Pros and Cons of an All-in-One Steam Shower Enclosure

You have two main options when it comes to adding a steam shower to your home: a custom-built shower or a prefabricated, all-in-one enclosure unit. A custom shower, whether you build it yourself or hire professionals, can be pricey, but it can also be tailored perfectly to your existing space. If you have a smaller budget and your space allows for it, an all-in-one unit could be a good fit. However, there are a few things to consider before you make your decision.

For those looking to simplify the steam shower purchasing process, an all-in-one shower is an attractive option. In addition to the steam shower component, these products can include amenities such as a sound system, lighting, a foot massager, and even a small whirlpool tub, all in a compact design. When faced with a shower remodel, this can seem like an easy way to upgrade—just slide the unit into place and hook it up. It is not always that cut-and-dried, however, so it pays to do your research.

When reviewing brands and models, the first thing to look at is what the shower is made of. Materials like plastic are inherently problematic in a steam shower due to the high temperature of the steam as it enters (212°F). Acrylic, a plastic commonly used in steam showers, can withstand a maximum temperature of only 176°F, so the steam cannot blow directly onto the walls. The concerns are similar for showers made of ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic, so be cautious if you see either of these materials listed in a unit’s specifications.

Where the product is manufactured is also crucial. Many all-in-one steam showers are made overseas and therefore may not be subject to the same safety and service standards as domestically made products. Before buying any unit, be sure to check with a third-party safety agency, such as UL, ETL, or CSA, to verify that it has been tested and is listed by that agency as an approved product that may be used in the US. You can do this by calling the agency or doing a product search on their website. Another important certification to look for is ASSE, as this group checks shower valves for leakage and scalding.

Furthermore, because these units slide into place and are hooked up only via hoses and electrical connections, they are technically not permanently installed, which means they are not subject to the same safety approvals that a permanent shower requires. This “slide into place” quality may remind you of a refrigerator or washing machine, and there are definitely similarities. But unlike those common appliances, it may be difficult to find someone who can service your all-in-one steam shower unit, and even if you find an experienced technician, the repair could come with a hefty price tag.

As you can see, there are some definite downsides to these prefabricated steam shower units, but that could change. As technology advances and home steam showers gain more popularity, many of these aspects will improve. For now, these products’ simplicity and all-in-one nature are still very strong draws. Doing ample research into brands, models, and safety certifications will help ensure that you end up loving your steam shower.

Saunas

While a steam shower uses a steam generator to produce steam, a sauna may use any of a number of heat sources, such as a woodstove, an electric heater, or an infrared lamp. (In the case of an infrared sauna, instead of the air being heated, your body is heated directly.) The sauna space is generally made of wood, which won’t get as hot as, say, stone, protecting the user from burns. This is important because saunas operate at much higher temperatures than steam showers do, generally 160–200°F with only 10–20 percent humidity.

Much like steam showers, saunas can do wonders for the mind and body. According to a recent Mayo Clinic report, “emerging evidence suggests that sauna bathing has several health benefits, which include reduction in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke, and neurocognitive diseases; nonvascular conditions such as pulmonary diseases including common flu; mortality; treatment of specific skin conditions; as well as pain in conditions such as rheumatic diseases and headache.” This report specifically discusses the results of a study done in Finland, where sauna bathing has been a tradition for thousands of years and where even today nearly a third of adults take them regularly.

Comparisons

So which is better? That depends on your situation and preference. While a steam shower may be the right choice for a person dealing with allergies or congestion, a sauna may be more beneficial for someone with rheumatoid arthritis, because, as Robert H. Shmerling, faculty editor of Harvard Health Publishing, writes, humidity tends to exacerbate the condition.

So ultimately, the choice is up to you—and your health care provider.