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Sauna vs. Steam Room: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on March 6, 2024
A sauna uses dry heat with low humidity, while a steam room uses moist heat with high humidity.

Key Differences

Saunas and steam rooms are popular methods for relaxation and detoxification, but they offer distinct experiences due to differences in heat and humidity. A sauna, traditionally originating from Finland, utilizes dry heat with very low humidity, typically generated through electric heaters or wood-burning stoves. In contrast, a steam room generates moist heat with very high humidity, often near 100%. The heat in a steam room is lower than that of a sauna, usually not exceeding 48°C (118°F). This humid environment is created by boiling water to produce steam, filling the room with moist heat.
Both saunas and steam rooms are used for relaxation and health benefits, the choice between the two often comes down to personal preference regarding heat and humidity. Some individuals prefer the dry heat of a sauna, finding it more comfortable and easier to breathe, while others prefer the moist heat of a steam room for its perceived benefits to the skin and respiratory system.
The construction of saunas and steam rooms also differs to accommodate their respective climates. Saunas are typically lined with wood, which doesn't absorb the heat, providing a dry and hot environment. Steam rooms, however, are usually constructed with non-porous materials, such as tile or plastic, to handle the high humidity and to ensure the room remains waterproof.
Choosing between a sauna and a steam room may depend on individual health concerns, personal comfort with high temperatures, and the specific benefits one is seeking. Both offer a therapeutic environment intended to promote relaxation, ease muscle tension, and support overall wellness, but their differing atmospheres cater to varied preferences and therapeutic needs.

Comparison Chart

Heat Type


Humidity Level

Low (10-20%)
High (nearly 100%)


Higher (70°C to 100°C)
Lower (up to 48°C)


Typically wood
Non-porous materials like tile or plastic

Health Benefits

Improves circulation, muscle relaxation
Helps with respiratory issues, skin hydration

Sauna and Steam Room Definitions


Enclosed space with dry heat.
After skiing, they relaxed in the lodge's sauna.

Steam Room

Enclosed space with moist heat.
She prefers the steam room for its humid environment.


Used for relaxation and detoxification.
He uses the sauna weekly as part of his wellness routine.

Steam Room

Beneficial for respiratory conditions.
His doctor recommended the steam room for sinus relief.


Heated by wood-burning or electric stove.
The sauna's stove had to be turned on an hour before use.

Steam Room

Constructed with waterproof materials.
The tiles in the steam room were chosen for their moisture resistance.


Originates from Finland.
Saunas are an essential part of Finnish culture.

Steam Room

Uses steam to generate heat.
The steam room was filled with a thick fog.


Low humidity environment.
The dry air in the sauna makes it easier for him to breathe.

Steam Room

High humidity levels.
The steam room's humidity is great for her skin.


A small room or structure that provides dry heat or steam for bathing or refreshing the body.


What is a sauna?

A sauna is a room designed to provide dry heat, with low humidity, used for relaxation and health benefits.

What is a steam room?

A steam room is an enclosed space offering high humidity through steam, used for relaxation and health benefits.

Can I use a sauna or steam room for respiratory issues?

Steam rooms are particularly beneficial for respiratory conditions due to their high humidity.

Which is hotter, a sauna or a steam room?

Saunas typically operate at higher temperatures than steam rooms.

Can I use a sauna if I have heart problems?

Individuals with heart problems should consult a doctor before using a sauna.

Is a sauna or steam room better for skin hydration?

The high humidity in steam rooms makes them better for skin hydration.

Can children use saunas or steam rooms?

Supervision and shorter durations are recommended for children.

Can using a sauna improve cardiovascular health?

Regular sauna use has been linked to various cardiovascular benefits, including reduced blood pressure.

How long should I stay in a sauna or steam room?

Staying 15-20 minutes in either is recommended, but personal comfort and health should guide duration.

Are saunas safe for pregnant women?

Pregnant women should seek medical advice before using a sauna.

What should I wear in a sauna or steam room?

Lightweight clothing or swimsuits are common, but policies vary by facility.

Can saunas help with weight loss?

Saunas may aid in water weight loss through sweating but should not replace regular exercise and a healthy diet.

Are there any risks associated with steam rooms?

Overuse or inadequate hydration can lead to overheating or dehydration; cleanliness is also crucial to prevent bacterial growth.

How do I get the most benefit from a sauna or steam room?

Stay hydrated, limit sessions to 15-20 minutes, and cool down gradually afterward.

Is it better to use a sauna before or after exercise?

Using a sauna after exercise can help with muscle relaxation and recovery.

How often can I safely use a steam room?

Regular use is safe for most people, but daily sessions should be monitored for hydration and overall health.

What are the benefits of alternating between a sauna and a cold plunge?

Alternating between hot and cold can stimulate circulation and enhance recovery.

Can I use a steam room to relieve a cold?

Yes, the humidity can help alleviate congestion.

How does the humidity in a steam room affect the body?

High humidity can help open airways and hydrate the skin.

What maintenance does a sauna require?

Saunas require regular cleaning and ventilation to remove sweat residues and maintain wood.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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