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Scent is tied to emotion, which could be why I’m on a permanent mission to make my home smell amazing.
With two dogs and four active kids, plus the fact that we live, work, and cook in this space, no one would mistake our home for a serene, spa-like retreat.
But with the right fragrance blend (and our eyes closed), couldn’t we recreate both that captivating scent and the feelings that come with it?
Scented candles are always an option, but I was drawn to the idea of diffusing essential oils. Not only would our house smell wonderful, but I figured we might all benefit from the aromatherapy aspect. And maybe there’d be a little bonus humidifying action.
In a bid to find a diffuser that really, truly works, I went through a lot of them. I also quizzed a mix of aromatherapy experts and various founders and reps of diffuser companies along the way.
Here’s what I learned during my deep dive into the world of diffusing, including my recommendations for the hands-down best diffusers.
A diffuser is a device that breaks down essential or synthetic oils into tiny molecules that can be evenly dispersed into the air, creating a lovely aroma and some specific effects.
Essential oils can have calming, soothing, invigorating, and stress-relieving benefits. And then there are those personal associations.
“Different aromas can elicit different emotions, as olfaction (our sense of smell) is in direct communication with our limbic system (seat of emotion and memory),” says Kara Montgomery on behalf of the Bloomy Lotus team.
And here’s something interesting: The things we smell trigger emotion, even before we identify the scent. That’s why our ability to smell is such a truly powerful sense. It’s not just about the smell itself, but the entirely personal way we perceive it.
There are a few options in the world of diffusers, but most can be grouped into three categories.
These devices use an oscillating plate that vibrates to create and release a cool, odorless mist.
“It’s like the mist around a waterfall,” says Trevor T’úýtemken Ellestad, the education and communications manager, in-house herbalist, and aromatherapist at Saje Natural Wellness.
“When you add essential oils to the water, this vibration breaks the essential oil into small particles that are released into the air with the mist.”
These diffusers use neither heat nor water. Instead, “they work by atomizing the essential oils into fine particles,” explains Elisabeth Lemieux of ECO Modern Essentials.
“Nebulizers use a larger amount of essential oil for a shorter running time. However, the concentration of essential oils released into the air is much stronger,” she says.
This type of diffuser doesn’t use heat or water either, and it’s also powerless. There are no cords, outlets, batteries, or apps.
“Passive diffusers include reed diffusers, gentle oil warmers, and diffusers that use porous ceramic to naturally emit essential oils into the air,” says Bella Martinez, the lead certified aromatherapist at Edens Garden.
Both ultrasonic and nebulizing diffusers can come with a number of bells and whistles, including ambient lighting, automatic shut-offs, scent intensity and interval settings, and timers.
Those features make diffusers a safer option than candles — you’re free to drift off to sleep or leave the house completely, and you’ll still come home to a space that smells amazing.
But diffusers aren’t just about the fragrance. “A diffuser can act as a piece of decor to help tie a room together,” says Sara Panton, the co-founder of Vitruvi.
Panton says the mood and emotion linked to diffusers in specific colors or textures can deepen its intention in a space, which makes the room look, feel, and smell fantastic.
I had no idea what to look for when I initially began diffuser shopping — all I wanted was something that made my house smell great.
But I quickly learned there are a handful of key considerations that can steer you toward a good option.
Consider your space and lifestyle
“The best diffuser for your needs is going to be the one that fits best with your decor or your lifestyle — because a diffuser you love is a diffuser you know that you’ll use regularly,” Ellestad says.
Panton seconds the idea of choosing a diffuser based on design. “Diffusing is truly a multi-sensorial experience enhanced through color, texture, and shape,” she says. “So design aesthetics play a major role when choosing the best diffuser for your space.”
While size isn’t terribly important, Ellestad recommends paying attention to capacity if you like the idea of an ultrasonic diffuser. Larger water tanks and more generous run times work well for bigger areas of the home.
You should also consider how often you plan on using your diffuser. A device that has an intermittent setting extends diffusing time, and it won’t overpower smaller areas either.
Be mindful of quality and maintenance
“Once you have your specs and needs set, it’s important that you find a diffuser that’s BPA-free. The vapor released should be pure and non-toxic,” Panton says.
She also advises double-checking a diffuser’s cleaning instructions. Ultrasonic diffusers generally need to be cleaned regularly, which usually involves running a mix of water and pure white vinegar in the diffuser and using a cotton swab to clean out various nooks and crannies.
For both ultrasonic and nebulizing diffusers, you can also wipe down the plastic components with rubbing alcohol. However, be sure to reference the user guide for your specific diffuser before cleaning it.
The price of diffusers varies widely, depending on type, material, and brand. My picks fall under the following price points.
- $ = under $80
- $$ = $80–$120
- $$$ = over $120
My first experience with diffusers was with the ultrasonic variety, and it was a good place to begin.
While I started with a few inexpensive options on Amazon, I found them aesthetically unappealing or cheaply made with a short lifespan. I’m a firm believer that you get what you pay for, so shame on me.
Luckily, you can avoid my mistake, and start with these high quality ultrasonic diffusers instead.
- Price: $$
Vitruvi is a social media darling, and it’s easy to see why. The Stone Diffuser is made with a stunningly simple matte ceramic cover in a rainbow of colors and a BPA-free plastic water reservoir.
Priced over $100, the Stone Diffuser was my first diffuser splurge several years ago. Since then, I’ve put this thing through its paces. It continues to do its job — lightly scenting our living space — day after day without issues.
It’s smaller than you might expect, so that’s worth knowing upfront. But how big does a diffuser really need to be?
The Stone Diffuser comes with a few misting options, a 500-square foot diffusing capacity, and a subtle ambient lighting ring.
This is the diffuser I gifted my mother for Christmas, along with a few of my favorite Vitruvi blends, and she adores it as much as I do.
- Price: $$$
The Vitruvi Move Diffuser is made with a matte metal in black or white. This material was enough to make me pause. The matte ceramic is such an integral part of why I love my Stone Diffuser, but I was pleasantly surprised (and relieved) when the Move arrived. It has a sleek, modern aesthetic that’s just as appealing as its more natural sibling.
Plus, the portability factor is hard to beat. The Move Diffuser has a charging base that plugs in, but you can pick up the diffuser and take it with you. Mine is gently diffusing right here on the table as I type.
Just like the Stone Diffuser, the Move Diffuser has a 500-square foot capacity, an LED light ring, and a 4 or 8-hour run time.
Both the Stone Diffuser and the Move Diffuser nail the form and function that I find important. Plus, I find Vitruvi’s oils and blends impressive.
Panton says Vitruvi’s essential oils and blends are 100 percent pure, vegan, non-toxic, cruelty-free, and free from phthalates, silicones, formaldehyde, and synthetic fragrance.
- Price: $
I find the Terrazzo Stone Diffuser appealing and well-designed. I like the subdued, natural stone aesthetic, but I love the fact that this thing has a generous capacity. It holds 130 milliliters, which means you don’t have to refill it as often as other models.
With four setting options, you can run it continuously for 60 minutes, 90 minutes, or 3 hours, or you can cycle it through 30 seconds on and off for a full 8 hours.
All settings have an automatic shut-off after the water runs out. The ring light turns on when the diffuser is running, though you have the option of turning it off.
I put this diffuser in the room my daughters share. It has a high ceiling, but the Terrazzo Stone does a great job of keeping the space lightly scented. At bedtime, the girls love diffusing a soothing sleep blend and the ring light doubles as a subtle night light.
Of all the oil blends I’ve tried, Edens Garden makes one of my all-time favorites. Citrus Cream is a fresh citrus aroma with a bit of vanilla. It’s one of those scents that makes my entire family swoon.
Plus, the brand’s essential oils are free of any fillers, synthetics, or harmful chemicals and GC/MS tested, Martinez says. GC/MS testing, or gas chromatography and mass spectrometry testing, is done to verify the quality of an essential oil.
- Price: $$
Saje is a wellness company that’s created essential oil blends for over 25 years. They have a lot of diffusers, but the Aroma Om is a bestseller.
The diffuser has a simple cement cover, a stylish, bottle-nosed shape, and BPA-free plastic components. It holds 3 ounces and diffuses roughly 400 feet. That’s more than enough for my downstairs powder room, which now smells amazing all day long.
The Aroma Om can be set for 3 continuous hours or 6 hours intermittently. And the LED light ring can be on or off while it’s diffusing.
I find Saje’s oils complex and interesting — the longer I breathe them in, the more the scent develops. According to Ellestad, this might be because “Saje essential oil blends are formulated by certified aromatherapists and trained plant medicine specialists.”
After all my good luck with ultrasonic diffusers, I wondered how different a nebulizing diffuser could really be. Spoiler: This is next-level diffusing.
“If you’re looking for a powerful diffuser with extensive coverage, the nebulizing diffuser is the way to go,” Montgomery says. “Since nebulizing diffusers don’t require water or heat, you’re able to get the maximum undiluted, unaltered benefits from your oils with this method.”
They’re generally a pricier option, but that’s not always the case.
- Price: $$$
Some quick, necessary background: I went to a baby shower close to 2 years ago, and the hostess graciously gave me a tour of her fabulous home. As amazing as the architecture was, what stood out to me was the incredible fragrance of her tranquil main bathroom and bedroom.
I had to ask what she was doing to make these spaces smell so amazing, and she forwarded me a link to The Aera Diffuser.
Immediately, I ordered fragrance samples. I’m particularly sensitive to scent, and all the options I chose struck me as strongly perfumed.
Fast forward to now, when I finally got one of these sleek devices in my home, and I’ve been kicking myself for not trusting my acquaintance (and my nose). Maybe I got bad samples the first time, or maybe they just don’t do the diffusing experience justice.
Either way, I think the Aera Diffuser is absolutely worth the eye-popping price tag (starting around $150, plus $55 per fragrance capsule).
Aera describes its sleek diffuser as a happiness machine, and I think that’s completely accurate. However, one thing to know is that the device works with Aera fragrance capsules only — you can’t pour in other essential oils.
Unlike traditional diffusers, Aera says its fragrance microdroplets are 50 times smaller than the average aerosol droplet. That size means they burst instantly, releasing all the fragrance ingredients simultaneously. Instead of top, middle, and bottom notes, you get the entire scent experience at once.
The Aera Diffuser is also available in a smart version if you’re willing to pay more. The device syncs to an app that gives you the freedom to play with scent intensity, scheduling, and more. Is it worth it? I’ll just say that timing the device to come on 30 minutes before the alarm goes off is a nice way to start the morning.
As for the fragrances themselves, Aera is not made with 100 percent essential oils. The company uses some synthetic molecules, but they argue that these are almost always safer, healthier, and better for the planet. They’re approved by the International Fragrance Association and compliant with safety standards for continuous inhalation 8 hours per day, 7 days per week.
All the ingredients are safe and ethically responsible, as well as cruelty-free and vegan. Plus, the company is transparent, publishing all the ingredients used in all of its fragrances.
I got the Citrus and Sage and the Linen and Lemon fragrances from the Home Hygiene line, which offer odor-eliminating fragrance molecules, natural antibacterial botanicals, and wellness-boosting essential oils.
Capsules last an average of 500 to 800 hours. There’s a price break if you subscribe.
- Price: $$
This is one of the smallest diffusers I’ve tried, but, boy, is it powerful. It has a minimalist and thoughtful design, though I was a little dismayed that it only works when it’s plugged in.
After examining photos and videos on the website, I was under the impression it was portable. Still, it throws an impressive amount of scent, particularly given its smaller size.
It’s important that this kind of diffuser comes equipped with customizable settings for mist output and run time.
“Since nebulizing diffusers are so powerful, they disperse a higher concentration of essential oils into the air. [This] could lead to respiratory irritations or other irritations if the diffuser were to be left on, unchecked all day (especially in smaller areas and areas with poor ventilation),” Montgomery says.
Fortunately, the Bamboo Nebulizing Diffuser has a few settings. The low setting runs for 5 minutes on, 10 minutes off. The high setting cycles through 5 minutes on and off.
You can choose to run the diffuser for 1, 2, or 5 hours. I was impressed by how little oil it uses during the diffusing sessions.
- Price: $
This was the first nebulizing diffuser I ever used, and I was immediately impressed by how well it works. It’s simple and unassuming — definitely the most purely functional of all the diffusers I’ve tried — so I wasn’t at all prepared for its powerhouse performance.
It has a single on/off button that starts an intermittent 10 seconds on, 50 seconds off function for up to 2 hours. Turning it on activates the ring light as well.
This diffuser is probably the noisiest of the bunch — there’s a faintly audible whirring noise when it’s actively diffusing, but I didn’t find it overly problematic.
Like the Bloomy Lotus diffuser, this diffuser uses a surprisingly small amount of oil, and it quickly spreads the scent. I ran this in the kitchen when it first arrived, and the fragrance was pleasantly noticeable in adjoining rooms.
ECO. Modern Essentials is an Australian-based wellness brand, and it also happens to be the purveyor of one of my top three, all-time favorite oils.
Lemieux says the brand works with in an in-house aromatherapist. The oil “range is 100 percent pure with no fillers or fragrances.”
Plus, they’re People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) certified vegan and cruelty-free, and they’re ethically sourced to ensure social and environmental integrity.
If I’m being honest, passive diffusers weren’t even on my list. I’ve used reed diffusers before. They’re pleasant initially, but the longevity just isn’t there. Plus, one experience with a wayward ball knocking oil all over the floor was enough.
But then I stumbled across a version that I just couldn’t ignore.
- Price: $$$
Wood, glass, and oil — that’s it. Combine those three elements with a timeless hourglass shape and the insight of various artists, experts, and manufacturers, and you have Hyascent.
This handmade diffuser couldn’t be easier to use. You turn it over once or twice a day, and the oil drips through the wood, where it releases a subtle whiff of amazing fragrance.
Subtle is the key word here. Hyascent is designed for delicacy. The scent doesn’t smack you over the head — it’s far more nuanced and captivating.
From the charming copy in the order confirmation emails to the thoughtful packaging, I love everything about the shopping experience. Each diffuser is handmade to order.
I used the brand’s online quiz to choose a fragrance — my match was California Chill, and I also tried Hip to That. Both scents are incredible. I have one in the entryway and the other in the main bathroom. The scents are truly perfect — subtle but noticeable.
Like Aera, Hyascent uses synthetic formulations that come from a leading global fragrance house. However, the company says their fragrances spent 3 years in research and development in order to meet the highest California standards of health and safety.
Scents should last around 6 months, and refills are available. If you want to switch fragrances, the company recommends springing for another Hyascent to avoid muddying the scent.
Keep in mind that essential oils can’t prevent, treat, or cure diseases. Some companies may market their products to try to convince you otherwise, so it’s best to stick with brands that don’t make any health claims.
It is possible to have too much of a good thing, so diffuse wisely. Take advantage of scheduling and interval features on your diffuser. That way, you can avoid both inadvertently stressing the body and fragrance fatigue, which is what happens after prolonged exposure to a specific scent.
Make a point of using your diffuser in a well-ventilated space, and always follow manufacturer instructions to ensure you’re keeping your diffuser clean.
If you aren’t using 100 percent essential oils, make sure that the fragrance comes from a brand you trust.
Pregnant people, infants under 2, people with respiratory illnesses or allergies, and pets can be particularly sensitive to essential oils, so it’s a good idea to proceed with caution and check with a healthcare professional first.
Make sure pets, and cats in particular, aren’t confined to the space where you’re diffusing — they need to be able to leave if they want. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also notes that birds are particularly sensitive to essential oils.
Be mindful that strong scents can be a trigger for people with migraine or other chronic conditions.
In researching and using all these diffusers, I discovered that there’s a lovely kind of ritual to preparing a diffuser, whether that’s measuring water, choosing an oil, or just turning it over.
Add that to the experience of a favorite scent gently drifting through your home — and the emotions and memories that are so tightly bound to it — and it’s hard to go wrong, no matter what kind of diffuser you choose.
Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007, covering everything from pregnancy and parenting to cannabis, chiropractic, stand-up paddling, fitness, martial arts, home decor, and much more. Her work has appeared in mindbodygreen, Pregnancy & Newborn, Modern Parents Messy Kids, and Coffee + Crumbs. See what she’s up to now at jessicatimmons.com.