Diffuser vs candle — which is best and why?

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A split image on a pink cloud background showing three diffusers and essential oils on one side and a white candle on the other side.
(Image credit: Amazon / Oliver Bonas / Future / Beth Mahoeny)

Strap in, besties — let's talk home fragrance! As someone who is a bit of a scent obsessive, I really do know my stuff. But, that said, I also struggle to choose between candles and diffusers. Because, let's be honest, both options are pretty great.

Where to even begin about my favorite candles? I love the versatility they offer. They come in so many incredible shapes, sizes, and styles — not to mention, a hell of a lot of scents. There's no arguing with how a bougie candle can elevate your space, is there? For me, my top pick is my Aromaworks citrus candle from Amazon — it's like summer in a jar!

I'm also totally obsessed with diffusers too. I have both reed diffusers and essential oil diffusers dotted around my home. The former being great for continual scent (think a more natural air freshener) and the latter ideal for a strong burst of scent. I often throw mine on just before guests pop over for a great first impression.

Both candles and diffusers offer some really scent-sational (see what I did there) qualities, but out of the two which is best? 

What’s the difference between a diffuser and a candle? 

Obvi, we all know what a candle is — aka a little pot of wax with a cotton or wooden wick running through the center — and how it works. But, what about a diffuser? What are they and how do they work?

The first thing to know is that there are two types of diffusers — reed diffusers and essential oil diffusers, with both working differently. 

Reed diffusers, like this NEOM one from Amazon that I have at home, tend to feature a vessel that’s filled with fragrance oil (a combination of essential oil and a carrier solution) and has natural rattan reed sticks inserted into the liquid so that they can absorb the oil, allowing the scent to diffuse into the air. 

Whereas, essential oil diffusers, are usually battery-powered, rechargeable or plug into a power outlet and use a stream of heat to disperse essential oils into the air. Usually, they have a tank for water, where you can also add a few drops of your chosen essential oil, and when turned on, they turn the water (and oil) into steam, allowing it to diffuse around the room as it pumps from an opening at the top of the tank. 

What are the pros and cons of candles?

Pros

  • Available in a wide range of colors, styles, and designs 
  • Plenty of price points to choose from 
  • Strong burst of scent that usually lasts until the candle burns out 
  • Big decorative impact 

Cons

  • Require a naked flame
  • Single-use — once it’s burnt, it’s burnt

What are the pros and cons of diffusers

Pros

  • Low maintenance and easy to set up 
  • More easily customizable 
  • Safe to use (as no need for a naked flame) 
  • Tend to last for an extended period of time 

Cons

  • More mild scent 
  • Scent takes longer to diffuse 

Diffuser vs candle — which is best for what?

The great debate — candle or diffuser, which is best? The reality is that both candles and diffusers have their own pros and cons, so knowing which is best to add to your apartment can be a little tricky. 

Personally, I like to switch between both, dotting candles and diffusers (both reed diffusers and ultrasonic diffusers) throughout my home. Using them interchangeably, depending on the level of scent I'm hoping to achieve. 

While candles are great for offering a quick burst of scent that's strong and diffuses quickly, reed diffusers are better used in the place of air fresheners as they disperse scent in a similar way. Whereas, electronic (or battery-powered) diffusers also work well to quickly disperse the scent throughout your home, using steam.

One added bonus of these diffusers is the fact that you can customize the level of scent (determined by the amount of essential oil added to the water) and the actual scent itself (by mixing different oils to achieve your desired fragrance). 

If you're a pet parent like I am, you may worry about the safety of having a naked flame around your pets, which can make candles a less convenient option. However, instead of lighting your candles, you could opt to use a candle warmer to melt the wax and disperse the scent in a safer, flame-free way. 

Beth Mahoney
Freelance journalist

Hi! I’m Beth Mahoney and I’m a former staff writer at Real Homes. I’ve been a journalist for the national press for the past six years, specializing in commerce and trends-related lifestyle articles, from product reviews and listicles to guides and features. With an eye for pretty things (think: quirky wall prints, scalloped edge furniture, and decadent-looking tableware) but a limited budget, I love nothing more than a bargain buy.

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