Spa Vacation Articles

Saunas, Steam Baths and Jacuzzis? Clearing Up the Confusion

Saunas have existed for thousands of years, but for many people, they are a new phenomenon. The sauna craze has overtaken the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa, with millions of people discovering the health and social benefits of regular sauna baths. But what Joe calls 'sauna' Josephine may call 'steam bath' and Jocelyn may call 'Turkish bath'. Is there a difference? This article will explore the meaning of the various terms associated with this relaxing and beneficial form of bathing.


The sauna is an integral part of Finnish and Swedish culture. Most homes have a sauna and most people use the sauna several times a week. These saunas generate a dry heat between 70 and 100 degrees Celsius. From time to time water is thrown on heated stones to produce a thick cloud of steam that makes the sauna feel hotter. After spending about 10 to 30 minutes in the sauna most people take a cold shower or swim in the lake. During winter, some people even roll in the snow.

Finnish and Swedish saunas are social affairs and may include family members, friends or business associates. They are always taken in the nude. Whether or not men and women take a sauna together depends on their relationships and to some extent, their age. Public saunas however are usually single-sex.

Swedish saunas have become popular in North America and are part of the facilities of many public swimming pools. Each pool sets its own policies on nudity. Some pools have certain periods for single-sex use when nude swimming and nude saunas are the norm. At other times bathing suits may be required in the sauna.

Turkish Bath

The Turkish bath is also known as hamam. It is a type of steam bath and the heat is much lower than in Finnish or Swedish sauna. The steam would scald the skin if it was too hot, so steam baths are kept at around 40 degrees Celsius.

A traditional Turkish bath is a large building that serves as social gathering places as much as places to get clean. There are separate rooms for men and women, and the bath building is divided into three areas - hot, warm, and cool.

Steam Bath

Steam baths have a constant humidity level around 100%. They are kept about 40 degrees Celsius. Many people prefer steam baths over saunas because the high humidity is easier to breathe and has beneficial effects on the respiratory system.

Hot Tub

There are 3 types of hot tubs - wooden barrels, fibreglass whirlpools or bathtub spas.

The first type of hot tub is made from wooden slats and has a water pump and filtering system to circulate and clean the water. It is usually installed outdoors and has benches around the perimeter so that people can soak comfortably with their heads just above water level.

The second type of hot tub has high pressure 'jets' that create a whirlpool effect. The jets are useful for water massage or hydrotherapy. They are often installed at public swimming pools or health clubs. These are know as 'Jacuzzis' after the company that popularized them.

The third type of hot tub is often installed in private homes as a replacement for the regular bathtub. It is similar in size to a traditional bathtub but has additional jets for circulating the water.

The terms 'spa' 'hot tub' and 'Jacuzzi' are often interchanged and can refer to the same thing - a tub of water for 1 or more people that contains circulating water and/or water jets.

A spa can also be a resort where you receive body treatments such as massage and hydrotherapy. Many spas have 'spas' - sauna facilities including steam baths, hot tubs and Jacuzzis.

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