Besides being uncomfortable to breathe in, dry indoor air can also cause a host of health problems. That’s why you need a humidifier to make the indoors livable and healthy. But you may be wondering if you can save a few dollars by using a diffuser as a humidifier.
You cannot use a diffuser as a humidifier if you want to increase ambient humidity levels. Diffusers are built to disperse fine mists of essential oils mixed with water into the air. These devices cannot noticeably increase humidity levels.
In this article, I will explain how diffusers and humidifiers work differently and serve different functions. I will also discuss why you should never use most humidifiers to disperse essential oils. I will list and explain the benefits of using a humidifier, and lastly, I have some tips for you on how to buy a humidifier.
Do Diffusers Work as Humidifiers?
To figure out if you can use a diffuser in place of a humidifier, you need to understand their similarities and differences. Read on to find out more about these two types of devices.
Are Diffusers and Humidifiers Similar?
The only similarity between diffusers and humidifiers is that both devices can increase ambient humidity levels. But the increase in humidity produced by a diffuser is hardly noticeable. Only the ultrasonic aroma humidifier lets you humidify a room while releasing essential oils into the air.
Small humidifiers sometimes resemble diffusers. Both devices often generate a stream of mist, which may convince some people that they perform identical functions and can be used interchangeably. But they are more different than similar.
What Are the Differences Between Diffusers and Humidifiers?
The primary function of a diffuser is to release essential oils into the surrounding air, while a humidifier increases the humidity levels in a room. A diffuser cannot increase ambient humidity levels noticeably. Most humidifiers are not built to let you use essential oils.
While a diffuser and a humidifier can perform a few similar functions, each is most efficient at only a single task. That’s how the devices have been built.
You should not use a diffuser if you want to increase the humidity in a room. On the other hand, you should not pour essential oils into the water tank of a humidifier unless you know for sure that the device is built for it.
When Should You Use a Diffuser?
It is best to use a diffuser when your only aim is to release the aromas of essential oil into your surroundings.
There are humidifiers with built-in aromatherapy chambers that can hold essential oils. However, using a humidifier for aromatherapy is overkill.
Why Should You Never Use a Humidifier in Place of a Diffuser?
Because diffusers and humidifiers serve different functions, one cannot be the perfect substitute for the other. In particular, using a humidifier in place of a diffuser can cause a few problems:
Reduces The Efficacy of Essential Oils
Humidifiers take in the excess heat from the surroundings and release it back into the air as vapor. However, essential oils become diluted when they are dispersed using heat. They can lose their potency and will not deliver the health benefits that you expect.
And essential oils are expensive! Still, they are a better alternative to medication.
For instance, if using lavender essential oil does not calm you or help you fall asleep quickly, you may have to take an anti-anxiety medicine or a sleeping pill. These medications are habit-forming and not as safe as essential oils.
Wastes Essential Oils
Unlike diffusers, humidifiers cannot convert essential oils into a fine mist of spray. So, the oil is not distributed efficiently throughout the room, and you will not benefit much from it. This is essentially a waste of expensive essential oils.
Damages Humidifier Components
Most humidifier components are made of porous, lightweight plastic. Essential oils are highly reduced, and in their raw form, can erode plastic. It can disintegrate quickly if it soaks up essential oils.
Moreover, essential oils tend to form thin films of deposits. Over time, the deposits will clog up various components of the humidifier, and the unit will not function as efficiently as before. If there is extensive damage and the water tank starts to leak, you might even have to replace the humidifier.
Using Humidifiers With Oils Causes Plastic Pollution
Plastic can break down into microscopic particles less than 5 mm in size, thereby contaminating food substances and water sources (source). When plastic disintegrates, it also releases unhealthy chemicals into the air. People who inhale this air risk lung damage. Additionally, being in contact with plastic for long periods degrades the quality of essential oils.
Creates a Mess
As mentioned, humidifiers are not efficient at dispersing essential oils. The essential oil turns into a sticky and heavy substance inside the humidifier. When this substance is dispersed into the air, it does not float as a fine mist would. Instead, it lands on and sticks to the furniture as well as your clothes and skin. This film of oil is cumbersome to remove from clothes and furniture.
What Are the Health Benefits of Using a Humidifier?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that the humidity level in your home or office should be between 30 and 50 percent. Prolonged exposure to dry air increases the risks of developing multiple health conditions.
During the bone-dry days of winter or in dry climates, using a humidifier can have the following health benefits:
- Improves lung congestion. Breathing in moist air can loosen the mucus and make it easy for you to cough it up. Moist air also keeps the airways lubricated and aids in breathing (source).
- Alleviates sore throat. Cold, dry air can cause pain and inflammation in the throat. A parched throat can lead to nagging coughs and pain.
- Reduces the chances of developing infections. Many viruses, such as influenza, thrive in dry and low-humidity environments. Keeping indoor air moist ensures that viruses won’t survive and spread from person to person.
- Reduces the severity of asthma attacks. When humidity levels are very low, the fluid that keeps the bronchial tubes hydrated dries out. Dryness irritates the airways and worsens asthma symptoms if you’re already at risk. It also brings on or intensifies respiratory conditions like bronchitis and sinusitis.
- Improves allergy symptoms. Dry air damages the skin’s protective barrier. As a result, when you come into contact with environmental pollutants or allergens, your skin is damaged easily.
- Soothes dry eyes. Most of us are familiar with dry eyes since we have to stare at a computer screen all day. Low humidity levels can also cause the eyes to dry out. Prolonged exposure to dry air can damage the tear film that protects the cornea from environmental pollutants.
- Reverses Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL). TEWL refers to the loss of water through the skin via evaporation. This is common in low-humidity environments and can lead to severe dehydration.
- Delays aging. When your body loses water in a dry environment, your skin could age and lose its elasticity more quickly. Signs of aging can appear as fine lines, premature wrinkles, and dull, sagging skin.
- Improves dermatitis and eczema. Dry indoor air dries out the skin and makes it rough. If you already have eczema or atopic dermatitis, dry skin can worsen your symptoms. You can experience flaky skin, itchiness, pain, and discomfort.
When Do You Need a Humidifier?
A humidifier is essential if low humidity levels are causing persistent health problems or have led to structural issues developing in the house. You need to buy a humidifier ASAP if one or more of the following issues have cropped up:
- Respiratory illness.
- Persistent eye irritation.
- Dry, itchy skin.
- Frequent infections.
- Disease symptoms have worsened despite medication.
- The house feels creaky.
- Cracks have developed on plastered surfaces and drywalls.
- The house feels uncomfortable to live in.
How To Buy a Humidifier
The market is full of humidifiers from many brands and with different specifications. The best choice depends on your room size, budget, and whether you want a multi-functional device that will also work as an essential oil diffuser.
Here are a few tips on how to buy a humidifier:
- Buy a cool-mist humidifier if you have pets or kids. Cool-mist humidifiers are pricier than their warmer counterparts but are safer in homes with pets and kids. Boiling water or steam from a warm-mist humidifier can burn or scald a pet or a child if they go too close to the unit. In case of a spill, hot water can cause burns. Besides, according to Mayo Clinic, warm-mist humidifiers do not improve cold symptoms.
Source: Mayo Clinic
- Consider buying a humidifier with a large water tank. If you live in a dry climate or during freezing winters, you will want to run the humidifier for extended periods. Buying a humidifier with a large water storage tank ensures you don’t have to refill it often.
- Look for a humidifier with an adjustable intensity dial. You want to buy an energy-efficient humidifier. Therefore, it is better to buy a humidifier with an adjustable intensity dial. This feature lets you dial up the unit if the humidity levels are extremely low or dial down if you want a slight increase in the moisture level.
- Don’t go for humidifiers with filters. A filterless humidifier can be more expensive, but in the long run, you will end up spending more money buying and replacing the filter every two or three months. The Everlasting Comfort Cool Mist Humidifier (link to Amazon) is a filter-less device with a large water storage tank and an essential oil tray.
- Buy an ultrasonic humidifier to get aromatherapy benefits. Consider buying an ultrasonic aroma humidifier if you want the same device to diffuse essential oils into the air. The ultrasonic mechanism produces vibrations that mix and vaporize the essential oil and water. I recommend the KPMARE Ultrasonic Humidifier (link to Amazon). This device has a large water storage tank and lets you adjust the mist output.
How to Clean a Humidifier
Running a dirty humidifier damages your lungs and releases potentially toxic fumes. A dirty humidifier can breed bacteria and mold that get dispersed in the air when you run the unit. You will also have lower efficiency and waste energy. Dirt also damages the components of the machine and can cause it to break down.
Read on to find out how you can keep your humidifier clean and working the way it should.
Wash and Dry The Unit After Every Use
Unplug the humidifier before you begin cleaning. Make sure that you read the manufacturer’s guidelines on how to dismantle and reassemble the various parts of the machine.
Empty out the humidifier’s water tray after every use. Clean the tray with soap and water and dry it thoroughly before you add water.
If you have to store the humidifier for an extended period, make sure that you clean the whole unit thoroughly and dry it.
Remove the filter and store the machine in a dry area. Remember that you will have to clean and dry the unit again before you use it.
Use The Right Cleaners and Tools
The manufacturer’s guidelines will specify the products you can use to clean the humidifier. According to the EPA, a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution is an effective and safe cleaning agent for domestic electric appliances. You can also use a mixture of water and vinegar.
Use a scrubbing brush to clean hard-to-reach nooks and crevices. Look closely for build-ups and ensure that you scrub over these vigorously. Scales and build-up can clog the components and cause friction when the unit runs. A dirty humidifier has to work harder to perform efficiently.
Replace The Filter Periodically
If your humidifier has a filter, you will have to replace it at regular intervals. The manufacturer’s instruction manual will specify how often you will have to replace. It is a good idea to buy a few additional filters and have them on hand. Ensure that you buy filters that are compatible with your machine.
Final Thoughts: Buy a Humidifier To Serve Your Primary Need
You cannot use a diffuser as a humidifier. Nor can all humidifiers do double duty as essential oil diffusers. Sometimes, it is more convenient and budget-friendly to buy a separate diffuser and humidifier to increase indoor humidity levels.
Consider your primary needs before choosing what kind of device you want to buy. You will save money and the hassles of repair. Plus, you will benefit the environment by limiting waste and conserving energy.