Saunas vs. Steam Rooms

Whether you’re looking to pamper yourself at the spa or curious about your gym’s facilities, it might get you wondering—what’s the difference between a sauna and steam room?

Both saunas and steam rooms use heat to promote health, and they share several characteristics. However, there are some notable differences, and we’ll also cover those as we compare saunas vs. steam rooms.

What Is a Sauna?

A sauna is a room that uses dry heat between 160 – 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Saunas have a range of benefits, from helping to relax sore muscles after a workout to improving circulation. Infrared saunas are usually even colder, because they use infrared light to heat the body.

The most common ways to heat a sauna include:

  • Electric heater
  • Infrared
  • Hot rocks
  • Stove

Furthermore, wood paneling surrounds the room to help it maintain a hot temperature. 

What Is a Steam Room?

A steam room is a cooler and more humid version of a sauna. The room stays between 110 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and, in most cases, a water-filled generator creates steam, trapping it in a room to ensure the humidity level remains 100%.

Like saunas, steam rooms offer a range of health benefits. However, steam rooms might be even healthier than saunas because of the humidity that steam rooms contain.

Similarities Between Saunas and Steam Rooms

Saunas and steam rooms share many similarities. They include:

  • Sitting in an enclosed room 
  • Use heat to offer health benefits
  • Found at many spas and gyms
  • You can create makeshift saunas and steam rooms at home

Steam rooms and saunas are both enclosed spaces that many spas offer for relaxation, and gyms offer to help people soothe their muscles after a workout. 

Although nothing compares to the experience of visiting a real sauna or steam room, you can create either of these at home. 

For a steam room, simply turn on the shower and run the water as hot as you can, keeping your door closed. To create a sauna at home, turn on a space heater on high and sit with it in a small, enclosed space.

As for health benefits, research shows that saunas and steam rooms can benefit people in several ways. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones.

Strengthen Heart Health

Scientists believe that frequent visits to the sauna may improve cardiovascular health. Saunas do this by reducing the chances of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. These findings likely don’t surprise people from Finland, who’ve been using saunas for thousands of years.

Furthermore, another study found that steam vapor in conjunction with heat may improve blood flow in older people. So, it suggests that steam rooms can have a positive impact on heart health.

Reduce Muscle Pain

It’s a common belief that saunas and steam rooms can alleviate muscle pain, and scientific findings back this up. During high-intensity exercise, Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage (EIMD) can occur. The result is painful cramps, muscle strain, and soreness in the hours or days after a workout.

However, people who used saunas after working out had a notable reduction in sensory impairment and better muscle function. Steam rooms also work similarly, offering faster muscle recovery and fewer cases of delayed muscle soreness after exercise.

Improve Circulation

The reason saunas and steam rooms improve circulation is because cutaneous circulation speeds up to stop the body from overheating. According to one study, a typical sauna session has the same circulatory benefits as moderate to vigorous walking.

The same study says that as long as you don’t have any predispositions to cardiac complications, the risk of this increased cardiac workload to achieve improved cutaneous circulation is minimal. 

Burns Calories

That’s right—you don’t need to spend hours on the treadmill to burn some extra calories. Instead, both saunas and steam rooms increase heart rate.

Furthermore, if you hop in a steam room or sauna shortly after a high-intensity aerobic workout, the heat can help keep your heart rate elevated for even longer. As a result, although sweating from steam rooms and saunas won’t cause you to lose weight fast since you’ll re-gain the weight when you drink water, they’re a tool to help with longer-term weight loss goals.

Differences Between Saunas and Steam Rooms

Despite their many similarities, there are some notable differences when comparing saunas vs. steam rooms. They include:

  • Steam rooms are more humid
  • Saunas have a higher temperature
  • They use different sources of heat
  • Steam rooms offer added health benefits
  • You can stay in saunas longer

Although steam rooms are cooler than saunas, you’ll likely feel hotter in a steam room than in a sauna. The reason is that a steam room’s humidity makes it feel hotter than its temperature.

Therefore, to create a steam room, you must have water involved with a heat source. In contrast, saunas use dry heat, allowing the room to get hotter temperature-wise without making it feel unbearable.

You already know that steam rooms and saunas share many health benefits. However, other benefits you may receive by using a steam room instead of a sauna are as follows.

Improves Skin Health

We all want radiant, glowing skin, and steam rooms can help you achieve that. Although the heat from both saunas and steam rooms opens up pores to help release toxins, steam rooms take this a step further because the condensation that builds up on your skin removes dirt and dead skin cells.

The result is clearer skin with a more even tone. Steam rooms also help reduce the chances of a breakout. 

Reduces Congestion

In the past, it was common practice for people with congestion to sit in their bathroom with the hot water running to alleviate it in a process called steam inhalation. While doctors now warn against potential dangers from doing this incorrectly, if you use steam rooms correctly, they can help clear up congestion you may have.

The reason for this is that warm, moist air is effective at loosening up mucus. Therefore, it helps remove this pesky substance in the nasal passages, throat, and lungs, helping to improve respiration.

How to Prepare Before Entering a Sauna or Steam Room

Now that you have a better idea of saunas vs. steam rooms, it’s important to prepare for whichever one you choose. The good news is that the recommendations for both saunas and steam rooms are similar.

Stay Hydrated

You should only enter a sauna or steam room when you’re well hydrated. Furthermore, we recommend carrying water in the room with you in case you start feeling queasy.

Avoid Alcohol

It’s common knowledge that alcohol can dehydrate the body, and that’s what you want to avoid when using a sauna or steam room. Therefore, you shouldn’t have any alcohol in your system when you enter either of these facilities.

Be Mindful of Your Health

Although we’ve already talked about the potential benefits that steam rooms can have for congestion, you should never enter a public steam room or sauna when you’re sick. The temperatures aren’t high enough to kill viruses and bacteria, so the risk is high of spreading your illness to others.

Furthermore, you should avoid saunas and steam rooms if you have a bacterial skin infection. Heat—especially when paired with moisture—is a prime environment for augmenting your issue and spreading it to others.

How Long Should I Stay in a Steam Room or Sauna?

When figuring out how long to stay in a steam room or sauna, less is more.

However, of the two, it’s safer to spend a longer amount of time in a sauna than in a steam room. As a general rule, it’s okay to spend 15 – 20 minutes in a sauna. In contrast, you should only spend 10 – 15 minutes in a steam room, with some people only spending five minutes.

The side effects of staying in a steam room or sauna are significant and troubling. Some common signs that you’ve spent too long include:

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in chest

Accounting for Pre-existing Conditions

People with pre-existing conditions need to be especially careful when using a steam room or sauna. We recommend speaking with your doctor before doing so if you have any of the following ailments:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • History of a stroke
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart rhythm issues

Finally, we encourage you to listen to your body. No matter how great your health is, there’s still the chance that you’ll struggle with spending time in a sauna or steam room. 

Therefore, it’s best to start with as little as a couple of minutes at a time and gradually work your way up to more time as your body adjusts.

The Bottom Line

When comparing saunas vs. steam rooms, both offer numerous benefits. Although steam rooms may have extra benefits because of their moisture content, the reality is that your body will flourish from either.

As long as you don’t stay too long in a steam room or sauna, listen to your body’s comfort level, and follow the instructions at the facility you’re using, you can expect to have a safe experience.

Related content. Learn more about highly rated infrared saunas here. We also have some great travel steam saunas here.

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