Diffuser vs Humidifier vs Vaporizer

The ultimate battle between diffusers, humidifiers and vaporizers.

If you’re looking to increase the humidity in your home, you’ve likely come across three very similar devices.

Humidifiers, vaporizers, and diffusers are very similar, but they differ in purpose. For instance, humidifiers work to increase the humidity only, whereas diffusers disperse essential oils.

Which type would suit you and how do you choose the right one for you? It’s important to first understand the difference between the devices to ensure that you get what you need.

What Do They Do?


A diffuser or essential oil diffuser is a device that disperses essential oils through the air. It works similarly to a humidifier by emitting moisture into the air. However, you can add your favorite essential oil to the tank or an oil tray.

As you turn on the device, the essential oils are mixed with the water and then emitted into the air. Diffusers are often used to create an aromatic atmosphere and can offer many health benefits by increasing humidity.


A humidifier’s sole purpose is to increase the humidity in your home. There are different types of humidifiers ranging in size and function. Humidifiers are meant to keep the relative humidity in your home at a comfortable level between 30 and 50 percent.

You simply fill the tank and select your desired setting. Most devices feature a timer that you can set to suit the hours you’d like the device to work.


Vaporizers are meant to increase the humidity in your home similar to humidifiers. But, they work differently.

Vaporizers use electrically powered heating elements to heat the water in the tank. As a result, the water boils and creates steam which is then dispersed through the air.

How They Add Moisture to the Air


A diffuser mixes water from the reservoir with the added essential oil, which is then dispersed in the air. Essential oil diffusers can help to bring some much-needed humidity to a room, but they aren’t as effective as humidifiers.

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A common type of humidifier is ultrasonic. This humidifier uses ultrasonic vibrations to emit a strong mist of moisture into the air. A cool mist is dispersed in tiny, easily inhaled particles. Plus, because it’s cool, it won’t cause dampness.


Vaporizers, on the other hand, utilize heat to create steam or vapor that you can inhale. Although it’s often called a warm-mist humidifier, the moisture which is dispersed is cooled before it reaches you.

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How They’re Cleaned


It’s essential to clean your essential oil diffuser regularly since the oil can build up and cause clogs. There are several ways to clean your essential oil diffuser depending on how deep of a clean it requires.

One simple way to do it is by filling the tank with clean water and adding two squirts of dishwashing soap. Allow the mixture to sit for a minute or two, then use a sponge to gently scrub the inside. Additionally, you can also add two teaspoons of white vinegar to the clean water and leave it to sit for up to 10 minutes.

Keep In Mind

Always unplug the diffuser, humidifier, or vaporizer before cleaning it to avoid any risk of electrocution.


A common problem with humidifiers is a build-up of limescale or minerals within the tank and disperser. This often occurs if you’re using tap water that’s high in minerals — also known as hard water.

Another issue with humidifiers is mold or mildew. This often occurs if you leave water in the tank for an extended period.

The easiest way to clean a humidifier is by taking it apart and adding a couple of teaspoons of white vinegar to the tank. Fill it halfway with water and then give it a good shake. The vinegar will effectively remove mold, mildew, limescale, or mineral build-up.


Because vaporizers heat the water, it’s crucial to unplug it and leave it to cool for 30 to 60 minutes before cleaning. Next, you should empty the tank if there’s any water left and remove the heating element. Fill the tank with clean water to rinse, empty the contents, and wipe it.

To clean the heating element, soak it in pure white vinegar for up to 10 minutes, then rinse it under the tap. Make sure you cover the steam outlet with your finger. In between rinsing, turn it upside down to empty any water that might be inside the element.

How Much They Cost


Diffusers typically range in prices between $13 and $30 depending on size and sometimes design. Some devices can be higher priced because you also get a few essential oil samples to try out.


Humidifier prices range between $14 all the way up to $100. The more expensive models come with larger tanks and various features, whereas the cheaper models are smaller and more simple.


Vaporizers typically cost a little over $30, but you can easily find models that cost around $15.

How Safe They Are


Diffusers are considerably safe, but there are a few things to keep in mind, especially if you have children or pets.

Some diffusers can become quite hot as they heat the water and oils. This can be dangerous if within the reach of young children.

Another danger could be oils. Cats and dogs can be especially sensitive towards specific essential oils due to the high concentration (1).

Safety First

If you have pets or children, keep the diffuser out of their reach and preferably in a separate room.


Cool-mist humidifiers are safe to have around pets and children. They do not create heat or disperse potentially harmful essential oils. However, you may still want to keep them out of children’s reach to avoid the device being knocked over.

Keep in mind, however, that if you don’t maintain your humidifier properly, it could potentially emit contaminants and mold into the air.


The main concern with vaporizers is burns. If the device were to fall over, boiling hot water will be spilled, which will burn your skin. If you have children or pets in the house, keep the vaporizer far out of reach to ensure it won’t burn your child or pet.

How Well They Work for Allergies


Specific essential oils can have beneficial effects when it comes to allergies. For instance, peppermint, which reduces inflammation.

However, adding the wrong oils or combinations could cause an allergic reaction. So it’s important to do some research before adding oils.


Low humidity levels can cause irritation to the airways, but high humidity is the main cause of indoor allergens.

High humidity levels can cause dust mites as well as mold and dampness (2). It’s also crucial to keep the humidifier clean to avoid mold being dispersed through the air.


A vaporizer is a better option if you’re dealing with indoor allergies as well as low humidity. Because the water is boiled, contaminants are killed and removed, resulting in a clean mist.

How Well They Work for Congestion


Similar to allergies, how effective the diffuser depends solely on the oils you’re using. Peppermint and eucalyptus oils are well-known for easing congestion and opening the airways (3).


Because it adds moisture to the air, a humidifier is very effective at easing congestion. It’s a popular device to help you deal with cold and flu symptoms as well.


Similar to humidifiers, vaporizers add a good amount of moisture to the air that will help to ease congestion.

Can You Put Anything Inside Them?


The main purpose of a diffuser is the fact that you can add your desired essential oils to the tank.


You should never add essential oils to the tank of a humidifier since the oils can damage the internal parts. If you do want to add some scents to your humidifier, you can add water-soluble scented additives.


Certain brands of vaporizers, such as Vicks, have the option of adding inhalants such as Vicks’ Soothing Vapors. However, this shouldn’t be used around children.

And the Winner Is…

Adding a bit of moisture to the air is excellent if you’re dealing with dry skin or congestion issues. Diffusers, humidifiers, and vaporizers all work effectively at adding moisture to the air. So how do you choose?

Consider what you need. Do you desire the aromatic benefits of a diffuser or the power of a humidifier?

Regardless of the device, cleaning it regularly is crucial — it should be done according to usage. However, it’s always a good idea to empty the device and wipe it off after each use.

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About the Author

Matthew Sullivan

Matthew is a freelance writer with several years of experience in DIY and HVAC. For as long as he can remember, Matthew has always found great pleasure in taking things apart and learning how to put them back together.