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 about 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, as 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. 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 airflow 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 into the air and they work by using an atomizer to create fine, airborne particles of essential oils and blowing them into 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 into 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).
- Everlasting Comfort – Their wood diffuser has great reviews and is one of my favorite to look at. It has a 400mL tank that can provide you with over 13 hours of diffusion but also has a timer so you can choose how long you need it on. Use code wellnessmama for 10% off.
- Car Diffuser – I’ve tried smaller models but got tired of repeatedly filling their tiny water reservoirs! This one does take up a cupholder but I like the intermittent/constant control and the sleek design.
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!
Discussion (249 Comments)
What kinds of oils do you use? I use doTERRA just because I don’t know of other companies that sell a safe product (I’ve heard that per gov regulations they only have to use 5-10% of what they actually say they’re using, the rest can be filler). Do you know anything about this?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I like doTerra oils and I also really like Mountain Rose Herbs oils (which are also organic and third party certified) https://wellnessmama.com/go/essential-oils/
Do you recommend young living essential oils ?
No. I’m not a fan of the MLM companies. I typically buy mine here.
Katie, you stated that you like doterra oils and in the next breath you tell someone you don’t like YL oils because it’s MLM? do Terra is not only a MLM company…. the founders literally stole YL’s years of developing and teaching and sharing the power of essential oils and then lied about the very one who taught them and hand held them, trusted them just to be literally stabbed in the back. I was personally an eye witness to this. Unfortunately, you have disqualified yourself with me and those who follow me.
Katie no longer recommends any MLM companies and hasn’t for a while now. The comment recommending doTERRA is from 2014, and the one about not recommending any MLM essential oil companies is from 2019. People’s opinions can change over time as they learn more 🙂
Essential oils production is NOT regulated by government and good quality oils should be without any fillers! Many trusty companies exist now, here’s a few: http://www.floracopeia.com,
http://www.auracacia.com, http://www.gritman.com, http://www.pompeiorganics.com.
What was the brand name of the ultrasonic one you like? The link doesn’t work to a specific one (maybe bc I’m in Canada?)
Thanks! Great blog!
Oops, I meant the Nebulizer brand one please. You listed the ultrasonic ones
Great information, thanks for sharing.
I’ve started using essential oils, for me is a new and exciting new field, so much benefits in those small drops.
What brand of essential oils do you like to use?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I’ve tried many different ones and it usually depends on the particular oil/scent. Always make sure they are a high quality, organic oil from a reputable source.
The experts say this, then most won’t give any specific recommendations. I know that you have given your opinions on other web pages you have written, so why not reference those links here instead of the standard industry response?
If most won’t go on record, how are we supposed to “make sure” they are “high quality, organic oils from a reputable source?” If no one gives an opinion, where does the reputation come from?
I research health topics all the time and this all-to-common response by most in the essential oils community is unusual and baffling. It really makes me suspect that there are some unknown financial motivations involved. In no other area of health will you find so many writing about it, yet refusing to go on record with specifics about the companies making the products, in this case, the oils and diffusers. So frustrating.
Great post,thanks so much for your research and findings!
My son had asthma as a baby (but has not had an episode since we removed dairy from his diet). I wonder if we can drag the nebulizer out of the closet and make new use of it with essential oils…
I would like to know your response to using the nebulizer for aroma therapy
When we are troubled with colds etc I put a drop of Breathe or Eucalyptus in the nebulizer container and then nebulize the oils either as a supplement to the medication or as an alternative.
Do you put water in the nebulizer container (where you would put the arbiterol solution)? Or do you put the neat oil in it?
I have a nebulizer and have been wondering this.
Do you know how large of an area the Advanced Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser will diffuse? Thanks!!
Hi, you give a link to an “advanced aromatherapy diffuser” but it just goes to amazon’s overall page of diffusers; not to a single model. And I really want to know which *one* you meant! Please let me know ASAP. Thanks.
This one: https://amzn.to/3aUQE1p
That link still just lists alot of sponsored listings. Still not sure exactly which one you like?? Thanks so much!
I just checked the link and it goes directly to a single diffuser…
Thanks for your response. Unfortunately, perhaps because I’m in Canada, the link goes directly to sponsored diffusers on Amazon.ca. I believe I saw another Canadian with the same issue? Are you not able to tell me the name of the diffuser? Thank you.
It’s called the Advanced Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser…
I’ve had my Moso bags out for about a week and know there’s a difference in the air of my apartment. 🙂
This may seem silly but…what about burning the wax bars?? Same effects as burning a candle?
Waxed bars, unfortunately, are often scented with synthetic fragrances. If you read Katie’s article about why she doesn’t use scented candles, it explains how synthetic scents have hidden dangers to your endocrine system and overall health. https://wellnessmama.com/22656/dont-use-scented-candles/
Katie, I put essential oils on my salt lamp. Is there an issue with doing that? It makes the room smell wonderful, goes away after a couple of hours and I can put as much or as little EO as I want. I never considered that there might be an issue with using the salt lamp like this though. What do you think?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I don’t see a problem with it 🙂 Great idea…
Really? That would be great. Wanted to buy one but didn’t know.
That’s a great idea! Never thought to do this!
The only this with using oils on a salt lamp is the heat. Heat breaks down the oils and they aren’t as potent but if you are only doing it for the smell I don’t see an issue.
Do you recommend any specific brand of diffusers I want a good quality one that’s not going to break the bank, and there are so many companies that sell them I have no clue what I’m really buying!
Where do you put the EO on the salt lamp?
I do that too with my salt lamp. I have it in the living room beside the couch so it freshens up the room.
thanks for this info, but i have a question as to why we can not use citrus essential oils in the ultrasonic diffusers? i have 3 of them and have been diffusing citrus oils without any problems so far, so curious as to what the problem would be. Greatly appreciated. Josie
Katie - Wellness Mama
They can cause the parts to erode over time due to the caustic properties of the citrus oil….
I just pirchased the NOW Solutions Ultrasonic Diffuser and it has no warning about using citurs oils and even includes recipes that contain lemon, orange and grapefruit. I am currently running Lemongrass and Lavender in mine–so nice!
I just bought a NOW diffuser, I Sweet Orange in it now, and I can’t smell it. What brand of EO are you using, thanks!
I get mine here: https://wellnessmama.com/go/essential-oils/
Citrus oils break down petrol chemicals like plastic. That is one of the benefits of citrus oils is the way that they can get rid of petroleum byproducts in your body. However … they can break down the plastic molecules in plastic bottles, plastic containers etc. So always use metal or glass with any citrus. However I too use the citrus in my plastic diffuser with no problem.
To clarify, HDPE plastic as well as plastics with the number 1 (PETE) and 2 are generally safe with essential oils. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you store essential oils neat in such a container, but when choosing diffusers, a diffuser made with a rigid HDPE plastic (High-density polyethylene) should be safe. I would always suggest that you read manufacturer’s warnings.
I’ve been asked by certain consumers why diffusers are made with plastic in the first place. I think it generally comes down to cost. And if a company is making diffusers with cheaper plastic, you may find that citrus oils are going to warp the plastic.
That’s true about the diffusers and citrus oils. In fact many will actually explain this in their inserts.
Hi! Thanks for all of your posts!!! I have a few questions!
How long do you leave the diffusers on? In bedrooms? Family room?
Which essential oil do you recommend having in a new born’s bedroom? How long?
Which essential oils do you use?- I’ve heard some brands may be artificial, I don’t want make the mistake of purchasing those. ..
Thanks a bunch!!!!!
Katie - Wellness Mama
The ultrasonic ones I just leave on until they go off automatically. The nebulizing diffusers I typically leave on for 30 minutes at a time and do that as needed. For newborns, I’ve diffused chamomile, lavender and even germ-fighting blends during times of illness. I use several different brands including Mountain Rose Herbs wellnessmama.com/go/essential-oils
I am wondering if all ultrasonic diffusers are also considered air purifiers? I see a few that add that to the description…is that a ploy or do some really do more that just diffuse and humidify?
I use the Do Terra lite diffuser…it also can be used as a night light or light can be turned off. Uses tap water and only 2-3 drops of an oil or blend of oils. It can be set for 4 or 8 hours….I set it for 4 hours to fall asleep and stay asleep. I love this diffuser. You can use any kind of the essential oils citrus etc.in this one.
Just wondering if you have any more diffusers that you have tried and if you can comment on the whisper?
I use the Sage brand diffusers along with all the different essential oil blends they sell! I own two diffusers and over 10 of their essential oils and they work well. Sage is a Canadian based company but you can order online 🙂
Could you safely put a dampened cotton ball of oil in the pillowcase instead of using a mister?