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What are the Differences Between a Sauna and a Steam Room?

Bronwyn Harris
Bronwyn Harris

Steam rooms and saunas have many similarities, as both involve heat and are used for relaxation. Both steam rooms and saunas can be built into a private home or are easily found in health clubs, gyms, and spas. Although most people know that steam rooms are humid and wet, and saunas are dry, there are many other differences between a sauna and a steam room.

First of all, a steam room has a steam generator located outside the room, where it is not seen from people using the steam room. A sauna's heater is located inside the sauna, whether it is a traditional sauna heater or an infrared heating system. While a steam room gets its heat by water being heated and injected into the room as steam, a sauna gets its heat in a different manner. A sauna's heater heats the air inside the sauna. The air is vented through intake and outlet vents.

Women using a sauna.
Women using a sauna.

The normal temperatures inside a sauna range from 120° to 150° F (49° to 66° C), while those inside a steam room are generally lower; under 130° F (54° C). Although the temperatures are lower in a steam room, the humidity is generally 100 percent, as opposed to a sauna, which keeps humidity at around 40 percent.

The inside of a sauna looks very different than that of a steam room. Saunas are traditionally wood which is untreated and sun-dried. Saunas do not have to be waterproof and usually have a distinctive, pleasant smell from the wood when it is heated. On the other hand, steam rooms are usually made from ceramic tiles, glass blocks, or other waterproof, nonporous materials which are smooth and hold up in a moist environment.

A woman in a sauna.
A woman in a sauna.

Since condensation can be a problem in a steam room, they often have sloped ceilings, to divert the condensation which could otherwise build up. Saunas, on the other hand, should be built with flat ceilings to keep the heat more evenly dispersed in the room. Because steam rooms are wet, a floor drain is needed, while saunas need no drain.

Whether you prefer a steam room to a sauna or vice versa, it is important to be safe, avoid dehydration, and stay in the sauna or steam room only as long as your body can handle it.

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Discussion Comments


Can a steam room and a sauna share the same space (as one room) even though there are many differences in what they do?

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    • Women using a sauna.
      Women using a sauna.
    • A woman in a sauna.
      By: omicron
      A woman in a sauna.