How to Diffuse Essential Oils for Personal Use
Natural aromatic plant materials, such as essential oils, have been used by ancient cultures for thousands of years to support the well-being of both the body and the mind.
I love blending essential oils for personal skincare and wellness and have been doing so for years.
I am very lucky (like a kid in a candy store) since I can simply walk into our “essential oil corner” and have my pick of so many organic essential oils with which to play.
If you have dabbled with essential oils chances are you have heard about “diffusing” essential oils.
Essential oil diffusion refers to any method used to disperse the aromatic molecules into the air.
Our brain builds strong associations between aromatic scents our emotions and our memories. As you breathe in the aromatic oil the receptors in your olfactory membrane identify and transmit impulses to other parts of the brain helping you to perceive the aroma. Thus diffusing essential oils is a simple but effective way to access those associations.
Diffusion can impart a lovely aroma, quickly improve your mood, and even help create new, positive memories and experiences.
Learn more! Read our blog, “What is Aromatherapy?”
In this blog, I would like to focus on a few of my favorite simple ways to take advantage of the ambiance and the aromatherapeutic benefits of essential oils. Since heating essential oils can affect the aromatherapeutic properties of the oils, I will focus on methods that do not require heat.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. A quick search online using the terms “How to Diffuse Essential Oils,” will result in thousands of search results! It can be quite overwhelming.
Make Your Own Essential Oil Inhaler
I discovered this a few years ago and it is one of my favorite ways to take advantage of the aromatherapeutic properties of essential oils.
Especially when I travel, I like to take a few of my essential oil blends with me, one for motion sickness, one for relaxation, and one to help with sinus problems. However, I don’t want to carry little bottles of essential oils in my luggage, backpack, or purse. So, I make my own handy, portable inhalers.
While I always take aromatherapy roll-ons with me, these little inhalers work better when I need a more intense fix.
When I am stuffy from a cold, or allergies, I carry my own personal Breathe Easy “inhaler” in my purse.
How to make: All you need is a tiny glass bottle, pink Himalayan salt, and your preferred essential oil or blend. You can also use pure sea salt, but I find that the Himalayan salt holds the scent better.
This is a great way to reuse empty essential oil bottles. I clean mine out with 95% alcohol and then rinse with warm soapy water or place them in the dishwasher.
This recipe uses a clean 10 ml essential oil bottle since that is what I have.
- Fill the bottle about ¾ with the salt. Do not overfill the bottle because you do not want to inhale the salt.
- Then add 5 to 10 drops of essential oil. The amount will depend on the oil you are using as well as your personal preference. Just remember that less is more with essential oils, and you do not want to make your inhaler too strong. Experiment by first using just a couple of drops.
- Cap the bottle and give it a shake.
Note: If you have the 5 ml bottles just follow the same directions but use less essential oil.
Once you have created your own aromatherapy inhaler here is how to use it. Remove the cap and place the bottle 1 to 2 inches away from your nose and slowly inhale. Be careful not to inhale so deeply that you accidentally inhale salt. Don’t forget to replace the cap and keep it tight.
If you create more than one type of inhaler it is a good idea to label them.
Himalayan Salt Diffuser for Your Home
This is one of the simplest ideas to add some lovely natural scent to your home. It is inexpensive, cute, simple to make, and easy to use.
All you need is a small bowl (never plastic), coarse pink Himalayan sea salt, and your favorite essential oil or blend. I like to use pretty teacups or finger bowls that I buy at garage sales, but you can use any type of small glass, ceramic or wooden bowl.
Directions: Pour about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of coarse pink Himalayan salt into your bowl. Add about 5 – 20 drops of your favorite essential oils and mix a bit (I use a chopstick). That’s it!
I sometimes add a pinch of dried herbs or flower petals from my garden for a simple but cute added touch.
The natural strength of every essential oil is very different so start out small, you can always add more.
Place your salt diffuser in your bathroom, kitchen, on your desk, on your nightstand, or anywhere you like. The possibilities are endless.
As the scent wanes over time stir the salt or add a few drops of essential oil.
Be sure to keep them out of reach of curious small children and pets.
Reed Essential Oil Diffuser for Your Home
While not all commercial reed diffusers are toxic, some do contain harsh chemicals, synthetic fragrances, and preservatives. So why not make your own!
Reed diffusers work on the basis of evaporation and are a great way to get started with essential oils. Aromatherapy blends slowly travel up the reeds, release the essential oils into the air and fill a space with a gentle aroma. I find that they work best in small spaces like bathrooms, entryways, and closets.
You will need a glass bottle with a narrow neck opening, essential oils, water, alcohol, and sticks of your choice.
While a narrow neck is not essential, it helps prevent the oils from evaporating too quickly. You can often find unusual small glass or ceramic containers at garage sales. Or better yet upcycle a clean glass bottle and get creative by decorating it yourself. (Decorating could be a nice project to do with kids).
You can buy rattan reeds that are specifically made for oil diffusers. Rattan reeds contain little channels that help the oil travel up the stick to scent the room.
Bamboo skewers are also an option or for a cute natural look, go outside and gather some small sticks! Dead, peeled twigs, small branches, and even dried stems from field plants can work.
I mix the essential oils with alcohol and water. Alcohol has a double function in this recipe. It helps prevent microbial growth and also acts as a solubilizer.
Since essential oils do not mix with water, ethanol is used to solubilize ("dissolve") essential oils into the water without too much separation. You can use ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, but it needs to be at least 95% alcohol. You can also use plain vodka, but if you do so, do not add water. Vodka is already 40% water. I find that alcohol alone evaporates too quickly.
Although there are many recipes using essential oils plus a carrier oil, I find that the oil reed diffusers are quite messy and emit less scent. It is a personal preference.
Since it is simple to make your own reed diffuser, they are an easy and inexpensive way to enjoy aromatherapy.
I will share my method below. If you have a recipe you enjoy, please share it in the comments area below.
- 1 glass or ceramic jar with a narrow opening
- 1 ounce (30 ml) of alcohol
- 2 ½ ounces (70 ml) of water
- 5 – 8 diffuser reeds or bamboo skewers
- 15 to 30 drops total of essential oils (single oils or blends)
Amounts will vary depending on the size of your container.
- Cut diffuser reeds or sticks to size for the container, leaving about six inches above the jar
- Pour the alcohol into your container
- Add the essential oils using a total of about 15 to 30 drops
- Stir until the alcohol and the essential oils are completely mixed
- Allow to sit for about 1 hour and mix again
- Add the water
- Stir until everything is completely mixed
- Your diffuser liquid is now ready to be used
Add the sticks to your container. If using straight sticks or reeds flip them after one hour or when half-saturated.
I usually flip the reeds once a week to refresh the scent and replace the mixture once a month. I also replace the diffuser reeds or sticks as needed.
You can style up your reed diffuser by adding some small dried flowers or wheat stalks along with your reeds, sticks, or skewers.
Again, the strength of every essential oil is very different so start out small, you can always add more.
Other Simple Ways to Enjoy Essential Oils
Cotton Ball: For a quick burst of essential oils, simply put a few drops of your oil of choice, or your favorite blend, onto a plain cotton ball and smell the aroma as it disperses. I sometimes place these cotton balls into glass shot glasses and place them in closets, the laundry room, or inconspicuous corners in the bathrooms.
Some people have had success placing cotton balls scented with peppermint oil in problem areas to help deter mice. Unfortunately, my mice seem to like the scent!
Just Take a Whiff: In a pinch, simply open a bottle of an essential oil or blend. Wave your hand over the top of the bottle toward your nose and inhale the air. While some like to take a deep breath from the bottle directly, essential oils are very strong and may irritate your nose. I sometimes use this method to help with motion sickness (if I have not made my personal motion sickness inhaler).
Scented Toilet Paper Roll: A simple way to keep your bathroom smelling fresh is to place about 4 drops of essential oil on the cardboard tube inside a roll of toilet paper.
Be careful not to use so much oil that it soaks through the tube and onto the paper since some essential oils can irritate the skin, especially those sensitive areas.
As you roll the fragrant toilet paper tube air will flow across the essential oil, toss the scent around and diffuse it into the air.
Although this can also be done in the kitchen with paper towel rolls, I don't experience the scent as much as in a small bathroom.
Essential Oil Potpourri Bag: Potpourri bags were the craze some years ago, and I still make them. Just gather some dried flowers or herbs and a small cloth drawstring bag. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oils to the dried botanicals and fill up the bag. Put them in your closet, sock drawer, under the car seat, in your sneakers, or almost anywhere that needs refreshing.
If you have potpourri sitting in a pretty basket that has lost its scent it can be revived by adding a few drops of essential oil. Or better yet make your own.
Although you can collect natural materials any time of year, autumn is a great time to pick up items for a woodsy potpourri. Go for a nature walk, this can be a great learning project to do with kids. Collect pine cones, seedpods, acorns, bits of bark, sticks, and other natural material from the ground. There’s so much to learn about, look at, smell and touch.
Lay the items from nature out on a cookie sheet to be sure they are dry and free of little bugs. Once dry, place the items in a plastic bag and add a few drops of your favorite essential oil or blend. Allow the mixture to sit in the bag for a few days and then arrange it in a pretty basket or bowl. Refresh with a few drops of essential oil as the scent wanes.
Buy A Diffuser
You can always go the more sophisticated route and purchase a diffuser. There are many types of diffusers on the market. The most common is the ultrasonic diffuser. These diffusers work by vibrating a small disk that lives under the essential oil and water mixture. As the disc vibrates it creates ultrasonic waves that break the oil into tiny particles that are gently dispersed into the air in the form of a fine cool mist.
They only require a small amount of essential oil to produce a noticeable yet subtle aroma. Since ultrasonic diffusers work like cold humidifiers, they are a good choice if you also want to add a bit of moisture to the air.
They do require some maintenance to keep them clean. Be sure to follow the directions for your diffuser.
I have an ultrasonic diffuser that I use when I want a more concentrated scent in a room, especially during cold and flu season. However, ultrasonic diffusers can be expensive, you have to set them up and there are times when they don't work for smaller spaces. For me, DIY methods offer a more subtle scent than commercial diffusers, which is what I usually enjoy best.
One of the latest trends going around is using essential oils in the washer or dryer, to help naturally scent linens and clothing. While this sounds great, the use of essential oils for freshening laundry can pose some concerns.
You can place a few drops of essential oils on some wool dryer balls, or a small piece of terry cloth and toss them into the clothes dryer, but this can be a potential fire risk. Although many people do this with no problem and the risk appears to be low, you should understand the potential danger.
Most essential oils have flashpoints ranging from 100°F to 215°F. The flashpoint is the lowest temperature at which the oil vaporizes enough so that heat, a spark, or a flame can ignite it.
The lower the flash point, the greater the fire hazard.
Citrus oils, which we often think of as "freshening oils," have very low flashpoints usually under 115°F. Some other examples are pine (104°F), juniper berry (114°F), nutmeg (100°F), and rosemary (104°F).
While all dryers are not the same, the average dryer temperature is about 125°F to 135°F. When the flashpoint of the essential oil is lower than the temperature at which the dryer operates you are in a potential fire hazard danger zone.
So now you think, OK I can put essential oils in the washing machine. Again, many people do this, but it can also pose a fire risk especially if you use cooler water temperatures. At low water temperatures, the oils and detergents may not combine well enough to break down the oils and wash them away. Since the oils remain on the clothing technically you are still adding essential oils to the dryer.
For me using essential oils in the washing machine is a waste of precious oils. Think about it. If you add oils to the washing machine using cool or warm water, you increase your risk of fire in the dryer. But, if you add oils to the washing machine using hot water, you are really just rinsing the oils down the drain.
Some advocate using essential oils in the laundry if you line dry the clothes instead of using a dryer. I have tried this method a few times and found that very little scent lingers. Let us know if this method has worked for you.
Do your research and decide for yourself. Personally, I like to use a muslin bag filled with fragrant dried herbs or flowers. Just toss it into the dryer with your wet clothes.
There are so many ways in which to enjoy the natural scents of essential oils, from waving a tissue with drops of essential oils under your nose to purchasing an ultrasonic diffuser.
Whether the aromatherapy is being used for its therapeutic benefits or just for lovely aromas, the method of diffusion you choose really comes down to personal choice and depends on the goal you are trying to achieve.
Keep all essential oils out of the reach of children and pets and be especially careful when diffusing oils around them.
Not every essential oil is safe to diffuse around young children, babies, toddlers, pets, or those with medical problems.
Essential oils are very concentrated. Do your research or contact a licensed specialist.
Remember to always use caution with essential oils, especially when you first begin using them, and watch for any adverse reactions.
Be mindful of diffusing strong scents in public spaces or in your home when expecting visitors since you are subjecting them to aromas to which they may be sensitive or simply not enjoy.
It is also very important to be sure you are using pure, unadulterated essential oils from a trusted supplier. I always opt for organic essential oils when available.
Essential oils are very concentrated substances and are for external use only.