How to clean a diffuser – A 6-step guide to cleaning your electric essential oil diffuser

Learn how to clean a diffuser to get the best out of your electronic essential oil home fragrance device

An electronic essential oil diffuser positioned on top of hardback coffee table books
(Image credit: The White Company)

Knowing how to clean a diffuser certainly has its benefits. For one, it means that you can chop and change different scents as you go into different seasons. But, cleaning your essential oil diffuser goes well beyond mood-matching smells... It's all about maintenance too.

Keeping your diffuser clean will extend the lifetime of your electronic appliance so you can continue to create atmosphere in your home with the best home fragrances. While wax candles made with burn out, and reed diffusers rely on wooden sticks, electric diffusers can last significantly longer... If you learn how to look after them properly.

To start, you probably want to know the basics of diffuser cleaning 101. As well as a step-by-step guide to cleaning the diffuser itself, you'll need to know how often you have clean its contents, and the consequences of not cleaning it. Now we don't mean to scare you, by neglecting your scented vessel, it can become a home for germs and all sorts to harbor in. 

With that unappetizing thought in your mind, we've got some of the best in the home fragrance biz to explain all about these devices.

An electronic diffuser in neutrally-decorated bedroom on wooden bedside table by The White Company

(Image credit: The White Company)

How often should you clean a diffuser?

Whether you've just bought an essential oil diffuser for your bedroom or living space, or your aromatherapy accessory needs a good clean-up, you'll probably want to get into a good routine of decanting any dirty water / oils and replacing it regularly... but not so much that you're wasting expensive product.

'Perform these procedures every five to six uses or every two to three days as a rule.' says Mark Winstanley, chief creative officer, The White Company.

While Amber Popowicz, senior brand marketing manager at Yankee Candle says: 'Empty and clean the tank of the appliance every three days of use, and always ensuring the device is clean and dry before storing away,'

'We recommend cleaning the Ultrasonic Aroma Diffuser[available on Amazon] with clean, fresh tap water and not using any chemical products or corrosive detergents to clean the appliance. Ensuring the device is unplugged, use a damp cloth to remove any scale, deposits, or film that has formed on the inside of the tank and a cotton bud to get in any smaller areas. Don’t immerse the product in water or allow the area around the diffuser to become very wet, then dry and polish with a clean, dry cloth.'

You will need:

  • Clean and dry hands
  • A towel or something absorbent like a cloth of kitchen towel
  • A clean and dry cloth
  • A neutral cleaning detergent
  • Lukewarm water

How to:

1. Unplug the AC adapter from the electrical outlet

Be sure to unplug the AC adapter from the electrical outlet and turn off the diffuser before performing any procedures. Never plug in/unplug the AC adapter with wet hands.

2. Remove the AC adapter from the DC jack

After removing the AC adapter cord from the cable guide, remove the AC adapter plug from the DC jack.

3. Remove the outer cover of your electric diffuser

To do this, gently turn the outer cover anticlockwise (as seen from the top), and then remove the cover. When removing/replacing the outer cover, always set the diffuser on a stable horizontal surface.

Do not tilt the diffuser unit at an angle. It's normal for water droplets will adhere to the inside of the outer cover. 

Top tip: remove the cover in a location not susceptible to water damage. You may want to place a towel or something absorbent to catch water droplets. Do not allow water to enter the air outlet.

4. Dispose of water that's in the water tank

Always tilt the diffuser unit in the direction of the water draining mark as indicated to pour out water remaining in the water tank. Never tilt the diffuser toward the air outlet when pouring out water. If water enters through the air outlet, it may cause a malfunction.

5. Clean the ultrasonic diaphragm and water tank

Ultrasonic whaa? Essentially, you're cleaning the core of your electronic essential oil diffuser, where nasty stuff can build up if you're lazy or forget to clean it.

This step is a quite complex so Winstanley has broken it down for you:

  • Wipe the water tank using a clean cloth dampened in a solution of warm water and neutral detergent; wring the cloth out well before use
  • Use a cotton swab or similar to clean the ultrasonic diaphragm located at the bottom of the water tank. After cleaning the tank and ultrasonic diaphragm, fill the tank with tap water and run the diffuser on a 30-minute timer.
  • After the timer ends, pour out the water and wipe dry with a clean dry cloth.
  • Never directly touch the ultrasonic diaphragm at the bottom of the water tank with your hand.

6. Clean the inner and outer cover of your diffuser

If essential oil or fragrance oil comes into contact with the outer cover or inner cover, or the covers become dirty, wipe it off with a clean cloth that is soaked in diluted neutral detergent in lukewarm water and wipe with a dry cloth.

How to clean a diffuser without detergent

If you don't want to use washing-up liquid to clean a diffuser, cleaning with vinegar is an all-natural and affordable alternative to using liquid soap. Here, Stephanie Goldstone, home fragrance buyer, The Fragrance Shop Home shows us how:

You will need:

  • Water
  • White vinegar
  • Dry cloth
  • Cotton swabs or cotton wool

1. Fill your diffuser about halfway with water

Make sure you stop well below the max line.

2. Add up to 10 drops of pure white vinegar

This will help in removing the oils that are stuck inside the diffuser and on the glass or plastic pieces.

3.Let the diffuser run for about 3-5 minutes

This will allow the water-vinegar mixture to disperse throughout the unit and clean it.

4. Drain the diffuser completely

Slowly decant the vinegar-water mixture making sure that it does not come into contact with any of the electronic components.

5. Using a cotton swab dipped in vinegar, clean the tight spots and corners

This is to make sure that no spots are left dirty.

6. Rinse the diffuser with clean water

This will get rid of any excess vinegar inside of the diffuser and help to remove any vinegar odor. Empty again and you’re good to go. Use a dry cloth, or more cotton swabs or cotton balls to wipe the diffuser and dry it thoroughly.

Things you should never do when cleaning a diffuser

  • Never directly touch the ultrasonic diaphragm at the bottom of the water tank with your hand.
  • Never subject the ultrasonic diaphragm to strong pressure.
  • Never use strong cleaners on or inside your diffuser. Any residual chlorine-based detergent, acidic detergent, or enzyme-based detergent in the diffuser may result in toxic gases forming. For example: Do not use benzene, paint thinner, alcohol, or other chemicals to clean it. These chemicals may damage parts, wear down graduation marks, etc.
  • Never attempt to insert pins, wires, or other foreign objects into the mist diffuser outlet or seams/gaps in the product. Doing so may lead to electrical shock or injury.
  • Do not use the product if the power cord or plug AC adapter power cord or plug becomes damaged, or if the plug does not sit firmly in the electrical outlet socket. Doing so may result in electrical shock, short circuit, or fire. • Do not attempt to insert/remove the AC adaptor with wet hands. Doing so may lead to electrical shock or injury.
  • Do not submerge or pour/splash water on this product or its AC adapter.
  • Do not use or store in locations subject to high humidity such as bathrooms or green houses, etc. Doing so may result in short circuits, electrical shock, fire, or product malfunction.

How to clean diffuser spills

Let's face it... Accidents happen. So if you happen to spill the contents of your diffuser on the floor – don't panic. However, if you live with children or pets, it's essential to act immediately. Especially if you're thinking to yourself: 'are essential oils safe?

Thankfully, you shouldn't have to buy a new diffuser if you've had a spillage, though you'll probably want to know the best way to go about cleaning a carpet if oily residue has seeped into fibers or how to clean laminate properly if you don't want to turn your floor into an indoor slip and slide (read: safety hazard).

'If a spill happens due to tipping over or tilting the diffuser unit while there is water in the water tank, water may enter the internal components of the diffuser, resulting in a malfunction.' says Winstanley.

You will need:

  • Clean, dry hands
  • A clean cloth
  • A neutral cleaning detergent
  • Cotton buds

How to:

You'll just need to follow steps one to four above and then follow Winstanley's final instruction.

He says: 'Lightly shake the diffuser unit to allow water to pour out of the bottom water outlet. Allow the diffuser to dry thoroughly. Allow 24 hours for the diffuser to dry. Never use a hair dryer or similar to attempt to dry the diffuser. Allow the diffuser to air dry.'

Aroma oil diffuser on chair against in the bedroom

(Image credit: Anastasiia Stiahailo / Getty)

How to clean a diffuser with vinegar

Some electronic diffusers aren't strictly powered with essential oils and instead use synthetic fragrances that are dispersed around the room. These scents are often cheaper to produce, and in some cases better for those who have allergies or nasal sensitivities.

Diffusers that use man-made perfumed solutions need to be treated slightly differently to ensure that you can get rid of one scent before introducing another so we spoke to Perry Simmons, director, Stone Glow Candles who explained how to go about cleaning a perfume mist diffuser.

  1. Always turn on and unplug the perfume mist diffuser prior to cleaning.
  2. After each use, give your Perfume Mist Diffuser a thorough clean.
  3. Unplug the unit and remove the plastic cap and ceramic cover.
  4. Pour out remaining water from the ‘DRAIN SIDE’ of the water tank. NB: When emptying water from the tank, pour water from the opposite side of the air inlet to avoid spilling on the operating buttons or getting water in the internal air inlet.
  5. Use about 2 tablespoons of clear distilled vinegar with a half-tank of water and let it run for 15 minutes.
  6. Pour this out and add plain water to the MAX line to rinse, letting it run for another 15 minutes. Use cotton swabs to clean and let it air dry.
  7. Only use natural cleaners without any chemical additives. Never use other acids, enzymes or detergents, as harsh chemicals may damage the perfume mist diffuser.
  8. If you find any dirt in the air outlet, remove the cover and clean it.

What will happen if I don't clean my diffuser?

'Using the diffuser without regular cleaning may result in water stains or mineral build-up, resulting in degraded performance.' says Winstanley.

'Failure to clean your diffuser may also result in the growth of bacteria or mold, or may result in bad odors or other conditions that may be harmful to your health. In rare cases, mold or bacteria could lead to hypersensitive reactions.'

Alternatively, if an electrical oil diffuser isn't for you, you can either buy one of the best reed diffusers or learn how to make a reed diffuser from scratch.

Christina Chrysostomou
Former acting head ecommerce editor

Hi, I'm the former acting head ecommerce editor at Real Homes. Prior to working for the Future plc family, I've worked on a number of consumer events including the Ideal Home Show, Grand Designs Live, and Good Homes Magazine. With a first class degree from Keele University, and a plethora of experience in digital marketing, editorial, and social media, I have an eye for what should be in your shopping basket and have gone through the internal customer advisor accreditation process.