Vaporisers, Humidifiers, Diffusers – What’s the difference?

Vaporisers, humidifiers, diffusers…oh my!

Do you know the difference between these three?  How about the difference between warm steam and cool mist?  Many of us talk about these devices interchangeably but they are actually very different appliances with different uses.

Before you accuse me of spouting a lot of hot air, let me break down the differences, pros and cons of each and soon you’ll be an expert on vapour-emitting devices…


A diffusers’ primary use is to disperse essential oils into the air for aromatherapy.  They are often decorative and aesthetically pleasing, think something you might see Shaynna Blaze cooing over on ‘The Block’.

Importantly diffusers do not humidify the air.  They can make a room smell wonderful but they do not add essential moisture back into the room.  They are most commonly used in living rooms.

Pros: Compact.  Look attractive.  Add fragrance to room.

Cons: Do not humidify, which may limit the health benefits for colds and flu.

Cool Mist Humidifiers

These devices add moisture to the air in your home by emitting a cool mist.  They are a good choice for keeping your room at a comfortable and consistent humidity level and for alleviating symptoms associated with dry air such as dry skin, cracked lips, scratchy throat and dry eyes.

Pros:  Great in warmer months as they don’t add heat to the room.  Good option for combating allergy symptoms.

Cons:  Bacteria may grow in water because it doesn’t boil, so choose a device with good filtration to keep the air clean and free of micro-organisms, or be vigilant about cleaning.  Also, cool mist isn’t as effective for easing congestion caused by coughs and colds.

Warm Steam Vaporisers

If your child has a cough or respiratory infection and you are looking for something to help them sleep more comfortably then you are most likely looking for a vaporiser.

Vaporisers are electrical devices which boil water to produce a steady flow of warm steam to ease cold and flu symptoms.

Have you ever noticed that when you are bunged up with a cold, you feel so much better after a hot, steamy shower?  That’s because warm steam liquefies mucus secretions (yuck!) making them easier to cough up.  The steam also relaxes your throat muscles, easing the cough reflex which can keep you awake at night.

Vaporisers are commonly put in bedrooms overnight and can be used with inhalants which use essential oils such as eucalyptus, but are water soluble so they won’t damage the device’s parts.

When purchasing a vaporiser, look for one that comes with a 5 year warranty for added peace of mind.  Another thing to consider if you have a light sleeper is a model which is “quiet”, as some make a noticeable bubbling sound.

Pros:   Warm steam has major therapeutic benefits for easing coughs and congestion, and is a great natural option for helping children of all ages with colds, flu, bronchitis and croup.  Great in winter for combating dry air caused by heating systems.  Can be used with inhalants for added benefits.

Cons:  As it produces steam, take care when using around small, inquisitive children. Always use with the recommended inhalant, not pure essential oils.

So now you know that diffusers are basically for aromatherapy, cool mist humidifiers add moisture to the air and warm steam vaporisers alleviate the symptoms of cold and flu.


Always read the label and follow the directions for use.