Guide to choosing an essential oil diffuserLast updated September 2017

When I started this site there wasn’t a lot of dedicated information about aromatherapy diffusion. In a few short years, there has been a huge increase in the range and quality of diffusers available. In 2013 there were a few main companies selling them, and you couldn’t get an ultrasonic diffuser for less than $50. Now there is an almost overwhelming number of choices, with many of them in the $30 range. We’ll talk about how to evaluate your choices a bit later, but let’s start with the basics.

The factors you need to consider first are:

  1. What is my main purpose for wanting a diffuser?
  2. How big of an area do I need it to cover?
  3. How strong of a scent do I want?
  4. Do I have children or pets?
  5. What is my budget?
  6. How willing am I to maintain my diffuser?

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Quick Look at our favorite diffusers for 2017:

NameTypeRoom SizeCareKid/Pet Friendly
Aroma AceNebulizerLargeLowYes
Aroma FuseUltrasonicLargeLowYes

What is my main purpose for wanting a diffuser?

The main reason people buy a diffuser is to enjoy the therapeutic effects of essential oils by inhaling them. The diffuser helps to break the oils into a mist so that you can easily breathe the oils into your body. Others may just want to scent their home with natural oils rather than synthetic air fresheners. Maybe you want to achieve both.

If you want to diffuse for therapeutic reasons, an ultrasonic or nebulizer is your best bet (with nebulizers being the most therapeutic). Both of these types of diffusers break the oil into a fine mist that is propelled into the air. For a more detailed explanation of these types of diffusers, including the pros and cons of each, see my post on Active Diffusers.

Quick look at active diffusers:

Nebulizing diffusers use undiluted oil. The output is usually very fragrant and the most therapeutic. No heat is used which helps preserve the integrity of the oil.
Nebulizers cannot be used with thick oils and need to be cleaned regularly to prevent clogging. Another common complaint is there is some background noise from the pump. These types of diffusers are the most expensive

If you want to scent your home naturally, any diffuser will do the job and your decision will be based on the size of room you want to scent as well as how strongly you want to scent it. Read on!

How big of an area do I need my diffuser to cover?

A diffuser can scent an area anywhere from the size of a car or closet, to over 1000 sq. ft. of space. It is worth paying attention to the specifications when buying a diffuser to determine how much area it will cover. In general, passive diffusers scent a smaller area as they simply allow the oils to evaporate into the air. For a detailed explanation of passive diffusers, see my post here.

Quick look at passive diffusers:

Passive diffusers are usually the least expensive and easiest to maintain. They are often portable and good for small spaces.
Some passive diffusers use heat which may cause uneven evaporation of the oils. The scent level is usually quite low and may fade rapidly depending upon which oil is used.

Small ultrasonics, especially those that are described as portable or USB powered will usually scent a small room. Most ultrasonics will scent medium to larger sized rooms, and most nebulizers will usually cover 500 sq. ft or more. That is a generalization, so again, the best thing to do is find out how big an area the model you are considering will cover. Most manufacturer’s provide this information and most of the reviews on this site include that information.

Infographic: How to Choose an Essential Oil DiffuserHow strong of a scent do you want?

One complaint I see in customer reviews is that the diffuser does not give off a strong enough scent. Guess what? That is often not the diffusers fault! Different essential oils have different odor intensities. A strong oil like Geranium will quickly scent a room and linger for an hour or two. It is a middle note oil, meaning the scent has some staying power. In contrast, Lemon oil is a top note and the scent fades quickly. Lemon usually makes a room smell bright and fresh, but not noticeably lemony.

When it comes to odor strength and diffusers, a nebulizer has the greatest potential to give a strong scent because it uses undiluted oils in it. That said, the right oils or blend of oils can be used in an ultrasonic and still give great results. If you want a strong scent, passive diffusers are the last choice.

Do you have children or pets?

The biggest concern if you have children or pets is the choice of oils you use. Some oils are not suitable for children and some are not recommended for pets. Once you have chosen appropriate oils, the next consideration is using them in the proper dosage. When using essential oils topically the dosage for children is usually half that of an adult. In general, diffusion is a relatively safe method of using essential oils. If you wish to adjust the dosage, run your diffuser for shorter periods of time.

The other concern if you have children or pets is the danger factor. Oil burners use tea candles which could be knocked over and start a fire (in addition, essential oils are flammable). Some electric diffusers use heat which while gentle, could cause a small owie to young hands. Finally, some diffusers have fragile glass parts which could break if knocked over by a child or rambunctious pet.

What is your budget?

In the past few years there has been a flood of new diffusers on the market. The good news for consumers is that there are more choices in a much wider price range. Portable USB powered ultrasonic diffusers can be had for as little as 10-15 dollars, while conventional ultrasonics start at around $30. Small nebulizers are available for about $50 and go up from there in size, features, and price. My advice is to choose a type of diffuser (ultrasonic, nebulizers, etc.) based on the other criteria in this article, and then narrow down your choices by budget.

How much time to I want to spend caring for my diffuser?

The final consideration is maintenance. Diffusers actually do require some care. Often it is as simple as wiping it out. Nebulizers may require cleaning with alcohol periodically to keep the glass from clogging. Either way, leaving oils to sit in your diffuser is not good for it. In nebulizers the oils thicken with time and cause clogging. In ultrasonics and oil warmers, the water and volatile parts of the essential oil evaporate leaving a sticky residue. If you are the type of person who tends to forget about details like cleaning it out when not in use, a passive diffuser may be a better choice. Consider one that uses re-usable absorbent pads and a fan.

Other features:

Lights: Some diffusers have lights and/or colored lights. This does not affect performance, but may be a nuisance if you don’t like the lights. Look for a model where you have the option to turn off the lights.

Music: Higher end diffusers like the Puzhen Yun have inputs for your MP3 players. For most though, the speakers in a diffuser are not going to be audiophile quality and in my opinion this is a bell and a whistle not worth paying extra for.

Timers: One feature that is worth seeking out is a timer or intermittent setting. Nebulizers with timers will usually run about 10 min on and then shut off for a period. The Aromis nebulizer with a timer will run through 3 cycles before shutting off. Some ultrasonics also come with an intermittent setting. Others just shut themselves off when the water runs dry.

Ask yourself each of the questions above and use your answers as a guide to choosing the right diffuser for your needs.

I hope this guide has been useful to you, if so, the greatest compliment would be to share it with your social circle.