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If you’re an essential oil newbie (or even if you’ve been using oils for awhile) you might feel completely overwhelmed by the different methods of diffusing essential oils. After all, there are a vast array of diffusing devices out there in the market place. How do you know which essential oil diffusers are the best to use? Which ones are best avoided? Have no fear, this article will help you through the maze of essential oil diffusers. You’ll discover how they work, and the pros and cons of each one. Included too are some favorite essential oils to blend together for use in your chosen diffuser.
Why Diffuse Essential Oils?
There is a profusion of good reasons for diffusing essential oils! Here are some of the best:
- Rid your home or office of unwanted odors and purify the air
- Deepen your meditation practice
- Get rid of dangerous airborne bacteria
- Help a loved one (or yourself) with a head cold or bronchitis get better quicker
- Promote a low stress but high functioning workplace
- Promote optimal sleep
- Remove mold from a room, basement, or attic
- Create calm and peace before guests arrive (or in the rooms of warring children!)
- Reduce food cravings
- Dispel negativity
- Boost immunity
- Increase mental clarity and recall
- Boost motivation
As you can see, diffusing essential oils makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons! Now that you know why you want to be diffusing essential oils on a regular basis, here are five of the most popular types of diffusers available.
#1. Essential Oil Burner
How It Works: Oil burners usually work by placing the essential oils of your choice into a ceramic reservoir, with or without water, and then placing it over a heat source. The heat source is usually a naked flame (like a tea light candle). Other burners include an electric element and even an inventive terracotta ring that fits onto an incandescent light bulb. The heat acts to vaporize the essential oil and release it into the air.
Pros: Oil burners are generally inexpensive, lovely to look at, and only a few drops of essential oil are required.
Cons: The risk for forgetting they are burning and causing a fire is high. However the biggest argument of all against any essential oil burner − and the main reason this method is not recommended for therapeutic use − is that the essential oils are heated. You will obtain little to no therapeutic benefit from this type of diffusing because essential oils are delicate, volatile, and contain the life energy of the plant they come from. When you heat them, you actually change or destroy the phytochemical content of that oil. So, use an essential oil burner if you just want a nice smell in the room (termed “recreational fragrancing”). If you really want and need the therapeutic benefit from your essential oils, use an ultrasonic cool mist diffuser or a nebulizer.
#2. Reed Diffuser (Evaporation)
How It Works: A reed diffuser comprises a small bottle or vase that is partially filled with an aromatic oil and several natural rattan reeds. The oil wicks up the reeds and releases the fragrance into the room where the diffuser sits, on an ongoing basis.
Pros: Reed diffusers look stylish. If you make your own you can utilize high quality essential oils and enjoy the aromas. They are inexpensive to make (depending upon the essential oils used).
Cons: While reed diffusers might smell nice, most of them come as part of a kit and the fragrance part is made with synthetic fragrances and unsafe chemicals. (See paragraph below for more information.) Also, reed diffusing tends to be a more expensive way to diffuse essential oils because a large quantity of essential oil is required (see recipe below). Unlike nebulizers or ultrasonic diffusers, the aroma of the oil is not carried throughout the room, but only in a small zone around the reeds.
Why You Need to Be Wary of Reed Diffuser Kits
The kit-style reed diffuser generally comes with a container of fragrance. But here’s the problem − this fragrance is filled with chemicals that can cause you harm. They’re usually made with hormone-disrupting chemicals, adulterated oils, and all kinds of nasty things.
According to the website www.poison.org, the National Capital Poison Center’s information website, any child that gets hold of these reed diffusers and drinks the contents is at high risk for poisoning. They can contain up to 70 percent isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol).
The takeaway here is that these kits might smell nice but in the end have no business in anyone’s boudoir (or anywhere else for that matter). By making your own reed diffuser using organic essential oils and other good quality ingredients, you can turn this style of diffusing into a much healthier and enjoyable way to diffuse essential oils.
How to Make Your Own Reed Diffuser Using Essential Oils
- Small glass container of your choice (one suitable for holding reeds)
- Reeds to fit the container
- 1/2 cup of base oil*
- 30 – 50 drops organic essential oils of your choice
*The base oil helps to dilute the essential oils that you intend to use. It also keeps them from evaporating so quickly and helps your essential oils wick up the diffuser reeds so they can diffuse into the air. The base oil can be fractionated coconut oil (which means it is liquid at room temperature), almond oil, or sunflower oil. All three of these have little scent to alter the aroma of the oils you wish to use.
Try starting with an essential oil or two you already know that you enjoy. Simply fill the glass container with the base oil, add the essential oils of your choice, place the reeds in the bottl, and enjoy. Tip: If the oils are not getting drawn up the reeds or seem too slow to your liking, it could be the thickness of the base oil. Try adding a little vodka to the glass container to help speed the wicking process.
#3. Nebulizer Diffuser (aka Cold Air Diffuser)
How It Works: When you turn on the nebulizer − sometimes known as a cold air diffuser − an air pump sends condensed air to a nozzle tube which controls the direction of the oil. A stream of air whizzes across the nozzle tube, creating a vacuum and causing the essential oils to move upward. As they rise, the stream of pressurized air hits the essential oil droplets and causes them to atomize into micro-particles which fill a glass reservoir. Once in the glass reservoir, the micro-particles rise and are emitted out of a glass cap as a vapor which is released into the room.
Pros: This type of diffuser is considered to be one of the most therapeutic because the essential oils are not diluted − the nebulizer operates without water or a carrier oil. It also does not heat the essential oils, thus the therapeutic properties of the oils are retained. The essential oil molecules released into the room are so fine they tend to remain suspended in the air for a few hours. Some feel this method energizes the oils and increases the oxygen content in the oil molecules. Another benefit is that it adds no humidity to the room, which can occur with the ultrasonic cool mist diffuser. Most models allow you to sit the bottle of essential oil directly on the atomizer so it is relatively easy to use.
Cons: Four things might keep the nebulizer style diffuser from being a perfect way to diffuse oils, although three of these things can be overcome.
- Nebulizers tend to cost more than other styles of diffusers for essential oils.
- The noise factor. A nebulizer can be fairly noisy while operating unless it is specifically designed not to be. To avoid this, look for models that say “whisper quiet” or “silent.”
- Because the essential oils are not diluted, much more essential oil is utilized during operation. This method really eats up the oils.
- It is more difficult to use a blend of essential oils since a single bottle is normally placed on the atomizer. You can overcome this by mixing up the oils of your choice and putting them into an essential oil bottle, or by using a pre-made essential oil blend.
#4. Ultrasonic Cool Mist Diffuser
How It Works: An ultrasonic diffuser has a water reservoir that is covered with a lid. At the bottom of the unit is a small, flexible membrane which vibrates ultrasonically. This passes energy to the water, breaks up the water molecule, and turns it from a liquid into a vapor. The vapor is propelled into the air and carries along with it the volatile components of the essential oils. It effectively disperses the oils you are using into the entire room where the diffuser is sitting and helps them to stay suspended in the air for a long period of time.
Pros: This is one of the most economical ways to diffuse essential oils. Due to the fact that the oils are dripped into a water reservoir, only a few drops of each oil are required. The cool mist diffuser can double as a humidifier − it does add humidity to the room. This type of diffuser generally has a timed function so you can set it to run for a particular length of time. It usually also has a safety off-switch when the water level falls too low, and is easy to clean and refill. Some ultrasonic diffusers also have lights that change colors, which is a nice feature to some people. This is a good style of diffuser to use with children as the concentration of the oil will not be too potent.
Cons: The ultrasonic cool mist diffuser can be a little on the expensive side although cheaper models are increasingly available. Also, because it does emit the oils in a micro-fine mist, it does add humidity to a room. If there is an existing mold problem, this may not be the best diffuser to choose. It is also not recommended to use citrus oils with the cool mist diffuser because they can potentially damage the diffuser.
#5. The Oldest Method – Your Hands!
How It Works: Simply drip the oils you wish to breathe into your hands, just a drop or two will suffice. Rub your hands together and make a tent over your nose with your hands (be careful to leave your eyes out of the tent) and breathe in deeply. Some have described this process to be as if one were pulling the oils up into and over the brain and/or lungs. Take several deep breaths.
Pros: This is one of the quickest ways to get instant results. It is cost-effective, as it only requires one to two drops of essential oil. It can be done almost anywhere.
Cons: The benefits are only enjoyed by one person, and only briefly as the oils are absorbed by the skin quite quickly. If the desire is to get rid of airborne bacteria, or mold, or to have more than one person reap the benefits, diffusing by nebulizer or ultrasonic diffuser is preferable.
10 Helpful Tips for Diffusing Essential Oils
- Ensure the diffuser of your choice meets electrical safety standards for your country, especially since many are being shipped from China.
- Check the thickness or viscosity of the oils you wish to use. For instance, patchouli is a very thick oil and it can easily plug up your diffuser. If it takes forever to coax out of the oil bottle, it’s probably not a good oil to diffuse.
- Start slowly with diffusing times − this allows your body and your brain to become more accustomed to the oils. Start with 15 minutes per day and slowly increase the diffusing time. If diffusing makes you feel bad, it could be that your body is detoxing. Drink some water and back off the diffusing time until your body adjusts.
- Place the diffuser up as high as possible in the room so that the oil mist falls down through the air.
- Always wash the diffuser before use, especially when changing oils or blends. Read and follow the cleaning instructions supplied for your diffuser.
- In the ultrasonic cool mist diffuser, use distilled water for best results.
- Try not to use too many different oils together as this can be overwhelming to your senses. Diffuse two to three oils at a time for best results.
- If using a nebulizer-style diffuser, only run it for ten minutes at a time − two to three times per day for adults, and much less for children due to the concentrated nature of the essential oils emitted.
- If using the ultrasonic diffuser, make sure that the room where you wish to use the unit does not suffer with mold or mildew or you will need to treat that first with specific essential oils because this method does increase the humidity in the room where the diffuser sits.
- Do not use citrus oils in ultrasonic cool mist diffusers.
7 DIY Essential Oil Blends
Many essential oils are sold as blends, but here are seven different blends of essential oils that you can easily make yourself. Start with a 1:1 ratio of oils (i.e. 1 drop lavender + 1 drop orange), but feel free to experiment with different proportions of oils to suit your personal taste.
Lavender with Orange: both are calming essential oils that help to relieve anxiety and stress, improve immune system function, and are antibacterial oils. Great for diffusing prior to sleep.
Clove with Grapefruit: these oils are effective antibacterial and antifungal oils, so if you do have a problem with mold in your house, this would be a good pair to diffuse. They are also both powerful anti-inflammatory oils.
Rosemary with Clove and Eucalyptus: this is a powerful combination against airborne bacteria. This would be a great trio to help someone fight or prevent a cold, bronchitis, or flu. Add or substitute oregano essential oil for additional germ-killing power.
Basil with Geranium Rose and Orange: this trio makes a great study blend or for any time when increased mental functioning would be useful. All three oils have been researched for increasing mental alertness, brain clarity, and concentration. If nervous jitters are also present, add a single drop of lavender to the diffuser.
Geranium Rose with Lavender and Oregano: if allergies are causing you big problems, this trio of oils has research showing they have anti-allergy properties. Oregano works by decreasing inflammatory markers. Lavender has anti-inflammatory effects and has been used to treat asthma. Geranium rose has an inhibitory effect on certain immune cells involved with triggering allergic reactions.
Frankincense with Orange or Lemon: spiritually uplifting, great for meditation, and relieving stress. It is also good for assisting creativity.
The Author’s Favorite Blend: Pine, Cinnamon, and Orange. Spicy, warming, and uplifting, this blend is great for massage sessions, meditation, clearing the mind, and grounding.
Diffusing Essential Oils Safely Around Children and Pets
It is perfectly safe to diffuse high quality, medicinal grade essential oils around pets but remember, less is more. Their small bodies do not need anywhere near the amount of essential oil that an adult human would be able to tolerate. If your pet does not care for the scent (or for instance becomes more hyperactive, begins to drool, or act strangely) stop diffusing. Be respectful of their little noses. Many holistic vets diffuse essential oils in their clinics to help calm the animals and reduce airborne bacteria and bad smells. Be careful to never leave an animal in a closed room with the diffuser going and make sure to only use essential oils that are safe for pets.
For children, due to the fact that smaller amounts of essential oils are used when diffusing, and because the oils are diluted into the entire volume of air in the room, diffusing is one of the safest ways to employ essential oils with children. The ultrasonic cool mist diffuser is better for children, because they emit a less concentrated mist into the air than do nebulizers.
When choosing which oils to diffuse for children, this must be done wisely. Know that not all essential oils are safe to use for children. Always work with the guidance of a certified aromatherapist when using essential oils with children. The age of the child matters as well. For instance with babies under 3 months of age, essential oils should not be diffused or applied topically. Never diffuse essential oils daily with children.
A Final Word On Essential Oil Purity
When choosing essential oils for therapeutic use, purity matters. Always choose a high quality, organic essential oil that has been properly distilled so that its phytochemical content has not been compromised. Beware of cheap oils because they are usually created with or diluted by potentially toxic chemical ingredients. Be sure to ask questions and discover for yourself which essential oil companies are reputable and which ones are better avoided.
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Just curious about your 10th tip stating not to diffuse citrus oils in ultrasonic cool mist diffusers? I find they are the best for deodorizing and they are in many diffuser blends. I know they contain lighter molecules and often dissipate quicker, maybe that’s why?
Also, what’s your take on recommendations to diffuse blends containing fractionated coconut oil? I’ve read it can ruin diffusers (ultrasonic cool mist), yet is stated that’s how to use those “proprietary blends” by certain companies.
Looking forward to your thoughts.
Same question exactly with the citrus being important and in most blends. I’m seeing mainly ultrasonic not nebulizers for sale. I also see coconut oil in many and am curious why these are not good for the ultrasonic diffuser. Thanks.
I’m very curious about the remark regarding not using citrus as well. And yet orange and lemon are mentioned in the blend suggestions. What’s up with that?
Pulimi John anil Reddy says
Good article on aroma diffusers… I have two options one light bulb diffuser and ultrasonic mist diffuser hmm anyway nice.
Hi I am curious about your comments on essential oils losing their therapeutic benefits when they heated with an oil burner, I am not sure how this could be true for the oils that are made by distillation. Through the process of distillation the plant parts are heated to very high temperatures to extract the oils, so wouldn’t that mean the oils made via this process have no therapeutic benefits to begin with then.
What about certain oils working as hormones in your body? I read some of them are not adviced in case of ER+ PR+ breastcancer?
I’m just wondering which brand of EO’s would you recommend please?
Customer Success says
We recommend essential oils from Ancient Nutrition. Here’s the direct link to their online store.
Sustainable Planet says
I personally like the nebulizing diffuser, but that’s just me. Great article though btw!
I am curious on your opinion of oils to not diffuse around cats. I have been told there are some that should never be used around cats but no one can tell me which ones.
Customer Support says
Hello Charlyn –
Great question! Unfortunately, we don’t have the answer to this at this time.
And we are unable to give any kind of medical advice. The best advice we can give you is to reach out to a veterinarian or one of the experts interviewed in our docu-series, The Truth About PET Cancer, and they would be best able to guide you on this.
Please note that we are not able to select an expert for you.
Here’s the link to The Truth About PET Cancer Expert List:
Also, the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association has a resource to search for holistic veterinarians here: https://www.ahvma.org/find-a-holistic-veterinarian/
Hope this info above is very helpful to you. Blessings and love!
Dee Dee says
You are never ever supposed to put undiluted Essential Oil onto any part of your body as stated in #5. The Oldest Method – Your Hands
William Thomas says
Great List Marnie, I am Williams and I have made a list of oil diffuser brands that follows most of the points in Canada. I though it may help people who aren’t aware as many brands in the market have issue and violates many standard
I believe users will be happy to see this post https://www.whatbestincanada.com/best-oil-diffuser-brands/
Silvia Logan says
If I put plug in an essential oil diffuser in my father’s bedroom because he has accidents in bed and his room smells of toilet, would the essential oil diffuser cause mold in his bedroom because his bedroom did have problem with mold in the past?