Essential Oils: Humidifier vs Diffuser

Essential Oils: Humidifier vs. Diffuser | Roots & Boots

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Essential Oils: Humidifier vs Diffuser

Can I Use Essential Oils in My Humidifier?

This question comes up so often, especially during certain times of year, that it’s high time to answer it here on the blog.  Read on for my answer…

First, let’s talk about diffusers.

Basically, a good diffuser uses cold air to break essential oils into tiny particles and disperse them into the air.  As we inhale, the tiny particles of oil enter our body and get to work.

Diffusing isn’t just for creating a nice smell.  When high quality, therapeutic grade essential oils are diffused, they actually carry powerful health benefits.

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Benefits of diffusing essential oils:

  • clears the air of dust and bacteria
  • opens the airways
  • affects mood
  • absorbed easily by the body

Due in part to the volatility of essential oils, aromatic exposure is by far the most effective [model of essential oil usage]. Aromatics are easily inhaled and then absorbed through the respiratory tract and lungs and then circulated through the blood stream.  [source]

Essential Oil Diffuser with timer | Roots & Boots
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Timing Matters

You might think that if diffusing essential oils is good, then diffusing them non-stop is even better.  Actually, it’s best to diffuse for 15 minutes out of every hour.

Basically, this gives your body time to absorb the oils.

The best way to do this is to use a diffuser with timer settings.  I like to choose the setting that runs my diffusers for 15 seconds out of every minute.

Essential Oils: Humidifier vs. Diffuser | Roots & Boots
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So, Can I Use Essential Oils in My Humidifier?

In a nutshell, I don’t recommend it.  Here’s why:

1. Most humidifiers run continuously.

There is no timer setting to allow the body the necessary time to absorb the oils.

2. Essential oils, especially citrus oils, break down plastic.

Most humidifiers are not constructed to hold up to essential oil usage.  Diffusers are specifically designed to handle essential oils. Humidifiers are made to handle water.

3. Humidifiers are not ionic nebulizers.

Humidifiers can disperse essential oils into the air, but a diffuser will nebulize them into miniscule particles that can be more readily inhaled and absorbed.

4. Some humidifiers use warm air.  

You definitely would not want to use essential oils in a warm air humidifier, because heating the oils can damage their therapeutic properties.

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But I Still Want to Use Essential Oils in My Humidifier

You can, but be aware that it could ruin your humidifier.

I’ve heard from many folks who used essential oils in a humidifier, and then the machine started leaking or stopped working. I’ve also heard from those who claim to use essential oils in their humidifier with no problem.

It probably depends on the humidifier…

…and on other factors such as which oils are used and how often, etc.

So if you have an inexpensive humidifier that you don’t mind throwing out if it gets ruined, it might be worth the risk.  If you really depend on your humidifier and need it to last, or if you have a pricey, top of the line model, it’s probably best to keep essential oils away from it.

Diffusers are Best

Even if your humidifier withstands the use of essential oils, the bottom line is that cold air essential oil diffusers provide the greatest therapeutic value when it comes to essential oils.

At my house, we have a diffuser in the kitchen and in each bedroom, and Mr. Native Texan has one in his office.  We use them regularly, especially during the winter!

More Diffuser Resources

More Ways to Stay Healthy with Essential Oils:

Essential Oils: Humidifier vs. Diffuser | Roots & Boots
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Have you used essential oils in a humidifier?  I’d love to hear about your experience!

Photo credits: humidifier #1, humidifier #2

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Kathleen | Roots & Boots

Let's get real! I’m Kathleen Henderson, your Natural Living Mentor. I’m on a mission to help families see the joy in real food, while finding natural remedies and creating a nontoxic home. Learn more about my story >>


  1. The Rogue Mom on 11/17/2014 at 9:09 pm

    Just thought I’d throw in my experience – I use both. I have a diffuser for our living room, which I use regularly. But when the kiddos are sick, I use their Safety 1st humidifier with a 1% dilution of peppermint, eucalyptus, and lavender. When I get lucky and they are not sick when I am, I use it myself, and it makes a substantial difference in the way I feel the next day, and the quality of sleep I get. I’ve had the humidifier for 2 years and only use it when we are sick, it has held up so far. Thanks for the post!

    • Kathleen on 11/17/2014 at 9:41 pm

      Good to know! Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  2. MIchelle on 01/13/2015 at 9:33 pm

    You mentioned a timer that is on for 15 seconds out of every minute. The petal diffused has hour settings – is it optimal then to have it on for an hour and then off for a while? Then repeat?

    • Kathleen on 01/13/2015 at 10:08 pm

      Michelle–That’s a great question, and I’ve wondered it myself. I’m tracking down the answer for us. 🙂 For now, this is a good guideline: “diffusion should be used in smaller doses, multiple times throughout the day to achieve the maximum benefits.” Hope that helps!

  3. Alexander on 01/26/2015 at 12:45 am

    Hi. I just got into essential oils about a week ago and have been adding some cinnamon cassia oil in my vicks cold air humidifier tank for about 5 days. I did notice the tank plastic clouded up a bit after the first day. On the 5th day, I put some lavender in when I refilled it. After I put it back on it ended up completely emptying itself and flooding the base and floor (the carpet smells great now!). I looked at the tank and its full of mirco fractures and some large cracks. The oil definitely caused the plastic to become more brittle. I wont be adding any oils to my other humidifiers, but I will be getting a diffuser.
    Too bad, it worked great while it worked.

    • Kathleen on 01/27/2015 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Alexander. Hope you love your diffuser! 🙂

  4. Janine on 02/17/2015 at 7:25 am

    Well I am just getting into the world of doTerra Essential Oils… And I was wondering about using my cool mist humidifier as a diffuser…. All I gotta say is that now that I visually see what oils do to plastic – even diluted – yep won’t do that again. Thank gosh I only paid $5 for my perfectly brand new Walgreen Cool Mist humidifier from GoodWill (love GW, and especially for things like this)… I filled the 2 gallon tank, and added 10 drops of cinnamon and 10 drops of orange, and I let it go at full blast all day, and when it was almost empty, I pulled the tank to fill with more water and EO, but as I unscrewed the seal cap and looked inside the tank, the tank was filled with a tacky/sticky film, and where the oil settled around the rim of the screw cap, it started to eat at the plastic, blistering and pitting, just after being in the tank around 5 hours. Thank gosh the humidifier was $5 and I really didn’t care for it anyway, cuz it did just make everything wet/damp. So I will use it without oils thru the end of this dry winter in Chicago, then to the garbage…. Lesson learned with physical proof, NO OILS ON PLASTIC.

    • Kathleen on 02/17/2015 at 1:22 pm

      Janine–Cinnamon and Wild Orange are particularly strong oils, so I’m not surprised to hear about the damaged plastic in your humidifier. I bet it smelled great, though! 🙂

  5. Hilary on 02/17/2015 at 4:43 pm

    Hi, I was wondering what your thoughts and advice are on buying a combo humidifier-diffuser? There are a few products that claim to operate as both a humidifier AND a diffuser, depending on the setting you use. Is this a situation where it’s best to keep them separate because neither the humidifier function nor the diffuser function will work great in a machine like that, or is a combo product like that okay?

    • Kathleen on 02/17/2015 at 5:03 pm

      Hilary–I’m not sure! I haven’t heard of combo humidifier-diffusers. Sorry. (If you do try one, let me know what you think of it!)

  6. Danielle Harper on 02/22/2015 at 2:20 pm

    I’ve jumped in real slow to oils because we just have not had much money to spare. I’ve used it in our cheap Vick’s humidifier and I can see the points you are making. It is not super effective in the humidifier. Knowing it can break down the plastic I put tops 3 drops. It does still help when we’ve been congested and sick.

    • Kathleen on 02/26/2015 at 1:08 am

      I’m glad it’s helped, Danielle, and it sounds like a good idea to use only 3 drops. 🙂

  7. Bridget on 03/31/2015 at 1:22 am

    I have a Vicks humidifier much like the one you have pictured, mine has a single water container. There is a vessel in the top of these for the Vicks oil where I add my oils. I usually just add it to the Vicks oil or to a carrier oil and use it continuously when someone is sick, especially over night in the room where they are sleeping and it makes a huge difference by the next morning.

    • Melanie Gallant on 03/12/2016 at 4:51 am

      Has that caused any damage to the humidifier? What dilution do you use? Thank you.

  8. xin on 04/12/2015 at 7:31 pm

    Hi, I am new to essential oils and I have a humidifier in my room which I usually on throughout the night. I have seen some online shopping sites selling “water soluble essential oils” meant for humidifiers. What are your thoughts on using water soluble essential oils? Will they have the same aromatherapy effects as pure essential oils?

    • Kathleen on 04/13/2015 at 7:30 pm

      Xin–I’m not familiar with water soluble essential oils. We use only doTERRA oils. Sorry!

  9. […] Kathleen at Yankee Homestead says this about using Essential Oils in a humidifier: 1. Most humidifiers run continuously. There is no timer setting to allow the body the necessary time to absorb the oils. […]

  10. Leia Chester on 05/04/2015 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Kathleen,
    You have made a really useful post with many information of diffusers and humidifier. I have been impressed by the way you differentiate them. Actually I think each of them has the own function and it is better not to use essential oils in humidifier. Just let both of them do their right functions that they are designed to. 🙂

    Thank you so much for your post!

  11. dusti on 10/31/2015 at 3:47 am

    I’ve recently have joined the world of oils!! They work great and it’s def an answered prayer. I recently bought a doterra diffuser I’ve only used it 3 times and it’s leaking a pool under it. Bought it brand new on website. Is there a diffuser that’s not pricey you recommend?

    • Kathleen on 10/31/2015 at 8:41 pm

      Dusti–I haven’t used this diffuser personally, but I’ve heard good things about it and it’s a bit more economically priced: Spa Vapor 2.0. Hope that helps!

  12. […] Keep a humidifier in your bedroom to keep the air moist. This also helps with breathing. You can add essential oils (per your products directions) to create relaxation, dissolve headaches, and […]

  13. Kate on 11/05/2015 at 7:29 pm

    What about using a diffuser as a humidifier?

    • Kathleen on 11/06/2015 at 11:15 am

      It depends on your goal–A diffuser doesn’t add as much moisture to the air as a humidifier, but really helps to promote healthy respiration because of the essential oils. Hope that helps!

  14. Tate on 11/19/2015 at 6:03 pm

    thank you!

  15. MC on 11/29/2015 at 3:25 am

    What aroma-ace diffuser do you use? I am looking for a nice Christmas gift. Please email me back! Thank you!

  16. Tina@treasuredtidbits on 01/06/2016 at 5:57 am

    Thank you for answering. We are considering adding essential oils to our home and this is one of the things I considered doing. I am so glad you explained why it is not productive.

  17. […] Humidifier or vaporizer — add 10 to 20 drops to the water of a vaporizer or humidifier. […]

  18. Alyssa on 01/23/2016 at 4:56 am

    My story, I bought 3 small humidifiers to use in bedrooms. I put a few drops of lavender oil in each humidifier to help everyone sleep and they all cracked overnight and leaked everywhere. Luckily my husband was able to return them and get new ones, I thought it was a defect from that brand so we went up in price and got 3 new ones. Again, I added lavender oil and again all 3 cracked and leaked. My husband returned those and got 3 new ones and we tried with just water, works perfectly but i miss the scent of lavender and it really helped my husband and kids get a good night’s rest.

  19. Alex on 02/13/2016 at 8:13 pm

    I use a Vicky’s cool air humidifier purchased from Bed, Bath,& Beyond. I use it during the winter. I never put oil directly into the water. It’s unclear in the other posts if that’s what folks are doing. Don’t do this! There’s a small reservoir at the top of unit for oil. As steam leaves, it carries the oil out into the air. Also, there is a small pull out tab at the base;it that allows one to put in a Vicky’s vapor strip. I forgo this because I don’t know the strips’s contents, & I don’t want to smell Vicky’s all day long.

  20. Sara on 02/16/2016 at 8:38 pm

    Thank you for this article. I just ordered an air diffuser and hope it works to clean my room of mosquitoes.

  21. Laura on 02/28/2016 at 5:59 pm

    I found this website trying to research why my two brand new humidifiers have pits in the water tanks after just one week. I just cleaned them with a bleach solution and wondered if I somehow did something wrong. But bleach was recommended by the company in that concentration. Hmmm. I thought. The beauty of the Internet is that if I’ve done something I shouldn’t have done, usually someone else has done it too, and it can be found online. Well wouldn’t you know, this blog appears. Twice I put 2 drops of an essential oil blend that has some citrus oil in it in the tanks. Now the pitting makes sense as some of it is as if it sprayed onto the sides while in one tank it looks like it burned two even lines one both sides of a corner of the tank…like it sat on top of the water line. The bleach wouldn’t have made that line, but an oil sitting on top of water would do that. Luckily, my tanks seem to have held up although uglier now. I will not make that mistake again and will go out and purchase a diffuser. Thank you for the great blog. I learned some important details I needed to know…esp. what makes a diffuser different from a humidifier.

  22. Ericka on 02/29/2016 at 4:53 am

    I have recently started using essential oils in our Vicks Cool Air humidifier for our 11 month old at night. I use put drops of the oil on a used and therefore dried out “VapoPad” that used to contain the Vicks. I think that may keep the machine from breaking down. I will probably buy a diffuser but we only recently started using oils at all and I didn’t want to spend so much money up front

    • scrimplythrifty on 11/20/2016 at 4:57 am

      I just bought one of those with the vicks pad too and was thinking I might try that as well. I have a diffuser, but sometimes when someones sick I’d like to put some EO’s into the room at night with the vaporizer. But since I spent a nice chunk of change for this one I didn’t want to ruin it. Glad it’s working for you. I wonder if you could cut a felt pad and use that for the EO’s. I would never put the oils directly in it though. It’s just a different kind of plastic that doesn’t look like it would hold up to the harshness of EO’s, especially citrus and cinnamon. I was surprised to read here that even lavender ruined it.

      The main reason I bought this one was to use Colloidal silver in it. Which is another great thing you can add to it when people are sick, and it won’t ruin it.

  23. […] Keep a humidifier in your bedroom to keep the air moist. This also helps with breathing. You can add essential oils (per your products directions) to create relaxation, dissolve headaches, and […]

  24. Humidifiers – Wildwood Cabin on 03/10/2016 at 10:05 pm

    […] Essential Oils: Humidifier vs. Diffuser (Yankee Homestead) | Humidifier, Diffuser, Wellness […]

  25. Courey on 03/19/2016 at 5:00 am

    Hi, I just put the oils in the top vent so it sits right on top of the bubbler. No problems so far and my kiddo is feeling better with all the aromatic action! Will keep an eye out for leaks. Thanks for the advice!

    • Kathleen on 03/31/2016 at 1:56 am

      Sure! Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  26. mechell stinson on 04/26/2016 at 1:42 pm

    where do i get your Yankee Homestead? i cant find it.

  27. bethany Lambert on 05/20/2016 at 11:46 pm

    My daughter’s on oxygen and her nose gets real dry so we want to use a room humidifier (the oxygen doesn’t come with a humidifier) But the Walgreens humdifier, like the Vicks one, gets the moldy smell and that is not OK So i thought if i put some tea tree and oregano essential oils in, the mold wouldn’t grow. But apparantly this can cause the unit to fail. But is it bad for the people? Are the essential oil particles too large (bad to breathe in) with this method? Is there some other way to prevent the mold from growing?

    • Kathleen on 05/24/2016 at 2:36 am

      Hi Bethany–I don’t think it’s bad to breathe essential oils from a humidifier. The risk is that the oils could damage the machine. If you don’t want to add essential oils to your humidifier, maybe you could use them to wipe out the inside of the machine periodically to prevent mold.

  28. Ursula on 06/09/2016 at 7:03 pm

    Hi! I am a Holistic Health Consultant. We use a Cool Mist Humidifier with a separate compartment for essential oils. My daughter has Down Syndrome and when it is hot and dry she suffers with a type or Asthma that that either requires drugs or simply running this Cool Mist Humidifier and adding a drop of Rosemary for gentle breathing support. We have been using for over two years with no issues.

  29. Ursula on 06/09/2016 at 7:04 pm

    I forgot to add a link to one that we use: Erin Ultrasonic Humidifier.

  30. Elisha Davis on 08/25/2016 at 11:48 pm

    I just stumbled across this post. I wanted to add in even if your just using the steam activated inhalant made for Vicks warm air humidifier you are supposed to use a cotton ball in that resiviour then add the inhalant on top of that. You can then add a few drops of essential oil to that cotton ball no problem.

  31. Carol Yu on 10/02/2016 at 2:33 am

    I’m considering DIY a scent pad with essential oil + carrier oil (based on the method mentioned here to serve as the Vapopad and put it in the Vicks cool mist one. Would love to hear you advice if it’s feasible

  32. Christina waheed on 11/29/2016 at 10:10 am

    Thank you for this info! i was lost. Now I am found 🙂

  33. Darcy on 11/17/2017 at 3:38 pm

    People, please be aware, that if you have pets, whether or not the essential oil(s) you use are safe for them.

  34. […] Essential Oils: Humidifier vs Diffuser – Roots & Boots […]

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  36. Carmen on 01/06/2018 at 5:34 pm

    Hi Kathleen,
    I have Vick’s humidifier and i put a few drops of oil on a small cloth (old tshirt cut out) and put it over the mist output. I do this mostly for smell and it does not ruin the humidifier. In my bedroom and kitchen I use a diffuser for the full effect of the oils.

    • Kathleen on 01/08/2018 at 6:15 pm

      Good to know, Carmen!

  37. Jayce Ooi on 03/14/2018 at 3:29 pm

    Glad to know the different. Will get a diffuser after reading. 🙂

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