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What is a Diffuser?

By Jane Harmon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A diffuser is a device used to disperse essential oils into the air, releasing their scent and their aromatherapeutic effects to be inhaled.  The most common type is the aroma lamp, a small tripod that holds a small bowl over a candle or tealight. Water and essential oils are placed in the bowl. When the candle is lit, it heats up the water, gently releasing the volatile vapors of the essential oils into the surrounding air. Devices of this type can contribute to both the ambiance and the atmosphere of a home, and they come in a wide variety of styles to suit any decor, from stark deco to the most rococo and ornamented.

Another common type is the light bulb ring, a ceramic ring that fits on top of a light bulb with a rounded top. The ring has a groove around the top, into which a person can drip essential oils, and the from the bulb evaporates the oils, releasing them into the air. This type of diffuser is handy for situations in which burning a candle might be dangerous or not allowed, such as in an office environment. As a note on etiquette, people who are in shared office space and wish to diffuse essential oils should check with their coworkers for allergies and preferences. It's also important to note that this type of device might not work with compact fluorescent lights, which are usually shaped differently and do not generate as much heat.

A simple unglazed ceramic pot can also be used as a diffuser. This type is typically glazed on the bottom and part way up the sides to protect the surface it are sitting on. Putting water and essential oils in the pot allows the mixture to seep into the ceramic medium and evaporate, releasing the scent and effects of the oils.

Electric devices are also available, and they typically come with absorbent pads that the user soaks in essential oils and place in the machine. Like an air cleaner, this type blows air over the oil-soaked pad and out into the room. These can waste costly essential oils, however, and make a bit of a hum, which can get annoying.

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Discussion Comments

By anon927574 — On Jan 24, 2014

Have you ever heard of using diffusers to get rid of mice and rats?

By John57 — On Sep 08, 2012

I have a co-worker who has a small travel diffuser she uses at her desk. For the most part I don't mind the smell of what she has in her diffuser, but sometimes she chooses some very strange smelling scents.

She says it helps keep the air in her work space cleaner and healthier. You can almost tell what kind of mood she is in by the scent coming from her desk. The sound of the air blowing can also be a little bit annoying, but nobody has complained enough that she has had to get rid of it yet.

I don't see how it makes much of a difference one way or another, but as long as she thinks it does she will probably continue using it.

By Mykol — On Sep 07, 2012

I have en essential oil diffuser that uses straight oil and no water is added. This can use up quite a bit of oil, but in certain situations this can be really helpful.

I only used therapeutic essential oils in this diffuser and these are different than fragrance oils. If someone in my family has a bad cold I will fill the tube with essential oils that work as natural antibiotics such as lemon and clove oil.

When they breathe in the vapor from the diffuser it can be very helpful at helping them fight off the germs that are causing them to feel so bad.

By golf07 — On Sep 06, 2012

When I was introduced to the benefits of using essential oils, I was also shown how an electric diffuser works. I love the way the fragrance of the oil can fill not only one room but a whole lot of space.

I have an electric diffuser that I pour water in and add whatever essential oils I am in the mood for. If I need to stay focused and alert, I add a few drops of peppermint oil. If I am having trouble sleeping, some lavender oil will usually do the trick.

My diffuser is set on a timer so it can come on for different time intervals. I usually have mine set to diffuse for 10 minutes, stop for 10 minutes and start again for 10 minutes. I can run the diffuser for 8 hours this way before it runs out of water.

By julies — On Sep 06, 2012

I have used a light bulb ring fragrance diffuser around my light bulbs in the bathroom. I liked the way the fragrance filled the room when the lights were turned on, but they aren't very practical.

Every time I needed to add more oil I had to climb on the counter to reach the light bulbs. I finally quit doing it and used something else for fragrance in the bathroom. I think these would work better when you could use the ring on a light bulb that was within easy reach.

By DylanB — On Sep 05, 2012
@orangey03 – I would be too afraid of burning the place down! Even if you are careful, accidents can happen.

I use a reed diffuser instead. There is no flame involved, so I feel safe with it.

By orangey03 — On Sep 04, 2012

I had one of those aromatherapy diffusers with a fan, and I didn't use it very much. I had bought it to go on my desk at work, but it just made too much noise. It distracted me, and I couldn't deal with that.

Luckily, my coworkers didn't mind if I used a candle diffuser. I put vanilla oil in it, and it seemed to mellow us all out.

Of course, I kept a close watch on it. I didn't allow any papers to get near the flame, and if I had to leave my desk, I would either put it on someone else's desk or extinguish the flame.

By seag47 — On Sep 04, 2012

I got a scented oil diffuser at one of those white elephant gift parties. I didn't think I'd ever use it, but a friend gave me some essential oils as a Christmas gift, so I took it as a sign that I should.

I put some orange oil into the bowl and lit the tea light candle in the cavern beneath it. The result was a stronger fragrance than most candles can give you.

I like to burn it before company is coming, because the smell lingers awhile in the house. It drowns out any pet odors.

By Kristee — On Sep 03, 2012

I had never heard of light bulb ring scented oil diffusers. I have used the heat from light bulbs to disperse fragrance throughout the room, but I apply the fragrance directly to the hot bulb.

I spray either a scented body spray or some sort of air freshener on the bulb after it has been burning for awhile, and within seconds, I can smell the fragrance everywhere. It's a simple trick for people who don't have actual diffusers on hand.

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