A strong reed diffuser sounds like a blessing to those who love household fragrances. However, the smell can become overwhelming and cause headaches and breathing problems. So why is your reed diffuser too strong in the first place?

Here’s the TL;DR:

A reed diffuser could smell too strong because you’re using too many reeds or selected a naturally stronger scent. Setting it up in a room that’s too small, has too little airflow, or has the incorrect humidity and temperature can also intensify the fragrance. User error can also be to blame.

Does the overpowering scent of eucalyptus, citrus, or cedarwood smack you in the face whenever you walk into the room? If so, keep reading to learn about seven reasons some reed diffusers smell too strong and how to master reed diffuser scent control.

Why Reed Diffusers Smell So Strong

If you’re dealing with reed diffuser scent overload, these are the seven most likely culprits:

1. You’re Using Too Many Reeds

First, here’s a super-quick lesson in how reed diffusers work.

Inside each stick (AKA: diffuser reeds) is a microscopic system of “tunnels.” These pathways allow the bottom of the reeds—the ends submerged in the oil-filled glass jar—to soak up the scented oil in the jar.

reed diffuser stick channels/tunnels

With time, this oil travels up those highways until it eventually reaches the opposite tip of the reed sticks, the ends exposed to the air. This air exposure triggers the (typically) subtle fragrance release into the room.

Based on these simple facts, it makes sense that having more reeds in a diffuser will multiply this effect. The fragrance released will pack a much stronger punch. The higher number of reeds also means a greater surface area and more oil exposed to the air.

So, your diffuser’s scent may be overpowering because you’ve added too many reeds for that particular oil, the room it’s in, or both. It’s also the best-case scenario regarding “fixing” it!

a reed diffuser set with too many diffuser sticks

2. You Selected a Naturally Strong Fragrance

If you’ve ever used colognes, perfumes, candles, or plug-in air fresheners, you know that some scents and fragrances are stronger than others. Reed diffusers are the same way; some are naturally stronger, while others are subtle.

Diffuser oils containing these scents, for example, tend to be more powerful:

  • Citrus
  • Peppermint
  • Eucalyptus
  • Lavender
  • Rose
  • Sandalwood
  • Vanilla (among others)

Chamomile, green tea, and lilac, on the other hand, have lighter, more less scent and more delicate aromas. Switching to a different scent could be all you need to do.

strong vs subtle reed diffuser oil (infographic)

3. There’s Too Much Fragrance Oil in the Diffuser

Reed diffuser oils generally have two main components: a fragrance oil and a carrier oil (sometimes called a base oil). 

The fragrance oil is a highly aromatic scent that gives the oil its scent and typically makes up about 10–25% of its concentration. 

The other 75–90% of the mixture is a light and odorless carrier oil, typically mineral, coconut, sweet almond, or jojoba oil. This carrier oil slows down the evaporation of the fragrance oil, allowing the oil to last for longer.

reed diffuser fragrance oil to carrier oil breakdown

Some reed diffuser manufacturers use a higher ratio of fragrance to base oil. This higher ratio will strengthen the scent. But it also reduces the lifespan of the diffuser and increases the odds of the reeds eventually becoming clogged or totally saturated with oil.

4. The Diffuser Is in Too Small a Room

If your reed diffuser is in a bathroom, mud room, laundry room, or otherwise small room, the most likely explanation is the room’s small-ish size. The reason for this traces back to basic science (specifically, the diffusion process). 

A smaller room generally means less “new” air to dilute the scent, increasing the concentration of the diffuser’s fragrance in the air naturally. In other words, the reed diffuser’s scent strength isn’t necessarily more powerful than others. It’s merely in a location that allows it to become overwhelming.

reed diffuser oil diffusion infographic

5. Your Diffuser Is in an Area With Too Little Airflow

Piggybacking off of that last reason, a reed diffuser could release an overly intense fragrance in a room or area with too little airflow.

The limited flow of fresh air into the room allows the fragrance to linger at a much higher concentration. As a result, the oil’s aroma will smell stronger than it actually is. 

This is the most likely explanation if your diffuser is in a room with closed doors, shut windows, or far from the nearest air conditioning vent or fan.

6. The Room Temperature + Humidity Aren’t Ideal

High indoor temperatures and high indoor humidity can also somewhat strengthen the aroma of reed diffuser oils.

A high temperature will force the fragrance molecules to evaporate quickly and release more scent. At its simplest, heat energizes the molecules, allowing them to move more rapidly and diffuse quicker.

Similarly, in a room with very high humidity, the fragrance molecules can better attach to the moisture in the air and linger for longer.

It’s worth mentioning that mildly high humidity can actually help carry the scent better and slow down the oil’s evaporation. Yet, too hot or too humid—such as in a steamy bathroom—can result in an ultra-strong scent or a reduced lifespan for your diffuser.

a glass bottle reed diffuser next to a hygrometer

You can keep a closer eye on your temperature and humidity with the AcuRite Indoor Thermometer + Hygrometer with Humidity Gauge (link brings you to Amazon). This handy little tool pictured above is typically accurate within 2 degrees and 3%, respectively and can sit on a table or attach to a metal surface (there’s a magnet on the back!).

7. You’re Flipping the Reeds Too Often

Flipping the reeds in a diffuser once a week is exactly why a reed diffuser set can last 1–6 months. Flipping the reeds exposes the oil-soaked ends to the air, which then evaporates into the air and releases an extra burst of fresh fragrance.

Like flipping reed sticks too little can result in a dull or weak fragrance, flipping them too often doesn’t allow the scent fading to happen naturally. Instead, it keeps the aroma consistently strong. If you flip the reeds daily or every few days, this is likely why your reed diffuser smells insanely powerful.

How To Reduce the Scent in a Reed Diffuser

Before tossing your current setup and buying an entirely new reed diffuser set, let’s walk through a few possible solutions. Remember that the correct fix for your reed diffuser will largely depend on the brand, the room’s size, and the intensity of the fragrance oils used.

To weaken your reed diffuser’s scent, here’s what you can do:

Remove 1–2 Reeds at a Time

As a general rule of thumb, reed diffusers should have 1–2 reeds per 100 mL of oil.

Refer to the table below to learn how many reeds you should use in your reed diffuser (based on how much oil is in the vessel):

how many reeds should i put in my diffuser (table)

That said, if your diffuser is in a small space or doesn’t see much airflow, even fewer reeds could be better. Remove a reed or two and re-check the fragrance intensity in a few days. If it’s still overpowering, try removing another few reeds before checking again.

Dilute the Diffuser Oil

For homemade reed diffuser oils with a higher ratio of fragrance to diffuser base oils, you could try diluting the fragrance oil by adding more carrier oil.

There are a few steps you’ll need to follow with this method:

  1. Pour the oil out of the jar and into a separate container.
  2. Next, stir in a little more of the carrier oil you originally used.
  3. Pour the oil mixture back into the diffuser bottle.
  4. Sniff the fragrance released to determine if it’s weaker (or requires more weakening).

Do not dilute diffuser oil with water, as this may result in misshapen or warped reeds or uneven wicking.

how to dilute reed diffuser oil infographic

Move the Diffuser to a Different Area or Room

If airflow, room size, temperature, ventilation, or humidity are to blame, the simplest “fix” is moving your reed diffuser.

Choose a location with a lower temperature—ideally 68–77 °F or 20–25 °C—and a humidity between 40 and 50% (i.e., not in the basement or a bathroom with a shower). You can also position the diffuser in a room with an open window or gentle-blowing fan to make the scent better-diffuse. 

Just be sure the diffuser isn’t directly in front of or too close to open windows, fans, vents, or heat sources. By doing so, you can avoid the opposite problem: a diffuser with a scent that’s too weak.

Switch to a More Subtle Fragrance

Some of us are simply more sensitive to strong fragrances.

In fact, about one-third of Americans have a condition known as hyperosmia. This condition makes people so sensitive to overwhelming scents that it can make them physically ill, though you can also be sensitive to fragrances without the condition.

If this sounds like you, a subtler, new scent that’s more subtle—like green tea, lilac, grapefruit, bergamot, or chamomile—could be a better choice.

This is also one of the reasons I recommend not refilling reed diffusers with plain old essential oils.

You can learn more about why this isn’t a good idea in this article: Can You Refill Reed Diffusers With Essential Oils?

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are quite a few reasons why reed diffusers may suddenly (or consistently) smell overpowering. The good news is that reducing the strength of a reed diffuser is relatively simple. Remove a few reeds, dilute the oil, move the diffuser, or find a more delicate fragrance.