Essential oil diffusers are popping up in homes, cars, and offices alike, more prevalent in North America than anywhere else in the world. Practitioners of aromatherapy, as far back as Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, touted its health benefits dating back more than 2,500 years. But if you’re interested in getting into aromatherapy yourself, how do you pick the best essential oil diffuser from all the models available?
Oil diffusers break essential oils down into smaller molecules. Those oils emit pleasant smells, and, when you breathe that aroma in, those molecules enter your bloodstream. Many people believe that this practice offers medicinal benefits. The specific health rewards depend on which oil you use.
To experience these potential health benefits for yourself, you’ll need to find the best essential oil diffuser for your home. There is an array of diffusers available, differing in both style and diffusion method. This guide outlines important factors to consider in an essential oil diffuser and showcases some of the best models available.
- BEST OVERALL: Gather Ultrasonic Aromatherapy Diffuser
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Singeek 100ML Ceramic Tea Light Holder
- BEST WATERLESS: ArOmis Wood and Glass Essential Oil Diffuser
- BEST FOR LARGE ROOMS: URPOWER 1000ml Essential Oil Diffuser Remote Control
- BEST FOR SMALL ROOMS: Stadler Form Jasmine Essential Oil Dispenser
- BEST FOR THE CAR: InnoGear Car Diffuser, USB Essential Oil Diffuser
- BEST DESIGN: Radiance Nebulizing Diffuser for Pure Essential Oil
Types of Essential Oil Diffusers
There are four basic types of oil diffusers: heat, nebulizer, ultrasonic, and evaporative. Each diffuser meets different needs and uses essential oils in different ways.
Heat diffusers are powered by candles, electricity, or the heat from a lightbulb in a lamp. The power source heats up the essential oil and releases the aroma into the air. Candle-based diffusers typically involve a small dish suspended over a candle. You place oil in the dish, and the candle underneath heats it and releases the scent. Electric heat diffusers plug into an outlet to release the smell. Lamp ring diffusers sit on an illuminated light bulb, which heats the oil and releases the scent.
Heat diffusers are a budget-friendly way to use essential oils. They are also well suited to smaller rooms and easy to clean with mild soap and a wet cloth. You should clean this type of diffuser at least every time you switch oil fragrance. Since they come in many sizes and styles, you can pick one that goes with your decor.
Other points to consider about heat diffusers:
- The amount of oil you use in a heat diffuser determines how long the scent stays in the air. If you’re not sure you will enjoy a fragrance, use a small amount of oil. Otherwise, you may have to live with that scent for hours or even days.
- After using a candle heat diffuser, you need to burn an unscented candle in the diffuser. Doing so will prevent the scent of the oil from mixing with the scent you use the next time.
- Heat diffusers made of clay can soak up the scent of oil, which means the fragrance may linger long after the oil is gone.
Nebulizers don’t need heat or water. In these diffusers, pressurized air breaks the oil down into a mist. Some people believe nebulizing diffusers offer the best way to experience the aroma and potential health benefits of essential oils. A downside of nebulizers is that they can be expensive to run because they use more oil than other diffusers.
But, the extra cost can get you a lot of extra features, too. Some nebulizers include a timer, LED lights, and mist adjustment.
Other points to consider about nebulizer diffusers:
- They use about 20 to 30 drops of oil per session, which can last about two hours. That can be costly. Other diffusers may only use a few drops.
- Nebulizer diffusers can be loud and prevent you from relaxing or sleeping.
- They do not act as humidifiers because they don’t use water. Some people prefer a diffuser that doubles as a humidifier.
In ultrasonic diffusers, sound waves combine with water to break the essential oil down into a fine mist. Since they produce a fine water-based mist, ultrasonic diffusers double as humidifiers to keep moisture in the air and keep your nasal passages from drying out. Ultrasonic diffusers tend to be quiet, easy to clean, and simple to use. They generally release a more subtle aroma than other diffusers do. The downside is their reliance on water. Some people believe water makes essential oils less effective. Others note the water can quickly encourage mold growth.
Other points to consider about ultrasonic diffusers:
- They are budget-friendly, generally costing less to purchase and operate than nebulizing diffusers.
- You can run some ultrasonic diffusers for up to 24 hours before you need to refill the water and refresh the oil. (Though some physicians advise against running a diffuser for more than 30 minutes at a time.)
Ultrasonic diffusers do not produce steam, as some mistakenly believe. The oil sits on the water, and a mist is released.
With evaporative diffusers, the oil simply evaporates and fragrance escapes into the air. Some do this with a fan that forces the essential oils through a filter or screen onto which you place the oil. The breeze evaporates it and pushes the aroma into the air. Another type of evaporative diffuser involves reeds sitting in a jar with a little oil at the bottom. You add a few drops of essential oil and a “carrier” oil (such as Jojoba) to a glass jar and stand several long reeds in the oil. One advantage of evaporative diffusers is their quiet operation. On the other hand, evaporation doesn’t disperse the oil components simultaneously, which makes it a less effective method.
Other points to consider about evaporative diffusers:
- There are different types, ranging from mass-manufactured brands to DIY styles made by artists and crafters.
- Evaporative diffusers are inexpensive.
- Many are made of transparent glass. It’s important to keep these away from light, which can damage essential oils.
When you choose the best essential oil diffuser for your home, consider how you want to use a diffuser, the size of the area it will occupy, and how many people will benefit from the oils emitted.
When you select a diffuser, consider the size of the room where you’ll put it. Large diffusers can cover areas up to about 1,000 square feet, but they include an adjustable release, so you can use them in small rooms on the lowest setting.
If you choose an oil diffuser that uses water, pay close attention to the water capacity. If you use the diffuser in a large room, you’ll want it to hold at least 16 ounces of water. Any less than that and you’ll have to refresh both the water and the oil continually.
Essential oils are not harmless. While you can find diffusers that will run for several hours at a time on a few drops of oil, you shouldn’t inhale essential oils for more than 30 consecutive minutes. Standard health and safety recommendations say you should take a 30-minute break after every 30 minutes of use. You shouldn’t use a diffuser more than two to three times a day. Published medical studies show prolonged exposure can lead to headaches and increases in blood pressure and heart rate.
Still, it’s worth considering how long a diffuser will run on a single dose of oil. That way, you won’t need to replenish it constantly.
The design of a diffuser is important, but first, decide on the type of diffuser you want and what benefits you hope to get from it. Once you determine that, it will be easier to find a design that suits your taste and style. Diffuser designs range from plain glass jars and terracotta pots to modern plastic spheres and plugins. The type of diffuser you choose will dictate what designs are available.
Some diffusers come with a few starter oils, but you’ll mostly buy supplies separately. Still, it’s a good idea to know some of the basics of fragrances and their possible benefits. There are more than 90 different essential oil types, with different smells and benefits attached to them. Specific scents are better suited to certain areas around your home.
Here are a few of the most popular fragrances and their possible benefits:
- Lavender: Known as one of the safest essential oils, it encourages sleep and relaxation.
- Tea Tree: This is another very safe oil that may help relieve symptoms of cold and flu.
- Patchouli: This popular essential oil may lift spirits and relieve dry skin and hair.
- Eucalyptus: This oil may ward off insects and bacteria.
- Jasmine: This oil may boost your mood and your libido.
Some essential oils, such as peppermint, are naturally stronger in scent than others. Diffusers allow you to experience essential oils in the strength that you prefer. The best way to do that is to use just a drop or two of any oil the first time you use it. Then you can determine if you need more or less oil to get the desired strength.
Our Top Picks
There are hundreds of essential oil dispensers out there. Some features include mood lights, sound libraries, adjustable intensity, and automatic shut off. Consider these recommendations for some of the best essential oil diffusers while shopping for the one that’s most suitable to you.
The stylish wood and ceramic Gather Ultrasonic Aromatherapy Diffuser includes seven color-changing lights and an audio library of six relaxing sounds. The 200ml reservoir for water and oil provides 10 consecutive hours or 20 intermittent hours of run time. The remote control lets you adjust lighting, sound, and other variables without getting up. The Gather allows you to personalize light, aromatherapy, and sound more than most of its competitors.
This diffuser comes with a starter kit of three essential oils: “Fight It” (a citrus, herb, and spice blend), “Pay Attention” (a citrus, mint, herb, and spice blend) and “Orange” (the name of which is self-explanatory). This ceramic basketweave sphere has a 6.92-inch diameter and stands a little more than 5 inches tall. It makes a nice accent for end tables and other surfaces in your home.
The Singeek 100ML Ceramic Tea Light Holder is an easy to use heat diffuser, candle holder, and natural accent for your home. The bamboo structure supports a ceramic bowl, and beneath the suspended bowl filled with water and essential oils, a tea light evaporates the liquid. Just fill about 2/3 of the bowl with water, add five to eight drops of oil, set the bowl on the stand, and place a lit tea light underneath. Tea lights burn for about 2.5 hours, but the diffuser’s oil-water mixture lasts 4 to 6 hours.
The ultrasonic ArOmis Wood and Glass Essential Oil Diffuser, with its all-natural wood and hand-blown glass construction, is a conversation piece. Free of any plastic or other artificial parts, it makes an elegant addition to a room. Despite the all-natural look, it’s not low-tech. You can adjust the intensity, set the timer, and rely on the automatic shut-off for safety using an elegant silver knob.
The ArOmis diffuser is easy to clean: Just wipe it with alcohol when you change oils. As for downsides, hand-blown glass is fragile. The waterless diffuser holds 15 to 20 drops of oil. When it does run low, the diffuser can start to rattle.
The Urpower 1000ml Essential Oil Diffuser has a remote control for adjusting between high and low mist modes from across a large room. The large reservoir means you won’t have to replenish constantly either. The Urpower ultrasonic diffuser does double-duty as a humidifier. It also serves as a nightlight independently of the diffuser function.
You can program the Urpower to operate for 3, 6, or 9 hours, and it will shut off automatically when the water tank is empty. This diffuser can perch on desks, coffee tables, dressers, and more with its small profile.
The ultrasonic Stadler Form Jasmine Essential Oil Diffuser won’t take up valuable space in your small room. It’s compact with a simple, understated design available in black, red, white, or titanium. Arguably one of the best features of this diffuser is its interval mode. You can set it to operate 10 minutes on/20 minutes off for up to 21 hours. If you decide to set it to run continuously, it will work for 8 hours before the water and oil need refreshing.
The InnoGear Car Diffuser could help diffuse road rage while you sit in traffic. This ultrasonic diffuser is a diminutive 4.92 inches in height, so it’s easy to plug it into your car’s USB port and tuck into a cup holder. You control the amount of mist from intermittent to continuous. When the water runs out, it shuts off by itself.
This InnoGear diffuser is small enough to place in a carry-on, and it’s a great travel humidifier for dry hotel rooms. The quiet, cool mist won’t keep you awake either. One point to note is that this diffuser does not come with a USB adapter, which must be purchased separately.
The Radiance Nebulizing Diffuser offers aromatherapy for purists. Made of simple pure glass, no plastic particles or potentially harmful chemicals can contaminate your essential oils. This diffuser uses only pure oils: There’s no water to dilute the potential benefits. This diffuser’s base is made from 100 percent whole plantation hardwood painted with water-based lacquer, so it will not emit gasses. The design is both therapeutic and attractive.
Plug the Radiance Diffuser into a standard household outlet. You can use the optional LED rainbow carousel light and the 2 minutes on/1-minute off operating cycle that shuts off after 2 hours.
FAQs About Your New Essential Oil Diffuser
Essential oils have long been lauded for their health benefits and pleasing aroma. That raises a lot of questions about them, too. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Q. Are essential oils safe to breathe?
Inhalation is safe, but use caution. Follow the dilution guidelines strictly, use the diffuser in a well-ventilated area, and don’t use a diffuser for more than 30 consecutive minutes at a time.
Q. Can any essential oil go in a diffuser?
Yes, but choose a quality oil and follow the instructions on the label and on the diffuser.
Q. Is it OK to sleep with a diffuser on?
Yes, for short periods. Medical experts recommend you take frequent breaks from inhaling essential oils. So, use the diffuser’s timer to make sure it doesn’t stay on for more than 30 minutes at a time.
Q. Do essential oil diffusers leave residue on furniture?
Essential oil diffusers evaporate into the air, though some diffusers might leave a small amount of residue when the oil burns for long periods of time.