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Dry vs. Steam Sauna: Understanding the Difference

Torn between dry vs. steam sauna?

Understanding the difference between the two will help you decide which rejuvenation option best fits your wellness goals.

Of course, the type of heat generated is a clear distinguishing feature. And whether you like it dry or wet is all up to you.

If you can’t make up your mind, we’re here to make that choice easier. Read on to find out the setup, costs, benefits, and maintenance considerations of dry and steam saunas. 

Dry vs. Steam Sauna: Heating Mechanism

Dry and steam saunas differ significantly in how they generate and distribute heat. Let’s compare them below.

Dry Sauna

A dry sauna creates heat by baking stones using gas, electric, or wood-burning stoves. The generated heat radiates throughout the sauna, permeating the wooden walls, benches, and ceiling.

An infrared sauna also produces dry heat but warms your body directly without raising the ambient temperature. In more traditional saunas, the air temperature can reach 160–200°F while the humidity stays low at 5–10%.

If you want to increase the humidity, you can ladle water onto the heated stones.

In Finnish traditions, the steam emanating from the moistened rocks is called löyly. It can hug you like a warm blanket or hit you like a slap, depending on the temperature and amount of water used.

The softwood panels help retain the heat within the sauna while not absorbing too much. You’re essentially sitting in an oven, but in temperatures you can tolerate. Adding to the pleasant experience is the aesthetic appeal of the interiors.

One advantage of a dry sauna is that it doesn’t fog up, so you can enjoy a friendly chat with friends or family while you sweat it out.

Steam Sauna

A steam room uses a generator to pump hot steam into the enclosure until the humidity reaches 95% and above.

Compared to dry saunas, steam rooms produce less heat, around 100–110°F, but make up for it by cranking up humidity. The effect is a warm, moist environment that feels more tropical than desert-like.

You won’t sweat as much in a steam room as you would in a dry sauna. The water beads on your skin are more likely to be from the mist than perspiration.

While the heat opens up your pores, the moisture in the air washes away dirt and dead skin from your body.

Dry vs. Steam Sauna: Health Benefits

Saunas have come a long way since the Finns first dug their bathhouses into the ground. Various cultures have developed their versions, including Native American sweat lodges, Russian banyas, and Korean jjimjilbangs.

Today, saunas are quite common in spas, gyms, and fitness facilities.

It’s easy to see the enduring popularity of saunas. Heat bathing, whether assisted by a dry or steamy source, offers pretty much the same health benefits, including:

  • Relaxation and stress reduction
  • Enhanced blood circulation
  • Glowing skin
  • Improved sleep
  • Muscle recovery and pain relief
  • Better mood and mental wellness
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Immune system boost

Many claim that steam rooms can help clear chest and nasal congestion. However, studies have found little evidence to support steam inhalation as an effective cold remedy. 

Dry vs. Steam Sauna: Installation and Costs

Let’s see how the two saunas stack up in terms of installation and costs:

Dry Sauna

A sauna kit containing all materials you need to build the interior of a sauna can start at $3,500. Installing it should be a breeze as long as you can put up the exterior structure and stud framing. Or you can hire a professional to assemble your pre-cut kit for around $1,000–$2,000.

If you’re looking for a free-standing indoor sauna, expect to spend $7,000, excluding hookup. Meanwhile, outdoor prefabs, which are more flexible in design, easily cost $9,500 and more.

The price varies according to size, materials used, and other custom features. For instance, a sauna cabin made of Nordic white spruce will be pricier than one constructed using cedar. Moreover, you can upgrade the heater for increased heat output or more controls.

Infrared saunas, which you can simply plug into an outlet, cost at least $2,500. The price tag of a full-spectrum model, on the other hand, is around $3,000-8,000.

Steam Sauna

The upfront cost for building a steam sauna from scratch averages around $43 per square foot, while pre-built models can go for $23–$65 per square foot. Customizations, such as extra seating, surround sound, or built-in oil diffuser, can also drive the price.

On top of that, a steam sauna isn’t a DIY project you can take on a weekend. You’ll need professional servicing since installation requires plumbing and electrical work.

Overall, a steam room investment is around $2,500–$6,000.

Once installed, a steam room uses less water than a typical shower, so it’s inexpensive to operate. A 20-minute session adds only a dollar to your utilities. 

Dry vs. Steam Sauna: Maintenance

Let’s look at how dry and steam saunas match up when it comes to maintenance:

Dry Sauna

Dry saunas are easier to maintain since they run on dry heat and produce low humidity levels. While the woods used are typically moisture-resistant, regular cleaning of surfaces is crucial to remove any sweat, oil, or dirt.

Steam Sauna

The high-humidity environment in steam rooms creates fertile breeding grounds for mold. Mold growth can cause health issues and structural damage to your house.

To keep your steam room in excellent condition, establish a regular cleaning routine and maintain good ventilation.  

Dry vs. Steam Sauna: Final Thoughts

Choosing between a dry vs. steam sauna all boils down to preference more than anything else. But if you find yourself drawn to both, understanding the difference between design, cost, and maintenance will help you make the ultimate decision.


The good news is that you can’t go wrong no matter which option you choose. Each provides a luxurious spa-like experience, numerous wellness benefits, and additional value to your home.