This unbiased steam shower buying guide shows how to buy or build the best steam shower, including custom steam showers, modular units, and steam generators.
Steam showers have been popular at gyms and health clubs for decades, thanks to their ability to help relax muscles, soothe aching joints, and invigorate tired bodies.
Now steam shower manufacturers are focusing on the home spa market, offering homeowners a range of products from complete steam shower units to equipment that can add steam capabilities to a conventional shower. These products offer a great way to install steam showers in residential bathrooms for the ultimate in comfort and luxury.
Because steam showers are relatively new to American homes, most homeowners don’t know much about what to look for when buying them. This steam shower buying guide will help you sort out your options.
What is a steam shower? Basically, it is a small, enclosed room with a vapor-tight door that is equipped with a steam shower generator.
The steam generator heats water to a boil and then delivers the resulting vapor into the enclosed room. The room’s walls, ceiling, and floor must be made of a material that is impervious to the hot, moist vapor.
A seat or bench gives you a place to relax while you enjoy bathing in the steam. In addition, nearly all steam showers are also regular showers with water controls and one or more shower heads.
Is a Steam Shower Right for You?
Buying a steam shower isn’t like buying a washing machine. In addition to the cost of the equipment, expect to pay a contractor to install it. And be aware that, because a steam shower puts a tremendous amount of moisture into the air, the shower enclosure—and the bathroom—will have to be designed or modified to handle the steam. Otherwise, you’re likely to have a problem with mold and/or moisture damage.
Steam showers are not for everyone. People with certain medical conditions—such as high blood pressure and diabetes—should not use steam showers without consulting a doctor first. Pregnant women and very young children should never take steam showers.
Considering Your Options
You can buy a steam shower as a complete kit, ready for installation. Or you can buy a steam shower generator and install it in a custom-built enclosure. Your first step will be to decide between a prefabricated, manufactured steam shower or a custom-built steam shower. In addition, if you plan to install a custom steam shower, you’ll need to choose the type of steam generator to buy.
The quickest and easiest way to get a new steam shower is to install a modular unit. Typically priced from $3,000 to $5,000, prefabricated all-in-one modular steam shower units have integral doors, molded seats, steam dispensers, multiple showerheads, and more. In one of these, you can enjoy either a steam bath or a regular shower—and some units even have whirlpool bathtubs at the base.
Made of easy-to-clean acrylic, these waterproof enclosures are designed to keep water vapor from escaping into the rest of the bathroom where it could damage walls, wallpaper, and paint.
Basic models are sized and configured to fit the space of a conventional bathtub/shower unit—as a result, replacing an existing tub can be done without excessive reconstruction. Most are designed for easy installation and hookup to plumbing.
Don’t expect a lot of color choices. Most modular units come in white or off-white. Look for a model that has a textured floor to reduce the potential for slipping.
Because modular units are made of acrylic, they don’t visually integrate as seamlessly in a bathroom as do custom-made steam showers that employ for their enclosures the same tile, stone, or other materials used elsewhere in the room.
Modular shower steam rooms are sold online and at home sauna and hot tub stores. Be sure to check out the many different brands, because each has its own special features. Popular makes include Kohler, Whirlpool, Wasauna, Finnleo, Steamist, and LineaAqua. For example, Wasauna’s acrylic steam showers are reinforced with fiberglass for greater resilience. LineaAqua offers a variety of ultra-modern designs, including the Caesar model, which is a freestanding circular enclosure made of tempered blue glass.
If you order a modular steam shower online, be sure to double-check dimensions. Either request the location of a showroom you can visit or ask the manufacturer to send you photos before you buy. Also discuss any plumbing and electrical requirements.
If you purchase a steam shower kit from a local dealer, ask for the name of a plumber or electrician with experience in adding these devices to bathrooms. This should save you money on the costs for installation.
It’s also a good idea to get a one- to three- year warranty with a steam shower unit. The last thing you need is a leaky unit or one that fails to produce enough steam. Without a warranty, you may face expensive repairs and not get complete satisfaction.
If you want a steam shower that will blend beautifully into your bathroom, perhaps a custom steam shower is the better answer.
What is a custom steam shower? Basically, it is any enclosed shower that is connected to a steam shower generator and designed to handle water vapor. In most cases this means a shower that is completely tiled on the floor, walls, and ceiling, and that has a door that completely seals. It usually has some type of seat.
A custom steam shower is usually built from scratch during bathroom construction or remodeling. Of course, in a custom job, you can add any amenities you want, from rain showers to rain towers.
Depending on the work involved and the finishes and equipment you choose, the cost of a custom-built shower steam room can be considerably higher than that of a modular unit. A simple shower conversion may be the least costly of all. For this type of steam shower, all you’ll need is to install a shower door that seals, to tile any un-tiled surfaces exposed to the interior, and to install a steam generator and its controls.
One caveat: For water-resistance, tile should be set in a mortar bed, not stuck to water-resistant drywall with adhesive (discuss this with a tile contractor). Water vapor from a steam room can be damaging to your home if not properly controlled.
Some of today’s steam showers—aptly called “shower suites”—are loaded to the gills with features. As you might guess, the sky is the limit when it comes to price.
A luxury shower suite can cost from $20,000 to $30,000. Some of these are like water theme parks. Options include aromatherapy, aqua-pressure foot massagers, waterproof radios and CD players, iPod hookups, hands-free telephones, fluorescent mood lighting, ceiling rain showers, multiple water jets, waterfalls, and body sprays.
They range in size from small to immense and accommodate from two to 10 people.
The heart of a steam shower is a steam generator, which produces steam (water vapor). If you’re building a new steam shower, you’ll need one of these. Popular steam shower generators are sold by Kohler, Steamist, SteamSpa, Mr. Steam, and Steam Planet.
The unit pictured at right connects to your home’s plumbing. It has a stainless-steel reservoir equipped with a thermostatically controlled electric heating element, which, when turned on, boils the water, producing vapor. This vapor is then delivered to the shower through a special dispenser at the bottom of the wall. Because the vapor is super-heated, the nozzle is generally insulated and/or shielded to guard against burns.
The generator can be installed up to 25 feet away from the shower, so it can be hidden under the vanity, in a closet, in the attic, or under the floor. Controls allow users to set and monitor temperatures. Control panels may mount inside or outside the enclosure, or both.
Where two controls are used, the inside one shows the exact temperature, features a temperature adjustment, and has a shut-off. The outside control has a timer that’s used to automatically shut off the vapor after a specified period of time.
Look for a steam generator that runs quietly and produces steam quickly, evenly, and efficiently. Some start to produce steam in less than two minutes.
The generator needs to be sized correctly to produce sufficient steam for your shower enclosure.
Some steam generators automatically reduce output after reaching a pre-set temperature, allowing for a steady flow of moist, hot air instead of short blasts of steam.
Figure that you’ll pay from $500 to $2,500 for a steam generator, depending on the size and features. Most home sauna and hot tub stores should have a model for demonstration purposes.