With a fine, fragrant mist, a diffuser is arguably the simplest way to spread the aroma of essential oils throughout a home. But what if you want the therapeutic benefits and refreshing fragrance of essential oils without turning on a diffuser? Is it even possible?

Here’s the TL;DR:

To use essential oils without a diffuser, add a few drops each to cotton balls, old potpourri, pine cones, untreated wood blocks, or a cool light bulb. Other home fragrance methods include simmering a pot on the stove, creating a homemade reed diffuser set, and adding them to a warm bath.

Keep reading to discover how to use essential oils without a diffuser. I’ll share 11 proven methods for making a home smell inviting with your favorite essential oils!

Disclaimers: Always test essential oils on small, inconspicuous areas first to ensure they don’t stain or discolor surfaces or fabrics. Provide a barrier between the oil and any household surfaces to prevent damage. Do not use essential oils if you or somebody in your home is sensitive to them (respiratory or skin contact). Keep essential oils away from kids and pets.

1. Cotton Ball Method

large pile of cotton balls
A large pile of cotton balls

The simplest solution on this list, the cotton ball method, requires just two things — cotton balls and essential oils. 

Just put a few drops of oil onto the cotton balls and place them in spaces desperate for a fragrance refresh. Keep it discreet by placing the balls in areas with stale air or foul odors, such as closets, drawers, storage boxes, or garbage cans.

Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts with potent fragrances. When you put them on a cotton ball, the oil slowly evaporates and — while doing so — disperses its fragrance. It’s a simplistic, passive diffusing method that doesn’t require heat or electricity.

How To Do It

Materials Needed: Cotton balls, essential oils, a small dish (optional)

  1. Choose an essential oil that fits the mood or aroma you’re looking for.
  2. Add 2–3 drops of essential oil directly to each cotton ball. Do not oversaturate them; the oils can stain or strip some household surfaces.
  3. Place the oiled balls around your home — like inside a trash bin or a small bowl on a closet shelf. 
  4. When the scent fades in a few days, add a few more drops of oil to the cotton balls.
  5. Discard the cotton balls when you no longer need them. 

2. Homemade Room Spray

spraying room spray into air
Person spritzing room spray into the air

Save money on pricey room sprays by mixing your own, using water, a dispersing agent, and essential oils. All it takes is a light spritz before guests arrive, after cleaning, or after cooking for an instant air refresh.

Essential oils are naturally fragrant and can mask — or even neutralize — bad odors. When the oils are suspended in water as a fine mist, their scent can evenly travel throughout a space.

How To Do It

Materials Needed: A small glass spray bottle, distilled water, essential oils, witch hazel (optional)

  1. Pick one or more oils to make your spray, such as lavender, lemon, eucalyptus, or peppermint.
  2. Fill the glass spray bottle with 4–8 ounces of distilled water.
  3. Add 10–20 drops of essential oils (total). The more oil you add, the stronger the scent will be.
  4. (Optional) Add 1–2 tablespoons of witch hazel. Though optional, adding witch hazel can help blend the oil and water for a more consistent fragrance.
  5. Gently swirl the bottle to blend the mixture.
  6. Spray the mixture into the air to refresh its scent. Do not spray it directly onto furniture or fabrics; some are sensitive to oil or moisture. 
  7. Store the bottle in a cool, dry, dark place when you’re not using it.

3. Potpourri Refresh

bowl of dried potpourri
A bowl of dried potpourri with various ingredients

If your dried potpourri no longer packs a punch, revitalize its fragrance with a few drops of essential oils! The options are limitless — revive the lost scent with similar-scented oils or update the scent entirely to match the season.

The natural aromas of potpourri will fade over several months. But because its dried botanicals are absorbent, they can hold onto and gradually release the fragrance of essential oils.

How To Do It

Materials Needed: Dried potpourri (either store-bought or homemade), essential oils, a pipette (optional)

  1. Select oils that complement the existing potpourri scent.
  2. Make sure that your potpourri is in a ceramic or glass container to avoid having the smell of the oils soaking into the bowl. 
  3. Add a few drops of essential oil directly to the potpourri from the bottle or with a pipette. Start with about 5–8 drops. Remember that the more you add, the more fragrant it’ll become. 
  4. Gently toss the potpourri in the bowl to mix up the fragrance.
  5. Reapply oils when the aroma begins to fade. 

4. Simmering Pot

water simmering on stove
Plain water simmering in a pot on the stove

Also known as “stovetop potpourri,” this method heats water with scented ingredients — like herbs and essential oils. This is a great way to cleanse the air after cooking or fill the house with a seasonal fragrance.

As the water heats, it vaporizes these ingredients. The scent will escape the kitchen and travel through the house for a whole-home fragrance boost.

How To Do It

Materials Needed: A small pot or saucepan, water, essential oils, natural ingredients (i.e., citrus peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves, rosemary)

  1. Fill the pot about halfway with water.
  2. Add the natural ingredients you’ve chosen to the pot.
  3. Add several drops of your preferred essential oil to the water. Again, the more you add, the more scent you should expect. 
  4. Place the pot on the stove and set the heat to low. You want the water to begin simmering, not boiling. 
  5. Monitor the water level, and carefully add more water as it becomes low. Do not leave the pot unattended.
  6. Let it sit for a few hours to maximize the house-wide fragrance benefits.
  7. Turn the stove off when you’re done, and let the mixture cool. If it still has a noticeable fragrance, store it in the refrigerator in a covered container for future simmers.

5. Scented Pine Cones

frosted pine cone home decor
Frosted pine cones used as home decor

Pine cones already have a distinct, rustic scent. But you can further customize this aroma — and jazz up your home’s fragrance — by adding essential oils. Just dry ‘em, add oil, and use it as a decorative winter centerpiece!

Naturally porous and fibrous, pine cones are effective at absorbing and retaining scents. When you apply essential oils, they hold onto them and gradually release their fragrance over time. The aroma is even more powerful at room temperature or near heat sources.

How To Do It

Materials Needed: Dry pine cones, essential oils, a sealable plastic bag, aluminum foil, a cookie sheet

  1. Collect pine cones. 
  2. If bugs, dirt, or sap are on the pine cones, rinse them in the sink with plain water. Otherwise, proceed to the next step. 
  3. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, and set the oven to 200 °F (93 °C).
  4. Place the pine cones on the sheet and bake for an hour.
  5. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and allow the cones to cool for a few hours.
  6. Choose an essential oil to complement the natural winter smell. Cinnamon, clove, pine, cedarwood, and sandalwood are great options.
  7. Put the pine cones in the resealable bag and add 10 drops of essential oil(s). 
  8. Seal the bag.
  9. Gently shake the bag to distribute the oil to each cone.
  10. Let them sit in the bag for at least a few days or a week.
  11. Arrange the pine cones in bowls or baskets, create centerpieces, or turn them into ornaments. No matter where you put them, ensure there’s something like aluminum foil between them and the home surface, as oils can stain. 
  12. Repeat steps 6–11 when the fragrance fades. 

6. DIY Reed Diffuser

reed diffuser on a stack of books
A DIY reed diffuser sitting on a stack of books

Though most diffusers require heat or electricity, reed diffusers are the exception. They include three main components — a small-mouthed vessel, an oil blend, and rattan reeds. You can buy a premade reed diffuser step or DIY it.

Reed diffusers work through a process known as capillary action. The reeds, which are naturally porous and absorbent, draw up the liquid from the oil-soaked end to the end exposed to the air. When the mixture reaches the top of the reeds, the air exposure allows the oils to evaporate and — in turn — release the fragrance into the room.

This is the best solution for a continuous, subtle fragrance with minimal upkeep. To maintain the scent, you must flip the reeds regularly and replace them as needed.

How To Do It

Materials Needed: Base or carrier oil (i.e., jojoba, grapeseed, sweet almond, fractionated coconut), essential oils, vodka, a small vessel (dark with a small opening), rattan reeds

  1. Combine ¼ cup of base or carrier oil with 20–25 drops of essential oils in a small vessel.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of vodka to the mix.
  3. Gently swirl the ingredients together.
  4. Put reed sticks into the vessel and let them sit for a few hours.
  5. Flip the reeds to expose the oil-soaked ends to the air.
  6. Place the vessel (with the reeds still in it) in a well-ventilated area. 
  7. Flip the reeds again once the scent begins to fade, typically about once a week.
  8. Replace the reeds with new ones every few months.

7. Essential Oil Bath

Disclaimer: I am not making health or safety claims regarding essential oils. For more information about the safety of essential oils, contact your physician.
A clawfoot bathtub in a bathroom

Adding essential oils to the bath makes you smell good and leaves your bathroom smelling like a five-star hotel. All you need is essential oils, a carrier oil, a bathtub, and running water.

Essential oils are volatile, meaning they naturally evaporate at room temperature. This effect is multiplied by adding these highly concentrated plant extracts to hot bathwater. The heat helps to release the aroma into the steam and air. 

How To Do It

Materials Needed: Essential oils, a carrier oil (i.e., jojoba, sweet almond, coconut), warm bathwater

  1. Fill your bathtub with warm water.
  2. Choose an essential oil that you enjoy the smell of. Do a patch test on your skin with the oil to ensure it doesn’t irritate you. If it does, do not go any further!
  3. Dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil. You can add up to 25 drops of oil for every 15 mL of carrier oil. This step is extremely important, as the essential oil will otherwise sit on the water’s surface.
  4. Pour the diluted oil mixture into the running bathwater.
  5. Swirl the water with your hand to distribute the oil within the water. 
  6. Take a bath for 15–30 minutes.

8. Aromatic Wood Blocks

Aromatic wood blocks are a great choice if you’re looking for a fun craft project. With this method, you’ll “paint” small wood cubes with essential oils to create a long-lasting yet natural air freshener. It’s perfect for small places, such as drawers and closets.

Wood is naturally porous, fibrous, and highly absorbent. When you apply essential oils, the wood slowly absorbs the oil and holds onto its scent, subtly releasing it over time.

How To Do It

Materials Needed: Small blocks of untreated wood (i.e., pine, cedar, bamboo), essential oils, a small brush or cloth, a sealable plastic bag

  1. Choose small, untreated wood blocks measuring 2–3 inches (5–7.5 cm).
  2. If your blocks have rough edges, sand them lightly. This step will prevent the blocks from snagging on furniture or scratching hard surfaces. 
  3. Apply several drops of essential oils to each block with a brush or cloth. Woodsy oils like sandalwood, pine, and cedarwood will complement the blocks’ natural scent. 
  4. Put the blocks in a plastic bag and seal it. Doing this will help them soak up the oil and its fragrance.
  5. Wait 24 hours before removing the blocks from the bag. 
  6. Place the oil in smelly or stale areas, such as drawers, closets, or small rooms. Put something between the block and surfaces to prevent staining.
  7. When the scent begins to fade, apply more oil. 

9. Scented Fabric Refreshers

On top of making the room’s air smell better, you can also use essential oils to refresh your home’s fabrics and upholstery between washes. This mix of water, a binding agent, and essential oils can impart its aroma on curtains, upholstery, linens, and clothing.

When you dilute and spray essential oils onto fabrics, two things happen. They mask (or sometimes neutralize) bad odors and leave behind a fresh, clean scent. The fabrics hold onto the fragrance and release it when the fabric is touched or warmed.

How To Do It

Materials Needed: Distilled water, essential oils, a glass spray bottle, a binding agent (witch hazel, white vinegar, vodka)

  1. Add 1 cup of distilled water to a glass spray bottle. 
  2. Add ¼ cup of your chosen binding agent. 
  3. Add 10–20 drops of essential oils. Remember that the more you add, the stronger the fragrance will be.
  4. Put the top back onto the bottle and shake vigorously to blend.
  5. Test the spray on a small, inconspicuous part of the fabric to ensure it doesn’t stain or discolor. If you notice discoloration or staining, don’t go any further!
  6. Hold the bottle ~6 inches (15 cm) away from the fabric and spray lightly. Do not soak the fabric, especially if it’s delicate or water-sensitive.
  7. Let the fabric air dry.
  8. Store the bottle in a cool, dark, dry place to preserve the scent. 

10. DIY Scented Sachets

diy scented sachet
A person holding a DIY scented sachet with dried botanicals

For a subtle yet contained way to use potpourri comes DIY scented sachets. Just fill small, breathable bags with scented ingredients — like dried flowers, herbs, and essential oils. Just place ‘em in drawers, closets, or small spaces to add some aroma.

The ingredients will slowly release their natural aromas for a long-lasting and pleasing scent as time passes.

How To Do It

Materials Needed: Small fabric bags made of breathable material (i.e., muslin, cotton), dried flowers and herbs (i.e., lavender, rose petals, chamomile), spices (i.e., cinnamon sticks, cloves), essential oils

  1. Mix your chosen dried ingredients — flowers, herbs, and spices in a bowl. 
  2. Sprinkle several drops of essential oils over the mix.
  3. Stir the ingredients well to distribute the oil. 
  4. Spon the mix into your sachets. Be sure to leave enough room in them for air to circulate.
  5. Tie the sachets closed with the drawstring. 
  6. Place the sachets in areas that need a scent refresh.
  7. Add more essential oil to the sachet when the scent begins to fade. 

11. Warm Light Bulb

incandescent light bulb
An incandescent light bulb fixture

The most unconventional on this list, the light bulb method, is how it sounds — wiping essential oils onto an incandescent light bulb!

Essential oils are volatile and evaporate quickly with heat and air exposure. When you turn the light bulb on, it heats the oil and releases its fragrance into the air. The heat speeds up the evaporation process and helps to spread the scent throughout the room.

How To Do It

Materials Needed: Essential oils, a light bulb (ideally incandescent), a tissue or cotton swab

  1. Turn off the light bulb and allow it to cool completely. Do not apply essential oil while the bulb is still warm or hot!
  2. Apply a few drops of essential oils to a cotton swab or tissue.
  3. Gently dab the top of the light bulb with the swab or tissue. Spread the oil evenly, and avoid applying it to the bulb’s metal base.
  4. Turn the light on. As the bulb warms up, it’ll heat the oil and release its fragrance.
  5. Reapply oil as the scent fades. 

Final Thoughts

Though a diffuser is the easiest way to experience the fragrance of essential oils, it’s not the only way. The methods on this list will help you make the most of your oils and their possible therapeutic benefits.