Although a sauna can become a ‘wet sauna’ by sprinkling water on the rocks, humidity is quite low in a traditional sauna, under 30%. Humidity is much higher in a steam room. Modern electric sauna heaters like a Saunum Air and Harvia Virta Combi have the option to create saunas that are closer to steam rooms.
What is a Sauna?
A sauna is a room made of wood – usually spruce or pine – with benches made of spruce, aspen or obeche. In the old days, wood fires heated saunas but now modern technology has replaced the heat source with electric or infrared heaters.
The temperature inside saunas is usually optimal a hot 176 to 194 degrees Fahrenheit but the temperature range is between 158 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the air is so warm, the heat transfers to a colder object in the room – namely the human. This warms the body at the level of the skin and lower.
A Sauna Can Be Both Dry and Wet
Saunas can be wet or dry. For example, by throwing water onto hot rocks in the dry sauna, the humidity will go up. In a wet sauna, it’s difficult for sweat to evaporate; thus it’s a bit harder on the heart – but still there are heart benefits.
What are the Health Benefits of Saunas and Steam Rooms
The fact that saunas benefit people goes back decades. That’s why the Finnish people have continued their sauna practices all these years. The Finnish sauna starts out dry but once water is poured over the hot rocks, it becomes a steam sauna, albeit for a few minutes. Then after the steam dissipates, it becomes a dry sauna again.
It’s not only the Finns that love saunas and steam rooms. The Japanese, Chinese, Americans, integrative health practitioners, and others worldwide swear that the benefit of a sauna and steam rooms is well worth it.
Some of these dry heat / dry sauna benefits include:
• reduced chance of dying by 24% for all possible causes of death (in those who took saunas 2 or 3 times a week).
• reduced chance of dying from heart attack/other heart related causes by 27% in men sauna 2-3 times a week compared to men that didn’t use it at all
• a decrease in deaths from heart attack by 50% in men who used the sauna 4 to 7 times per week
• a 66% lowered chance of developing dementia when using the sauna 2-3 times a week compared to those who only used it once a week
• >75% less chance of developing psychotic disorders
In short, the benefits sauna mean you may actually stay alive and well at a much higher level of wellness than if you didn’t use a sauna – dry or steam – at all. For more sauna benefits, check out our guide here.
Risks of a Sauna – Steam Burns
As far as the risks go, there are very few reported issues from saunas. One goes all the way back to 2005 in the Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine where two children died from inhaling superheated steam in a closed room (like steam rooms).
The autopsy showed there was a lot of congestion in the lungs and trachea of the children, which cut off their oxygen levels in the small closed space of a sauna. This came from the steam. They could not tell if this affected the heart rate of the children. The location of this unfortunate situation was in South Africa, possibly because people there weren’t as informed about how children should successfully use steam saunas, as opposed to Finland where all parents are aware of the guidelines for steam saunas.
Other risks are usually associated with decisions to go into steam rooms while drinking or intoxicated. The alcohol prevents smart decisions from being made during the sauna session such as when to get out before it’s too late. Some people passed away in the sauna because the combination of the sauna temperatures and the alcohol suppressing body functions.
Where to Find a Dry Sauna and Steam Rooms Sauna
Because a dry or wet / steam sauna deserves a complete setup that is stationery, such as at a gym or complete bath setup location that may even involve cold pools, those who use saunas usually visit saunas instead of make their own at home from scratch in a home building project.
However, now with modern technology, it’s quite practical to have one inside your home for a one-time cost that saves you travel time and any embarrassment or dealing with others at a location. Plus, if you ever end up purchasing a luxury home, one that is $500K or more expensive, you may find they already contain a traditional sauna room or saunas and steam rooms. Some may even have baths or pools for cold water for after you sauna.
What is a Steam Room? What are the Benefits of a Steam Room?
A steam room is a room that is between 110 and 114 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity of 100%. The steam is pumped into the room via generator pumps. The air is exceptionally moist and there’s no evaporation occurring on your skin, which means only a towel will wipe off the sweat.
You can feel a sense of relaxation occurring in a steam room and any aching joints will definitely feel better.
Like a dry sauna, a wet steam room with moist heat will improve circulation in the body. Any time there is increased circulation, you’ll get greater levels of oxygen delivered to the body tissues. And with more oxygen in the tissues, the cells of every organ can heal themselves. Oxygen is the primary food of every cell.
It’s the increase of temperature – dry heat or moist heat from steam rooms that raises the heart rate, ends up dropping the blood pressure, and sends a wave of relaxation and reduced stress throughout your body. Both a steam room and a dry/wet sauna offer health benefits.
Which Improves Endurance Better – Sauna vs Steam Room?
In studies on athletes, either sauna or steam room sessions have been found to help improve endurance. In fact, distance runners will always note that it’s the feeling of exhaustion that interferes with their performance. Many athletes are always looking for something that will make a difference in their performance.
With a sauna, runners condition their body to keep on running even when exhausted. It improves their performance about 32 percent. This happens because the conditioning works on the core body temperature regulation centers. When you have better control over these, you can endure much longer without worrying about overheating.
Which is Better for Weight Loss – Dry Sauna vs Steam Room?
Actually, neither a dry sauna or a steam room will help you lose weight in the long term. That is, weight from burning fat. Yes, you’ll lose water weight from sweating, but this will be replaced in the next few days so your weight pretty much remains stable. A sauna and steam rooms will not burn fat.
What is a Turkish Hammam?
A Turkish Hammam is a true experience, especially in Turkey. You could even call it an adventure. Sometimes the word hammam is spelled hamam.
The hammam is for socializing as well as to receive health benefits so going to a hammam is best done with friends. The friends you bring with you are of the same sex. The steam rooms are not coed. If you visit a hammam in the Middle East, you’ll find the dry sauna rooms (or steam rooms) are beautiful, sometimes with 20- or 30-foot ceilings.
Your treatment starts with a dry sauna where you sweat for about 20 minutes. Then the aides will wash you with buckets of water and skin brush you to open up the pores even more. A lot of dead skin cells will come off via skin brushing and you’ll see them bead up on your skin. Next bubbles are pored on top of you with the bubbles. Then buckets of water are pored on top of you again to rinse you off and you are finished. Hamams have continued their tradition for thousands of years.
A hammam may also offer a wet steam bath session in steam rooms, followed by exfoliation and massage. Whether wet or dry heat, you will feel better from the increased circulation coming to your skin and joints. You’ll feel a reduction in pain levels, and your skin will feel as if it is breathing for the first time in a while.
So if you’re traveling and want to make a difference in how relaxed you feel on your vacation, do dig up a hammam to visit.
Conclusion: Is a Sauna or Steam Room Right for You?
You may be wondering whether or not anyone ever did some research into the question of whether a dry sauna or steam room offers better health benefits. A researcher team from Poland university and hospital combined resources to find the answer to this question, testing it with 10 healthy men between the ages of 25 and 28. The men first had a dry sauna bath and were tested, and then one month later, had a steam sauna bath and were tested.
Each time they used either the dry sauna or wet steam sauna, they spent 15 minutes in the sauna three times with a five-minute break in between the sauna time. They used a cold shower during the break and rested while sitting. This is a standard protocol for how long you should stay in a sauna or steam room.
For more on how long to stay in the sauna, check out our guide here.
The men lost more water weight with the dry sauna (0.72 kg compared to 0.3kg). Their internal body temperature and heart rate were higher in the wet sauna bath (39% and 21% respectively), and both saunas elevated systolic blood pressure. Diastolic blood pressure reduced as well. They said they felt more comfortable with the heat in the wet sauna bath. Thus, the wet sauna was a bit more stressful for them than the dry sauna even though the temperature is higher and there’s lower humidity with the dry sauna.
Thus, choosing one for yourself is really a matter of preference, and preference comes from testing out each one; and then making a decision. Whichever you choose, you will see a difference in your life.
Bhootra, B.L. and Klitinya, J. Deaths from accidental steam inhalation during traditional therapy. J Clin Forensic Med 2005 Aug;12(4):214-7.
Pilch, W., et al. Comparison of physiological reactions and physiological strain in healthy men under heat stress in dry and steam heat saunas. Biol Sport 2014 Jun;31(2):145-9.