The Best Essential-Oil Diffusers to Help Curb Your Fancy-Candle Spending Habit
Ultrasonic, nebulizing, or reed?
Published Jan 28, 2022 1:01 AM
After living for years in small city spaces, I’ve become obsessed with scent. Even a quick meal for one can fill my entire apartment with the aromas of my kitchen—or, worse, my neighbor’s. In an effort to keep my place smelling fresh, I’ve turned to candles, plug-in wall scents (yes, really), Dutch oven simmer pot recipes, and boxes of incense. But having something lit at all hours of the day isn’t exactly safe or sustainable, particularly in the context of my wallet.
Then a few years ago, I was given my first essential-oil diffuser; almost instantly it curbed my constant candle-burning habit. I’ve found delight in plugging in and scheduling it according to my needs throughout the day, and even turning over the sticks in the reed diffuser on my bathroom shelf has turned into a relaxing ritual. Still, I wasn’t aware of all the bells and whistles that come with the many diffusers now on the market.
As it turns out, discovering the best essential-oil diffusers comes down to what you’re specifically looking for. Sara Panton, cofounder of Vitruvi—the company behind the design-forward versions you’ve likely seen all over your Instagram feed—suggests thinking through your space and your lifestyle when shopping for a diffuser. “Determine what works best aesthetically in your space, how often you want it to run, and if you want it to come with you into every room in your home,” she explains. With that in mind, we rounded up nine of the best essential-oil diffusers to suit a range of needs, whether you’re new to essential oils or a devotee.
- Best overall: Vitruvi Stone Diffuser
- Best minimalist: Muji Ultrasonic Aroma Diffuser
- Best sculptural: Saje Aroma (Be)Free
- Best value: Asakuki Essential Oil Diffuser
- Best splurge: Aromatech Aromini BT
- Best large capacity: Still Serenity Aromatic Diffuser
- Best shape: Anthropologie Sabine Diffuser
- Best scents: P.F. Candle Co. Reed Diffuser
- Best petite: Snowe Reed Diffuser
Best Overall: Vitruvi Stone Diffuser
Capacity: 100 milliliters | Type: Ultrasonic | Material: Ceramic | Run time: Up to eight hours
Why we chose it: Doubles as decor.
When it comes to establishing ambience, Vitruvi’s diffuser nails the trifecta: unbeatable scent-dispersing power; a subtle, babbling brook–like sound that eases any tension you’ve been harboring in your neck and shoulders; and a soft, glowing light from the base. The diffuser fulfills its promise of filling up to 500 square feet of space with the fragrance of your choice from the moment it’s turned on. But here’s why we really deemed it the best of the best: It looks good—good enough to leave out on your coffee table or nightstand, even when it’s not in use. The ceramic exterior comes in a range of soft and vibrant colors, and we’d wager the sleek, minimalist design, which can easily be mistaken for a Scandinavian-style vase, is the main reason for its cult following.
What we like:
- Always announcing new colors; the latest are lavender and eucalyptus
- Stylish and fits with decor on a bookshelf or windowsill
- Not the strongest steam release compared to other diffusers on our list
Best Minimalist: Muji Ultrasonic Aroma Diffuser
Capacity: 100 milliliters| Type: Ultrasonic | Material: Plastic | Run time: Up to three hours
Why we chose it: A no-frills design meets a customizable experience.
Almost immediately upon entering any of Muji’s stores, you’re greeted by a clean, refreshing scent—and the source is none other than the Japanese retailer’s own essential-oil diffuser. Hiding inside its simple design (Muji is known for pared-back products that cater to a minimalist lifestyle, after all) is an unexpected selection of customizations. Dimmable lights? Check. Automatic settings? There are four (30-, 60-, 120-, and 180-minute run times). We prefer the slim, taller unit, which will take up next to no space yet still emit a superstrong stream of steam.
What we like:
- Minimalistic design
- Big impact with less water and oil required
- Higher light settings reveal that the plastic covering is a bit transparent
Best Sculptural: Saje Aroma (Be) Free Cordless Diffuser
Capacity: 100 milliliters| Type: Ultrasonic | Material: Plastic | Run time: Up to eight hours
Why we chose it: Looks more like a fancy paperweight than your run-of-the-mill diffuser.
Many essential-oil diffusers look the same, which is what drew us to Saje’s unique gemstone-like appearance. Guests might even be surprised to discover the true purpose of this sculptural object, since it’s free of branding and labeled buttons. Charge the diffuser for five to six hours and you can bring it anywhere you choose (or even leave the house) without being restricted by a cord (or needing to hide one). It will mist continuously for four hours or intermittently for up to eight.
What we like:
- Rechargeable and cordless
- Choose between matte white, black, or blue
- Only two settings to choose from
Best Value: Asakuki Essential Oil Diffuser
Capacity: 100 milliliters | Type: Ultrasonic | Material: Plastic | Run time: Up to three hours
Why we chose it: Best bang for your buck.
Want to try a diffuser without making a big investment? You can dip your toe in with this little unit, which rings in at less than $25. Unlike most other plastic-based diffusers, the ribbed exterior—paired with a wood- or marble-look base—offers a unique, textural touch. If a basic white light isn’t what you’re looking for, this one offers seven colored LED mood lights to choose from, including yellow and green-blue. A bit small in size, it won’t perform as well in larger rooms, so keep it in 200-square-foot spaces.
What we like:
- Ideal for beginners
- One-year warranty
- Controls can be finicky
Best Splurge: AromaTech Aromini BT
Capacity: 120 milliliters | Type: Nebulizing | Material: Aluminum | Run time: Up to 24 hours
Why we chose it: A high-tech, luxurious option.
This is easily the most expensive diffuser on our list, but there are plenty of benefits that back its price tag, like huge square-footage coverage and Bluetooth control. (You can even adjust scent strength.) No water dilution is required; all you have to add is the essential oils, and the cold-air nebulizing process breaks it down to emit a fine, dry mist sans residue. In fact, one bottle of essential oil can last as long as three months. But perhaps our favorite feature is the look: The sleek, recycled-aluminum vessel comes in four metallic finishes to match your mobile device: black, silver, gold, and rose gold.
What we like:
- Covers up to 1,000 square feet of space
- Using with AromaTech oil suggested
Best Large Capacity: Still Serenity Aromatic Diffuser
Capacity: 1,000 milliliters | Type: Ultrasonic | Material: Plastic | Run time: Up to four hours
Why we chose it: Bold and beautiful for big rooms.
We have our eye on this unit for one main reason: the size. With a water tank that holds 1,000 milliliters of water, this rechargeable diffuser doesn’t have to be filled with drops of essential oil. Instead you can experiment with all sorts of natural scents—like slices of fresh lemon or lime—to really channel the look and feel of a spa at home. The Scandinavian-inspired design comes in earthy green or simple white and emits a humidifier-like level of mist that will fill your place with a refreshing scent of your choosing.
What we like:
- Doubles as a humidifier
- Can diffuse more than just essential oils
- Selling fast
Best Shape: Anthropologie Sabine Diffuser
Capacity: 14 fluid ounces | Type: Reed | Material: Glass | Run time: N/A
Why we chose it: Trendy shapes in amber-tinted glass.
Domino editors love taper candles, but we might love their holders even more—sadly the ambience only lasts the duration of a cocktail hour or dinner party. And cleaning up wax the next day? That’s really no fun. So if you’re looking for a more permanent touch of romance compared to lit candles, try a reed diffuser, specifically these Sabine pieces from Anthropologie that remind us of the bubbly silhouettes we already adore (like Hay’s borosilicate candleholders), paired with thick, dark-hued reeds.
What we like:
- Trendy shape
- Made from recycled glass
- Essential oil sold separately
Best Scents: P.F. Candle Co. Reed Diffuser
Capacity: 3.5 fluid ounces | Type: Reed | Material: Glass | Run time: Three to four months
Why we chose it: Great for switching up fragrances.
If you’ve shopped P.F. Candle Co. before, you’re probably familiar with its trademark amber apothecary-style vessels complete with typewriter labels, and these diffuser bottles follow suit. With 10 scent blends to choose from and a collection that always seems to be growing (the latest launch offers a lavender-citrus mix inspired by the Topatopa Mountains in Ojai, California), this is the ultimate “set it and forget it” option. The diffusers are readily available from CB2, Urban Outfitters, and Nordstrom; plus, when you’re done, you can reuse the glass to store spices or propagate plant cuttings.
What we like:
- Easy to use
- Climate neutral–certified
- The diffuser comes filled with the essential oil, so it’s difficult to regulate the amount
Best Petite: Snowe Reed Diffuser
Capacity: 2 fluid ounces | Type: Reed | Material: Ceramic | Run time: Three to four months
Why we chose it: Small but mighty.
It may be tiny, but this cone-shaped ceramic vessel easily fills a bathroom with subtle fragrance. If you want to capture the essence of life’s fleeting yet pleasurable scents—like freshly laundered linens or a recently picked floral bouquet—then Snowe’s five blends are for you. We love that the bottles of fragrance are double the size of most essential-oil containers and a little bit truly goes a long way. Though the smallest on our list, this diffuser promises to last for up to four months, which makes the price well worth it.
What we like:
- Comes with 12 reeds
- 60-day free trial
- Reeds split easily, so be gentle
How We Chose These Products
We took material, quality, price, and reviews into account when putting together this list. And, of course, we prioritized good design—the best essential-oil diffusers, in our opinion, should look beautiful on display.
Our Shopping Checklist
Ultrasonic vs. Nebulizing
The main types of the best essential-oil diffusers can be divided into two groups: ultrasonic and nebulizing. An ultrasonic diffuser uses vibrations (many millions per second) to quickly generate that signature aromatic steam—a mixture of water and oil—and sometimes even offers ASMR-like background noise. “This means that the water, inner plastic reservoir, and essential oils are not heated while diffusing and the plastic does not interact with the essential oil,” explains Panton. “The benefit of this is a safer, purer, and better-smelling result.”
A nebulizing diffuser also produces a pillowy mist from the spout, but the process to getting there is a bit different, one that doesn’t require the addition of water. With oil alone, the concentrated vapors result in a stronger scent and shorter run time, though you might have to do a bit of scientific lab–like experimenting to get the right potency.
Other Types of Diffusers
“Reed diffusers are not electronic but instead use a blend of oil and a base with rattan sticks to disperse fragrance molecules throughout the air,” explains Kristen Pumphrey, founder of P.F. Candle Co. “The easiest way to choose between electronic versus reed is deciding how much work you want to do. If you’re just looking to boost the fragrance of your room, go with a reed diffuser. If you want to create a mood and have a little time to blend the essential oils together, choose the electronic mister.”
“Scent is a very personal experience, and finding the right essential-oil diffuser is important to creating a personalized and intentional space,” offers Panton, so picking out the best diffuser comes down to trusting your nose. Essential oils are extracts, usually from herbs and plants, with fragrance captured through a straining or distillation process, and they’re often used for their aromatherapy benefits. For example, lavender is calming; peppermint can help with concentration; and bergamot is energizing.
Mixing and matching is also encouraged to achieve the desired fragrance (just don’t mix too many—the perfect blends are usually a combination of two or three). Pomphrey’s current favorite pairing? Lavender and frankincense.
Q: Is it possible to add one too many drops of essential oil to a diffuser?
Yes! The right amount of oil for an electronic ultrasonic diffuser depends on the size of your vessel and the amount of water it holds (always be wary of not exceeding any “max fill” lines, too). We cannot stress enough how important it is to refer to the instructions before each use to determine the safe amount of oil and water to add.
On the flip side, for reed diffusers, you only want to fill about half of the vessel, and Pumphrey typically flips her sticks weekly or whenever the scent grows too faint. “If the scent is too strong, you can remove a few of the sticks for a lighter fragrance application,” she notes. “And with reed diffusers, be careful not to spill the liquid from the bottle as it can take the finish off some materials.”
Q: How long can I expect my diffuser to last?
This depends on the type of diffuser you chose. An electronic diffuser can last for years (though you’ll need to buy and add more oil depending on how frequently you use the device). For a reed diffuser, you’ll need to replace reeds every six months at a minimum (sooner if they happen to hang out in direct sunlight).
Q: How can I keep my diffuser clean?
“It’s helpful to deep-clean your diffuser so you can enjoy the natural scent of the essential oils you are using,” says Panton, though cleaning is important for safety reasons, too. She recommends cleaning the diffuser twice a month, especially if you’ve been filling it with more than one scent. Here’s her step-by-step guide:
- Unplug the diffuser and empty out any remaining water that’s left in the reservoir.
- Wipe out the reservoir and lid with a damp cloth to get rid of any remaining residue.
- Fill up the water reservoir halfway and add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar.
- Run the diffuser for three to five minutes (this mixture will clear out anything left over).
The Last Word
The best essential-oil diffuser—for us, at least—is more than just a replacement for scented candles. We like design-forward vessels in chic color palettes (bonus points if there’s controllable, ambient lighting for electronic designs) and quality materials that are sure to last. And remember: Your aroma diffuser is only as good as the essential oils you put in it.
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