Essential oils are distilled natural concentrates that retain the fragrance of the original plant and the plant's healing and soothing properties. Diffusing essential oils in your house creates a pleasant scent, uplifts or calms your mood, cleanses the air, heals physical infirmities and balances emotions. While it might seem simple to dump a couple of drops of lavender or grapefruit essential oil in the humidifier, that's usually not a good idea for several reasons. If it's going to happen anyway, maximize the oil's effectiveness and the life of your humidifier by taking a few precautions.
How Oils Diffuse
The best way to disperse microscopic particles of essential oil into the air is with a diffuser that breaks down the particles into a fine vapor that remains suspended in the air and is inhaled. Cold air diffusers don't compromise the integrity of the oil, so you get the full benefit of each oil's healing properties. Heat does alter the energy of essential oils, but it won't affect the pleasant scent. Diffusers are typically one of three kinds:
- Cold air
Essential Oils and Humidifiers
Adding essential oils to the water tank of your humidifier will ultimately damage the humidifier. The oils collect in and coat the machinery, break down plastic over time, clog sensitive ultrasonic nebulizers such as those in Crane humidifiers, lose potency in heated systems, and retain larger particles than are optimal for absorption. Add several drops of essential oil to the water tank of a humidifier only if you don't mind replacing the machine more often.
Some humidifiers get around these drawbacks by adding a special mister and fragrance diffuser that holds the oils separate from the main tank and mists them into the air. If you purchase one of these, follow the manufacturer's instructions for using the mister and cleaning the humidifier.
In a pinch, moisten a cotton ball with essential oil and place the wad of cotton over the mister outlet. As the humidifier sends fine water droplets into the air, the oil releases its scent, and some of its particles are diffused. A cold air humidifier preserves the essential oil at full strength, but a warm air dispenser still frees the oils into the air. You have to clean the humidifier grille daily to remove the sticky oil residue, which will ultimately damage the plastic.
DIY + Your Doctor
The use of essential oils can help you maintain a healthy home environment, relieve the symptoms of illness and even keep you from getting sick. But the oils are potent, and not every oil is safe or recommended for everybody. Some oils that may be beneficial include:
- Oregano oil, which has been tested as an alternative to antibiotics. It has some real healing advantages but may be problematic for people with heart conditions or high blood pressure, and for children and pregnant women.
- Lavender oil is calming, antiseptic, antibacterial, improves circulation, relieves respiratory disorders and eases pain. But it can cause headaches and allergic reactions and isn't recommended for people with diabetes or those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Before diffusing an essential oil in your humidifier, check with your healthcare provider to ensure that it is safe for you and the members of your household.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .