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Diffuser vs. Humidifier – Which Should You Buy?

When helping people get into essential oils, we often get the question, should I get a diffuser or humidifier and what’s the difference between the two?

The difference is that diffusers are generally smaller devices designed to be used with essential oils, while humidifiers are typically larger devices designed to regulate the moisture level in the air. When considering whether to purchase a diffuser or humidifier, note that it’s not recommended to use essential oils with a humidifier.

Bottom Line Up Front:

What is a Diffuser?

Diffusers come in a variety of types, shapes, and sizes. They are used for diffusing essential oils into the air for aromatherapy purposes. Do not confuse a humidifier with an essential oil diffuser. Diffusers are different from humidifiers in that they are specifically designed to take drops of essential oils, mix the oils with the water in their tanks, and distribute. There are four types of essential oil diffusers: the ultrasonic diffuser, nebulizing diffuser, heat diffusers and evaporative diffusers.

They are designed for vaporizing a fine mist using the essential oils with a cold effect to aromatize the room area.girl sleeping with a pink ultrasonic diffuser working in the foregroundPros of Diffusers

  • Diffusers work well for enhancing the mood within a room by distributing essential oils.
  • The cool mist can have a purifying effect on the air around the diffuser.
  • The oil diffused in diffusers results in a fine mist that can be absorbed by your skin to have a relaxing or stimulating effect. This is especially useful if you have dry skin.
  • Diffusers can reduce the amount of bacteria and fungus in a room, which are known to trigger health issues.
  • The cool mist of a diffuser can help you breathe better and reduce snoring with the help of certain oils.
  • Diffusers often come with special lighting features, such as a color changing LED light, which works well for alleviating mind fatigue and elevating energy levels.

Cons of Diffusers

  • Diffusers can be a little costly, but if you are looking to use essential oils in the air you should do so with a proper diffuser.
  • Some diffusers that come with an LED light or other lighting features can’t be adjusted, which may interfere with sleep. (We recommend getting a model where you can adjust the lighting feature.)
  • Some diffusers can be noisy.
  • Often diffusers have a smaller water tank than a true humidifier.
  • Your aroma diffuser should be used only with distilled water, not tap water, for the best benefits to your health and well-being.

Depending on your needs you can have a diffuser that operates in both ways  as a diffuser and a humidifier, or you can purchase them as separate units. The trend now is to use a multipurpose diffuser that does both functions – diffuse and humidify.

What is a Humidifier?

A humidifier is a device designed to keep a set level of moisture in the room area.

Moisturizing the air in a room is needed in dry climates, and in some climates when the heat is turned on in the fall and wintertime. Dry air can cause problems with dry skin, bacterial and viral problems, and make it more difficult for people to fall asleep. Many people use a humidifier for treating the symptoms of colds, flu, and sinus congestion.

Humidifiers are different from essential oils diffusers in that most humidifiers in today’s market do not support the mixing of essential oils for distribution in the air. Because most humidifiers in the market right now have plastic components, this makes them incompatible with essential oils. The oils, particularly citrus ones, can break down the plastic components of this device.

Your essential oils are dispersed with a nebulizing diffuser, which makes it much easier for you to inhale it and your body to absorb it. A humidifier will not work in a similar manner and will only disperse the oils in the air, but not nebulize it.

A few humidifiers are designed to work both as a humidifier and a diffuser, and we’re seeing more of these models hit the marketplace as it’s a growing trend. But today if you are looking to distribute essential oils in the air, we still recommend choosing a small personal diffuser that is suitable for using with essential oils.

baby sleeping with a remedies diffuser working in background

Pros of Humidifiers

  • Treats dry air by adding moisture in the form of a warm mist.
  • A warm mist humidifier benefits the lining of the nose with the added moisture, relieving sinus problems, sore throat, dry cough, and dry skin.
  • Provides relief for those suffering from asthma and allergies.
  • Both cool-mist humidifiers and warm mist humidifiers can help with snoring because it eases the harshness of the air breathed in while sleeping.
  • The right moisture level keeps wood furniture from cracking and papers from drying out.
  • An air humidifier requires minimal maintenance and cleaning.
  • Both a warm mist humidifier and a cool-mist humidifier operate with tap water.

Cons of Humidifiers

  • Cleaning and maintenance is required to keep the appliance running smoothly.
  • Not specifically designed to be used with essential oils and can be damaged if used together.
  • Can be noisy.

How Do I Know if I Need a Humidifier?

If you aren’t sure if you need a humidifier, there are humidity readers you can purchase that will read and monitor the humidity levels of the air. It’s recommended indoor air remain in the range between 40 to 60 percent for optimal health.

If you aren’t sure if you need a humidifier, we recommend purchasing one of these humidity readers first to know if you need to treat the air with more moisture. It’s possible you may be over the 60% recommended humidity level and need to remove humidity from the air with a dehumidifier.

Diffuser vs. Humidifier

We’ve gone over what diffusers and humidifiers are already, but diffuser terminology can still be quite confusing. If you’re new to essential oils, you may be wondering whether a diffuser and humidifier can be the same thing and what the main differences are.

These devices may look fairly similar, but there are some legitimate differences that may affect your purchase.

Tank Size

There are many types of these humidifiers, but in order to help with all the problems dry air can cause, they need a bigger tank than a diffuser. In order to raise the humidity level throughout the entire room, humidifiers need a large water tank, usually holding about a gallon of water.

By contrast, essential oil diffusers hold a maximum of 300-500mL of water, if they even hold water at all. You can choose an ultrasonic diffuser to spray mist, but it won’t hold nearly as much water as a humidifier.

Using Water

Different types of diffusers have different requirements to function. Not all diffusers use water, so if you’re looking to gain the maximum healing properties from your essential oils, you’ll want a nebulizing diffuser like the Urpower diffuser. These don’t use water at all since they’re meant to provide you with the utmost benefits from your oils.

If you opt to use a popular aromatherapy diffuser, like the DoTerra diffuser another ultrasonic diffuser, you’ll need to use distilled water rather than tap water for best results. The ultrasonic technology creates ultrasonic vibrations through the water that diffuse the essential oils into the air. The ultrasonic diffuser system requires distilled water to ensure there is no mineral buildup, which occurs frequently when tap water is used.

Which Do You Recommend I Buy?

If your main concern is maintaining an optimal humidity level in your air, we recommend getting a humidity reader and humidifier because they are specifically designed for this.

If your main purpose is to distribute essential oils in the air, we recommend getting an essential oil diffuser specifically designed for this purpose. See our full guide on the best essential oil diffusers for more.

Top Two Diffusers

If you’re looking for a diffuser that will fulfill your needs, there are tons of them out there. It may feel impossible to choose just one, but to get you started, check out these two top choices.

URPOWER 2nd Version Essential Oil Diffuser Aroma Essential Oil Cool Mist Humidifier

This aroma diffuser produces more mist than its previous version, making it perfect to add moist and calming air to any place in your home or workspace. You can set this small diffuser anywhere, add your essential oils and watch as it scrolls through 7 LED light colors.

It can hold up to 100mL of distilled water, meaning that it will run for about 6 hours and will shut off automatically to protect you and the unit.


  • The top will lock so that the oil doesn’t spill
  • The simple settings and buttons make it easy for anyone to operate
  • Extremely quiet and will not bother you during the night


  • It is difficult to twist on and off when you’re filling it
  • Water spills often when twisting the cap on and off
  • The plastic sides make it tough to get a grip on it when you’re filling it

InnoGear Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser Ultrasonic Cool Mist Diffuser

If you’re looking for a small aromatherapy diffuser that can fit anywhere, this diffuser by InnoGear is one of the best. It has a beautiful wood-grain appearance with a Zen style that will fit any space in your home.

Fill it up with up to 200mL of distilled water and just press the switch to change the mist to high or low, or alter the duration of the misting. Turn on the 7 LED lights and adjust the operation time. You can let it run for 1, 3, or 6 hours, or keep it on at all times.

Once it’s out of water, the auto shut-off function kicks in.


  • Produces a steady and strong misting experience.
  • Easy to operate and very quiet.
  • Holds enough water that you don’t need to fill it up constantly.


  • Will stop working if you do not clean it immediately.
  • May burn out quickly.
  • People have had trouble getting it to work properly at times.

Top Two Humidifiers

There are so many different types of humidifiers to choose from– germ-free humidifier, console humidifier, ultrasonic humidifier, and the cool-mist humidifier and warm mist humidifier to name a few. With so many options that your head might start spinning. Start with these two top humidifiers to get your hunt started for one that will work for you.

Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier

The cool-mist ultrasonic technology in this MistAire ultrasonic humidifier can keep working for up to 16 hours of continuous operation. Let this humidifier work while you sleep on high or low-speed settings.

Just fill the 1.5-liter water tank with tap water, turn on the optional night light and rest easy knowing that when the water runs low, this humidifier has an auto shut-off function.


  • People love the size of the humidifier for the price
  • Extremely quiet, so it can be used even in children’s rooms
  • Very easy to use and operate


  • There’s no filtration system, so you’ll have to clean it out manually
  • It takes a lot of effort to actually clean it out every week
  • The LED light button is very bright and does not turn off

PurStream Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier- Superior Humidifying Unit with Whisper-Quiet Operation

Just because you’re buying a humidifier doesn’t mean it needs to be bland and ugly. The PurStream Ultrasonic humidifier has a functional and stylish design, with a variable control knob to change the humidity settings.

It can continue operating for up to 17 hours with its 2.2-liter water tank and a night light. If you have it running while you’re sleeping, rest assured the auto shut-off will kick in, and it will turn off once the water gets low, so you’ll stay safe.


  • Very intuitive and easy to use
  • You’re able to turn the light on and off and can still sleep since it’s so quiet
  • Easy to fill and move it around


  • The knobs tend to break easily
  • There is no handle to hold onto the water tank while you’re filling it
  • There have been issues with it breaking down after a few uses

When trying to decide between a humidifier or aromatherapy diffuser, there’s a lot to consider. The main point to keep in mind is that if you’re looking to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of essential oils, nebulizing diffusers are best.. If you’re looking to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of having an ideal humidity level in your home, ultrasonic humidifiers are the way to go.

If you have trouble choosing between the different types of humidifiers and different types of diffusers, purchase both a humidifier and diffuser for the best benefits to your health and well-being.

Melissa Styer

Melissa Styer is the Founder, and long time Editor-in-Chief of With a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Oregon, and a Masters Degree in Biology from California State University, Melissa has been writing and teaching about essential oils and the importance of a maintaining a healthy living environment for over 25 years. === Hi All, I started Wellness Appliances in the Winter of 2014 as a way to and share my knowledge and thoughts on essential oils and the importance of healthful living. As a youngster, I have vivid memories of walking through the large fantastic garden my dad kept for his entire life. It was there I learned about all the plants and the varied, important properties they can offer humanity. A cool morning misty walk down the meandering paths was a child’s delight, and something I still do to this day in my own sprawling gardens. While I have stepped back from the day-to-day managing of Wellness Appliances, I intend to continue contributing articles on subjects that matter to me from time to time. My days are largely filled volunteering at the local co-op, tooling in my vegetable and fragrance gardens (which I attempt to keep as a year-round gardens), writing, and being the leader of the pack to my two dogs Jacko and Lea. Thanks for the years of great readership! - Melissa

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