How to Clean an Essential Oil Diffuser

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Essential oils fill your home with soothing, invigorating and healing natural scents, unlike the airborne toxins released by air fresheners and most scented candles. Diffusers spread microscopic particles of the scented oils in the air, using heat, ultrasound, fans and humidifiers. Whatever type of diffuser works for you, count on cleaning it regularly to prolong its life and keep it operating efficiently. Since essential oils leave a gooey, sticky buildup in any diffuser over time, more than a quick rinse is usually required.

Tea Lights and Candle Power

Simple diffusers use candle power, from small pillar candles or tea lights, to heat a combination of tap water and drops of essential oil. The heated water vaporizes and disperses, releasing the oils into the air with the vapor. If you don't clean the ceramic basin that holds the oil-and-water mix, it will gunk up, resulting in a tarry layer of old oil residue that is tougher to clean the longer it sits. Regularly remove the water/oil basin from the diffuser; run warm-to-hot water over it to soften and loosen the sticky stuff; wipe the basin with a paper towel or clean sponge or cloth; rinse with clear water and dry. Stubborn residue may require an overnight soak with rubbing alcohol before the wipe, rinse and dry. Check the underside of the basin for candle soot and wipe that away at the same time. Clean the diffuser every time you change scents as well.

Fan Tale

Fan diffusers blow air across a pad or tray, sending particles of essential oil into the room. To clean a fan diffuser, remove and replace the absorbent pad, wiping down the frame that holds it with a cloth dipping in rubbing alcohol. Wipe the insides of the vents that the oil molecules travel through as well. If the oil sits in a shallow basin in the unit, remove and clean the basin with vinegar and water, soap and water or rubbing alcohol, and then replace.

Sonic Scrub

Ultra-silent ultrasonic vaporizers plug into the electrical outlet to send negative ions and aromatherapy-infused water into the environment. You simply add 8 to 10 drops of essential oil to the water in the diffuser's basin, and you get a feel-good, slightly humidifying, invisible mist of scented oil. Clean the ultrasonic diffuser at least monthly if it gets frequent use, weekly if you notice a film building up in the basin. Unplug the diffuser, remove the decorative cover, drain the water basin and refill it with a mix of half tap water, half white vinegar. Swish the vinegar water around and use the cleaning brush that came with the unit to scrub the inside clean. If you don't have a brush, try an old toothbrush or wipe the inside with a paper towel to remove gunk. Drain, rinse, drain again and reassemble the unit before plugging it in. For really gummed-up diffusers (not yours, of course), fill the tank with white vinegar, letting it sit for about 10 minutes before pouring out the vinegar. A cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol or undiluted vinegar will clean any delicate parts and hard-to-reach places where the oil can collect.


Be careful not to add water to the air or mist outlets when cleaning the diffuser. Check the manufacturer's instructions for additional precautions.

Ne Plus Ultra Nebulizers

Nebulizers are the creme de la creme of essential oil diffusers and work most effectively to distribute the oil therapeutically. They are also more expensive to run because they hook up directly to the essential oil container and break down and pump a super-fine vapor of the oil into the atmosphere. That means you have invested in a premium piece of equipment, and the full viscosity of the oil coats the nebulizer's parts, which require diligent attention to cleaning. The glass tube that holds and dispenses the oil will get sticky, and soap and water won't penetrate the oil. Pour about 1/2 ounce of rubbing alcohol into the tube; remove it from the base; place your finger over the opening and shake the tube gently to loosen the residue. Then replace the tube and run the diffuser for between 3 and 5 minutes to remove the loosened oil and evaporate the alcohol. If the oil is too hard to break down in the alcohol, leave rubbing alcohol in the tube overnight. Then drain the alcohol from the diffuser, add fresh alcohol and run the diffuser until it is dry. Wipe the outside of the base or motor housing with a cloth dipped in mild soapy water, then a clean wet cloth, and dry it.


Benna Crawford

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 .