Can You Use a Diffuser without Essential Oil? Facts You Should Know

The most frustrating thing about essential oils is that they are not cheap, and you might not have them handy all the time. Such situations leave you struggling to find other approved recipes, blends, and substitutes you can use in your essential oil diffuser. If that is not enough, you also have to learn how to use them appropriately. 

It is possible to use a diffuser without essential oil. You can use substitutes such as water, which will just act as a humidifier. Alternatively, you can use lemon juice, herbs, and spices. But essential oil diffusers can only work best with essential oils.

We have provided a list of potential substitutes for essential oils. So, you don’t have to worry even if your last drop of essential oil is gone. But before the replacements, let’s look at how an essential oil diffuser works by understanding the diffusion process.

Can You Use a Diffuser without Essential Oil

How Essential Oil Diffusers Work

There are many essential oil diffusers in the market, and most of them work similarly. Understanding how these diffusers work is equally vital to infer if it is possible to use an essential oil diffuser minus an essential oil. This section will focus on how the different types of diffusers work – the diffusion process. 

Ultrasonic Diffusers

These diffusers use water vapor to carry the essential oil into the air. Water is converted to water vapor using the ultrasonic vibrations. These vibrations are produced by a vibrating disc that is responsible for waves that bubble the water. Waves allow water particles to mix with the essential oil bubbles and trap them inside water vapor, and then it is released into the atmosphere.

A good example of this is the Pure Daily Care Ultrasonic Diffuser.

Read more about Best Ultrasonic Diffusers.

Nebulizing Diffuser

These diffusers work similarly to ultrasonic diffusers. The only difference is – they do not require water. Instead, they use Bernoulli”s Principle, a theory used in physics for fluid dynamics. 

Air is shot at a high velocity through a tiny tube to produce a difference in pressure. The difference in air pressure causes a suction effect; this makes the essential oil sucked upwards through the tube. It is then released to the atmosphere. 

Read our full review on Best Nebulizer Diffusers.

Evaporative Diffusers

As the name suggests, such diffusers use the evaporation process. Evaporative diffusers can have two classes, namely passive and active evaporation.

Passive Evaporation

Like a wick on a lantern, such diffusers use a porous reed to facilitate the capillary action. It occurs when the essential oil moves up the wick from the diffuser to the top and then evaporates from the reeds’ tip. 

Active Evaporation

These diffusers are also called evaporation fan diffusers. They have a small fan that blows a pad soaked in essential oil. The air blown provides the required energy needed to evaporate the oil molecules. 

This process is somehow similar to an ultrasonic diffuser; instead of using water, you should replace the pad regularly. You can only use essential oils for nebulizing diffusers, but you cannot get much out of it. 

Arguably, this is the most straightforward diffuser setup, but not as prevalent as nebulizing diffusers or ultrasonic diffusers.  

Heat Diffusers

These diffusers work similarly to evaporative diffusers since their diffusion action requires evaporation. In this case, there is no fan but a source of heat, such as a candle. Heat diffusers are more effective because the heat speeds up the process. The only downside is that they do not have many features that are present in an electric diffuser.

Why Do You Need Essential Oils?

Now that you understand how different diffusers work, is it possible to use them without essential oils? Yes, it is possible, but not for all of them. Nebulizing diffusers can only operate on essential oils. Nevertheless, your ultrasonic diffuser is capable of running on other alternative substitutes. Other potent substitutes include lemon juice, herbs and spices, and water. 

It goes without saying that if you have a diffuser, you should budget for essential oil. When using essential oil diffuser, use essential oils. Their design can only allow them to operate on essential oil fully. Other substitutes cannot be as effective as the essential oil; therefore, you will not enjoy the benefits of your diffuser. 

If you are working with a very tight budget or just running out of your favorite fragrance, you can go for the substitutes. You are only allowed to do this for a short while as you try to sort out your financial situation.

Factors Considered When Choosing a Substitute for an Essential Oil

Learning how to choose the perfect substitute for an essential oil recipe based on therapeutic reasons or aroma blends is a work of art. This article will help you consider three factors. These factors will be dependent on what motivates you at that time. 

  1. Scent

For fragrance, you can simply do a note switch. For example, replacing a floral with a floral or replacing lavender with jasmine. If it is a middle note, just substitute it with the same. Trust me when I say this is not some perfect science because blends tend to have three or more oils. But most of the time, you will end up getting it right.

  1. Action

To help you understand action as a factor, let’s have an example. Imagine you have caught some cold. Eucalyptus oil is the best oil to use at that time, what if you don’t have it at hand? What alternatives can you use? There are other oils with similar properties; all you have to know is which essential oil can substitute. 

  1. Safety

When using essential oil substitutes, it is possible to slip and make a mistake. Stop focusing on finding the oil that does the best job without checking the safety precautions. Both safety and role go hand in hand. 

Do Diffusers Add Humidity?

Diffusers are extremely popular, especially because there are so many designs, shapes, and even colors now available. But if you’ve ever wondered if diffusers add humidity or moisture to the air, the answer might surprise you. Diffusers do add moisture and humidity to the air, but the truth is that very small amounts are added. In fact, many people consider the amount of humidity that diffusers add to the air to be insignificant.

The thing is, diffusers are made for one main purpose: to put essential oils into the air so that the room smells better. Since making the room smell better is its main purpose, the manufacturers of these items usually don’t concentrate on anything else. In fact, a tiny bit of moisture is put into the air only because it takes that factor for the diffuser to work properly.

You might be thinking, but what about diffusers with other features; for example, diffusers that act as a night light or have different colored lights on them? In reality, diffusers can have a lot of different unique features added to them, but that doesn’t mean that’s what their main feature is going to be. Diffusers are made to make the air smell better, which is why the other features are considered secondary.

Substitute Substances That You Can Use With Your Diffuser

If you do not have any essential oils left in the house, you can use other alternatives that play a similar role to a specific essential oil. It is an action-driven measure that keeps you using your diffuser even if you are out of all your essential oils.


If you would like that room saturated with humid air, use that diffuser. Apart from using a diffuser to bring that fragrance to your home, you can also use it as a humidifier. Simply pour water into the diffuser and turn it on. It will add some water to the air making it moist. 

Note that this is an excellent option for those who own ultrasonic diffusers, but you can as well use a humidifier instead. 

Lemon Juice

If you love citrus scents, but you do not have a citrus essential oil, use that lemon juice you have in your refrigerator. Let it warm up to room temperature, then pour it into the diffuser. If it is highly concentrated, dilute it with some water. The scent produced will not be as good as that of a citrus essential oil, but it will be helpful. 

Herbs and Spices

You can choose any spice or herb and mix it with some water. Pour the mixture into the diffuser and use it in the place of essential oil. You can also combine any of the herbs and spices as you wish. 

The following is a list of common herbs and spices you can use in aromatherapy.

  • Garlic
  • Black paper
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • Ginseng
  • Rosemary
  • Spearmint
  • Cardamom
  • Cloves

Usage and Storage of Essential Oils

Proper storage of essential oil is equally important. Not having an essential oil should not be a reason to deter you from incorporating that diffuser to your workspace or home. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer on usage and storage.

If you still want to enjoy that spa feeling for longer, stop using it on a 24-7 blast. Too much of something can also be dangerous to your health and well being, mostly if you use essential oil that contains powerful agents.

In case of any health concerns, seek advice from your physician about the best substitutes for essential oils you can use. 

Lastly, you should store the essential oils, herbs and spices, perfume, and the diffuser itself in a cool and dry place. Ensure that they are out of reach, especially for infants and children. As we stated earlier in this article, safety is paramount when handling a diffuser. 

The Bottom Line

Finding the best substitute is subjective to each individual. You can play around with the different blends to develop new recipes that you can use as a substitute for essential oil.

With the solutions listed above, you can easily find alternatives that you can use with your diffuser. Even though there are possible recipes, blends, and substitutes you can use in your essential oil diffuser, it is better to use essential oils. It is because essential oils will to not only lift your mood but also freshen the air.

Grace Young

I love candles! I have personally tried over 100 brands of candles. The total burn time of these candles is over 5000 hours. I also talk about essential oil diffusers and reed diffusers. Essential oil diffusers and diffusers are also an important part of the scent in my home.

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