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Aromatherapy Vaporisation

by Wendy Mackay MIAAMA

One of the most popular ways to use essential oils is by vaporisation. In other words, encouraging essential oils to evaporate into the air where they can be inhaled and the smell experienced throughout a room.

This is sometimes referred to as "burning" essential oils, and candle operated vaporisers are often referred to as "oil burners".  But the truth is that the last thing we want to do is to actually “burn” the essential oil. That would not only destroy the oil but also, as anyone who has let an "oil burner" run dry will know, gives off a terrible smell and fumes!

So how do you safely vaporise essential oil?

The most common method is a Candle Vaporiser or Oil Burner which is basically a small bowl suspended above a tea light candle. The bowl is filled with water and a few drops of essential oil added. The lit candle heats the water and causes the essential oil to evaporate.  The purpose of the water is to disperse the heat of the candle, which otherwise would be too hot for the oil and cause it to burn.
To use one of these safely, choose a vaporiser with a generously sized bowl. This will ensure that the heat of the candle is well diffused, and will mean that the bowl will not need to be topped up too often. One that is separate from the base (rather than a single unit) is easier to clean. Also ensure that the candle is not too close to the bowl as this can overheat the water. Always add water first, then the essential oil, so that the oil can float on the surface. Never leave the vaporiser unattended and keep it out of reach of children and pets. Also take care if using near any flammable substances, e.g. do not use in an office where there is paper.

Another simple way to vaporise essential oils is to use a bowl of water. Simply fill a bowl with recently boiled, hot water and float a few drops of essential oil on the surface. Do not use a plastic bowl, as some essential oils can react with plastic and damage it. Better to use a glass or glazed ceramic bowl which can stand heat. This is also a good method to use for congestion, as breathing in the aromatic steam can help to open up the airways. Do not however use this method for asthmatics as it can make the condition worse.  Again take care using this method near children and do not leave the bowl unattended.

A simple room spray can be created by mixing a few drops of essential oil in a small amount of alcohol (Vodka is ideal as it has no strong smell) in a spray bottle. Then top up with water or a hydrosol, shake well and spray. Take care spraying over varnished, polished or plastic surfaces as essential oils can sometimes damage these.

One of the easiest ways to vaporise oils is with an Electric Vaporiser or DiffuserThere are a number of types of these.

Some Electric Vaporisers use higher levels of heat and require water to be added to the bowl to disperse the heat in the same way as a Candle Oil Burner does. Others have lower, more controlled temperatures and are designed to be gentle enough to work without water. The advantage to the latter type is that they only produce enough heat to vaporise the oils, but do not get hot enough to burn. Consequently they are by far the safest of this type of vaporiser to use, especially if you have pets or children, or wish to leave the vaporiser on for long periods. For this reason they are also the preferred type for use in aged care centres, hospitals etc and are useful anywhere where a naked flame would be considered too dangerous. These Electric Vaporisers have been favourites of ours at Essence of Wellbeing for many years. There is no flame, no water to spill and the heat used is mild.  These vaporisers should still be kept out of reach of children or pets so that they do not touch the undiluted essential oil, but the risk of actually burning themselves is extremely low. Some units also have added features such as lights.

A newer style of electric vaporiser is the Ultrasonic Diffuser. This type of unit uses ultrasonic technology to deliver a cool, soothing, therapeutic mist. The combined cool mist and essential oils not only acts as a way of dispersing the essential oil particles in the air, but also acts as a humidifier and ioniser. They often have lights which can be varied in colour to suit the room. These units are very safe as they usually have an automatic cut off when the water level gets too low. They can operate for several hours at a time, depending on the unit and the level of operation selected, but do need to be topped up periodically with water and oil.

The choice of which type of Oil Burner, Vaporiser or Diffuser will depend on your own circumstances and preferences. You may want to use different methods at different times. (I have several different ones in my house and workplace!) Maybe you may want a simple waterless vaporiser that you can leave on safely overnight. Sometimes the romance of lighting a candle is more attractive.  If you are travelling, then a simple room spray may be more appropriate.

Of course, whatever type of vaporiser or oil burner you choose, they should all be cleaned regularly to remove any residue of old oil (especially when changing from using one essential oil to another) which might contaminate the new oil or affect the aroma. Regular maintenance is easy and helps to maintain the effectiveness of whatever method you choose to use.

So there you are - 5 different but effective ways to vaporise your essential oil and create a wonderful and unique atmosphere. Now all you have to do is choose your essential oils!


(This information is meant as general advice.  Please consult your health practitioner or a qualified aromatherapist for advice on your specific situation.)

Wendy Mackay is a qualified Aromatherapist and a member of the International Aromatherapy and Aromatic Medicine Association (IAAMA). Wendy along with her husband David is the Founder and Director of Essence of Wellbeing. Essence of Wellbeing is dedicated to the best in Aromatherapy and Pure Natural Skin Care and is located in Mornington on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia.

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