There are so many ways to enjoy essential oils, but diffusers tend to reign supreme. These clever gadgets can quickly conjure a spa-like experience in any room, filling it with the intoxicating fragrance of your favorite oils. However, this calming self-care ritual does require a bit of upkeep. Diffusers must be cleaned regularly to avoid exposure to possible toxins. Thankfully, cleaning a diffuser isn’t all that complicated—there are a variety of simple solutions to get the job done so you can breathe a soothing sigh of relief. Here’s how to keep your diffuser performing at its best.
Oil diffusers are often used as a tool for aromatherapy, a practice that dates back to the ancient civilizations of China, Egypt, and Rome. They work by dispersing essential oils throughout the air, filling a room with the oil’s natural fragrance. When you inhale, your body actually absorbs the oil. The effects can be calming, energizing, or even medicinal depending on which oils you use. Today, there are a variety of oil diffusers to choose from, including ultrasonic diffusers, nebulizing diffusers, and heat-powered diffusers.
The mechanics of oil diffusers vary according to the type of diffuser use, but each distributes essential oils or EOs—highly concentrated extracts from flowers, leaves, and other botanicals—into the surrounding air. How long should you run an oil diffuser per session? Most experts recommend trying to saturate the space with the EO’s fragrance molecules, which takes about 15 to 20 minutes in a standard-size room. If you’re using a diffuser that requires you to mix drops of oil into water, keep the ratio at about 3 to 5 drops of oil per 100 milliliters of water. In a nebulizing diffuser, which works without water, use about 5 to 15 drops of oil.
You may have encountered a wide array of diffusers—from glass to wood to ceramic to battery-operated and even DIY—over the years (some of them resembling science projects). Here’s a look at the four most common types.
Ultrasonic diffusers are perhaps the most popular of the four. They use ultrasonic waves (sound waves that are transmitted above human-detectable frequency range, usually higher than 20,000 hertz) to break down essential oils into tiny particles and disperse them as a very fine mist. In some cases, the tiny oil particles remain in the air for as long as 8 hours. These machines can often double as humidifiers because of their misting capabilities.
Arguably the most potent—and the most expensive—diffuser, nebulizers are praised for dispersing essential oils in their purest form, as they don’t use heat and there’s no need to dilute the EOs with water. Nebulizers work like perfume atomizers, breaking oils down into atoms by force (via an air pump) for highly-concentrated dispersion. Most nebulizer diffusers have air flow controls so you can customize the amount of oil released at any given time.
Evaporative diffusers use the wind force of a fan to release essential oils into the air. The oils are typically contained in an absorbent material like a wool pad or wick and, as the name suggests, eventually evaporate during the process.
Using either a candle, electric heat, or a lamp ring, these diffusers require a heat source to warm up the oil until it evaporates into the air. While somewhat effective in releasing scents, heat diffusers are sometimes criticized because applying heat to essential oils can alter their chemical makeup—and possibly their benefits.
Keeping your diffuser clean is necessary to maximize its benefits and minimize potential exposure to mold or bacteria growth. Ideally, you should try to wipe down your diffuser after each use and do a deep clean once or twice a month.
Cleaning techniques can vary slightly depending on the type of diffuser used, but here are some of the most tried-and-true methods for ultrasonic diffusers, the most popular type. *Be sure to unplug or remove all batteries before cleaning your diffuser.
Fill your diffuser halfway with water and add about 10 drops of white vinegar. Let the diffuser run for up to 5 minutes before draining completely. Clean any tight areas with a cotton swab dipped in vinegar, rinse completely, and dry thoroughly.
To thoroughly clean the ultrasonic chip found in the water tank of your diffuser, first empty the contents of the diffuser. Then dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and gently wipe the chip.
Because citric acid is water-soluble, it works well on diffusers since it doesn’t leave a residue, but be sure to check your manual first—this solution is strong, and you don’t want it to damage your device. Start by putting on a pair of gloves to protect your hands. Fill the diffuser with 100 milliliters of water mixed with 1 tablespoon of citric acid (which you can buy in powdered form). Let sit for 10 minutes. Turn the machine on and let the mixture run through the machine. Drain, rinse with warm water, and repeat until the solution cycles through the machine multiple times. Dry thoroughly with a dry cloth.
Cleaning nebulizers, which you should do weekly, is simple: Add a couple drops of rubbing alcohol to the main glass reservoir and run the machine for up to 10 minutes. Dump liquid and leave to dry. For a deeper clean, remove the reservoir and place it in hot water with a few drops of mild dishwashing liquid. Let it soak for at least 30 minutes, then remove, rinse thoroughly, and leave it to dry.
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