Being too hot can feel kinda miz: sweating, red face, and feeling like your skin might melt or dry up any second. Yet people *love* saunas and steam rooms. And it turns out, the sweltering chambers might have some legit health benefits, says Dr. Chiti Parikh, co-director of the integrative health and wellbeing program at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.
But when it comes to saunas versus steam rooms, is one better than the other for your overall wellness? And how do you choose the one that’s best for you? First, let’s get into all the sweaty details.
Saunas are considered to be one of the better luxuries of life. There are but a few other things that can compare to the feeling of indulging in a relaxing and rejuvenating session in the sauna bath, especially after a long and stressful week of work—this is one of the main reasons why many people have saunas installed in their homes. If you’re also considering getting a home sauna, one thing you need to decide about is whether to get a steam sauna or an infrared sauna. But what is the difference between an infrared vs. steam sauna, and is one necessarily better than the other?
Saunas can be pretty expensive, but this is one investment that is sure to provide great returns in terms of your physical and mental health. It can also help increase your home’s value should you decide to put it on the market. But before making that purchase, you first need to do your research to ensure that you’re getting a suitable sauna for you and your needs. To help you decide and make a more informed purchasing decision, let’s take a look at the differences between an infrared vs. traditional sauna, as well as some of their features and benefits.
It may be difficult to discern the differences between an infrared sauna vs. steam room when deciding which option is best for your specific needs. To help you better understand how infrared saunas and steam rooms compare, it’s important to gain a general understanding of the mechanics and individual benefits of both.
An infrared sauna is a wood-based room that heats the user directly with infrared rays that penetrate the body. A steam room is an airtight room of non-porous material that heats the environment with a steam generator. Infrared saunas produce dry heat, whereas steam rooms create moist heat.
Both infrared saunas and steam rooms boast plenty of therapeutic and wellness benefits such as detoxification, relaxation and weight loss, among others. However, their benefits differ due to their unique heating methods. Here’s all the information you need to decide which makes sense for you.
What Is A Sauna?
Put simply, ‘sauna’ describes any heating system intended to create profuse sweating.
Saunas are thought to have originated in Finland around 7000bc. The earliest known sauna structures were dug into the earth and lined with stone.
Modern saunas are typically timber-framed rooms heated with hot stones, wood stoves, hot embers, or electricity. They can be indoors or outdoors.
There are many different types available, from traditional steam saunas and steam rooms heated with hot stones to the latest state-of-the-art infrared therapy saunas.
Today’s high-tech saunas can feature sound systems, Bluetooth® capability and mood lighting. Then there are all the finishing touches, like colour and timber choices.
Saunas use dry heat. They’re typically heated between 180°F and 195°F with very low humidity, heated by wood, gas, electric, or infrared technology (a.k.a., using light to create heat).
The Infrared Sauna – What Is It?
An infrared sauna is a wood-based room that warms the body through infrared rays instead of extremely high temperatures or moisture. These infrared rays, which are similar to the rays our bodies give off naturally, penetrate deep into the body (approximately 1 ½ inch) and heat the body directly.
Because the infrared rays are warming from within, these saunas typically operate between 115-130 degrees Fahrenheit, much lower than traditional saunas that operate between 170–200 degrees Fahrenheit. Although the temperature is lower, the efficient nature of heating the body directly makes infrared saunas among the most beneficial options available.
An infrared sauna is a wooden cabin equipped with infrared heaters designed to relax, detoxify and heal the body.
Unlike traditional saunas that use steam or dry heat to warm a room, infrared saunas use advanced infrared heaters to warm your body directly. As your body absorbs the infrared heat, this increases thermal energy, inducing a deep and relaxing sweat.
Reduced muscle pain, better sleep, detoxification, relief from joint pain and stiffness, stress reduction and improved circulation – are all well-known benefits of infrared saunas.
Steam Room – What Is It?
A steam room is made of a non-porous material, such as glass or tile, and is an airtight room that warms the body through high heat and humidity. A steam generator boils water to make steam, creating a moisture-rich environment.
Average temperatures hover around 120 degrees Fahrenheit, although it may feel much hotter due to humidity levels that can reach up to 100 percent. Unlike infrared saunas, which heat the user directly, steam rooms heat the outside environment, warming the user from the outside in.
A traditional steam sauna is what most people think of when they hear the word ‘sauna’. It is a small room that has a stove upon which rocks are placed. When the rocks are hot enough, water is poured over the rocks, creating steam. In the years past, traditional saunas have a log cabin design with fire pits where the stones are laid. However, modern steam saunas are designed with glass or some other non-porous material. This is considered better at holding the moisture inside the room instead of porous materials like wood, which can absorb moisture. Also, instead of a stove, the steam now comes from a steam generator, so there’s no more need to throw water over hot rocks.
Given their design, steam saunas are capable of creating an environment filled with high heat and humidity. Because of the large amounts of moisture in such environments, steam saunas offer various health benefits for the user. It also offers an experience that is far different from one found in an infrared sauna.
What’s the Difference?
Infrared saunas and steam rooms have several similarities, and when it comes to the overall health benefits of infrared saunas and steam rooms, there are some stark differences. The main difference lies in the type of heat that is generated in each room. Dry heat and wet heat. You can think of them as summer in Florida (steam) vs summer in Arizona (sauna). Both of these amenities are a fantastic addition to your gym routine, but we want to look further into the differences, similarities, and how to include them in your time at the gym.
Presence of Steam
A traditional steam sauna is very well known for its steam! It brings to mind a communal experience sitting around, draped in towels. The environment is very hot and humid, and seemingly your sweating out all the bad stuff.
Traditional saunas often have hot rocks, where water is poured over to create steam in the surrounding room. Alternatively, steam generators can be connected to bring steam to the sauna that way.
There are also dry saunas on the market that uses a stove or other heating element to heat the small space.
This makes the saunas very hot!
The addition of steam to a sauna can assist with clearing up the lungs, and opening blocked sinus’.
The steam can also assist with opening up pores which can help with clearing up skin conditions.
Infrared Saunas are known as dry Saunas. This is because they emit dry heat as well as invisible infrared waves.
The Infrared Sauna doesn’t use stoves or rocks but rather an electricity and infrared waves to heat the space.
Because of the type of heating mechanisms that steam saunas use as well as the steam, they are generally far hotter than an Infrared Sauna. The type and degree of heat, of course, comes down to personal preference. Generally speaking, the length of time spent in a steam sauna will be much shorter due to the degree of heat experienced. Both saunas will cause a decent sweat response. Steam saunas get you sweating from the hot air around you, opening your pores up and releasing toxins in the skin.
Infrared waves penetrate deep into your core. This raises your body temperature from the inside, creating a deeper level of detoxification. So despite having a lower temperature, the sweat response can sometimes be more profound than in a steam sauna!
An infrared sauna will often run cooler than a steam sauna but don’t get me wrong, and it’s still hot inside! However, it is a much more tolerable heat, which means that you can spend a long time in the sauna and yield greater benefit.
Conventional ‘hot rock’ or steam saunas need to have around 70 to 80 degrees to induce sweat. In contrast, an infrared sauna’s internal air temperature can stay well below 60 degrees while creating higher levels of detoxifying perspiration.
On average, infrared saunas operate between 46 to 57 degrees, while traditional saunas can get up to 85 degrees.
As the infrared environment is more tolerable, it allows you to stay in the sauna longer and get the most out of it.
The moist air within a steam sauna is what increases the feel of humidity. Many people prefer the wet feeling of the air. They feel it assists with purifying their skin and can assist with respiration.
An infrared sauna doesn’t have any humidity at all as it is very much a dry heat experience.
Many of our client’s comment that it is much more enjoyable as the experience is more tolerable.
Time Spent Sweating
We’ve already identified the heat, steam & humidity that can turn some people off a steam sauna. The combination can also make it difficult to spend extended periods within, so sessions are often limited to 15-20 minutes. It is possible to take short breaks between sauna sessions; however, constant heat must be maintained to yield a deep sweat response.
An infrared sauna session can comfortably last for 40 mins. Towards the end, the increased heart rate and sweating can be challenging to cope with, but as the experience isn’t stifling, it is quite enjoyable. The deep penetration of the infrared waves into your body’s core means that the experience has a profound effect on a cellular level. These saunas work to improve your mitochondrial health and are excellent at releasing heavy metals.
As the sweat is not just on a skin-deep, our clients often exclaim how much healthier they immediately feel after just one session.
Sauna Cost And Prices
The ultimate price of a sauna depends on the type of sauna you choose, the unit’s size, the type and quality of wood, quality of equipment (including heaters), and features – which are many.
Infrared sauna prices cost around $2,500 for an entry-level unit, $7,000 to $10,000 for high-quality, mid-market saunas and $10,000+ for premium models. Learn more about infrared sauna costs.
Traditional steam saunas are significantly more expensive than infrared saunas, largely because (as explained above) they need to be professionally installed.
For this reason, steam saunas can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 – around two to three times more than equivalent infrared units.
Put another way – you could pay $8,000 for a quality, mid-market infrared sauna with all the extra benefits infrared offers or, you could buy a mid-range steam sauna for $15,000 to $20,000. In our opinion, that seems like a lot of extra money for hot air and steam.
In summary, we think value for money is certainly something to factor in when comparing infrared and traditional saunas. We would argue that an infrared sauna is a better investment as you get many more benefits at a lower cost.
The Sauna Experience
Another area where infrared and traditional saunas differ is in the sauna experience itself.
Traditional saunas are hot and steamy spaces that are good for short bursts of sauna sessions.
The high heat (up to 80 degrees) means they are generally only tolerable for around 20 minutes at a time. Some people like to take a cold shower or plunge in cold water after a sauna before repeating the process.
In contrast, infrared saunas provide a dry, comfortable, relaxing heat you can enjoy for 40 minutes or more. The heat is usually kept between 50 and 60 degrees, with no humidity.
While infrared sauna heat might be lower in temperature, it effectively induces deep, detoxifying perspiration. Combined with the comfortable temperature, this means you can relax for extended periods and get maximum benefits from your sweat session.
When deciding which sauna experience is better, it depends on the type of heat you want and the effect you want it to have on your body.
Are you after a short, hot and steamy sweat session? Or would you prefer a longer, drier, more comfortable experience with a deeper, more intense and therapeutic sweat?
Once again, it’s down to personal preference, and only you will know which suits you best. Our advice? Try before you buy and see which experience you enjoy more.
Similarities in Steam Room And Sauna
Infrared saunas and steam rooms both exist to heighten your body’s core temperature and release toxins from the body. So far, infrared saunas reach temperatures of about 120ºF to 140ºF while a steam room sits at about 120ºF or less. While a sauna is generally built of wood, a steam room can be built out of glass or a non-porous tile and then sealed up to entrap the steam within the room. Then an electronic generator is used in the steam room to maintain the specific climate, creating its almost 100% humidity. This means that a steam room often feels a lot hotter than it actually is. So, the temperature does not need to be quite as high as that of a sauna. So, even though you will probably sweat much more in a steam room, chances are, you will are not getting as much heat.
Should I Choose A Sauna Or A Steam Room?
Again, if you have respiratory issues, it’s best to stick to steam rooms in order to keep your respiratory tract hydrated (a sauna might dry it out even more), according to Dr Parikh. Otherwise, it’s all about personal preference, and you get health benefits from both.
At the end of the day, a steam sauna & an infrared sauna are both different.
Whilst they do have similarities, they essentially function differently and benefit the body differently.
Purists much prefer the standard traditional steam sauna, but there is a growing momentum (and we’re included here) of preference towards an Infrared sauna.
The addition of the infrared waves penetrates deeper into the body. As a result, it elicits a greater metabolic response facilitating a more profound detox.
The waves also have a beneficial effect on muscular aches and pains, promoting pain relief as well as improving cardiovascular health and assisting in weight loss.
Both infrared saunas and steam rooms can deliver much-needed health benefits for individuals and families. These rooms can ease stress, increase relaxation, and improve overall health and happiness. Simply put, they can be a valuable component of one’s home and lifestyle.
Before purchasing an infrared sauna or steam room, take the time to consider you and your family’s specific needs in addition to reviewing the facts. For example, where will this new addition reside in your home? What is your current state of health, and what are your future health and wellness goals? Would you prefer to install it, or will you require a contractor to do the heavy lifting? Asking these questions ahead of time can help you decide between an infrared sauna vs. a steam room for your unique needs.