it was any hotter, it could scald the skin.
Saunas are heated by stones placed on a heater – usually electric or wood-burning. Water is Poured periodically on the stones, producing a thick cloud of steam. This has the effect of raising the temperature by several degrees. The steam quickly dissipates.
Steam baths are heated by a steam generator. The steam is fed into an almost airtight room where it builds up to create a humidity level of nearly 100%.
The different type of heat determines the type of materials that each can be made of. Saunas are usually wood-lined with wooden benches for sitting. They are insulated to retain the heat, and have a vapor barrier to prevent moisture damage. Steam baths need to be made to contain the moisture created by the steam. Ceramic tile is the most common material used. The ceiling must be slanted to prevent the steam buildup from dripping 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 ease muscle tension and promote 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.
There are several points to keep in mind if you are thinking of installing either type of bath in your home. Generally speaking, saunas are easier to build and require less material and labor than a steam bath. You can buy yourself enclosed steam baths, however, which can be easily installed in any bathroom. These self-enclosed units greatly reduce construction and installation costs.
Both types can be installed in a small space. Pre-built saunas can be placed in a bedroom or basement and go 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 waterproof material such 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 the intake of fresh air.
Both types 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 only needs an occasional moving or vacuuming. The natural wood of the sauna can become stained over time but are easily removed with light sanding or washing the wood with an acidic solution.