Diffusers Demystified: A Guide to Choosing and Using the Best Diffuser for You

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Read time: 3 minutes

Imagine if the simple act of inhaling could help you relax, make you more alert, or provide an instant pick-me up. Helen Keller once called smell “the fallen angel of the senses.” Despite not being well understood, aroma evokes a primal response in our nervous systems. Scent interacts with the parts of the brain associated with memory and emotions to directly impact mood.

It’s time to breathe life back into our neglected noses. Who amongst us wouldn’t want to trade stress-eating for stress-sniffing?

Minimalist Scene Illustrating What's a Diffuser with Succulents on a Simple Wooden Table | Vitacost.com/blog

To create olfactory ambiance in a jiffy, all you need to do is add essential oils to the diffuser of your choice. The only hitch—figuring out what diffuser to purchase. How do you overcome choice paralysis when there are so many types, shapes and sizes of diffusers to choose from?

We feel your pain—we know you just want to sit back and smell the lavender, already. To help you pick a diffuser that works best for your needs, here’s our guide.


Ultrasonic diffusers are the most popular. They use water and ultrasonic vibrations to disperse the essential oil into a fine mist. Fans of ultrasonic devices says that the advantage of this method is they don’t use heat, which can compromise the integrity of the essential oils. Ultrasonic devices come in a wide variety of materials including glass, bamboo, stone, ceramic, wood, and glass. Affordable and practical, ultrasonic diffusers come with built-in timers that will automatically shut off the diffuser or that will alternate on/off every few minutes.

Try: NOW Solutions Real Bamboo Ultrasonic Oil Diffuser is sleek, easy to clean, and mists like a champ. $35, vitacost.com

NOW Solutions Real Bamboo Ultrasonic Oil Diffuser | Vitacost.com/blog

Electric diffuser 

Like reed diffusers, electric fan diffusers expose essential oils to air without heat. Drops of the essential oil are added to a pad, and the electric fan in the diffuser causes the oils on the pad to disperse into the air. This type of diffuser is extremely portable: It’s good for office, car and tight spaces.

Try: SpaRoom Aromafier™ Silver goes where you go. It takes batteries and comes with a cord, so you can plug into your car, computer or wherever the yen strikes. Note: Can be especially effective during traffic jams. $13, vitacost.com

SpaRoom Aromafier™ Silver  | Vitacost.com/blog

Candle/heat diffuser

Candle diffusers have a tech-free quality that’s immensely satisfying. They tend to be made from ceramic, soapstone, heat-tolerant glass, or other natural stone. The typical candle diffuser design is a bottom chamber for a tealight candle and a bowl that sits on top of that chamber, filled with water and a few drops of oil. The tealight heats the oil/water, causing the essential oil to evaporate into the room.

Try: Aura Cacia Spiral Candle Lamp Black’s classic style generates soothing light plus a pleasing fragrance, a win-win for both senses. $11, vitacost.com

Aura Cacia Spiral Candle Lamp Black | Vitacost.com/blog


What’s not to love about this adorable line of humidifiers who do double duty as a diffuser?  With a run time of eight hours, this twofer is perfect for combating winter dryness (and doldrums). Durable and fun, kids will love experimenting with their own essential oil blends.

Try: GreenAir Creature Comforts Essential Oil Diffuser & Humidifier Cat makes aromatherapy a playful treat. Simple to use and virtually silent, kids will appreciate this welcome addition to their space. $50, vitacost.com

GreenAir Creature Comforts Essential Oil Diffuser & Humidifier Cat | Vitacost.com/blog