Creative Ways to Diffuse Essential Oils (When You Don't Have a Diffuser)

Recently, it was requested that I answer a question on Quora.com regarding methods of diffusing essential oils if you lacked a diffuser. I was happy to share my methods of easy diffusion! Read on to see what tips I gave.

"There are several easy ways to diffuse essential oils even if you don’t have a fancy diffuser with which to do it. For one thing, all essential oils are volatile, meaning that they will evaporate and diffuse into the air naturally on their own. Diffusers simply facilitate this process and make it occur a little faster. Let’s set out some important info about the volatility of essential oils before we go into methods of diffusion, as that will help you determine which method of diffusion will work best for the oil you wish to use.

There are three levels of evaporation or “notes” that are used in aromatherapy. Top notes, middle notes, and base notes. (The notes can overlap somewhat, depending on the chemical makeup of an individual oil; so you can have, for instance a middle-base note oil.) Top notes are the most volatile and, therefore, evaporate the most quickly. Examples of such oils include tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia), blue gum eucalyptus oil (Eucalyptus globulus), peppermint oil (Mentha piperita), and lemon oil (Citrus limon). As you may have noticed when using any of these oils, they are very noticeable even when you first take the caps off the bottles. It does not take much effort to detect their scent because the molecules evaporate so quickly and almost immediately are wafted into the air supply. In small amounts and depending on the oil being used, a top note oil might evaporate in as little as a few hours.

Oils that fall within the second level of volatility are known as middle notes. As the name might suggest, these have a moderate levels of evaporation. Such oils include Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis/Chamaemelum nobilis), neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), and juniper (Juniperus communis). These oils are still fairly easy to detect when you take the cap off of the bottle, but it may take a little more wafting about before you notice a significant scent, contrary to the top note oils. Middle note oils will usually take a day or two to fully evaporate, again depending upon the oil and its chemical makeup.

Base note oils are the least volatile of the three. These oils can be the hardest to detect at first, since they do not readily evaporate as soon as they are exposed to open air. However, they usually give an excellent level of diffusion that is almost below detection. Base note oils almost always include the resins, such as sandalwood (Santalum album), frankincense (Boswellia carterii and other species), and myrrh (Commiphora myrrh), as well as two of the most relaxing root oils, vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides) and valerian (Valeriana officinalis). Base note oils, especially the resins, can take several days and even as much as a week to fully evaporate.

With this knowledge in hand, then, you can use one of several ways to diffuse your essential oils without an electronic diffuser. For the top notes, one of the easiest things to do is simply to take the lid off the bottle (or drop a small amount out into a shallow dish, if you prefer to not leave your bottles uncapped for long periods of time) and place it in front of a small fan or similar source of moving air. The volatile top note will readily evaporate and spread with the moving air throughout the room. If you are in a car, dropping several drops on a cotton pad and then carefully sticking it in one of the car vents will produce much the same effect.

For middle note oils, a similar technique can be used, but it is easier to dispense some of the oil into a shallow dish or onto a cloth or cotton pad of some sort, since they will not evaporate as readily just from the open bottle top. You can also use strips of cloth or ribbon hung in front of a fan or open window to accomplish the same effect.

Base note oils you will almost always want to dispense from the bottle first before diffusing, but they are also the most flexible in terms of ways in which they can be diffused because they last much longer than the top notes and many of the middle notes. You can use any of the above methods, as well as dropping them into steaming hot water, putting some on a cloth that you carry about with you throughout the day, or putting some in a dish above a tealight candle holder, such as this one. You can even use the tealight method for the top and middle note oils, but you must be aware that the heat will make them evaporate even faster than usual.

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An important thing to note (no pun intended) is that any of the methods listed above can be used for any of the oil notes. Some methods will simply cause the top and middle notes to evaporate more quickly, meaning that you will have to keep adding drops to your chosen method of diffusion, or will not allow the base notes adequate evaporation, meaning that you will have a more difficult time detecting them in the air.

Another great way to carry an essential oil with you throughout the day is a personal diffuser that you can wear, such as these necklaces or bracelets. (The second bracelet shown is constructed mostly of very porous volcanic stone beads, which hold the oils deposited on them.)

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Bracelet diffuser with pads.jpg
Bracelet diffuser lava beads.jpg

Now that you know a bit about the volatility of various essential oils, get creative! If you want to diffuse a certain oil, find out which note it is and then discover your own unique way to diffuse it effectively. It’s great fun and helps you learn more about the oils you use."