No matter what your problem is, chances are there’s an essential oil for that. And I probably own it. Whether you love essential oils for their beautifully unique aromas or for their healthful benefits, you’ll want to learn how to clean a diffuser.

One of my favorite pastimes is blending oils together to create unique scents. I’m like a mad scientist in my laboratory (kitchen) with tiny amber bottles, droppers, and vials everywhere. Because I like a clean aromatherapy experience, I know how to clean a diffuser. If you diffuse the same oil or oil blend, you may not need to clean as often.

However, when do you know it’s time to clean your diffuser? A lot depends on the kind of diffuser you own, the types of oils you are using, and other environmental factors. Learning how to clean a diffuser doesn’t need to be hard. By developing a quick and easy routine, you can enjoy a better aromatherapy experience, avoid spreading germs, and save money.

Dangers Of A Dirty Diffuser

Imagine if you were a simple organism looking for a nice place to grow. You’d probably head to the nearest diffuser. It’s warm, moist, and smells divine. It’s true that many essential oils have bacteria and germ-fighting power. However, that doesn’t mean your diffuser is safe from harm. Pathogens are continually adapting to become more resistant to their environment.

“Any device that delivers particles into the air can become contaminated with mold, bacteria, or viruses,” says Christopher Calapai, DO, a New York-based physician.

Both the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warn that mist from dirty humidifiers, including diffusers, do cause health problems. A study by the groups found that microbes grow inside the reservoir of a humidifier and that bacteria, viruses, and mold spores release into the air in the mist just like the oils do.

Dr. Calapai also warns that the health problems from using a dirty diffuser span from nasal congestion to severe infections. Unclean diffusers are especially dangerous for people who suffer from asthma or severe allergies, so it is essential to know how to clean a diffuser.

Cleaning Different Types Of Diffusers


The first essential oil diffusers to hit the market were the minimalistic reed diffusers. They use thin sticks or reeds usually made from rattan wood or other absorbent reed like bamboo. The sticks rest in a small vessel like a jar or vase that also contains water filled up about halfway with water. Just add a few drops of essential oil into the water. The reeds naturally soak up the oil and water. Whenever air passes through the reeds, the scent is carried or diffused into the air. You probably already know how to clean a diffuser that uses reeds. Simply throw away the sticks and wash the container.

Thanks to essential oil’s popularity, there are many new and higher-tech oil diffusers. Modern diffusers range from simple electric models with light effects to Bluetooth devices, and even some that play meditative music or white noise. But, those bells and whistles have little to do with how to clean a diffuser. There are four main diffuser types. Each has their own set of challenges when learning how to clean a diffuser.

Nebulizing Diffusers

Nebulizing diffusers are popular for many reasons. Most nebulizer diffusers have a sleek modern design. Though they do require a pressurized air source, they don’t need heat or water, and there are no plastic parts. For these reasons, cleaning is easy.

When air blows across the opening of the oil reservoir, it creates a vacuum that pulls oil droplets up to the surface. Then the air mixes with the oil forming a fine mist, which is carried out into the room. Some models have timers for bursts of fragrance. Others nebulize oils continuously, which is excellent if you have a large area to cover. Fans of nebulizers love their simplicity and ease of use. Plus, the base of the unit contains the miniature air pump, so you can just clean the outside. It’s best to use the second method of deep cleaning we describe later in this article.

Ultrasonic Diffusers

Ultrasonics are some of the quietest and most affordable diffusers available. They only require a few drops of oil mixed with water. There are a few drawbacks with this type of diffuser where cleaning challenges are concerned. To begin with, their coverage area is smaller. So, you may need more of them. Second, they are electric, so safety is a concern. Many are at least partially made of plastic. Plastic is harder to clean oils from without leaving a residue. Plastic also breaks down quicker than other materials like ceramic and glass. So, take care when cleaning old diffusers, as plastic may easily crack. You can use either of the cleaning methods we describe below if you own this type of diffuser.

Evaporative Diffusers

These can range from simplistic to high tech. They work by evaporation, as the name suggests. As the oil evaporates, it releases the scent into the air. Some models use a small fan to blow air past the oil, causing it to dry and diffuse more rapidly. The evaporator type of essential oil diffuser is inexpensive and relatively easy to clean. Though, units with fans require some disassembly. With this type of diffuser, you will use the deep cleaning method we describe later.

Heat Diffusers

These work like evaporator diffusers. However, they use heat to speed up evaporation. Since temperature changes the chemical composition of essential oils, they often create a thicker residue. Some types of heat diffusers use a simple tea candle to provide the heat source. These usually are ceramic or heat-resistant glass. Simple diffusers like these are the easiest to clean. They can often soak in the cleaning solution, and many are dishwasher safe. If your heat diffuser has a plug, electric power source, or any electrical or mechanical parts do not submerge them. Instead, follow the deep cleaning method below.

Signs It’s Time To Deep Clean Your Oil Diffuser

There are no set guidelines on when to clean diffusers. However, you may refer to the operating manual that came with your diffuser for specific instructions and criteria. If you no longer have the user manual, you can follow our general guidelines here. You may need to clean your diffuser if:

  • There is a visible build-up
  • The unit doesn’t function properly
  • There is evidence of mold or mildew
  • The water is cloudy or discolored
  • You frequently change oils or use different scent combination
  • Oils smell rancid or unclean

Two Methods For Cleaning Your Diffuser

Machine humidifier

There are several ways to clean your diffuser. To begin with, we’ll go over the fastest way to clean between uses. This is necessary when you change oils or blend oils often, or if you have let your diffuser run dry. It will keep your diffuser running efficiently and keep your aromatherapy sessions clean. Finally, we’ll go over a deep cleaning method that you can use to remove build-up and guard against mold and other contamination.

How To Clean A diffuser: A Quick And Easy Method For Ultrasonics

This method works for ultrasonic diffusers. To begin, wipe the outside of the diffuser with a damp cloth. Fill the reservoir halfway with water. Add one tablespoon of white vinegar to the water. Run the diffuser for 20 minutes. Then, allow the vinegar solution to sit for a couple of hours. Empty the diffuser and replace with water only. Run the diffuser for 20 minutes. Empty the diffuser. Dry the diffuser with a soft, lint-free cloth. Finally, with a cotton swab, clean the ultrasonic plate.

How To Clean A Diffuser In 6 Easy Steps

In addition to the indications for cleaning we mentioned prior, experts say you should give your diffuser a deep cleaning at least once a month. Of course, this depends on how much you use it, the types of oils you use, and how often you blend oils.

Prepare Your Diffuser

To begin with, unplug your diffuser from its power source. Take the diffuser globe off of the base. Finally, take off any other parts that are removable for the most thorough cleaning.

Prepare Your Cleaning Solution

Mix two cups of warm water with one teaspoon of Castille soap. Similarly, you can use two cups of water and one teaspoon of dish soap. Also, you can use a 4:1 water, white vinegar mixture.

Gather Cleaning Tools

You’ll need a clean washcloth. Gather cotton swabs or a soft toothbrush to reach crevices. You may also need isopropyl alcohol to clean any metal parts. Finally, you need a lint-free cloth for drying.

Clean The Outer Pieces

The lid, or globe, is usually the most accessible piece to clean. Using a warm soapy washcloth, clean the lid, cover, or globe. Likewise, if needed, use the toothbrush to remove any stubborn residue or build-up. Oil build-up is often sticky and slightly yellow. Rinse with warm water. Use the cotton swab and alcohol to clean any metal parts. Finally, dry with lint-free cloth and place to the side.

Clean The Tank

The tank is the trickiest part to clean. It contains mechanical and electrical components. Therefore, it can’t be submerged. To start, you’ll want to use a damp cloth to wipe the outside of the device. Next, wipe out the inside of the tank. Use a soft toothbrush to clean the crevices. Next, dry with a lint-free cloth. Finally, using a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to clean any metal parts.

Finish The Job

It’s time to put the diffuser back together. Wipe any damp pieces with a dry, lint-free cloth as you go along. Finally, refill and diffuse as usual.

Tip: For residual odors, you can run a mixture of one teaspoon of imitation vanilla extract and water through your diffusers. Users report that this is effective for diffusers that have lots of permeable plastic parts where odors hide out.

Get Ready, Get Set, Clean!

Learning how to clean a diffuser isn’t just good for the air quality. It produces a cleaner aromatherapy experience. Also, it protects your investment. Plus, even though essential oils are great at killing germs, research shows that pathogens like molds, bacteria, and viruses can and do grow in a diffuser. In fact, the word “diffuse” means “to spread.” So, when you diffuse contaminated material, you are spreading germs that put your entire family at risk.

Essential oils are expensive. We know that dirty diffusers don’t run as efficiently as clean diffusers. Also, thick buildup damages electronic diffusers. Finally, clean diffusers require less oil to achieve the same effect.

The good news is, learning how to clean a diffuser isn’t hard. In less than an hour, you can get the job done using either of the two methods we described. Join the conversation. Let us know if you have any tips or tricks for keeping your diffuser clean.

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