Comparing Essential Oil Diffusers: How They Work and The Benefits & Downsides of Each

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I diffuse essential oils into nearly every room of my house, pretty much all day every day. That might be a bit excessive, but I can’t help it. The scents just make me feel good.

If I’m feeling a little under the weather, a blend of eucalyptus, lemon, tea tree, and cinnamon usually helps. Feeling a little anxious? Lavender and chamomile. A little sleepy? Peppermint and grapefruit. The list goes on.

I’ve been diffusing essential oils for years and I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of heat diffusers or evaporative diffusers. It could be a matter of preference, the nebulizing diffuser works really well for me. That said, I also love – and regularly use – my ceramic ultrasonic diffuser.

Here’s a quick description of how each works.

READ: Buying Guide: Essential Oils Can Be Incredibly Beneficial… or Dangerous, Depending on What You Buy and How You Use Them

Nebulizing diffusers (my #1 favorite)

Essential oil nebulizing diffuserNebulizing diffusers use ‘atomizers’ to break essential oil into fine particles. And they use pressurized air to disperse this micro-mist of oils into the environment. Powerful and effective, nebulizing diffusers use neither heat nor water, and its plastic parts are usually limited to the on/off knobs or other small components that do not come into contact with the oil itself.

Depending on the model, you can either drop some essential oils directly into the glass tub, or attach the bottle directly to the diffuser, letting it do the work for you.

The fine particles of oil remain suspended in the air for hours, so even just 15 to 30 minutes of nebulizing can provide hours of benefit.

Ultrasonic diffusers (my second favorite)

Essential oil ultrasonic diffuserInstead of heat, ultrasonic diffusers release a fine mist of water and essential oils into the air using vibration (i.e. electronic frequencies). Since heat is not used, the therapeutic properties of the oil remain unchanged, which is great.

Another upside is that, because ultrasonic diffusers also mist water into the air, they are helpful in winter and in dry environments, where you would use a humidifier. The (slight) downside is that the water dilutes the essential oil and, in turn, its therapeutic benefits. That said, you can run the diffuser for as long as you’d like, so I wouldn’t exactly rule this a deal breaker.

The other thing to keep in mind is that many ultrasonic diffusers are made from plastic. Essential oils are corrosive to plastic, so stick to diffusers that hold the oil in ceramic or glass.

Heat diffusers

Essential oil heat diffuserOne way to diffuse EOs is by adding a bit of water and a few drops of the oil into a small ceramic bowl. Light a tea candle underneath or turn on the switch, if it’s an electronic diffuser. Once it’s warmed, the oil’s aroma will release into the air.

The two main upsides of heat diffusers are that they are inexpensive and they can quickly diffuse oils through a small room. One major downside, however, is that it’s way too easy to burn the oil. I’ve done this countless times, either because the wick on my candle was too long (causing the flame to be too big) or by not paying attention and leaving the candle to burn long after the water was gone.

The other downside is that the heat (even when it’s just warm and not burnt) can chemically alter the therapeutic properties of essential oils. Obviously, that’s not ideal.

Evaporative diffusers

Essential oils evaporative diffuserYou can also evaporate essential oils by adding a few drops into a glass beacon or vase, along with some carrier oil to help fill the container and spread the oil. Add a few wooden reeds to draw the essential oils from the glass and into the air.

Evaporative diffusers are beautiful and inexpensive. The downside is that they are not terribly effective or long-lasting.

Also, I’ve seen these evaporative diffusers sold with the essential oils already in the jar. Since the jar is clear, light can shine through and who knows how long it’s been sitting on the shelf. Light can age an essential oil more quickly, causing it to lose its therapeutic benefits.

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Essential oil benefits

The natural aromatic compounds found in essential oils have been found to:

  • Purify indoor air
  • Reduce stress, anxiety and depression
  • Promote relaxation and restful sleep
  • Improve mood
  • Boost energy levels
  • Clear brain fog and improve mental clarity
  • Relieve headaches

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