Reader Q&A – How Do I Clean My Essential Oil Diffuser?

How DO You Clean an Ultrasonic Diffuser?

The Question

“I need some SOLID advice on how to clean my oil diffusers!!! Help!!! I think some lower-quality oils I received as a gift have become a sticky mess. What the heck do I do now?!?!?! Thanks for your advice!

∼ Molly W.*

So you’ve gotten your diffuser home, read all the directions, used it for a while, and now it’s starting to look “gunky”. Maybe your oils don’t smell as sharp or clear as they once did, or your blends seem a little “muddled”. Frequently, this is caused by using lower-quality oils or blends containing carrier oil. But even great oils used without a carrier can cause build-up. Time for a good cleaning! But, how? And where did those directions go? Are they even in a language you can read?

The Answer(s)

Today, we’re talking about ultrasonic diffusers. These are usually the least expensive option, and are the type that require you to add water, then drop in the oils. Do not use these directions to clean other mechanical diffusers or atomizers, as you could cause them harm. But for the vast majority of oily folk, this is your basic, standard diffuser. There’s a list of various ways to diffuse oils here, with pictures.

Some ultrasonic diffusers are also wicking diffusers. They contain a wick that draws the water and oils to the top, which is where the actual diffusing happens. There are also diffusers with guidance tubes to help direct the mist. Don’t worry, I’ve used them – let’s break down each type and figure out how to clean those puppies, shall we?.

Reservoir On Bottom, No Wick, No Directional Tube

This is a “basic” diffuser. It has two pieces, a reservoir base holding the functional vibrating plate, an air intake channel, and the controls. The lid has no function except to direct the flow of mist when the diffuser is in use. Let’s clean it, then we’ll get to the specifics of the other types.


Your base contains your electrical components, the plate at the bottom which vibrates to create the mist, and an air intake. It should obviously not be submerged in water, or put in the dishwasher. Your directions, wherever they are, probably say not to touch the plate at the bottom. Also, the plate at the bottom may well be the gunkiest, nastiest part of the whole deal!

I have found that the best way to clean the base is with rubbing alcohol. Regular, straight from the bottle isopropyl alcohol. For the larger interior of the reservoir, I use a soft cloth dampened with alcohol to wipe it out. You can also choose to add about 30 ml of water and 10 ml of alcohol and run your diffuser – outside. Away from people and pets. For me, it’s simpler to wipe it out.


Yeah, that plate at the bottom is still an issue. Don’t just hit it with your “soft cloth”. With even a couple layers of material, it’s difficult to feel when you’re applying too much pressure over too large an area, and you risk breaking the plate. Grab a cotton swab, dip it in the alcohol, and gently swipe the swab over the plate. It may take a few passes, but in well under five minutes total, you should have a clean base and ultrasonic plate.

Air Intake

This is not an air pump, but just a conduit for air to enter the diffuser. It will look like a hole, tube, or wide tunnel that opens near the top of the water reservoir in most cases. This may get dusty from time to time. It is really important that you never get water in the air intake, especially while the diffuser is running. It can be fatal to the diffuser – though, like most electrical things these days, if you immediately unplug it and let it dry out, you may revive your gadget. So wipe this out with a damp cloth if it needs attention, but there aren’t likely oils in it, so a quick swipe should be fine.

The air intake is one reason you shouldn’t use soap to clean your diffuser’s reservoir. If it is not perfectly rinsed after, that soap combined with ultrasonic waves, may create bubbles for which you and your air intake are unprepared.


This part is a whole lot less fussy. Soap and water. They’re not always dishwasher safe, so if you don’t have your instructions hanging around, just wash it by hand. Regular dish soap or natural liquid soap will both work. Do rinse well, but since you can stick this under running water or dunk it in a tub of clean water, there’s no so much issue with leftover suds.

If you really don’t want to risk it, go ahead and wipe this out with alcohol, too. If yours is glass, use some white vinegar to get it shiny and bright. Just get it clean, and let it dry completely before you put the diffuser back into use. If it’s too wet, water can sometimes drip into the evil air intake when the lid is replaced.


Wicking Diffusers

These diffusers have a wick that carries water and oils up to the diffuser plate, close to or at the opening where the mist is released. They are usually shaped like a vase, pyramid, or volcano. Some diffusers intended for use in vehicles are wicking diffusers. Read the above instructions, then note the subtle changes for this style below.


Your base may or may not have electrical components. If so, wipe it out with a soft cloth and rubbing alcohol. If it’s just a reservoir, go ahead and use some soap, being sure to rinse well. Also note that if your air intake is in the base, it needs to be completely dry before your next diffuser use. You may still submerge it if you wish, just take extra time to dry carefully.


Your cover is likely where all the action happens. The ultrasonic plate sits at the top, with the wick leading up from the reservoir. Remove the wick before cleaning, and set it aside. We’ll get to it in a minute, but you do not want it saturated with alcohol. Wipe down the cover with rubbing alcohol. Be careful with the plate at the top, and swab gently with a cotton swab dipped in the alcohol.


You can kind of clean your wick by running a clean diffuser filled with distilled water through a full cycle. That should help to clear out some of the built-up oils. Most wicking diffusers ultimately require the use of different wicks for different oils, or frequent replacement of the wick itself to maintain quality diffusing. It’s one of the reasons I don’t suggest this type of diffuser. But if it’s what you have available, then these tips should help out!


Channeling Diffusers

These are only slightly different than the basic style. These diffusers are intended to be more decorative, and may look like a vase or other bit of art – at least in theory. The base still holds the water and oils, and no wick is involved. The ultrasonic plate sits at the bottom of the reservoir.

But because the shape of the lid is tall and sometimes narrow, there may be a tube or channel to help guide the mist up and out of the reservoir. Clean this tube like you’d clean the lid – soap and water. Use a bottle brush if you have one, or a washcloth wrapped around the handle of a wooden spoon. No worries about getting it completely dry, because no part of it actually interacts with the air intake. Yay! Do rinse well, as it does come into contact with the water in the reservoir in some cases.



So there you have it. Every part, except the cord, which you should go ahead and dust while you’re at it, because clean is good. Do you have a trick you prefer? Did I miss a bit that your diffuser has? I haven’t seen them all, and they all need to be cleaned! Share what you know with the Liberty Zen family!

*Nope, that’s not her real name. I’m a fan of privacy, and figure if you want to tell you family those were crappy gifted oils, that’s on you. Not going to publish it here. Yes, that means you – you can ask questions, too, and I’ll turn your name into something from a favorite book or movie unless you specify otherwise. Be grateful – there’s not a lot of privacy in the world today!

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