Your essential oil diffuser sucks and this is why. (6 min. read)

Your diffuser may not be utilizing your essential oils to their fullest ability.

As people purchase diffusers to cleanse the air around them so many are miss informed on how diffusers actually work.  I was too when I first got started in the field of essential oils.  Through continued learning and research over the last ten years, I continue to become more knowledgeable on the most effective and best ways to utilize the power of essential oils.  Dispersion and inhalation is the best and easiest ways to utilize essential oils.  If this is the best way to utilize your oils, why is your diffuser not getting the job done?

Oil and water just don't mix.

If you are like me, when I first heard the word essential oil, I really didn't comprehend that it was an actual oil.  I just saw it as a fancy label for these natural extracts.  However, these extractions from plants, trees, flowers and spices are in fact an actual oil.  It's what allows these species to live, thrive and fight off disease and predators. 

Essential oils act as any other oil out there when it is combined with water.  When essential oils or any other oils, such as vegetable oil, are added to water, the oil will simply rest on top of the water.  Even with vigorous stirring or shaking of the oil and water together will not incorporate the two and they will, once again, fully separate after the vigorous stirring or shaking has subsided.  In order for the two to combine, an emulsifier must be used to allow oil to blend with the water or water to blend in with the oil.

Now that I have gone over the basic concept of oil and water and how essential oils are, indeed what the word indicates, an oil let us get into how this affects the way diffusers distribute essential oils and why a homeopathic essential oil spray may be the better alternative depending on your wants or needs.

A Fragrance diffuser, humidifier or Mist(er) is the most common type

of diffuser purchased.  These essential oil diffusers have a small tank that you fill with water.  A few drops of essential oil is then added to the water tank.  When the diffuser is turned on a small mist or vapor is then dispersed into the air (similar to that of a humidifier).  Sometimes these type of diffusers will have a pad that you drop the essential oils onto.   

These diffusers are priced anywhere from around $7-$40 depending on size and features.  While these models are affordable they highly underutilize your essential oils and this is why.  All you are getting out of these type of diffusers is a very diluted and untrue aroma from your oils.  If you are under the belief that you are getting the benefits of air cleansing oils being dispersed into the air around you, you are not.  Let me clear up this misconception for you and explain why these diffusers do not work in this way. 

Simply put, oil and water don't mix.  This fact is nothing new, however, this important fact is often missed by you, the consumer, when purchasing these products.  It's often not something you think about as you are trusting that the oils are being dispersed along with the water.  Or perhaps you are like I once was, as mentioned previously, and didn't realize essential oils are in fact a true oil.
What your essential oils are actually doing in this type of diffuser is merely sitting on top of the water in your diffusers tank.  As the water is taken in by the device and dispersed into a vapor or mist it is taken from the bottom of the tank.  The essential oils you dropped into the water are sitting on top of that water and are now lining the walls of the tank as the water level lowers.  The essential oils are not being dispersed into the air around you.  This type of diffuser will not actually get the oils dispersed into the air until the water tank reaches the very end.  Even at that, very little of the essential oils will be dispersed with the water as a mist or vapor.  Why? Remember, they are an oil and are unable to be dispersed through this type of device that utilizes and disperses water in the manner that it does.

Ultrasonic diffusers

are the next most popular essential oil diffuser used.  These diffusers will cost you more and can range from around $20-$60 depending on materials and functions.
Ultrasonic diffusers work by vibrating at a high rate of speed.  It takes the water, breaking it up into fine molecules and essentially heating the water up due to the friction and releasing it as a fine vapor. 
There are two types of ultrasonic diffusers.  One type is where the essential oils are dropped into the water tank where they will sit on top of the water.  This is similar to the way fragrance or mist diffusers work.  Due to the ultrasonic vibrations, it allows more of the essential oils to be broken up as well and dispersed along with the water.  However, since the oils are still not incorporated into the water very little essential oils are being dispersed along with the water vapors. 
Another type of ultrasonic diffusers (but not as common) are those that contain a tube that comes out of a separate tank that the essential oils are stored in, away from the water. As the water molecules are passed through the device, it pulls up the essential oils through the tube due to Bernoulli's principle, expelling the oils into the air with the vapor.  This is a better way of utilizing essential oils.  This diffuser will produce a more true aroma of the essential oils being utilized.  However, the amount of oil expelled is still minimal and due to their volatile nature, they are still prone to evaporation before enough oils are sufficiently expelled to fill a room.
Before I get to the best type of diffuser out there I will address one other type as this is the diffuser I started out with and within a year stopped using.  This type of diffuser is called an essential oil warmer.  What they do is heat up the essential oils using a tea lite, causing aroma from the oils to be released.  These oil warmers range from $3.00 to $20.00.  They are very decorative and pretty to look at.  The drawback is, they heat up essential oils degrading the quality of the oil.  If you have ever used one you've noticed how quickly the smell goes away even while there is still oil in the base.  Due to essential oils being highly volatile you are essentially destroying the essential oil properties by exposing it to prolonged heat and receiving next to no benefit from the heated vapors releasing into the air.  In addition, these warmers must be cleaned immediately (once completely cooled) after use or they will get very mucked up and sticky from the oil residue if you don't.

The best diffusers out there and the preferred diffuser

by aromatherapist and homeopaths is the essential oil nebulizer.  This diffuser takes no water and expels a large amount of oil in a fairly short amount of time.  These are typically the more expensive diffuser with prices ranging from $40-$120.  The nebulizer diffuser works by producing a very high vibration rate of which the oils are turned into a vapor and released into the air (similar to that of an ultrasonic diffuser but at a much higher rate).  They are mostly made of glass with a wood base.  Some are now being made of other materials as well, however, the core of the nebulizer diffuser will still be glass.  Unlike the other diffusers, any essential oil can be used in a nebulizer included citrus oils, due to its glass reservoir.  These diffusers are highly effective at putting out pure essential oils into the air in a fairly short amount of time.  The only drawbacks to these are the cleaning, they are noisier, possible breakage of glass and they utilize larger quantities of essential oils, which can be costly over time.  

"But I can smell the oils, so it must be working." 

Perhaps you're saying this about your diffuser.  Yes, you can smell them.  The reason you can smell them so strong is due to essential oil components are comprised of two main biosynthetically related groups namely terpenes and aromatic compounds. Terpenes among other things they do are what gives off the strong aroma of essential oils. Terpenes give the aroma, flavor, and color of plants.  Aroma compounds do not contain the antimicrobial/antiviral compounds that fight off pathogens.  

The fragrance and nebulizer diffusers discussed would have to run for several hours in a small room nonstop to produce any sort of antimicrobial benefit due to the small amount they put out and the volatile nature of essential oils.  The one exception to this rule and previously discussed is the essential oil nebulizer. 
However, If you are wanting to just produce a natural air freshener in a small room, the under-performing diffusers(in terms of essential oil output) are a great, fairly inexpensive and better alternative to manufactured fragrance sprays.  Due to the nature in which the essential oils are utilized in these diffusers (fragrance, warmer and ultrasonic diffuser) I recommend only using the less costly oils since you will not reap the full benefits of the oils and it would be a waste of your money to diffuse the more expensive ones in this manner.  If that is not a concern to you, then by all means, use the essential oil of your choice.  I would also recommend going for the top note essential oils to get a stronger and a more true scent out of these type of diffusers.

Check out our post on Why You Should Be Utilizing An Essential Oil Homeopathic Spray In The Prevention against the Cold and Flu Virus (4 minute read).   Learn more of why proper emulsification is needed for essential oils and how a homeopathic spray may be the better alternative for you.