Can you tell the difference between humidifiers and diffusers? They may look similar, and they may even be grouped for comparison purposes; however, they are very different.
For one thing, while both machines increase the moisture content of the environment, a diffuser is primarily used for diffusing essential oils to achieve an aromatherapeutic effect, whereas a humidifier breaks up the water into mist and essentially humidifies the atmosphere by increasing the moisture content. The question now is, what are these differences, and are they significant enough to dismiss the notion that one can serve as the other? Let’s investigate!
What is a humidifier?
A humidifier is an electronic device that raises the humidity level in the home. Most humidifiers are standalone units designed to add moisture to a single room.
In some cases, you can control the humidity level in the entire house by purchasing a whole house or furnace humidifier that is connected to the home’s HVAC system.
Humidifiers are especially useful in the winter, when the air is naturally drier and indoor furnaces are on. Humidifiers have also been shown to help relieve symptoms of the common cold and flu. The mist from the humidifier, like standing in a steamy shower, can open up airways, clear mucus, and promote healthy breathing.
Types of humidifiers
There are several types of humidifiers available, each with its own set of advantages, but in most cases, any will suffice.
If you want to add moisture to the dry air in your home, especially during the cold winter months, you should consider purchasing a humidifier.
Cool mist humidifiers
Cool mist humidifiers use cool water vapor to add moisture to a room. Most cool mist humidifiers use a fan to mist water into the air.
This type of humidifier is efficient, does not heat the house, and is suitable for use around children. However, they will need to be cleaned regularly to prevent mold and bacteria growth.
Warm mist humidifiers
Warm mist humidifiers use an internal heater element to heat the water, which may help warm the air. This humidifier is more effective than a cold mist because warm air holds more moisture than cold air. However, warm mist humidifiers can consume up to ten times the amount of electricity due to the heating element.
Ultrasonic humidifiers are simple devices that use ultrasonic frequencies to generate water droplets. They have no heating element and produce little to no noise.
If used properly, they are virtually maintenance-free and easy to clean. However, to avoid the dreaded white dust, use filtered or distilled water in your ultrasonic humidifier.
Ultrasonic diffusers are the only ones that emit white dust. The white dust is essentially the minerals found in tap water that separate when the humidifier is running.
Related Article: 5 Best Humidifiers for Plants in 2023
Recommended humidifiers to buy
Here are some of the best humidifiers I highly recommend.
Everything about the Levoit LV600S Smart Hybrid Ultrasonic Humidifier is just right. It’s simple to clean, humidifies the air quickly and (almost) silently, and doesn’t bother you with beeping or bright lights at night. It can also achieve a target humidity level and maintain it on an auto setting that actually works, thanks to a built-in humidistat and functional smart features that almost no other ultrasonic humidifier can claim.
It also has several thoughtful features that set it apart from other humidifiers. Its 1.5-gallon tank will keep you going all day, and the fill hole is large enough that you won’t have to scrub around any awkward corners. It’s also the only model I recommend right now that has warm mist capabilities. While the concept of a “smart humidifier” may seem absurd, I was genuinely surprised by how impressed I was with the LV600S’s smart-home features, which added convenience to our lives with cleaning reminders, scheduling options, and memorable voice commands via Alexa or Google Home.
Dimensions: 7.7 x 11.6 x 11.3 Inches | Weight: 5.59 Pounds | Capacity: 6 Liters
★★★★★ 4.4 of 5 | 7,243 Ratings
“I’ve stopped waking up with a stuffy nose, and there’s no more static electricity build up every time I walk around my apartment during the winter!” – JF1323, January 16, 2023, on Amazon
This humidifier’s sleek design and nozzle extension make it ideal for discreet humidification. It comes in a few gleaming colors to match (or blend in!) your décor, including black, platinum, and wine. It claims to continuously humidify rooms up to 600 square feet for 96 hours and has five mist settings.
The oil diffuser tray is ideal for dispersing essential oils into the air while also adding moisture. You can easily monitor the humidity levels by using the built-in humidistat. It also comes with a remote control!
Dimensions: 8 x 8 x 18.5 Inches | Weight: 3.83 Pounds | Capacity: 1.7 Gallons
★★★★★ 4.4 of 5 | 3,884 Ratings
“When I wanted to get a second unit for my downstairs, I went right back to this brand and I am not disappointed. It runs continuously in our home and other than having to refill it daily. It is perfect.” – Mary, January 18, 2023, on Amazon
With its compact design and ultra-quiet operation, you may forget you’re using a humidifier. That’s why the auto shut-off feature is so useful when the water level is low or the tank isn’t aligned—in case you completely forgot.
This humidifier’s one-button operation makes it very easy to use, and its backlight makes it easy to see in the dark (in case you need to turn on the built-in night light or adjust the mist setting). While it may not be the easiest humidifier to clean due to its medium-sized tank opening, it does come with a cleaning brush to make maintenance a little easier.
Dimensions: 6 x 8 x 9 Inches | Weight: 1.35 Pounds | Capacity: 1.5 Liters
★★★★★ 4.4 of 5 | 108,623 Ratings
“It is the best investment I’ve made for myself and my wife to feel comfortable and it’s been so very helpful while being sick.” Melinda Ingiaimo – January 20, 2023, on Amazon
What is a diffuser?
If you’re wondering what an oil diffuser is, it’s important to note that the end goal of essential oil diffusers is to break down and release essential oils into the atmosphere via a fine mist. Any other function that an oil diffuser may have is a byproduct of this function.
A diffuser disperses essential oils into the air by breaking them down into smaller molecules. The essential oils used determine the effect the diffuser has on the house and the people who live in it. The diffuser’s job is to evenly scatter the particles so that they’re easy to breathe and don’t overpower the space.
Types of diffusers
Some of the most common types of diffusers are as follows.
This type of diffuser uses water, which comes out as a mist. Ultrasonic diffusers function similarly to humidifiers, but the amount of water dispersed is minimal.
To release essential oils into the air, a nebulizer diffuser uses pressurized air in small bursts. This type of diffuser is completely safe because there is no heating element or water involved.
Furthermore, these diffusers can produce a strong aroma while remaining very quiet, simple to use, and mess-free.
Reed diffusers are narrow-necked bottles with long reeds protruding from the top that hold water and oils. The oils are absorbed by the reeds and travel to the top, where they evaporate, releasing the scent into the air.
It has a light fragrance, but they look great, are simple to make, and are safe to use around pets.
Heat diffusers use heating elements to evaporate essential oils gradually. These are uncommon, but they typically use a heated and evaporated water and oil mixture.
Some heat diffusers also use a pad with a few drops of oil that are heated up, allowing the oils to evaporate slowly.
Heat, on the other hand, can cause oils to lose some of their aromatherapy benefits. As a result, we don’t recommend using this type of diffuser.
Recommended oil diffusers to buy
Here are our top recommendations for oil diffusers.
My “Best Budget” pick is InnoGear’s smaller essential oil diffuser, which also ranks highly in terms of features and price. This 100ml ultrasonic diffuser is small in size (only 3.9 inches wide!) but powerful in functionality. It costs less than $20.
This model, like its larger tank siblings, has two misting modes, seven LED mood lights, and an automatic shut-off. It lacks a timer, though. The ease of portability, on the other hand, almost outweighs the lack of a timer; its palm-sized frame makes it ideal for tossing in your carry-on or sitting in the corner of your workspace.
Dimensions: 5.51 x 3.94 x 3.94 Inches | Weight: 7.04 Ounces | Capacity: 100 Milliliters
★★★★★ 4.5 of 5 | 113,680 Ratings
“Really love this diffuser! I first was given one for my classroom and finally decided I needed one for my home. I actually am so in love that I think my wax melter is a thing of the past!” – Claire, February 3, 2023, on Amazon
What the ASAKUKI diffuser lacks in looks, it makes up for in performance. The massive 500ml tank allows this diffuser to produce a steady stream of mist almost all day. There are a variety of performance options available as well, ranging from a continuous aromatherapeutic mist with color-changing LED lights to a timed mist without lights. Set a timer for 60, 120, or 180 minutes, or leave it running indefinitely until the tank is empty.
I liked how quickly I could smell the essential oils and how powerful the diffuser was in filling the room with scents. While there is a learning curve with this device—the “mist” button actually powers on the device and sets the timer—it is relatively easy to use. With its large tank and customizable features, this diffuser is a great buy for under $30.
Dimensions: 6 x 6 x 5 Inches | Weight: 1.15 Pounds | Capacity: 500 Milliliters
★★★★★ 4.6 of 5 | 36,710 Ratings
“I absolutely love this diffuser. It’s a perfect size, very easy to use and clean, and it’s not noisy.” – Sandy R., February 6, 2023, on Amazon
The Vitruvi Stone Diffuser is one of the sleekest and most aesthetically pleasing diffusers we’ve tried — and it’s also the most expensive. It comes in six different colors, including matte black, terracotta, and charcoal, and has a ceramic stone cover that sits over the water reservoir and a BPA-free plastic lid.
This diffuser has two settings and is simple to use. When you press the power button once, you get three hours of continuous mist, and when you press it twice, you get 7.5 hours of intermittent mist. The noise level is very low, making it ideal for bedrooms, and it is simple to clean.
It’s the most expensive option I recommend, but I think it’d make a great gift or splurge-worthy purchase for someone who values home accessories that complement their decor and would appreciate the whisper-quiet operation.
Dimensions: 5 x 5 x 5 Inches | Weight: 2.42 Pounds | Capacity: 90 Milliliters
★★★★★ 4.3 of 5 | 261 Ratings
“I bought this after buying two of the knockoff of this product that is far less money. This one is definitely better. It lasts for 8 hours and still even has some left. “ – Amazon Customer, January 30, 2023, on Amazon
The differences between humidifiers and diffusers
Now you know what humidifiers and diffusers are. They’re frequently confused because the products may appear similar on the outside or perform similar functions. However, there are some significant differences between these devices. Check out the comparison below to see if a humidifier, diffuser, or both may be the best option for you.
|Point of Difference||Humidifier||Diffuser|
|Purpose||Adds moisture to the air||Adds fragrance to the room|
|Benefits||Relieves dry air discomforts, like dry skin, scratchy throat, and stuffy nose||Provides aromatherapy, without increasing room humidity|
|Method||Uses water to raise the humidity level in room||Uses water to disperse essential oil into air|
|Size||Tank usually holds at least a half-gallon of water||Reservoir usually holds less than a cup of water|
Should you use a humidifier or a diffuser?
The answer to this question is dependent on the functionality you require. If you want to harness the therapeutic effects of essential oils, an essential oil diffuser is the way to go. It may not be the best option, however, if you want to increase the humidity in your home. What is our recommendation? If you can, get both a diffuser and a humidifier to get the best of both worlds.