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It can be difficult to decide between a humidifier and diffuser. Both devices are great for adding mist into the air but typically for different purposes. In this guide, we have outlined the difference between a humidifier and diffuser, how they work and their benefits.
Humidifier vs Diffuser – Difference
A summary of the differences between a humidifier and a diffuser
|The main purpose is to emit water vapor into air to increase moisture level (humidity) in a room||It is designed to disperse essential oils into the air for a therapeutic natural fragrance smell|
|Uses water to create a cool or warm mist that raises the level of humidity in a room||Water is only used to diffuse a mist of essential oils into the air. Some models don’t use water|
|Provides humid air without any aromatherapy benefits||Provides aromatherapy benefits and some humidity into the air as well|
|Large in size to accommodate a big water tank for a longer supply of moisture||Usually smaller in size with a small tank|
|The dispersed moisture relieves dry air discomforts, like dry skin, cracked lips, scratchy throat and stuffy nose||The dispersed essential oils help in offering good smell and a boost to the immune system|
|Safe to use around pets and children since there is no heating involved||Diffusers that use heat or steam can be unsafe to use around children and pets|
|Water vapor does not cause allergic reactions||Some household members may be allergic to some types of essential oils|
|Expensive to purchase but cheaper to run which compounds to less costs in the long run||Less expensive to purchase but the high costs of essential oils makes it an expensive option in the long run|
What does a humidifier do?
Humidifiers are devices that disperse water vapor or steam in the air to increase the moisture level (humidity) in an area. Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air – which typically varies with the season, weather and climatic conditions of an area.
A change in level of humidity comes with severe consequences especially if it fall out of the recommended range of 30% and 50%. Low humidity level can cause dry skin, scratchy throat and irritated air passages. High amount on the other hand can cause moisture condensation on your surfaces thus attracting mold growth, rotting and rusting.
Humidity is measured using a hygrometer. When the measurements read higher than the recommended levels, run your dehumidifier – a device that collect excess moisture from the air to lower humidity. In some areas with cool temperatures, an air conditioner dehumidifier can also be used.
Types of humidifiers
Humidifiers come in variety of types including
- Central humidifiers – designed and centrally positioned to humidity the whole house or property
- Ultrasonic humidifiers – activated by vibration frequencies to release a cool mist of water into the air
- Evaporative humidifier – uses internal fan to blow dry air through a water-saturated wick filter into a room
- Steam vaporizers – uses electricity to heat water into steam which then cools down before it leaves the machine into the air
What does an essential oil diffuser do?
Also known as aromatherapy diffuser or essential oil diffuser, this is a device used for dispersing natural oils into the air. Essential oils not only provide a pleasant natural smell but also has therapeutic benefits including stress relieving, immune boosting and protection from microbial infections.
Popular oils used in a diffuser include, peppermint, lemon, eucalyptus, tea tree, sage, rosemary, chamomile, lavender, eucalyptus, clary sage, rosemary, pine, bergamot, grapefruit and lemon among others.
Types of Aromatherapy diffusers
There are various types of essential oil diffusers including the following:
- Ultrasonic diffusers – use electronic frequencies to produce vibrations which creates a fine mist of water and essential oils that is released into the air. They are the most used diffusers today.
- Nebulizing diffusers – use an atomizer to convert essential oil into fine particles which are then dispersed into air. It does not rely on water but may be expensive to acquire and run.
- Evaporative Fan Diffusers – an essential oil on a pad is heated to evaporate and diffused into the air with an inbuilt fan. Although inexpensive to purchase and run, the heating and evaporating of essential oil may lessen its therapeutic benefits.
- Heat Diffusers – heat is used to evaporate essential oils directly into the air. The open pan is warmed by any source of heat including candle or stove. It is basically cheap process it may also affect the important properties of the essential oil.
Can you use Essential Oils in a Humidifier?
Although designed for adding water vapor to the air, humidifiers can also be used to disperse your favorite essential oils. While there are humidifier diffuser combos that can handle this pretty well, using essential oils in your traditional humidifier can cause some damages to the internal plastic parts of the device.
Humidifiers run continuously and you may not be comfortable inhaling the aromatic scent throughout. It is impossible to control the rate at which the essential oil is emitted into the air. However, if you are still interested in adding your eucalyptus or lavender oil into a humidifier, consider the following:
- Ensure you are using a cool mist humidifier. A warm mist humidifier can affect the therapeutic properties of the essential oil
- Perform regular maintenance including cleaning to prevent any likelihood of damage to the plastic parts of the humidifier
- Know the right amount to use, too much oil in the water tank or in the air may not be good
- Understand therapeutic benefits of the oil you want to use. Eucalyptus oil for example is a natural decongestant that has anti-inflammatory and anti-virus properties.
Can You Use a Diffuser as a Humidifier
Some types of essential oil diffusers use water to disperse oil into the air and in the process acts as a humidifier. Although you will not get the much needed water in the air the little mist can help alleviate the problems of dry air in your room. This can be a better option as compared to some traditional methods such as humidifying a room with a bowl of water.
However, when you use a diffuser as a humidifier, consider adding little or no essential oil into the device water tank. Reason for doing this is to prevent pumping too much oil into the air which is uneconomical and to optimize on the opportunity of using your diffuser as a humidifier.
A diffuser will take longer to humidify a small room and thus cannot be used as a plant humidifier or when the humidity levels are below 30%. Even with the frequent refilling of the small tank, the moisture won’t be sufficient enough to satisfy the needs of your indoor plants.
Humidifier vs Diffuser – Maintenance
Humidifier and diffusers require good care and maintenance to keep them free of harmful mold and bacteria. Since both operate on the same principle of releasing mist into the air, their maintenance practices are more or less the same.
1. Always use distilled water
Distilled or demineralized water has lower levels of impurities or minerals that can harm your device or affect the quality of air you breathe. When you use tap water in your humidifier or diffuser, the minerals and unfiltered particles will create deposits that will attract mold and bacteria growth inside the device.
This will not only affect how your device perform but also endanger the quality of air in the room. Mold spores are harmful when inhaled and deposits can also found their way into your household items including electronics and furniture.
2. Change the water often
Using distilled water alone is not enough, the water in the tank has to be replaced frequently. Letting the water to overstay will similarly attract formation of some sort of film or deposits inside the humidifier or diffuser tank.
Regularly empty the tanks, clean them and dry other inside component before you refill with clean water. When cleaning the device and replacing the water, always unplug from power to avoid electrocution or any damage. Read the label instructions and use manufacturers recommended products.
3. Keep the room clean
Humidifiers and diffusers require a clean environment to run effectively. Dust and dander can seriously affect how your device performs. It can clog parts including filters and also attract growth of mold. Also damp and wet areas around any HVAC systems can cause significant damages including slipping accidents.
4. Adequately prepare for storage
It is obvious that you won’t be running your devices through. It comes a time you have to store them until when the season comes. Drain and clean your humidifier or diffuser before storing and when getting them out of the store. You may replace worn out parts or the whole unit as needed.
There is a lot to consider when trying to choose between a diffuser and a humidifier. It narrows down to what you need and at what time. You will need a humidifier when the weather brings you dry air without sufficient moisture for wellbeing and that of your indoor plants. A diffuser can be used any time as long as you are not in acute need of moisture in your air.
HVAC tech with over 30 years of experience. Retired and doing repair work on the side around Madison County, AL.