how steam shower works diagram
Illustration Harry Campbell
The Anatomy of a Steam Shower
Imagine this: It's the end of a long day. You're tired, or achy, or just want to chase away the winter chill. So you push a button in the shower stall, plop yourself down on a bench, and melt into a soothing cloud of eucalyptus-scented steam. Twenty minutes later, you emerge feeling relaxed, renewed, and in the pink.

That kind of indulgence used to require a trip to a health spa. But more and more homeowners are opting to re-create the experience at home by turning their ordinary shower stalls into warm, vaporous havens called steam showers. Along with the benefits to your skin and sinuses, there's no standing around waiting for a whirlpool tub to fill or a sauna to heat up—and when you're done steaming, you just turn on the shower for a refreshing rinse.

To summon steam, you simply hit the digital controls in the shower stall. That triggers an electric valve to fill the breadbox-size steam generator with about a gallon of cold water. Then, just like a plug-in teakettle, the generator's electric element brings the water to a boil. A pipe channels the hot vapor to the steam head, or disperser, which fills the stall with tropical moisture that never gets above a safe 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

Luxuriate as long as you want: Steaming for 20 minutes consumes a mere 2 gallons of water. By that reckoning, steam is a "green" way to bathe. (Even a water-saving showerhead sprays about 50 gallons of water in the same period.) Your electric bill is bound to go up, however. Steam units are sized based on the stall's volume in cubic feet, its shape, and what it's lined with. A typical 4-by-5-by-8-foot stall (160 cubic feet) covered with ceramic tile requires at least a 7-kilowatt generator. For a stall tiled in stone, you'll need twice as much steam-generating capacity.
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