I’ve posted before about why we don’t use scented candles and what we use instead. One of my favorite alternatives is to use an essential oil diffuser, and many people asked what type of diffuser I use and recommend.
I’m not an herbalist or aromatherapy expert, but I have tried many types of diffusers and I wanted to share the pros and cons of the ones we’ve tried.
From my experience, not all diffusers are created equal and some work much better than others. I wish that I’d read a review like this before deciding which to purchase and I hope my experience will be helpful to you.
Benefits of Diffusing Essential Oils
So what does diffusing essential oils mean exactly, and why would you do it? Diffusers use various methods to disperse essential oil containing water droplets through the air in a fine continuous mist.
Far from being just a natural substitute for air freshener and nothing more, each type of essential oil contains powerful chemical properties (the “essence”) from its parent plant. These chemicals bind to our olfactory receptors (how we smell) and have an actual effect on our limbic system. These nerves in our brains control our hunger, emotions, anger, sleep, and more, so it makes sense diffusing oils can have a real effect.
There are a number of studies (plus a whole lot of anecdotal evidence) that diffusing essential oils can produce the following benefits, depending on the type of oil:
- reduces stress
- improves mental clarity
- uplifts the mood
- calms and promotes a sedative effect (useful before sleep)
- purifies the air
In fact, essential oils are so much more than air fresheners that we need to be cautious how we use them around our homes and our children.
Types of Essential Oil Diffusers
There are a few different types of essential oil diffusers which is one reason why narrowing down to the right one can feel a little overwhelming. The ones I’m aware of include:
- Nebulizer Diffusers
- Ultrasonic/Humidifying Diffusers
- Heat Diffusers
- Evaporative Diffusers
In addition to researching them I’ve tried each type of diffuser and have learned what I like and what I don’t about each.
1. Heat Diffuser
A heat diffuser, like it sounds, uses heat to turn water with a few drops of essential oil into a gas that disperses into the air. These can be electric or use the heat of a candle/flame.
I have not found a heat diffuser that worked nearly as well as even the worst nebulizer or ultrasonic diffusers I’ve tried, so I can’t make any recommendations on these types of diffusers. The one exception is a basic heat diffuser I use in the car since larger diffusers are not practical while driving, and it works decently well in a small space like a vehicle (and is much better than car air fresheners).
Since heat affects the beneficial properties of the essential oils, I definitely don’t recommend this method for diffusing oils in general.
2. Evaporative Diffusers
These diffusers use a fan to increase air flow across an essential oil soaked pad or lining. As the liquid evaporates, the scent (and its properties) move into the air.
Another type of evaporative diffuser is diffuser pendant jewelry. The theory is that the essential oil will naturally evaporate and permeate the air and skin.
I don’t find this type of diffuser nearly as effective as the remaining two.
3. Nebulizing Diffusers
Nebulizing diffusers are often considered the most powerful type of diffusers, and with good reason. They do not need water or heat to get the essential oil in to the air and they work by using an atomizer to create fine, airborne particles of essential oils and blowing them in to the air.
If you can’t tell, nebulizing diffusers are my favorite type of diffuser. If anyone gets sick they can keep a near-continuous stream of essential oils in the air and can fill a room of many square feet.
Here’s my thought process and experience with this type of diffuser:
- Attaches directly to the bottle of essential oil and can be turned on with the flip of a switch
- No water or set-up required
- Strong concentration of essential oils released into the air
- Timers control run time and rest time let you control how long it runs and provide an option other than continuous use
- No light so they can be used at night, since we avoid night lights
- Noise level is louder than ultrasonic diffusers
- Uses oils more quickly than ultrasonic or other diffusers since they attach directly to the diffuser
- More expensive than most ultrasonic diffusers (though not by much)
We use: This Advanced Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser from Amazon. I’ve now saved up and ordered a couple of these because they work so well. Even just diffusing for 15 minutes will leave a lasting essential oil scent for hours.
4. Ultrasonic Diffusers
Ultrasonic diffusers work in a similar way to nebulizing diffusers by creating a fine mist. The difference is that ultrasonic diffusers use water and essential oils to create an ultrasonic cool mist of water/oils that releases in to the air. They double as a humidifier, so they are beneficial in winter, but they don’t put out as strong of a concentration of essential oils since they also use water.
Note: It is not recommended to use citrus essential oils with this type of diffuser as they can cause the parts to erode.
- Less expensive than nebulizing diffusers
- Doubles as a humidifier (beneficial in cold months)
- Many options to choose from
- Doesn’t use heat
- Water tank has a large capacity
- Can’t use citrus essential oils
- Need water to operate
- Must be cleaned occasionally
- Some have lights that can’t be turned off
- Not as effective as nebulizing diffusers
What we use: Several different types of ultrasonic diffusers and I’ve found that some work better than others. These were our favorites:
- The Noor Litemist Aromatherapy Diffuser – This simple cone-shape design diffuses for several hours and has an option to turn the light on or off for night time use. (Just please don’t use any LED color-changing lights at night… here’s why!)
- The Allay Litemist Diffuser – Very similar and slightly cheaper than the Noor Litemist, but it doesn’t seem to have a way to turn off the light which makes it unusable at night (for us).
- The Whisper (not pictured because it is on lend to a friend) – Can diffuse in up to a 1,000 square foot area and is completely silent. It is more expensive than the other ultrasonic diffusers we’ve tried (perhaps thanks to its beautiful wood-grain look) but I don’t think that the difference in diffusing is necessarily worth the cost.
- Lagute Diffuser – I ordered this one because it looks nicer than the others but would not order it again. It was more expensive than the Noor or Allay and does not work as well. It is also difficult to open to add water and oils.
Other Ways to Freshen Indoor Air
Essential oils are a great way to freshen indoor air with natural scents but they are definitely not the only way! We keep our indoor air clean naturally with:
- Indoor plants to filter the air – A NASA study found that plants were effective at filtering out VOCs and other indoor air toxins.
- Salt Lamps, Beeswax Candles, and Charcoal Bags – Three simple ways to clean indoor air without needing a diffuser or essential oils. They don’t offer a natural scent like oils do, but can remove harmful compounds from the air.
- Air filters. With the number of toxins in indoor air, air filters are a necessary and beneficial step. I explain why we love ours (we have several) here.
Bottom Line: Choosing an Aroma Essential Oil Diffuser
Essential oils may seem like mix-and-match perfumes, but in reality they are powerful essences from plants with medicinal effects. I think using a diffuser is a great step, but urge everyone to do their homework. If you have a family, make sure to diffuse only kid-safe essential oil blends and take breaks by buying a model with controlled mist settings.
This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Have you ever used a diffuser? What did you like or not like about it? Share below!