How to Diffuse Essential Oils

You need to diffuse essential oils if you want to use inhalation to reap their benefits. And inhalation is a very popular approach.

After all, you have to breathe. 12 to 16 times per minute, in fact. So you may as well breathe in something good for you!

Diffusing essential oils usually requires a diffuser. There’re hundreds of diffusers out there, but they all fall into one of just four categories. Each category diffuses oils in a different way, and there’re pros and cons for each.

Light diffused

Evaporative diffusers

Evaporative diffusers work by drawing room-temperature air through a pad or filter that contains the essential oil. The air then vaporizes and diffuses the oil molecules.

Examples of diffusers that fall into this category are:

  • Inhalers
  • Clay diffusers
  • Diffuser necklaces
  • Reed diffusers
  • And at a pinch, you can use tissue paper or a towel as an evaporative diffuser too.

Main pros of evaporative diffusers:

  • Don’t require heat to diffuse the oil.
    This is good because it means the chemical composition and therapeutic properties of the essential oil won’t be damaged.
  • Don’t require a carrier oil or water.
    So what you breathe in will be purely the essential oil goodness (and air) and nothing else.
  • Don’t require electricity.
    Which means the diffuser is more portable and you have lots of flexibility on where to place the diffuser.
  • Simple to use.
    Just put a few drops of essential oil in or on the diffuser (depending on its design) and that’s it!

Main cons of evaporative diffusers:

  • Small area of diffusion.
    For instance, you pretty much have to hold an inhaler to your nose to smell anything. And the standard clay diffusers only diffuse within your immediate vicinity, say around three to six feet.Reed diffusers are the exception. Really big reed diffusers (the several feet tall kind) exist and these can diffuse over an entire hotel lobby. But these big ones are usually not used at home. Well, unless your home is a mansion, perhaps!
  • Harder to change oils.
    Because the oil is “absorbed” into the diffuser, it’s harder to switch oils. Of course, if you don’t mind a mixed scent, you can simply add the new oil without waiting till every bit of the old oil has diffused off the diffuser.
  • Inconsistent rate of diffusion for different oils.
    Because the essential oil is diffused only by room-temperature, non-pressurized air, each oil will diffuse at its own natural rate. Which means lighter oils will diffuse more quickly than heavier ones.So if you’re diffusing an oil blend, the aroma you breathe in could be inconsistent. The scent of the lighter oils will be stronger initially and disappear more quickly than the scent of the heavier oils.

Best used: 

  • In your office, where you likely can’t use diffusers that need fire or electricity, and you’ll also need to keep the area of diffusion to within your immediate vicinity.
  • When you need to run around, and want a diffuser that can be thrown into your bag and used whenever and wherever you want.

Heat diffusers

Heat diffusers use, well, heat, to vaporize and diffuse essential oils. The heat is supplied by fire or electricity, depending on the type of heat diffuser. You also need to use a base to mix the essential oil in. The base can be wax, water or a carrier oil, depending on the diffuser.

Diffusers in this category include:

  • Aromatherapy candles
  • Tea light burners
  • Vaporizers.


Main pros of heat diffusers:

  • Faster diffusion.
    Heat causes the essential oil to vaporize and spread more through the room.
  • Create a warm, cozy environment.
    Other than the oh-so-gorgeous aroma they’re spreading through the room, diffusers that use fire also help create a cozy and relaxing ambience with their warm light.

Main cons of heat diffusers:

  • Use heat.
    Heat degenerates the chemical composition of many essential oils and can reduce their therapeutic value.
  • Can be a fire hazard.
    Naked flames can be a fire hazard, especially if you have super active children or pets around.And although a vaporizer doesn’t use fire, the hot water it produces can also be dangerous. So be sure to put a heat diffuser in a safe place.

Best used: 

  • When you want to create a warm and cozy atmosphere, say for a dinner with friends or a romantic date.

Ultrasonic diffusers

Ultrasonic diffusers use high electronic frequencies to vibrate water that contains one or more essential oils. The vibrations then send a fine mist of water and essential oil mix into the air.

Main pros of ultrasonic diffusers:

  • Don’t require heat to diffuse the oil.
    So the therapeutic properties of the essential oil are not destroyed.
  • Easy to clean and change oils.
    Just pour away the old water and essential oil mix, add new water and oil and that’s it.
  • Don’t require much essential oil.
    You only need to add a few drops to the water every time.
  • Medium to large area of diffusion.
    Can quickly and effectively diffuse over most rooms. I’m talking about the living rooms and bedrooms of most of us ordinary folks. If you’re a Hollywood star living in a super-sized mansion and your bedroom is bigger than my entire apartment, one diffuser is definitely not enough.
  • Lots of choices in the market.
    This is a popular way to diffuse essential oils, so there’re more ultrasonic diffusers in the market than most other types of diffusers.

Main cons of ultrasonic diffusers:

  • Need electricity.
    So less flexibility in where you can put your diffuser.
  • Use water.
    The water is not heated, so no danger there. But in an ultrasonic diffuser, you use a lot of water with only a few drops of essential oil. So what you breathe in is actually more water than essential oil.
  • Add moisture to the air.
    This could be a pro if you live in a dry climate. But it’s a con if you live in a humid place or have stuff in the room (such as books) that deteriorate more quickly when the air is wetter.

Best used: 

  • At home, when portability isn’t important.
  • In drier climates or in rooms where increased humidity isn’t too much of an issue.

Cold air diffusers/ Nebulizers

Cold air diffusers (also known as nebulizers) use pressurized room-temperature air to atomize the essential oil into micro molecules. The micro molecules are then emitted from the diffuser and into the air.

Main pros of nebulizers:

  • Produce the smallest essential oil molecules compared to other diffusers.
    Small molecules enhance your inhalation and absorption of the essential oil aroma and benefits.
  • Don’t require heat to diffuse the oil.
    Hence the therapeutic properties of the essential oil are not destroyed.
  • Don’t require wax, water or carrier oils.
    So what you breathe in is only the essential oil goodness (and air).

Main cons of nebulizers:

  • Need electricity.
    So less flexibility in where you can put your diffuser.
  • More troublesome to clean.
    The cleaning process is not complicated. But it does take a bit more effort than cleaning, say, an ultrasonic diffuser, where you just pour away the water and refill the diffuser.
  • More expensive.
    Says it all. A nebulizer is more expensive than the other types of diffusers.

Best used: 

  • At home, when portability isn’t important.
  • When you want to maximize the therapeutic benefits that you can get from the essential oil.

Best way to diffuse essential oils

If we’re talking about diffusing oils for therapeutic purposes, the best way is the way that:

  • Produces the smallest molecules of essential oil, so that they can be easily inhaled and absorbed into your body
  • Diffuses only the essential oil and nothing else. No water, carrier oil or wax
  • Does not change the chemical composition of the essential oil at all, and
  • Has a large enough area of diffusion to cover at least a small room (so that you don’t have to keep holding the diffuser to your nose).

The nebulizer is the only way that fulfils all these conditions. So it’s the one that I’ll recommend if you’re serious about diffusing essential oils for therapeutic purposes.

But if you’re not yet ready to splurge on a nebulizer, or want a diffuser that you can carry around while on the go, do give the other ways a try.

After all, all diffusers will let you gain some therapeutic value, just maybe not as much or as complete as a nebulizer. Still, better some benefits than none at all!

Shall we chat?  Which is your favorite way to diffuse essential oils? And is there any that you absolutely hate?

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