The ancient Greeks used a primitive form of shower and recognized the health benefits offered by showering further to its ability to clean. It took until around 1810 for the modern shower to be invented, although sadly nobody has a record of the name of the inventor. Over the last 200 years, the shower has continued to be improved on in all kinds of different ways and is today available in a number of variations to suit all space requirements and budgets.
Those who are short of both space and budget may have to settle for a basic, over-bath shower, but for those able to acquire something a little more special a steam shower bath is today's "must-have", top-end luxury item for the bathroom. A steam shower complete with whirlpool bath can take up the same amount of floor space as a standard bath or alternatively a stand-alone steam shower cabin would take up somewhat less floor space (as little as 800 x800 quadrant) and provide an unrivalled healthy, stimulating and enjoyable washing experience like no other. For those interested in buying any kind of steam shower unit, here is our ultimate buyers’ guide with a couple of things that will help you on your way.
Why buy a steam shower unit?
Before we talk about steam shower cabins, we should probably start our buyer’s guide with a look at why you would be interested in steam showers at all. It’s probably common knowledge by now that showers are often both more economical and more environmentally friendly than baths. In fact, those who live in areas where water shortages are a regular feature of life if only in summer, should probably look at showers for this reason alone. Up until relatively recently, these two points were the main selling points for showers, that and the fact the time it takes to take and ready a shower is so much more convenient than a bath. Over recent years, there has been growing awareness of the health benefits a steam shower offers and modern devices take these benefits to a new level.
Health Benefits of a Steam Shower
Steam detoxes the body inside and out. Modern technology has brought a lot of benefits with it. We’d be reluctant to give up time- and labour-saving inventions such as washing machines, cars, buses and we’d hate to give up central heating and aeroplanes or mobile phones. At the same time, however, it’s also brought its challenges and pollution is one of them. Generally speaking, the term pollution is used to describe high levels of toxic dirt in the landscape around us. This can be transported onto or into our bodies as we come into contact with it or simply as we breathe.
We would also use the term pollution to describe the less healthy aspects of many modern lifestyles. We’ll hold up our hands and say we’re as guilty of this as everybody else. We also enjoy caffeine and alcohol and fizzy drinks (albeit sugar-free ones) - in moderation, along with the odd bit of junk food here and there. We’re big believers that a little bit of what you fancy can do you good - in moderation and as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. We all know the symptoms of overdoing an unhealthy diet, poor skin condition, poor hair condition, feeling lethargic… As their name suggests, toxins can be nasty and, generally speaking, the sooner they come out of the body, the better.
Drinking water and other healthy liquids can go a long way to cleaning out the body from the inside out. The body’s other great cleanser is sweat. This is one of the reasons exercise makes you feel good. You’re literally cleaning out your body as you work as sweat contains all the same nasty's as urine and is the body's nature function to get rid of these. Using a steam shower also encourages the body to sweat through the skin which cleans the skin as well. The sweat is quickly moved off the body when in a steam shower either by the moist steam or from the shower included.
In addition to this, the heart is also stimulated by the increase in temperature, with the result that blood flows more rapidly around the body taking oxygen and nutrients where they are needed and carrying away toxins to be expelled in the sweat. As an added bonus, steam can get into all the body’s nooks and crannies and this includes, all the little crevices in the lungs where certain types of pollution (such as fine dust) can easily accumulate, leading to coughs. Those with respiratory conditions, from simple colds to chronic illnesses such as bronchitis, can find that steam showers can bring welcome respite and is actually a recommended medical treatment.
In addition to removing pollution, they can reduce inflammation and congestion in the lungs making it physically easier to breathe. For winter’s blocked noses, showering with a menthol-based shower gel and/or using a menthol essential oil in an oil diffuser, preferably within the steam shower enclosure or steam shower bath itself, can work wonders. In fact, regular steam showers can actually make it far less likely that you’ll have to suffer the misery of winter colds and other minor ailments. Steam showers raise the body’s temperature which both helps to damage or kill viruses and increases the production of white blood cells and natural antibodies and actually strengthen and train the bodies responses to any illness or fever. Altogether, this gives a major boost to the immune system, which is particularly welcome in winter, when it is under attack from so many different angles.
Cleaning out the body and getting the blood moving also has beneficial effects on our physical appearance, in particular, the skin and also the hair. You’ve probably heard the expression “you are what you eat”, well your skin and hair are basically created deep inside your body and then sent to the surface to become what we see, feed by the nutrition and state of the inner body it grows from. In other words, they are a reflection of how well you look after yourself in general. Steam showers can’t compensate for the effects of a long-term unhealthy lifestyle, but they can certainly give a boost.
Steam shower cabins are also the perfect places to get relief from physical aches and pains, in particular, joint and muscle pains. There’s lots of science to back this up, but we’ll keep it simple. Steam is great at clearing any blocks which prevent movement and heat is great at relaxing muscles, which, by definition, relieves any form of pain which is related to tension. While this is very useful for relieving medical conditions such as rheumatism and arthritis, these days its more popularly recognised use is probably for breaking the vicious circle of mental tension leading to physical pain, leading to more mental tension and stress… We’ve probably all experienced it at some point in our lives. We get stressed so we tense up and/or just forget about the importance of good posture and a positive lifestyle or attitude. Our bodies react and we experience muscular pain and that makes us feel even more stressed.
So now you have a better understanding of the health benefits of steam showers, it’s time to look at the practicalities of them.
Before you set your heart on buying any kind of self-contained shower, the first point you need to check is whether or not your house will actually support one. Admittedly if you live in any kind of remotely modern home, the answer to this question is almost guaranteed to be yes, but it can’t hurt to check before you go out and make a major purchase.
Identifying your water system
There are basically only 4 kinds of water systems used in UK homes. They are combi-boiler systems, mains pressure unvented systems, gravity-fed systems and cold mains-only systems.
Modern Combi Boiler
Combi-boiler systems only require the use of a boiler, usually sited in the kitchen, which provides heating and heats water on demand. This type of system is almost the only feasible system for smaller homes, since it removes the need for additional water storage tanks, thereby saving valuable space. This system can support steam showers as is ideal for the task, but there are a couple of points to bear in mind. Firstly it is strongly recommended to integrate a pressure-equalizing valve (or PEV) into any shower system integrated into a combi-boiler system. Basically, this is to help to reduce the difference in pressure between the hot- and cold-water inputs, thereby making it easier for the thermostat to maintain the correct temperature (or stopping users being covered in scalding hot or ice-cold water if manual mixers are used). Secondly, combi-boiler systems run a whole house off a single water-management point (the boiler). This means both that there is a limit to how much demand it can handle and also that a sudden increase in demand at one output point can easily mean that resources have to be diverted from somewhere else. Having said that, in smaller households, this can usually be managed with a bit of common sense and cooperation.
Mains pressure unvented systems
If you have a boiler and a hot-water tank (usually in an airing cupboard), then you have a mains pressure unvented system. These are also perfectly suitable for showers, including power showers and steam showers. It should be noted, however, that they are similar to combi-boiler systems in the sense that all users have to share resources, although in this case, it is users attached to a particular water main, rather than users within the same household sharing a combi boiler. In theory, this could result in a loss of pressure if there are excessive demands elsewhere. In practice, local authorities and utility companies have long experience of judging capacity and any user who regularly creates a drain on the system can expect to be contacted by one or the other of these.
If you have a cold-water tank (usually in your attic) and a hot-water tank and a boiler, then you have a gravity-fed system, also known as a low-pressure system. These can support showers of all kinds, but, as the alternative name suggests, pressure can be an issue. Fortunately, it is both legal and, generally, practical to attach a pump to this type of water system.
NB - it is illegal and can be unsafe to attach a pump to any sort of mains-pressure water system.
It’s even better if the shower can be sited on the lower floor of any split-level property since this gives gravity a bit more time to do its work and build up pressure.
Cold mains-only systems
If your house lacks any kind of boiler then you have a cold, mains-only system and are very limited in your choice of the shower. In fact, at this point in time, you can only have a basic, electric one. On the plus side, however, this type of system is hardly ever seen in designated residential housing and as technology advances, it may even be possible to enjoy more fully-featured showers even in this scenario. If you want something to tide you over in the meantime, there are DIY steam room kits available, which can work off the mains-fed cold water. It should be noted, however, that the term DIY is open to interpretation, in other words, depending on your skills, you may still want to get a professional to do the installation.
Steam Shower Cabin Installation
If you’ve got this far, then you’ve probably decided that a steam shower is right for you and that your household water supply can handle it. Now let’s look at the practicalities of installing one. We’ll start from the ground up.
The floor must be absolutely flat and even. We appreciate that this may sound like stating the blatantly obvious, but we can only emphasize just how much we really mean this and how much it matters. If your floor has any sort of slope to it or is in any way uneven, then it is critical to have this fixed before you start the installation of your shower.
We’ve split this out as it’s basically two different issues. By floor space, we mean having sufficient space to install your shower safely and practically. While a standard shower can fit flush against a wall self-contained steam shower cabins need to have space behind them for the relevant fittings. In addition to this, there needs to be enough space to move the cabin forward to access the fittings for any maintenance and/or repair work. As a rule of thumb, you need about 40cm breathing space around the unit to ensure that it can be moved sufficiently when the need arises. The only exception to this is if the unit can be accessed from the back.
Similar comments as for floors. Self-contained shower units can hide a multitude of decorative sins as long as the walls themselves are even, but walls which are uneven, albeit only slightly, have the potential to cause all sorts of problems from the cosmetic to the practical. For example, if a wall is only partly tiled, the slight difference between the tiled section and the untiled section will create a visible gap. Such a small gap is likely to be unsightly rather than dangerous, larger gaps, however, could be another story.
While we’re on the subject of walls, whatever shower unit you choose is going to need a water supply, in fact, it’s going to need two of them - hot and cold. This means that it’s going to need pipes at its location. There are two key points with regards to piping. The first is that it, if at all possible, it should lie snug to the wall, again to reduce the gap between the wall and the shower. The second is that the piping needs to be in the right place. For units with triangular-shaped backs, such as corner cabins, the piping needs to be in place at the apex of the triangle and for units with a flat back, such as rectangular cabins, it needs to be in the centre of the back. In both cases, it should be around 120-160 cm above the floor. It’s a good idea to fit isolation valves to the ends of the pipes since this allows the water to be completely shut off, which is not only handy for any maintenance or repair work but can also be a good idea if the property is to be left empty for an extended period, e.g. if you go away on holiday. The last-step connection between the piping and the shower unit is by means of flexible braided hoses, which are about 100cm long.
There obviously needs to be an outflow for the wastewater, these are generally pre-fitted. The exact location of the waste outlet depends on the model, but you will usually be able to check this in the product information before purchase (or the supplier can tell you). You will also need a waste pipe to connect to your soil pipe. Using a waste trap is optional, but is often a good idea in showers, particularly if they are ever going to be used by people with long hair.
There are only two key points you really need to know about the electrical requirements for steam showers. The first is that if your shower is intended for household use, then your existing electrical supply should be just fine. The second is that the electrical installation must be undertaken by a properly-qualified electrician. In addition to this being a legal requirement, if you need to make any sort of related claim on your home insurance, this fact is very likely to be checked. In all seriousness, water and electricity really don’t mix, so call in a professional.
For the sake of completeness, all you as a buyer really need to know is that the shower needs an Isolated Fused Spur Socket, which should be situated at floor level either in the vicinity of the shower or in an adjoining room, with the cable fed through the wall to connect it with the shower.
Fused Spur Socket
The electrical running costs of steam showers depend greatly upon what model you choose, how you use it and the specific prices charged by your supplier. Once you have whittled your choice down to a handful of models, you may wish to use the manufacturer-supplied specifications to see which would be the most economical, but realistically, steam showers are unlikely to blow a gasket in your electricity bills.
So now we’ve covered all the practical information, we can now move on to the most fun part of this guide - choosing the right shower option for you.
Shower types (and what they mean in practice)
This has slightly more functionality than a standard shower enclosure, for example, it can support monsoon showers and jets. It’s an ideal choice for those on a budget and also for landlords who want to offer a bit more than a standard shower without putting too much at risk in case of tenant damage. This is a shower with all the water functions but with no steam sauna function or other electric functions such as radio or lighting
This is where the luxury really starts. Shower cabins can take showering to a whole new level. In addition to supporting different types of shower head and jets, they can support all kinds of add-on electrical features from mood lighting to music. For those who really need to be “always-on”, there’s even the option to include a telephone.
Steam shower cabin
Take everything you loved about the shower cabin and add the benefit of steam. Clean out your body in comfort as your aches and pains are soothed away and your stress becomes tranquillity.
Whirlpool steam shower
This has to be the ultimate in domestic health and wellness luxury. Up until relatively recently, you would have had to have gone to a public facility (such as a gym or spa) to have enjoyed one of these, today, however they are now priced at a level where they can feasibly be incorporated in a standard bathroom as an investment purchase. They have all the benefits of steam showers plus all the benefits of whirlpool baths. Your body and your mind are sure to appreciate them.
Once you’ve chosen what kind of shower you want, there are just a couple of further points to decide.
Your interior - acrylic or glass?
Acrylic is the material most commonly used for baths and for a number of good reasons. It offers excellent insulation, is very durable and easy to clean and maintain. It’s pretty resistant to scratches and if it does get scratched, it’s fairly easy to repair. In terms of colour, white is pretty much the only choice, but on the plus side, this does do a good job of hiding any leftover soapy suds, which can show up only too clearly on glass panels (particularly dark ones). Acrylic shower interiors also tended to come moulded in one piece, which can make for quicker installation and make for an easier to clean shower.
Glass has a completely different look to acrylic and tends to feel more rigid and hence give the impression of being more stable and expensive, although in reality the difference is not an issue and acrylic showers are perfectly safe to use. Glass does offer a more reflective surface and is probably considered a more refined material and look, ultimately the choice of acrylic or glass is a straightforward matter of personal preference.
Your valves - manual or thermostatic
Manual valves are individual hot and cold valves which you use yourself to mix the water to the temperature of your choice every time you take a shower. Thermostatic valves mix the water for you and deliver it at your desired temperature. Again, this is a matter of preference, but we’d suggest going for thermostatic valves as these will deal with the slight variations in water temperature which often occur in domestic water systems.
One final point…
Before you make your final purchase decision, please double-check that you will be physically able to get all the components from your nearest delivery point into your bathroom. Remember that shower cabins and whirlpool showers tend to come in large pieces. Make sure that there will be room to manoeuvre it all the way from A to B. Also, make sure that you have somewhere secure to store the shower between delivery and fitting. Safe means both out of reach of thieves and also in a place where it’s unlikely that any component parts will get broken or lost. While showers are very durable once fitted, while they are lying waiting to be installed, components such as glass panels can be vulnerable to being knocked over and small (but important) pieces can be tempting to curious children (and pets).
Choosing a steam shower can be a daunting task - especially with so many manufacturers, each with a full range of models and a full range of features. What water system do you need? How to install? Here we take a look with our Steam shower cabin complete buyers guide