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Steam baths and hammams are sometimes mentioned interchangeably, which couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a fact that Turkish baths and steam rooms have some common points. Yet, all in all, these moist heat therapies actually vary quite a lot. While both offer a relaxing experience and a variety of health benefits for your skin, muscles, and blood pressure, their differences outnumber the similarities. If you are intrigued, take a closer look at our hammam vs steam room article, and decide which of the rituals works better for you. Some of the differences may really surprise you!

Marble Palace vs Tiny Spa Oasis

Hammams have a long history and cultural significance, particularly in the Middle East and Turkey, while steam rooms are a relatively modern invention. You can even get your own steam bath at home, yet a proper Turkish bath ritual must be done in a hammam you visit. In the past, Turkish baths were also located in wealthy homes, but most people had to go to a public bath to take advantage of the benefits of this amazing ritual. Here are some different key points that differentiate hammam and steam room:

  • Steady hot vs varying temperature
  • Different purpose: luxurious flourish vs pure relaxation
  • Interior design: Ottoman splendor vs confined space
  • Culturally designing approach: fancy mosaic vs minimalism
  • Male or female: unisex vs gender separation
  • Attire: traditional clothing vs casual style
  • Community spirit vs individual treatment
  • Bathing rituals vs simplicity

Let’s dive a little deeper and check the major differences between a hammam vs steam room.

Steady hot vs varying temperature

Hammams can be cooler than steam baths because they include separate rooms with different temperatures. If you feel you need a break from the excessive heat, you can spend some time in a warm room where the temperature is only around 30 degrees Celsius. After your bathing ritual, you will relax in a cold room, while in a steam bath, you only get a fixed temperature of 43-48 degrees Celsius.

Turkish baths usually involve water being poured over the body, while steam rooms use water-filled generator pumps to create moist heat in the air. Due to the extreme, wet heat a steam bath should take approximately 15 minutes, while the Turkish bath rituals can easily last even up to two hours. Either way, do not exaggerate the time you spent in such high temperatures. The beneficial effects of heat therapy on cardiovascular health are crucial, but your comfort and health come first, so be careful about the time you spend in.

Different purpose: luxurious flourish vs pure relaxation

Another steam room vs hammam difference is their purpose. Turkish baths may have a stronger focus on exfoliation and cleansing, while steam rooms are primarily used for relaxation and detoxification. In the hammams, you will experience the celebration of the body through many beauty rituals, while a steam bath can be a quick post-workout recovery or a fast relaxation after a heavy day at work.

Turkish baths often have a traditional and cultural feel, while steam rooms have a more modern, spa-like atmosphere. Due to their cultural importance, hammams have been a space for beauty and health rituals, the meeting place of local communities, as much as places to celebrate your life’s special moments. Compared to Turkish baths, steam baths are only pure relaxation and detoxification treatments.

Interior design: Ottoman splendor vs confined space

Hammam buildings often involve a series of different rooms with varying levels of heat and humidity, while traditional steam rooms are usually a single enclosed space. In a Turkish bath, you will move from one room to another, and during a steam bath, you can relax and heal your mental health in one confined space.

Hammams typically feature a centrally heated marble platform and surrounding benches, while steam rooms have simpler seating space arranged. The limited space of the steam room is a practical solution that gives you comfort, while the luxuriously large space of a traditional hammam will surely impress you.

Culturally designing approach: fancy mosaics vs minimalism

Hammams have a larger surface area and are usually tiled, while steam rooms are often made of stone, marble, and granite. Steam baths may be also covered with glass or plastic, as these materials don’t absorb moisture either.

Historic hammams are often decorated with intricate tile work and mosaics, while steam rooms tend to have a more minimalistic design. Due to the design of the hammam bathhouse, you may feel like in an Ottoman palace, while the modern space of the steam room is more modest and casual.

Male or female: unisex vs gender separation

Hammams may have separate areas for men and women, while steam rooms are usually unisex. Many Turkish baths now offer rituals for both men and women, such as couples’ massages. However, according to tradition and in major hammams, female and male sections are divided. If not, there may be separate days or hours for men’s and women’s treatments. The steam room is too small to be gender segregated. Moreover, there is no such custom resulting from history, tradition, or culture.

Attire: traditional clothing vs casual style

Hammams may involve specific clothing or coverings, such as a peştemal or takunya, while steam rooms typically do not require any special attire. Wear a towel and sandals in the steam room for hygienic reasons so that your bare skin doesn’t have any contact with the hot seating area. It’s also wise to protect yourself from the sweat of other users.

Traditional hammam towels called peştemal can be made out of high-quality Turkish cotton, while you can use any kind of clothing or towel in a steam bath. Yet, organic cotton absorbs excess heat the best, so it’s a great fabric choice for your skin, together with bamboo and linen. Peştemal is a beautiful example of traditional design and for this reason, a popular souvenir that tourists often bring back from holidays in Turkey. If you like it too, why not use it in the steam room as well?

Community spirit vs individual treatment

Hammams often involve a communal experience, with groups of people gathering to socialize and bathe together, while steam rooms are often used alone or in pairs. The limited space of the steam room doesn’t allow for gatherings or socialization, in contrast to the considerable space of the Turkish bath.

Moreover, community spirit wasn’t the cultural inclination of the steam room, which was intended to be an individualistic experience, unlike the hammam ritual. The steam room was created for your individual need to calm down and regain peace, while Turkish baths additionally serve as meeting points for family, friends, and neighbors.

Bathing rituals vs simplicity

Hammams may use natural ingredients and their positive effects in the treatments, such as olive oil and honey, while steam rooms typically do not. The inhaling steam in a steam room, mixed with eucalyptus oil, opens your sinuses, clears the nasal passage, and relieves congestion. Yet, the hammam experience includes varied products for specific treatments like scrubbing, foam baths, or essential oils massages.

Hammams may have more elaborate bathing rituals, such as the use of special bowls and buckets for pouring water, while steam rooms are relatively simple. All you need to do during your steam bath is sit back, close your eyes, relax, and enjoy the moment!

References:

Traditional Turkish Hammams. GoTürkiye: Official Travel Guide of Türkiye.

Brunt VE, Minson CT. Heat therapy: mechanistic underpinnings and applications to cardiovascular health. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2021 Jun 1;130(6):1684-1704. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00141.2020. Epub 2021 Apr 1. PMID: 33792402; PMCID: PMC8285605.

Mazhar SA, Anjum R, Anwar AI, Khan AA. Hammam Therapy: An Ancient Wisdom with Contemporary Relevance. J Integ Comm Health 2020; 9(1): 25-30.

Forbes Home. 5 Steam Room Design Ideas That Will Leave You Breathless.

Graiouid, S. Communication and the social production of space: The hammam, the public sphere and Moroccan women. Journal of North Africa Studies. (2004) 9. 10.1080/1362938042000292324.

Turkish Bath Products to Try At Least Once. GoTürkiye: Official Travel Guide of Türkiye.