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Nebulizing diffusers are the most therapeutic diffusers on the market. They are also one of the most expensive types of diffusers, which puts additional pressure on us as consumers to make the right purchase. This guide will help you navigate what to look for in a nebulizer, and our short list of models that fit the bill.
What are nebulizers and how are they different from ultrasonics?
Nebulizers atomize essential oils into a fine mist and propel it into the air. The key difference is they do not use any water, just undiluted oils. By contrast, ultrasonic diffusers create a mist of water that has a few drops of essential oils diluted into it. Ultrasonic vibrations create the mist.
There are two main types of nebulizing diffusers:
The first type of nebulizer has a glass chamber and tubing. Several drops of essential oil are placed in the chamber. When the unit is turned on the oil is drawn up the tubing and air blows over it breaking apart the oil into a very fine mist. To change scents you need to empty the existing oils out of the chamber and replace them with your new oils.
The second type of nebulizing diffuser uses a bottle of essential oil instead of a glass chamber, so it is less fragile. The bottle can be screwed off and on making it easy to change scents.
Advantages of Nebulizers
Therapeutic—Undiluted essential oils create a mist that lingers suspended in the air.
No humidity-Since they don’t require water, they won’t add extra moisture to the air
No heat—We’ve come a long way since the days of aroma lamps, so it hardly seems necessary anymore to point out that they don’t heat the oils.
Who should choose a nebulizing diffuser?
A nebulizing diffuser may be right for you if you are looking to use a diffuser for functional purposes such as helping with colds, sinusitis, flu, coughs, stress, anxiety, emotional balance and more. Ultrasonic diffusers can do the job too but since nebulizers use pure, undiluted essential oil they are usually considered the best choice for more acute conditions.
Many nebulizing diffusers cover a fairly large area. There are models that can cover anywhere from 300 s.f. to over 1000 s.f. While it would seem like using undiluted oils would create a stronger scent, I don’t find that to be true in practice. My ultrasonics create nearly as strong of an aroma as my nebulizer.
Nebulizers also create a lighter mist of oils, which means your oils may stay suspended in the air for a few hours. I remember once walking into a room several minutes after running a nebulizer and the sun was shining at just the right angle that I could see this cloud of mist suspended in air. It really drove home how fine and light the mist really is and that this isn’t just some wild claim, it actually happens.
Who shouldn’t buy a nebulizer?
If you are only interested in scenting your home naturally, a nebulizer is overkill for you. You should only run a nebulizer for 10 minutes at a time, two to three times per day so you are unlikely to achieve a continuous scent throughout the day. Since you can’t shut off the therapeutic properties of essential oils, you shouldn’t run a nebulizer for longer than the recommended time. Natural scenting is best achieved by a passive diffuser using oils with good odor intensity and tenacity.
Likewise, if you plan to use your diffuser throughout the week, an ultrasonic may be a better choice. My general rule of thumb is to use an ultrasonic most of the time, and the nebulizer when I am trying to address a specific concern like an illness or headache.
How to choose a nebulizer
Pros & Cons of the Glass Chamber Types
The glass chamber diffusers tend to be more fragile. They also can become clogged if a thicker oil is used (which is not advised) or if you allow an oil to sit in the machine for a while (which causes thickening of the oil due to evaporation). Usually if they do become clogged, they can be cleaned but it can be a bit of a chore. Regular cleaning with a bit of alcohol is helpful in keeping this type of diffuser running smoothly in the long term.
At this point you may be asking if there are any upsides to using the glass type of diffuser? Well, they look good! Most are made of glass and wood and look very elegant. This type of diffuser is something you can fit in with your décor without it looking like an appliance. And, of course, they work. Despite the drawbacks they do the job and they do it well. Many also have a directional spout so you can aim the mist in any direction you would like. Don’t be frightened off by the cautions–I have used one for five years and it is still going strong.
Pros & Cons of the Glass Bottle Types
The bottle diffusers tend to be less fussy. Diffuser World’s Aroma Ace is the most popular of these sorts of diffusers. Their creator holds over 10 patents for atomizing technology, and nebulizers are the company’s specialty. You may also see the Aroma Ace called the Advanced Aromatherapy Diffuser or private labeled by other companies.
The advancements these bottle diffusers made was to make changing oils much faster (just switch out the bottle), made cleaning easier by reducing the number of parts, and adding more options to control the output of the mist. The only downsides are the cost and the less fashionable appearance.
Nebulizers are usually run for short periods of time. There is some evidence that shorter bursts of oils can be more effective than continuous diffusion when it comes to the antibacterial activity of essential oils. As a result, one feature that is worth seeking in a nebulizer is a timer feature.
On nebulizers, most timers will run the diffuser through a few cycles on and off before shutting off altogether. Unlike most ultrasonics that will shut off automatically when the reservoir is empty, nebulizers without a timer will keep running until you shut it off.
Of course, if your perfect diffuser doesn’t have a timer, there is an easy workaround and that is to purchase a digital timer that you can program to turn on for 10 minutes a couple times a day. If you do this, just be sure that you check your oil levels periodically so they don’t run dry.
Consider how large of a room you want to cover. Once you know the size of the room, you can check the manufacturer’s specs to find one that will cover your space. On the whole, most diffusers cover several hundred square feet.
Many nebulizers have output controls which can affect coverage as well. The output control runs the fan harder, which increases the amount of mist generated.
Essential oil nebulizers all run on some sort of pump or fan. The noise can be likened to an aquarium pump. The noise tends to sound louder as you increase the output. This is one disadvantage of nebulizers and one that in my opinion is offset by the fact that you don’t need to run this kind of diffuser for very long. At this time, only one nebulizer has an optional silencer available (AromaAce).
Nebulizers are made of glass chambers with a very fine glass tubing system inside. Essential oils that are left in the diffuser for any length of time will evaporate slightly. This can cause the essential oil to become thicker over time, potentially clogging the tubing. Clogs don’t happen often but it can be a bit of a process to unclog them. These types of diffusers require regular cleaning to keep them functioning. As a word of encouragement though, in 5 years I have only had to unclog my diffuser once, and maintenance is pretty simple if you keep up with it.
If you are not interested in staying on top of maintaining your diffuser then the AromaAce or GreenAir Nebair may be a better choice as they do not have the fine glass tubing, and with the bottle screwed onto the device, you will have less evaporation and oxidation of your oils if left to sit for a few days.
Children and Pets
If you have small children or pets, then you may want to consider whether you want a diffuser with fragile glass parts that could get knocked over. Again, Aroma Ace is a highly regarded nebulizer that doesn’t have fragile glass chambers or tubing.
Besides the noise, the other drawback of the nebulizing diffuser is the cost. Expect to pay upwards of $80 for a nebulizer. There are a couple models out there for less but expect to find small nebulizers without many features and small room coverage. For a little more, you can usually find glass and wood models with timers (for example the Aromis has an optional timer).
We have rounded up our three favorite diffusers and compared them below:
No glass parts
Varies with output; silencer available
Fragile glass parts
Requires maintenance or glass may clog
Varies with outpu
Varies; can hide motor
The Aroma Ace is a popular and well regarded diffuser model. If price were no object, this would be the clear choice. Its major advantage over its competitors is that is has no glass parts and no tubing to clean. Operation is as simple as hooking up a bottle of essential oil and turning it on. A few caveats, only 15 ml size bottles can be used with this machine and if the output is set too high, you may find yourself going through a lot of oil in a short time (about 1.5 ml per hour). Otherwise, this is a solid choice.
The Aromis glass and wood nebulizer is an attractive choice with several customization options. Aromis allows you to choose your base color and style, as well as your glass style, making 16 possible design combinations. Coverage is good, but doesn’t match up to the other two models. The glass parts have the possibility of clogging if thick oils are used or if oils are left sitting in it for too long (evaporating into a thicker oil). Regular cleaning prevents this problem (I have used a similar model for over 3 years without issues). Overall, this would be my top choice if your budget does not allow the Aroma Ace.
The Aroma Pro is the old dog on the block, but has built a solid reputation for itself over the years. While expensive, this model is the least intrusive in that you can place the motor hidden away separate from the glass and metal component. This model also has a unique well allowing you to blend right in the machine. The metal base comes in a variety of colors and output is impressive. The disadvantage of this model is the lack of timer.