The Best Essential Oil Diffusers + 7 Health Benefits of Aromatherapy
We reviewed eight popular essential oil diffusers and share our favorites so you can make the swap to natural, non-toxic air fresheners, receive the aromatherapy health benefits, and enjoy the beauty of these safe fragrances in your home. We also share the best essential oils to use for different health ailments (say goodbye to stress, toxins, headaches, and more!).
UPDATE: This post was originally published in June 2016 and has been updated.
Welcome back to our Test Drive series, where we try a handful of brands in a category of natural products and compare the real-life results.
No matter where you stand with essential oil diffusers–maybe you diffuse in your home daily, maybe you’ve heard about diffusers or seen them at a spa but have yet to buy for personal use–we’re here to uncover WHY you should swap conventional air fresheners like scented candles, Air Wick Plug-Ins, and Febreze for all natural, safe alternatives like essential oil diffusers.
Not only is this the best non-toxic aromatherapy tool to make your house smell amazing, but there are lots of other health benefits too, especially when it comes to reducing stress and anxiety, detoxing, and naturally supporting things like headache relief, your immune system, and getting restful sleep. A win-win-win!
Finally, we’ll share our reviews of eight popular essential oil diffuser models and our top two favorites for ease of use and aesthetics.
The Dangers of Popular Air Fresheners
There are lots of ways you can make your house/office/bathroom/car smell fresh and clean, but like most store-bought products, many of the most popular options contain harmful ingredients, particularly synthetic fragrance.
Manufacturers add fragrance mixtures to their cleaning products (and typically hide the full list of ingredients from consumers!)–and, as I’ve blabbered on about before when talking about the 10 most toxic skincare ingredients to avoid, synthetic fragrances often contain phthalates and synthetic musks, which have hormone-disrupting properties, and can cause allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory issues in otherwise healthy people.
As if toxic fragrance weren’t enough, there’s dozens of other harmful chemicals found in popular air fresheners. Take a look:
- Air Wick Plug-Ins: Rated an F by the EWG for the toxic chemical cocktail of harmful ingredients found inside, from sodium borate (may damage fertility or the unborn child, plus clear evidence of endocrine disruption, dermatitis and respiratory irritation) and mineral oil (this suspected human carcinogen is also damaging to the environment and causes respiratory and skin irritation) to fragrance and even propane and butane (contains impurities that are suspected human carcinogens and hormone disruptors).
- Febreze Air Refresher Spray: Rated a D by the EWG as it contains ingredients with potential for skin irritation, allergies, respiratory effects, and acute aquatic toxicity, including fragrance, propellant, and non-specific (read: non-disclosed) ingredients–HUGE red flag!
- Glade Solid Air Fresheners: Rated a C by the EWG for poor disclosure of ingredients (again, red flag!), plus it contains chemicals with potential for acute aquatic toxicity (Kathron CG-ICP), skin irritation, allergies and endocrine disruption (Fragrance) and cancer (Titanium Dioxide).
- Scented Candles: This one is MOST SURPRISING. Nearly all scented candles release mixtures of undisclosed fragrance chemicals into the air. To make matters worse, many candles are made with paraffin, a petroleum waste product that is a known carcinogen, and when burned, the toxins released from paraffin candles are the equivalent of those found in diesel fuel fumes. To add fuel to literal fire, many scented candles also have wicks that contain heavy metals, like lead, which releases five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children and exceeds EPA pollution standards for outdoor air. Be on high alert for brands that use paraffin wax, from Yankee Candle to high-end brands like Dyptique. (TIP: If you insist on using candles at home, go for fragrance-free beeswax candles, which naturally purify the air. Some brands, like Bath & Body Works to Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, use soy wax, but there’s still the issue of fragrance).
Alright fine, you may be thinking, I can give those toxic products up, but now how will my house smell good? Fear not!
Did you know that the EWG says that clean, pure air has no smell at all, and that’s what we should strive for when we clean?
Buuuuuuut TBH, sometimes an actual scent smells better than just nothing, right? More good news–there are many other ways to make your home smell clean and fresh, including using essential oil diffusers, which are safe, natural and super effective.
7 Benefits of Essential Oil Diffusers
REDUCE STRESS + ANXIETY
One of the most well-known essential oils benefits is their ability to reduce stress and anxiety. (source) Some have sedative properties and induce a calm, peaceful, uplifting and relaxed feeling. Need evidence? Check out just a few research studies:
- A pilot study found that using aromatherapy as a complementary therapy helped to reduce anxiety and depression scales in postpartum women. After four weeks, the women using aromatherapy had significant improvements in anxiety and depression symptoms compared to those in the control group. (source)
- A 2014 study involving 82 participants evaluated the effectiveness of aromatherapy for elderly people with chronic pain and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Researchers found that after four weeks of treatment with essential oils, there was a significant reduction in negative emotions, including feelings of anxiety, stress and depression, among the intervention group. (source)
- A randomized controlled clinical trial found that inhaling rose water for four weeks significantly decreased the state and traits of anxiety in patients undergoing hemodialysis treatment. (source)
- The best essential oils for anxiety and stress include: lavender, Roman chamomile, bergamot, ylang ylang, orange, rose, frankincense, and vetiver.
REDUCE TOXICITY IN YOUR HOME AND BODY
Essential oils may help to reduce toxicity by promoting the detoxification of your home and body. Some work as mild diuretics by increasing urine production and improving detoxification. Other oils aid digestion and promote the detoxification of toxins that buildup in the body. (source)
- The best oils that help to promote internal detoxification include: lemon, grapefruit, parsley, fennel, lemongrass, peppermint, and ginger.
Unlike most home cleaning products that are loaded with chemicals, essential oils can naturally clean your home by destroying harmful pathogens and pollutants.
- The best essential oils for reducing toxicity in your home or place of work include: grapefruit, orange, lemon, lemongrass, eucalyptus, cinnamon, peppermint and tea tree.
RELIEVE HEADACHES + MIGRAINES
Essential oils may work as natural headache and migraine relievers because they effectively treat the trigger, addressing the root of the problem instead of masking it, like painkillers do. Essential oils for headaches provide pain relief, improve circulation and reduce stress, which can be a major cause of both headaches and migraines.
- A placebo-controlled clinical trial conducted in 2012 evaluated the efficacy of inhaling lavender oil for the treatment of migraine headaches. Researchers found that the difference between the controls and treated patients was statistically significant: from 129 headache attacks in the treatment group, 92 responded entirely or partially to lavender. In the control group, 32 out of 68 headache attacks responded to the placebo. (source)
- The best oils to help relieve headache pain include: lavender, peppermint (has a cooling effect and stimulates blood flow), eucalyptus (relieves sinus pressure by opening the nasal airways), and rosemary (reduces inflammation, promotes circulation and has a calming effect).
PROMOTES RESTFUL SLEEP
Some essential oils have sedative properties, which can be helpful for people who are having trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night. Lavender oil, in particular, is known to be an effective sleep aid because of its ability to leave you feeling relaxed and calm.
- A recent study published in Nursing in Critical Care showed significantly significant differences in the sleep quality among patients in the coronary intensive care unit (ICU) compared to the control group where the intervention group inhaled lavender oil for 15 days. This shows how lavender oil is a non-invasive, inexpensive and easily applicable intervention for hospital patients who are having trouble sleeping and experiencing anxiety. (source)
- The best oils besides lavender to use for better sleep include: Roman chamomile, ylang ylang, bergamot and vetiver.
IMPROVE RESPIRATORY, IMMUNE HEALTH + ENERGY LEVELS
Each of these benefits are amazing on their own, but we’re putting them all together here for ease (you’re already getting the point that oils really do work, right?!). So let’s quickly sum up each of these points:
- Inhaling essential oils can improve inflammation in the tracts, boost immune health, and help eliminate colds and coughs.
- Many essential oils have and antiviral effects, which can help protect your immune system once they are inhaled.
- If you regularly feel fatigued or lack energy, the best oils to give you a critical boost to energy and mood and include: , cinnamon, lemon, and orange.
A word of caution: Some people are allergic to essential oils, particularly tea tree and lavender oils, so before you use them, test the oils on a small patch of skin to see how you react. Likewise, the EWG suggests limiting use of old or light-exposed essential oils because air and sunlight break them down over time, producing more potent allergens. So store essential oils in a cool, dark place. It may also be beneficial to use the diffusers in well-ventilated areas to avoid inhaling too much of these compounds.
Ready to get some oils and start experiencing their magic?
If you’re looking for great quality with super reasonable prices, I love Plant Therapy–their oils are 100% pure, free from any additives, adulterants, or dilutions. Their essential oils come in varieties like synergies, singles, organic, and pre-diluted roll-ons, and their facility is USDA Certified Organic. Plus you can get 10% off your order of $50 or more sitewide with the coupon code ROOT10!
Alright, onto the reviews! We’ve rounded up eight of the best aromatherapy air diffusers and compared their effectiveness, ease of use and functionality. Each of these diffusers relies on water (except for one) and the natural fragrance of essential oils and aromatherapy blends to purify the air and leave it with a clean scent.
Reviews: eight of the top essential oil diffusers
- Now Solutions Ultrasonic Real Bamboo Oil Diffuser ($40): This diffuser was aesthetically pleasing and nature-inspired with (like the name implies) real bamboo. And, perhaps most importantly, it was super easy to add water and essential oils to–simply remove the top, add the liquids, place the top back on. Despite the diffuser being fairly small and unobtrusive, it ran the second longest of any of the diffusers I tried–14 hours using the intermittent setting, and 7 hours continuous. Plus there was 2 Timer Settings (1 Hr and 2 Hr) and an auto shut-off feature. It’s also BPA-Free and the LED lights were super subtle, which I liked.
- Plant Therapy UltraFuse Essential Oil Diffuser ($90): This sleek diffuser–while the third most expensive of the bunch–is well worth the durable quality and looks especially perfect in modern spaces. It even has Bluetooth connectivity so you can pair with your phone or tablet and double as a speaker–how cool! With continuous, intermittent (5 min on/5 min off), and preset timers (1hr/6hrs), automatic shut off, five LED color light display options, and a remote control to boot, you’ll love the convenience and simple design of this diffuser.
- Vitruvi Stone Diffuser ($119): Absolutely gorgeous, clean and stunning, this diffuser has a matte ceramic finish and looks like a beautiful piece of decor. This was the most expensive diffuser I tried and–because artful diffusers are so hard to find–I definitely think it’s worth the splurge if you want a diffuser to seamlessly blend in or add a nice design touch in a prominently displayed spot. It’s BPA-free with 3-hour (non-stop) or 7-hour (30-sec interval) run time, plus an automatic shut off.
- Now Solutions Ultrasonic Faux Wooden Oil Diffuser ($40): This diffuser was incredibly difficult to add water to, as you had to remove the reservoir and then turn it upside down to add the liquids, which meant you couldn’t do it with one hand while you simultaneously poured with the other. That being said, I loved that it automatically shuts off and runs for 8 hours, which is longer than most, though there’s no customization/timing settings. It’s also BPA-free and the look is pretty enough (the wood does look super fake), but I felt comfortable having it out on display.
ZAQ Noor Essential Oil Diffuser ($47): I’m not normally one for super modern design, but this diffuser was so sleek and I loved that it was small enough to fit on my office desk without getting in the way. This diffuser was also super easy to add water and essential oils to, as you simply remove the top (which comes off without any struggle) and pour water directly into the reservoir. Though the diffuser did have the automatic shut-off option, there wasn’t much customization in terms of timing as it only runs for 4 hours and then shuts off. I did love that it was BPA-free, and that you could turn the colored lights off, which is great for nighttime use.
Now Solutions Ultrasonic Dual Mist Oil Diffuser ($28): This was my least favorite diffuser of the bunch. Though I appreciated that there are 2 mist nozzles that rotate 360°, I just really didn’t like the look of the unit itself. It was a bit cheap looking with an unattractive modern design that was super large on most surfaces. BUT, I could still appreciate that it was BPA-Free, had 3 Timer Settings (1 Hr, 2 Hr and 3 Hr) and shuts off automatically. It also runs the longest of any of the diffusers I tried–up to 8 hours or 16 intermittent hours.
- Art Naturals Essential Oil Diffuser ($25): I really loved the design of this diffuser, and the size as it easily fit on my bedside table. Though it was easier than the Now faux wooden diffuser to add water to, it was a bit more difficult to fill this diffuser compared to the ZAQ diffuser or the NOW real bamboo diffuser, since you had to screw off the top (this requires 2 hands) and then take off another cap that’s fitted fairly tight. This diffuser also didn’t have as many settings as some of the others, though I did appreciate that you can choose from continuous mode (will run for 6 hours) or intermittent (it will diffuse for 3 minutes, stop for 1 minute) and there’s also the auto shut-off feature. My biggest concern with this diffuser is the plastic it’s made from, which requires a California Prop 65 warning to appear on the box. But at least the plastic isn’t heated, and you’re not drinking the water that comes out of it.
- Organic Aromas Elegance Nebulizing Diffuser ($99): This diffuser from Organic Aromas is different from all the others in that it requires NO water and NO plastic. If you’re tired of spilling water when you refill your diffuser or live in a humid climate where you don’t want to add excess moisture into the air, this diffuser is for you. It emits a very strong, pure scent across a wide area in a very short period of time. It features an elegant hand-made wood base and custom-blown glass, really making this diffuser stand out as a work of art (it reminds me of an antique perfume bottle!). The downside is that the only option is for a 2-min on/1-min off cycle, but at least it has an auto shutoff after 2 hours. It also makes a little rattling noise sometimes when transitioning between on/off which is a little annoying, but otherwise I love this elegant and convenient diffuser!
USER TIP: Make sure you don’t fill up the water too high in your essential oil diffuser. It sounds obvious, but I had trouble with these diffusers because I thought I had the correct amount of water in, but it wouldn’t create the mist. When I emptied the water out and was extra careful not to overfill the reservoir, the mist came back. Doh!
AND THE BEST ESSENTIAL OIL DIFFUSER WINNERS, FOR BOTH EASE OF USE AND AESTHETICS, ARE…
Vitruvi Stone Diffuser (pictured above) and ZAQ Noor Essential Oil Diffuser
Have you tried any essential oil diffusers? I’d love to hear about your results. Share in the comments below!
Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
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