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How Essential Oil Diffusers Work: A Complete Walkthrough Guide

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A Guide to Essential Oils and Diffusers

So, you have heard all about the possible health benefits associated with essential oils and now want to incorporate that into your daily life?

There are countless options available when delving into the world of essential oils and diffusion systems.

Should you choose nebulizing or humidifying?

Pure oil systems or diluted systems?

Are heated systems even safe to use?

Answers to these questions and more are available within this guide on the basics of essential oils, the options available when it comes to diffusers, and all the pros and cons associated with each different diffusion system.

The Basics of Essential Oils

Essential oils are oils extracted from plants and contain their “essence” (smell and taste).

All essential oils are produced via distillation or cold pressing.

If the oil is produced using chemical methods then they can no longer be called essential oils.

There are about 100 different kinds of essential oils available on the market, all with their own specific health benefits.

These oils are said to contain positive health benefits that are often attributed to their aromatic compounds.

Do They Work?

According to this article, essential oils have proven to be effective when treating but not limited to:

Anxiety and Stress:

“Regarding aromatherapy, initial studies have been quite positive. Many have shown that the smell of some essential oils can work as a complementary therapy to treat anxiety and stress”.


“Recent studies have also found that applying a mixture of chamomile and sesame oil to the temples may effectively treat headaches and migraines”.


Multiple studies have shown that smelling lavender essential oils produced positive benefits upon sleeping habits.

Other uses:

Essential oils can also be used as a natural insect repellant in replacement of the harmful chemical known as DEET.

Essential oils can also be used simply to liven up your home with their wonderful distinct aromas.

How Do I Use Them?

Essential oils are typically inhaled through a diffuser or diluted and then applied directly to the skin.

Using a diffuser is a highly recommended way to incorporate essential oil aromatherapy into your life.

But you must remember, that essential oils are not meant to be swallowed or directly ingested.

Why Should I Use an Essential Oil Diffuser?

Using an essential oil diffuser is an economical and enjoyable way to experience the benefits of essential oils.

The oils can be used alone, mixed with other types of essential oils, or in a water and oil mixture.

The benefits of diffusing essential oils into your daily routine are wide-ranging and greatly depend on the types of oils being used, as not all oils contain the same properties.

Some benefits include:

How do they work?

An essential oil diffuser works by diffusing (releasing) essential oils into the environment for them to be absorbed by the body, typically through inhalation.

Things to Consider:

  • Potency
  • Scent
  • Noise
  • Effectiveness
  • Price


Potency is extremely important when dealing with essential oils.

Many essential oils can be irritating and even harmful when not used correctly.

Depending on the user, some people may prefer pure essential oil diffusion, or some may prefer dilutions.

Often diffusions also come with the added benefit of acting as a humidifier.


Scent is something many users find very important.

Essential oils can contain very potent aromas, that people either want to increase or tone down.

Some scents have been shown to improve anxiety and aid in the promotion of healthy sleep patterns.


Noise must be taken into consideration as many people place their essential oil diffusers in their bedrooms.

Some diffusers which work on automatic intervals may disrupt sleep if too loud.


The size of the room you will be diffusing into is a major consideration when purchasing an essential oil diffuser.

According to this Readers’ Digest article, a quality diffuser will fill a room with aroma within 30 minutes.

Here you can find a comprehensive guide to large room diffusers.


Prices of diffusers can range from the $15-$20 range, to as high as the hundreds and beyond.

Remember though, price does not necessarily equate to quality.

Types of Essential Oil Diffusers:

There are typically 4 different types of diffusers available on the market.

  • Nebulizing or Atomizer
  • Ultrasonic or Humidifier
  • Evaporative
  • Heat

Nebulizing or Atomizing

How they work:

Nebulizing diffusers work through a system of pressurized air and non-diluted oil.

Highly pressurized air is forced into a small tube.

A pressure difference then causes the oil to be pulled upward from its container.

As the oil hits the stream of high-pressure air it is atomized and subsequently released into the environment in a fine mist.

Any oil that was not released drips back into the oil reservoir, repeating the cycle.

This process is very similar to how a spray bottle works.


Often referred to as one of the “purest” forms of diffusing.

Usually, these types of diffusers can be set to go off in incremental times.

These diffusers do not use heat or water and also have the added benefit of not using plastic as essential oils are corrosive to plastic.

  • Essential oil is not diluted with water.
  • No heat or plastic is used within the nebulizing system.
  • Will not add to the humidity of the room.
  • Pure oil may be too potent for children.
  • Since nebulizers utilize non-diluted essential oils, they do not act as a humidifier.

Ultrasonic or Humidifying

How It Works:

Ultrasonic diffusers use ultrasonic sound waves to diffuse a mixture of water and essential oil into the environment.

The mixture is exposed to the ultrasonic sound waves creating a vibration high enough to aerosolize the mixture and release them into the environment.


These types of diffusers utilize a mixture of essential oil and water; therefore, the effects may be diluted.

The mechanical agitation of water molecules also creates negatively charged ions which help to purify the air of free radicals.

The added benefit of humidifying the environment may be especially attractive to people suffering from respiratory illnesses such as asthma or those who live in dry environments.

A comprehensive guide on ultrasonic diffusers and how to use them can be found here.


• Essential oil is diluted with water, reducing its potency.

• Ultrasonic soundwaves are quiet to the human ear.

• Contributes to air purification.

• May also act as a humidifier.


• Essential oil is diluted with water, reducing potency.

• Since the essential oils are diluted with water, the diffuser may also act as a humidifier.


How it works:

Evaporative diffusers, as their name suggests, use airflow and evaporation to diffuse essential oils into the environment.

The essential oil is usually held in a medium where it is then exposed to either artificial airflow from a fan or natural wind.


This type of diffuser allows the lighter particles within the oil to be distributed first, possibly diluting the effects of the essential oil.

Many models use a fan to increase the rate of evaporation.

Typically used as personal diffusers in the form of jewelry such as pendants.

Another type of evaporative essential oil diffuser is called a reed diffuser.

  • Reed diffusers work by placing a reed into a mixture of water and essential oils.
  • Over time the mixture is absorbed by the reed and dispersed into the environment.

• No heat used to speed up evaporation.

  • Evaporation does not occur evenly
  • Lighter particles evaporate first possibly effecting dilution of the oil.


How it works:

Heat diffusers work similarly to evaporative diffusers, though these use heat in place of air to increase the rate of evaporation.


Heat diffusers are typically not recommended as heat can negatively affect the delicate chemical structure of essential oils.

Though heat can negatively affect the chemical composition of essential oils, it can also increase the intensity of the scent.

  • Heat may increase the intensity of the scent.
  • Heat may negatively affect the chemical structure of essential oil and is, therefore, usually not recommended.

A Word About Car Diffusers

According to Reader’s Digest, car diffusers are not recommended because the oils may interact with the chemicals coming off the synthetic materials found within cars.

This interaction may increase the negative effects of these synthetic materials and are therefore not recommended.

Instead of putting diffusers inside of your car it is suggested that instead, you place them on yourself to take advantage of the health benefits throughout the day while not risking any adverse effects from the chemicals within the car.

More Things to Consider:

Oil Quality

Oil quality is of the utmost importance to gain the maximum amount of benefit from the diffusion.

There are 3 major points to keep in mind when searching for essential oils:

  • Purity
  • Means of production
  • Reputation


The essential oil must not contain any additives or chemically produced oils.

Oil of pure quality is usually advertised with the plants’ Latin name.

Ex: Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary)

Means of Production

Essential oils are produced either through distillation or cold pressing.

If the oil is produced through any other means than the quality of the oil may be in question.


Also, purchasing from trusted brands is a good way to ensure the quality of your essential oils.

Together these 3 traits attest to the overall quality of the oil being purchased.


Essential oils can be very strong.

Start with a low number of drops and add more if needed.

Do not apply directly to skin.

Do not use a diffuser constantly, only use it every couple of hours.

Essential oils are flammable.

Essential oils may cause side effects such as:

  • Rashes
  • Asthma attacks
  • Head pain
  • Allergic reactions

Pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding are usually told to stay away from essential oils.

How to Use a Diffuser

Connect your new diffuser to a power source.

Fill your diffuser with a mixture of water and oil or only oil (depending on the type of diffuser).

When adding oil, think in drops, not a lot of the strong essential oil is needed.

Turn on the device and enjoy your new diffuser and reap the benefits of aromatherapy in your day to day life.

Quick Recap


Essential oils are derived from plants and contain all their natural scents.

Only use essential oils that have been produced using distillation or cold pressing.


Essential oils have shown to be very promising when it comes to health benefits.

These benefits include but are not limited to:

  • Improvement in sleeping habits
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Positive effects on sex life
  • Improved mental concentration

Essential oils are either inhaled or diluted and applied directly to the skin.

Air diffusion is a popular way of applying essential oil aromatherapy into the routines of day to day life.

Essential oils are not meant to be ingested.

Why Should I Use an Essential Oil Diffuser?

It is a proven and economical way to incorporate essential oil therapy into your daily habits.

Some diffusers have the added benefit of acting as a humidifier further increasing the potential health benefits of using diffusers in your home and life.

How Do They Work?

Essential oil diffusers release oil into the air to be absorbed and inhaled.

Things to Consider:

• Potency

• Scent

• Noise

• Effectiveness

• Price

Types of Diffusers:

• Nebulizers

• Ultrasonic

• Evaporative

• Heat

More Things to Consider:

• Oil Quality
• Purity

•  Method of production

•  Reputation

• Safety

•  Flammable

•  Allergies and reactions

• Do not eat

• Not advisable for pregnant women or those breastfeeding

Essential oils diffusing can be a fun easy way to not only lead a healthier lifestyle but to also fill your life with beautiful scents and aromas.

But as you learned not all diffusers are equal and each has its own pros and cons.

Hopefully, after reading this guide you are familiar with the basics of diffusing and are better equipped to choose the right diffuser for you and your home.

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