Diffuser Vs Humidifier: How to Pick the Right One

Diffuser Vs Humidifier: How to Pick the Right One

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You’ve seen a diffuser emit steam into the air, but you’ve also seen a humidifier do the exact same thing. So which one are you supposed to get and what are the differences? These devices often look so similar, but there are some valid differences that will probably affect your purchasing decision.

You aren’t alone if you’re confused about the difference between humidifiers and diffusers, thinking they might be the same thing. And the confusion is understandable because they have nearly identical physical characteristics. It’s difficult to tell the difference between the two without having a detailed understanding of how each works and the factors that set them apart.

In this article, we will compare both of these appliances so you can gain a better understanding of their similarities and differences and learn exactly which one is best for you.

Let’s start by looking at what a diffuser is and some recommendations for specific diffusers that are on the market today.

What’s the Main Difference Between a Diffuser and Humidifier?

We will go into more detail, but if you’re looking for the primary difference between the basic purpose of these two devices, the answer is in their functions. A humidifier increases the humidity in a room by dispersing water droplets through the air. It transforms water into vapor, which then diffuses into the air.

In contrast, the purpose of a diffuser is to disperse essential oils into the air. Diffusers may also increase the humidity around you, but this is not the main purpose they serve.

Both appliances carry out their function in similar ways, and by using the same physics.

Now let’s go into more detail.

What Is a Diffuser?

Diffusers are designed to be used with essential oils, so this is a main factor to consider. Diffusers are smaller than humidifiers and don’t hold nearly as much water, so they don’t add as much moisture into the air. When considering whether to purchase a diffuser or humidifier, note that it’s typically not recommended to use essential oils with a humidifier, however, many humidifiers these days are made with a special cup to add in essential oils if you wish. That said, there are a lot of diffusers on the market, ranging from ones that you can carry in your pocket to fan-based diffusers that diffuse their mist into only a few square feet of space.

Diffusers hold a maximum of 300-500mL of water, and there are some that don’t hold water at all. For diffusers that do use water (which is most of them), it’s required that you use distilled water (not tap water) to get the best results. This prevents mineral buildup, which can happen if you use tap water.

Diffusers are often favored by people who live alone or with others who enjoy the same essential oils, as a diffuser is typically used to enhance a room’s aroma and offer specific health benefits. There are essential oils for:

Diffusers can also be used to help eliminate bacteria and fungus in a room, which can help prevent health issues, as the antimicrobial properties of many essential oils can benefit your health. For example, if you have respiratory issues, diffusers can be helpful when using oils such as tea tree oil, as it has antimicrobial properties; and peppermint and eucalyptus oils can help promote respiratory health as well, as they help you breathe by clearing out your airways.

Keep in mind that it’s important to do your research to find which essential oils are right for you.

There are four types of essential oil diffusers to choose from, including evaporative, heat, nebulizing, and ultrasonic.

  • Evaporative diffusers: Simply add drops of essential oil to the diffuser filter. A fan then sends air through the filter to stimulate the oil’s evaporation in order to spread the aroma throughout the room.
  • Heat diffusers: These are similar to evaporative diffusers, but they use heat instead of a fan to disperse essential oils.
  • Nebulizer diffusers: These are often thought to be the most effective type of diffuser. Oil is added into a tube where a suction brings the oil to the tip of the tube and a small jet blows air across it. When air blows across the oil’s surface, small oil droplets are diffused through the room.
  • Ultrasonic diffusers: These are also humidifying diffusers. Essential oils are added into the water, which then remain on the surface. The device agitates the water using vibrations, which causes the oil to divide into small particles, which is then dispersed into the air in a fine mist. Ultrasonic humidifiers use 2.4 million vibrations per second to disperse your essential oil into the air. Because this option doesn’t use heat, which can break down the properties of essential oils and make them less effective, ultrasonic vibrations are the best way to go if you want to get optimal benefits from your essential oils.

The only downsides that people note about diffusers are:

  • High cost
  • Built-in light that stays on
  • Noise

However, when used correctly, the cost is indeed worth the benefit. Also, while most diffusers are made with a built-in light that you can’t turn off while the diffuser is in use, some people appreciate the dual ability to act as a night light. If you have children, you may find a lighted diffuser to be beneficial, and the lights are typically adjustable, so you can control the brightness. When it comes to noise, if you're using a diffuser to help you relax or concentrate, you will want to find one that emits little to no noise.

What Are the Best Diffusers on the Market?

1. InnoGear Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser Portable Ultrasonic Diffusers with Color LED Lights

Best Option For: Small Spaces

This small, portable diffuser is a quiet option that can be used in smaller areas where you want to enjoy your essential oils.

Along with providing the known benefits of essential oils, this diffuser can also be used as a night light. It comes with seven color options that you can either set to just one or allow the unit to cycle through the colors like a rainbow. This dim illumination feature is great for children in addition to the diffuser’s ability to improve children’s breathing by adding moisture into the air.

There are convenient buttons on the front of the diffuser that allow you to adjust the settings for lights and mist.

The InnoGear essential oil diffusers give you up to three hours of continuous mist, but can also be set to disperse the oil in 30 second intervals, allowing it to work for up to six hours. The reservoir holds about 100 milliliters of water, to which you can directly add a few drops of essential oils.

This is a great option for an office, a small room, or your bedside table.

PROS

  • Works for six hours when you use the intermittent setting
  • Makes a great nightlight, as you can change the color and brightness of the lights
  • Very quiet when running
  • Comes with an automatic shut-off feature
  • Portable

CONS

  • These diffusers have been known to break, however, the company will replace a faulty product at no charge
  • The lid tends to get stuck
  • Some users find the light to be too bright, even when “dim”
  • The plug is in an inconvenient place on the bottom of the diffuser

2. URPOWER Essential Oil Diffuser

Best Option For: Large Rooms

This diffuser is designed for large rooms, as it holds 120 milliliters of water. In addition to being a diffuser, it can also be used as a night light and humidifier. This option is easy to use and only needs to be cleaned once a week.

To use the diffuser, fill the reservoir up with water to the fill line and add in a few drops of your favorite essential oil. There are buttons on the front of the diffuser that let you adjust the light and mist settings, allowing the unit to work as a nightlight as well.

This diffuser has an automatic shut-off feature once it runs out of water. It can provide around three hours of steady mist or about six hours of mist when it’s on its intermittent setting. This diffuser is affordable, easy to use, and easy to clean, so it’s a great option if you’re looking for simplicity.

PROS

  • Fills an area up to 215 square feet with mist
  • You can choose to turn the light off, and it has two brightness setting options for when you have the light on
  • Runs very quietly
  • Offers two mist settings, which allows you to adjust the fragrance in the air

CONS

  • Some users find the mist output to be too low
  • If the lid gets stuck, it is very difficult to remove
  • Once the diffuser is filled with water, it’s easy to spill it when you’re transporting it

3. VicTsing Essential Oil Diffuser

Best Option For: Aesthetically Pleasing

This is a good option if you're looking for a diffuser that can run for a long time and provide fragrance for a large space. This attractive unit, which is available in a light or reddish-brown wood grain, can run for hours while putting out a continuous mist covering up to 82 square feet of space.

According to VicTsing, it produces 30 milliliters of moisture per hour. Along with being able to create a continuous stream of scented mist, you can also use a timer to set the unit to turn off after one, three, or six hours.

Like the others, this diffuser is easy to use and to clean. Simply remove the lid and add water and a few drops of essential oil to the reservoir. The lid comes off easily, so while you don't have to struggle with it, it may spill if you bump into it.

This essential oil diffuser can also work as a night light and a humidifier. You may find that the adjustable lights from the unit are soothing even when you’re not trying to sleep.

PROS

  • Easy to use and clean–and only needs to be cleaned once a week
  • Can produce mist for up to 10 hours due to its large reservoir
  • Has an automatic shut-off feature
  • Can disperse up to 30 milliliters of moisture per hour, which can be especially helpful during dry winter months

CONS

  • When the automatic shut-off feature is activated, the unit beeps, which may wake you up if you’re asleep
  • Even when the lights on the unit are off, there is a small light that indicates the diffuser is running. If you’re sensitive to light, this may be a drawback
  • The wood grain may start to peel off if the diffuser is exposed to too much moisture

What Is a Humidifier?

A humidifier is a popular appliance used among people living in dry climates or those who can’t tolerate the dry air of winter. Humidifiers can help ameliorate health issues such as:

  • Dry skin
  • Nosebleeds
  • Snoring
  • Cold and flu symptoms

HVAC.com reports that your home’s humidity level should remain between 30% and 50%, which can be accomplished with the help of a humidifier, as it helps your rooms maintain this comfortable level of moisture.

Just like diffusers, there are four types of humidifiers, including warm mist, evaporative, impeller, and ultrasonic.

  • Warm mist humidifier: These boil water to create steam that’s released into the room.
  • Evaporative humidifier: These expel cool mist. Add water into the reservoir of the humidifier, which is absorbed by a filter, wick, or belt. The humidifier’s fan then blows air through the absorbed water.
  • Impeller humidifier: These work by spinning disks inside a diffuser to break the water into small droplets, which is then dispersed into the room.
  • Ultrasonic humidifier: These use a sound-producing vibrating metal diaphragm to propel mist into the air. This type of humidifier can release either warm or cool water molecules.

There are some downsides that people have reported about humidifiers, including:

  • They’re typically not made to be used with essential oils, as doing so can ruin the plastic components of the unit
  • Units need constant cleaning and maintenance to prevent mold growth
  • Using the wrong settings may increase the humidity in your room to higher than you want them while you’re asleep
  • Because some units boil water to release warm mist, they can potentially be dangerous to leave unattended if you have children or pets

What Are the Best Humidifiers on the Market?

1. Proscenic 807C Humidifiers

Best For: Warm Mist Humidifier

This warm mist humidifier comes with an app so users can easily adjust the humidity levels in their homes. You can also use the app to program scheduled humidification times and modes. It has a 5.5-liter water tank that will emit mist for up to 36 hours. This humidifier also comes with seven options for speed, so you can customize it to your needs.

The rotating nozzles have a full 360-degree range, ensuring the humidity is evenly dispersed throughout your room. Plus, unlike most humidifiers, this one features a dedicated container for essential oils if you want to enjoy aromatherapy. The unit includes sensors that will automatically detect the amount of humidity in the air and adjust the amount of mist that is being emitted accordingly. At nighttime, the unit switches to a night rest screen, allowing you to sleep easily if this humidifier is in your bedroom.

This product comes with a HEPA filter to make sure that the air you’re breathing is clean and healthy. Finally, it comes with a memory function that keeps track of the last humidification mode that you used. This is convenient if you typically only use one mode because you don’t have to reset the humidifier every time you use it.

PROS

  • If the water level becomes too low, the humidifier will automatically shut off
  • Comes with a memory function that remembers your last settings
  • When using the warm mist mode, the device only takes 15 minutes to warm up

CONS

  • The app only supports 2.4GHz Wi-Fi
  • The unit is heavy, weighing in at 10.5 pounds

2. Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier

Best For: Using in a Baby’s Room

This is the best option if you’re looking for a warm mist humidifier for your baby’s room. It offers a whisper-quiet sound, mimicking white noise, which can help your baby sleep. It also has a soft glowing nightlight. This unit measures 12″ x 7.9″ x 14.2″ and is ideal for medium-sized rooms.

Whether you want some relief from a cough or cold or you need some comfort from the dry air of winter, this Vicks humidifier adds critical moisture into the air to help both you and your baby feel better.

The Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier boils water to a 96% bacteria-free steam vapor that is then released by the humidifier in a warm, visible mist. The unit has two settings that you can adjust to your preference and it also includes a medicine cup to use for liquid inhalant medicine or essential oils.

This humidifier is filter-free and the one-gallon tank can run for up to 12 hours before users have to refill it. The tank includes a handle, making it easy to lift and carry, and it has an auto shut-off feature that will turn the unit off once the water runs out. However, it’s easy to see when the water is running low through the transparent tank.

PROS

  • It comes with a 3-year warranty, so you can rest assured that you are spending your money wisely with this purchase
  • Produces air that is 96% bacteria-free
  • Great for the size of a typical baby’s room

CONS

  • Night light doesn’t turn off
  • The unit has been known to overheat
  • Some users have experienced the water stopping its flow while still in use

3. Honeywell HWM-340B Easy-to-Care Warm Mist Humidifier

Best For: Easy to Fill

The Honeywell Warm Mist Humidifier comes with a top-fill design, making it easy to fill when you find you’re running low on water. You can add water to this humidifier just as you would add water to a plant by pouring it into the top of the unit.

This 1.3 gallon option also includes an adjustable humidistat that will turn your humidifier on automatically so you can maintain a preset humidity level. It also features a reset light that indicates when the tank needs to be refilled, and an auto shut-off feature for when it’s completely empty.

This humidifier includes a medicine cup that you can use for either vaporized medicines or essential oils. This is a great option for larger rooms and will run for 24 hours on the low setting while emitting a vapor that is 95% bacteria-free.

This product comes in black or white so you can pick the option that works best for your home’s decor.

PROS

  • Easy to fill, simple to use, and very easy to clean
  • Runs quietly
  • The shell is only one piece, so there is no chance of leaking from cracks in the seals or glue

CONS

  • The mist is invisible, so it can be difficult to tell if it’s working
  • It is difficult to carry when it’s full because it doesn’t have a handle
  • If it runs out of water, you have to unplug the humidifier and wait about 20 minutes before being able to restart it

How to Pick the Right Product Based on Your Needs

Your ultimate choice will depend on a few factors. The main things to consider are:

Do You Have a Dry Climate?

If the air in your home is noticeably dry, you’ll want to choose a humidifier. However, if your home is already humid and you simply want the benefits from aromatherapy, a diffuser is the better option.

Budget

While you can find both products in a variety of price ranges, getting a higher quality product will end up paying for itself because it will last much longer than a lower-cost option. It may take some research to find either product that fits into your budget.

Size of the Room

The bigger the room, the larger the device you will need. Humidifiers are usually better for large rooms because they typically hold more water than a diffuser. Diffusers are better for small rooms or desks because they’re not designed to disperse liquid as far.

Are You Looking for Therapeutic Benefits?

A diffuser is your best bet if you’re looking to gain therapeutic benefits from essential oils. While humidifiers can help with this also, the oil gets so diluted that it fades much faster. Even if your diffuser requires you to add water, you’ll still get a more potent scent.

Final Thoughts on Humidifiers and Diffusers

Ultimately, if your primary concern is maintaining an optimal level of humidity, it’s best to get a humidity reader and humidifier, as they’re specifically designed to fix this issue. If you’re focused on distributing essential oils through the air, it’s best to get an essential oil diffuser that’s designed especially for this purpose.

Hopefully after reading this article, you’ve decided whether a humidifier or a diffuser is best for you. Both products certainly have their advantages.

Because of this, you may want to have a humidifier and a diffuser and use them at different times based on your need at that moment. You may want a diffuser in your bedroom for when you want to relax, but a humidifier in your child’s room to help maintain their respiratory health.

Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.

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Diffuser Vs Humidifier: How to Pick the Right One