Which Essential Oil Diffuser?

This is a question we get asked frequently. And the answer, of course, is “it depends.” The best aromatherapy diffuser for you depends on your planned usage.

Nebulizing Diffusers – Zapping Germs

If you want to saturate the air of a room with your chosen essential oil or aromatherapy blend the nebulizer is for you. When someone in my family feels like they are “coming down with something”, that virusey, achy feeling, I fill the glass nebulizer with our favorite anti-viral or anti-bacterial oils and let it run all night, filling my bedroom with really powerful oils. Odds are when I wake up in the morning, I'll be over whatever big bad bug was trying to attack.

For strictly therapeutic / medicinal / germkilling effects, I use one of our Amrita nebulizers. There are many brands on the market. All have a convoluted glass attachment, powered by an air pump. The glass breaks the oils into microscopic droplets, capable of remaining suspended in the air for up to two hours. The advantage of the Nebulizer is obviously that it does the most effective job of filling the air with microscopic particles of your chosen oil.

The disadvantages are twofold. First, most nebulizers are fairly noisy. They are, after all, powered by aquarium pumps. Some people do not mind the noise, reacting to it as a “white noise” background hum. Others find it bothersome. If noise is apt to be an issue, and your area is small, by all means choose the a “Tranquility” model.

Second: The nebulizing diffusers tend to require higher maintenance than any of our other options. First, putting the essential oil into the glass nebulizer can be a bit tricky. I finally cave in to reality and started using a pipette, after spilling oil while trying to pour from the bottle into the glass orifice. Also, the glass nebulizer (together with the attached Silicone tube) needs cleaning occasionally. I suspect I'm not the only one who has let the nebulizer stand with oils in it, allowing them to react with the oxygen in the air and get all thick and “gunky” The best way to clean them is to add high proof rubbing alcohol (90% works best!) to dissolve the accumulated oils, drain, and air dry.

Also, the nebulizer can not be used with the very thick, viscous oils … benzoin, vetiver, etc. They will totally clog it and will not diffuse without blended with other, thinner, essential oils. Never use a carrier oil in the nebulizer, or an essential oil diluted in a carrier. It will ruin the glass nebulizer and void the warranty.

COOL MIST – For Kids

If you have young children who are prone to colds, ear infections, etc. the odds are you've been told to run a humidifier in their bedroom. The Cool Mist (sometimes called an “ultrasonic diffuser” or “ultrasonic nebuliser”) functions both as an aromatherapy diffuser and a humidifier. It holds a small amount of water that stays at room temperature just in case an active child manages to spill it – no danger of scaling. The essential oils and water are diffused by ultrasound waves, adding moisture to the air while filling the room with aromatics.

The advantages of this one are obvious. No breakable glass parts, the added humidity in the air. The machine shuts itself off when the water level drops too far, and can be set to cycle on and off. I'm told that children are often fascinated by the light. (Memories of my mother's LavaLamp … it has that sort of fascination!)

Disadvantages? If you live in a damp / humid climate you might not want to add extra moisture to the air in your home. And there are some who find the light an irritant. It may not be shut off while the machine is operating.

The AROMA STONE – Silent and Safe

One of these sets on my bedtable. I love it because I can add my current favorite 'go to sleep' oil or blend, plug it in and forget it.

I think it is one of the two lowest maintenance electric diffusers I've ever used, and the least obtrusive. Totally silent, and safe. Although it does warm the oils without any water added (although it is an option to add a spoonful of water with the oils) the unit heaters only to “baby-bottle” temperature. The oils are not over-heated.

The amount of heat is so low I seldom think to unplug it before I go to bed, and in all honesty have left it turned on for two or three days. (I do not recommend that!) The unit warms so gently that there is no danger of its overheating.

Mine is very low maintenance. If I remember to wipe it out with a damp paper towel every morning, it stays sparkling clean. If I forget and leave it plugged in for too long so that the oil or blend becomes 'glued' to the base, a towel dampened with rubbing alcohol leaves it as good as new. While not totally unbreakable (it is ceramic, after all) mine has survived being dropped more than once with no problems.

The aromastone's small size makes it easily “packable” for traveling. I loathe the smell of the air in hotel rooms and always travel with my aromatics to make a strange room smell like home!

These are the advantages.

The disadvantages? It is not a powerful diffuser. It will not fill a large area nor give you a pretty photographed area, but it is perfect for the intimate of a bedroom or bath. I would not choose the aromastone for diffusing germ killing blends … then I want a nebulizer. But for subtle and inobtrusive “set it and forget it” use, it is unexcelled.

AROMA LAMPS – for Mood and Ambience A ceramic aromalamp was my first (well, actually, my second) essential oil diffuser, and remains one of my favorites.

Please note: An aromalamp is sometimes called an “essential oil burner” … this is a misnomer, since the oils should never be “burned.” The bowl MUST be filled with water, as described below.

Fill the bowl with warm water, light a tea candle under it, add a few drops of your favorite oil, and the room is quickly filled with the aroma of your choice.

I was taught years ago that diffusing the oils in warm water is an amazingly effective way to fill a room with the aromatic vapours. The molecules of essential oil “piggy back” on the molecules of water vapor, which disperse amazingly fast. This makes the aroma lamp almost as effective for the therapeutic benefits as a nebulizing diffuser.

In my experience an aromalamp can cover a fairly large area. The water vapor will move where it wants. The “front” of my house is a large open area … kitchen, dining room, living room. An aroma lamp in one area suffices for all the rooms.

I do not recommend the use of photographed candles. Most are fragranced with synthetics, and the ones created with true essential oils use far more oil that I can justify. When I want candle light, I light beeswax candles, lots of them, set in a circle, with an aroma lamp and its candle in the center. Beautiful warm ambience, the emotional blend of my choice, a feeling of true luxury! I think an aromalamp is unsurpassed when your focus is the emotional uses of the oils.

When I do not want to light a table full of candles, the dancing flame of the tea candle still adds to the ambience.

The aromalamp is silent, and attractive, with designs to suit every taste.

These are the advantages of an aroma lamp. The disadvantages?

1. You must be aware of the water level. An aroma lamp with a small small bowl can evaporate all the water before the candle burns itself out. Adding cold or cool water to the hot bowl almost invariably leads to broken glass!

2. If you allow it to burn dry, even if you do not break the bowl, cleaning it can be a challenge.

3. Of course there is always a risk when you have candles burning. Do not leave the room, do not use an aroma lamp around children, or mischievous pets.

4. And speaking of pets. You've put out the candle because you are leaving the room … but you did not empty and put away the aromalamp. A thirsty dog, cat, or bird can do themselves terrible damage by drinking the water with the dissolved essential oil. Please be careful of your furkids or feathered kids!

Cool fans – Multi-use

The Spa Scenter is one example of a cool, fandriven diffuser.It is an excellent choice for all of the above uses. The drawer at the bottom slides out. You insert a cellulose pad, dampened with your oil or blend, and turn on the unit. A cold air fan blows the oil molecules out of the openings at the top, and the room is filled with the oil of your choice. The fan is, in my experience, quieter and less obtrusive than the larger nebulizers, although not as silent as the Tranquility or the AromaStone.

The Spa Scenter uses no heat, so is safe to use around children.

I find that it will diffuse over a larger area than my AromaStone, and it is safe to leave unattended.

The disadvantages? I do not think it fills any single need as well as some of the above named types of essential oil diffusers.

The nebulizing diffusers are more powerful when you have the therapeutic needs. The aromalamp is more attractive when your need is for ambience or emotional use only. The aromastone is quieter.

But for a “compromise” to address many needs, the Spa Scenter may be the best all-round choice. There are also smaller battery powered fan / diffusers, mean for a desk or office cubicle.


Two choices, one “passive” – ​​a hanging clay pot (or other terra cotta ornament) that can hang from the rear view mirror, or an electric diffuser that plugs into the cell phone charger or cigarette lighter. The “plug in” is, I think, a bit more effective.

Each, of course, has its advantages. With a hanging terra cotta diffuser you are limited to one oil or blend, it's not easy to change from one to another. With the “plug in” car diffuser, you simply change the little cellulose pad that you apply the essential oils to. If you know you are always going to want the same air freshening blend in your car, the hanging clay diffuser might be simpler. If you sometimes want an air freshener, and other times want a “stay wake” blend (or an anti-nausea blend) then the plug in car diffuser would be your best choice.

PERSONAL DIFFUSERS – Inhalers (for privacy!) There are two types of personal aromatherapy inhalers that I am aware of. One is the very basic plastic one often sees over the counter inhalants packaged in; the other is a rather elegant purse accessory. Either will work well for immediate use, for relaxation, combatting a headache, or other physical or emotional effects.

There is one specific type of diffuser that I honestly do not recommend. It is a small “ball” that plugs directly into the wall outlet. It contains a cellulose pad that you moisten with the selected oil. I have had these overheat and scorch the pad. I wonder if they might measure a fire hazard. Since the oils are heated to a high temperature, the oils degrade, and there is nothing to encourage the movement of the aromatic vapors through the room. The idea of ​​low cost and light weight was appealing, but they really are not a good value.

You may see these, and other diffusing options on Nature's Gift Aromatherapy Accessories page, at http://www.naturesgift.com/aromatherapyaccessories.htm