What Is A Diffuser for Essential Oils?

Diffusing essential oils is one of the most popular way to enjoy the many benefits they have to offer.  And while there are several ways to diffuse oils, one of the best is by using a diffuser especially designed for essential oils.

But what is an essential oil diffuser?  These are many different models and styles on the market and it can get confusing.  To help you understand exactly what is a diffuser for essential oils, below I outline the process of diffusion, explain how diffusers work along with the different types available.

What is Diffusion

How Diffusion Works

Diffusion is the process where particles are dispersed and naturally spread out, going from high concentration to low. While this sounds quite technical, it is really a simple process that allows things like fragrance and moisture to travel through air.

In the case of essential oils, diffusion is the process where essential oil molecules are distributed through the air. It allows you to smell the aroma of oils whether you directly inhale straight from the bottle or disperse it another way. The oils are in a pure state of high concentration inside the bottle and once the lid is off and/or drops are dispersed the molecules will start to ‘diffuse’.

There are several ways essential oils can be diffused, but one of the most effective and long lasting is by a diffuser specifically designed for the job.

How Does A Diffuser Work?

So, what is an oil diffuser? An oil diffuser is a device that facilitates the process of diffusion described above. That is, it distributes essential oils into the air and once airborne, they can be processed in your body. This can be achieved in several ways – evaporation, nebulization, vibration and heat. Sometimes a diffuser will use a combination of these methods.

Once the diffuser is working, not only will you smell the oils, but they are absorbed into the body by breathing or through the skin. This allows their many therapeutic benefits – emotional and physical – to be enjoyed.

Types of Essential Oil Diffusers

There are various types of diffusers available and each has pros and cons. Use the method that works best for you depending upon the reason you’re using the essential oils and your budget.

Evaporative Diffuser

Fan diffuser 300px

Also known as a fan diffuser, these work by blowing the essential oils into the air. A few drops of oil are applied to a cloth or absorbent pad and once the unit is switched on, air is blown across the pad to dispense the oils into the room.

There is no heating element or water required for this type of diffuser which makes them very safe. Some models can be powered with batteries or USB making them very portable and easy to use.

While this type of diffusion makes the room smell good, some of therapeutic benefits of the essential oils may be lost during the evaporation process.

Nebulizing Diffuser

Nebulizer Diffuser 300px

A nebulizing diffuser works on the same principle as a perfume atomizer. The essential oil is ‘nebulized’ by a burst of air and turned into a fine mist of smaller molecules. This oil mist is then dispersed into the room.

If you are looking for maximum therapeutic benefit from essential oils, then a nebulizer is the diffuser of choice. This method actually helps conserve maximum therapeutic value as the smaller molecules are more readily absorbed. Also, there is no dilution with water or effect of heat to alter the chemistry of the oils.

This style of diffuser has two parts. One is a reservoir to hold and nebulize the essential oil. The other is a pump to disperse the oil once nebulized. These will vary in size and appearance for different models.

Nebulizing diffusers are usually more expensive than other types of diffuser.

Humidifying Diffuser

A humidifying diffuser uses a combination of vibration and air to push the oils into small particles that are perfect for inhalation. There is a water reservoir to which several drops of oil are added.

This style of diffuser is great for respiratory problems and for infusing an entire room with essential oils. There is no heating element making it ideal in dry conditions and air conditioned rooms.

Ultrasonic Diffuser

Similar to the humidifier, the ultrasonic diffuser works using vibrations to turn the oil into a very fine mist creating tiny micro particles that are easily absorbed into the lungs. The vibrations in this case are created by ultrasonic waves. Similarly, this is accomplished without the use of any type of heat.

Ultrasonic diffusers use water and are great for humidifying a room. They come in a wide range of styles, sizes and materials.

Heat Diffuser

Heat Diffuser

This method uses a flame (candle) or electricity to heat and cause the essential oil to evaporate into the air. Many oils break down with the use of heat and sometimes this can ruin the therapeutic effect.

Diffusion by heat used to be the only method available, but today there are many other options as outlined above. Technology has advanced to provide some great alternatives that offer a better way to maximise the benefits of essential oils.

One benefit of a heat diffuser is they are easier to clean after using thicker oils such as Sandalwood and Patchouli. If you are more interested in the fragrance than the therapeutic benefits, then this style of diffuser is a good choice. Also, if you like the ambience that a candle diffuser offers, there are plenty of great products to choose from.


Using a diffuser has many benefits as it can improve the environment, reduce stress, help improve insomnia, feel happier, more alert, and even reduce airborne pathogens. It allows you to enjoy your essential oils day in, day out.

Knowing what is a diffuser for essential oils, you can now make an informed decision on the best type for your situation. Like many people, you might even decide on a few different types or want multiple diffusers for home and/or work.

Whatever you choose, the benefits and beautiful aromas will wonder how you ever lived without one.

Photo Credits

Andrew Gustar via Flickr
Sulen Lee via Flickr


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2 thoughts on “What Is A Diffuser for Essential Oils?”

  1. I have a small office and my concern is if any of the above will not be absorbed in documents and in electronic devices such as keyboards and cell phones.

    But at the same time to receive the benefits of it’s purpose.

    Any suggestions?

    • Hi April, for your situation a nebulizing diffuser would be ideal. They don’t use water and you get maximum benefits from the essential oils.


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