Steam Shower Cutaway

Steam Showers: How Steam Shower Generators Work

Introduction

There are many details (read our guide on how to build a steam shower) that go into the creation of a steam shower, from selecting the tile to choosing the right control, but the heart of every steam room is the steam shower generator. Without this component, there would be no steam; therefore, it is important to know how this unit works and what to look for when making your selection.

Producing Steam

As we all learned in science class, water (a liquid) turns to steam (a gas) when it is heated to boiling, which occurs at the temperature of 212°F. In a steam shower it is the generator’s job to heat water to this temperature to produce steam. Essentially, water is brought from a water line into the steam generator, the water is heated with an electric heating element, and the resulting steam is then fed into another pipe and ultimately released into the shower through a steam outlet usually called the steam head.

Different Methods

While the scientific process of turning water into steam is generally the same in every generator, there are some differences between different steam shower manufacturers that can change your experience. For example, some generators use one large heating element, while others use two or more smaller heating elements. Whereas a single heating element can be either on or off, having two or more elements allows for increased control, giving the option of having only one on at a time. A method called “proportional steam” uses multiple heating elements and takes into account the temperature of the room and other factors to further control heating cycles and prevent uncomfortable temperature fluctuations inside the shower.

Steam Speed

Some generator manufacturers tout the speed with which their units produce steam. These generators utilize one of two basic methods. The first is similar to the way the boiler in your home operates: the water in the tank is kept warm so that it takes less time to heat to boiling when you turn on the unit. The other method is to run electricity directly through the water, which can create steam within a minute or so. Most manufacturers offer speedy options, such as InstaMist by Steamist, which promises “a generous volume of steam in under a minute.” However, these models may not be as economical or energy efficient due to increased power usage, so you’ll have to decide how important the speed of steam production is to you. Many users find it just fine to turn on the steam and come back in ten minutes or so.

Size, Appearance, and Materials

The size of your steam generator will ultimately be determined by the size and construction details of your shower enclosure. Check out our Steam Shower Sizing Guide if you need help with determining the right size steam generator for your space. If your generator is too small for the space, it will not create a fully immersive steam experience. If it’s too large, it can be wasteful. Size also comes into play when deciding where to locate the generator. Most manufacturers offer “compact” models—generally about the size of a briefcase—that can be tucked away in a closet or other nearby space. Because it will be hidden, the appearance of the unit is not of particular concern, but the materials should be. For example, a stainless steel tank is best for durability.

The Question of Noise

A quietly operating unit is ideal for a satisfying steam shower, but be aware that most steam generators will make some kind of noise. The release of steam from the unit may be audible, but the real concern is the sound of any mechanical components inside the generator, such as the valve that is responsible for bringing water into the generator or moving it between chambers. There are quieter alternatives, such as old-fashioned mechanical floats, but these can be less reliable than their more modern counterparts. The decision to include an audio system in your steam shower may also influence your selection on this point.