Generally speaking, a traditional reed diffuser will last anywhere between one and six months. If you’re beyond the 3–4-month mark (about average) and your diffuser gradually lost its oomph, it’s probably time to start fresh. But what if your brand-new or hardly used reed diffuser not working?

Here’s the TL;DR:

A reed diffuser may not work if the reeds are clogged with oil or too short. Your oil may also be naturally subtle or unusually thick, which can interfere with diffusion. If your reed diffuser vessel is too large or the room it’s in is large, hot, or humid, the scent may not diffuse properly.

Theoretically, the “culprit” here could be one of seven related to the reeds (2), fragrance oil (3), container (1), or physical environment (1). Keep reading to discover which of these seven reasons is to blame for scentless or weak-smelling reed diffusers.

1. The Reeds Are Clogged

Inside rattan and bamboo reeds is a tiny system of tunnels—also known as a capillary system. At its simplest, the end of the reed in the oil-filled jar wicks up the oil. The oil then travels through these tunnels to the tip exposed to the air, filling the room with fragrance.

Here’s an ultra-zoomed-in picture of those tunnels at each end of the sticks:

reed diffuser sticks close-up showing pores

But even with completely normal use, these reeds can become clogged with dust or debris. This clogging can happen for several reasons, including:

  • Airborne dust
  • Using unclean hands to flip the reeds
  • A left-behind residue from the fragrance oil as it evaporates

A clogged reed will struggle to wick the oil from the jar because the capillary system is either partially or fully blocked. So, if there is clogging, the fragrance may smell weak (for partial clogs) or disappear completely (if fully clogged). 

How To Fix It

Flip the Reeds

Flipping the reeds regularly (once or even twice a week) is standard for a fresh and consistent fragrance. A quick flip may also loosen dust or debris clogging the reeds and expose unused areas of each reed to the fragrance oil.

That’s why this is the simplest possible “fix” to this issue. You can also help to maintain the scent long-term by flipping your reeds weekly.

Replace the Reeds

If flipping the diffuser reeds didn’t rejuvenate the fragrance, these particular reeds may simply be too clogged (or old) to work effectively. Swap in new reeds to see if the aroma returns.

2. The Reeds Are Too Short

Reed length is arguably the most overlooked reason, but still, a possibility if you DIY’d your reed diffuser set-up. Exactly why reed length matters boils down to the reeds’ surface area.

By “surface area,” I’m referring to the physical exterior surface of the reeds. The shorter the reeds, the less diffuser oil they can absorb, and the less surface area exposed to the air for diffusion.

A properly sized reed will touch the bottom of the oil jar and poke out at least a few inches above the bottle’s opening. Otherwise, the fragrance’s intensity and lifespan could suffer if your reeds are too short.

This applies, regardless of the shape or size of your vessel:

various shapes and sizes of reed diffuser vessels

How To Fix It

Add More Reeds

Adding even a few extra reeds could increase the total surface area of the reeds within the container, improving the strength of the aroma.

Use a Different Jar

It’s also possible that the reeds are merely too long for that specific container. Try a smaller or shorter vessel that allows the reeds to both reach the bottom and poke out the top by at least a couple of inches.

Replace the Reeds

If all else fails, and you’re confident that reed length is to blame, the best “fix” is replacing the reeds entirely with longer, higher-quality ones. Unfortunately, you should not attempt to clean or reuse them.

3. The Oil Is Too Thick

A reed diffuser’s oil is typically a mix of carrier, essential, and synthetic fragrance oils. However, something as simple as this oil’s viscosity (thickness) could render a reed diffuser useless.

The reasoning behind this is simple. The thicker the oil, the tougher it is for the reeds to pull it up and allow it to travel the length of the reed for evaporation. 

A too-thick oil could blunt a diffuser’s scent for two main reasons.

For one, the oil may never fully travel end-to-end, greatly limiting the amount of oil exposed to the air for diffusion. Secondly, thicker oils often take longer to evaporate, slowing the diffusion process.

Now, this is hardly an issue with store-bought reed diffusers. That’s because most manufacturers use naturally thin and easy-to-absorb carrier oils, such as mineral oil.

For example, this store-bought oil doesn’t contain any carrier oil but rather solvents like ethanol and tri propylene glycol methyl ether (that’s a mouthful) and ethanol, which make the scent more noticeable.

reed diffuser oil ingredients

Yet, DIY diffusers could contain a carrier oil with a much thicker consistency—such as coconut oil. Not all fragrance oils are compatible with reed diffusers, either.

How To Fix It

Dilute the Oil

woman pouring oil into diffuser jar

If this is a homemade reed diffuser, try diluting the fragrance oil with a few drops of thinner carrier oil. Fractionated coconut oil (FCO) and mineral oil are both relatively thin. Stir the oil and repeat until you’ve thinned out the oil to your liking without diluting the smell too much.

Replace the Oil

The oil as-is could simply be too thick for reeds to absorb properly (or at all). Replace the oil with a high-quality reed diffuser oil made with thinner carrier oils.

Add More Reeds

This last resort “fix” forces us to revisit the concept of surface area, and it’ll only work if the reeds are at least somewhat diffusing. Adding extra reeds to the vessel will increase the surface area and maximize what the reeds can absorb, though the aroma will likely still be weak.

T&C Natural Rattan Reed Diffuser Sticks

I’d recommend the 120-pack of T&C Natural Rattan Reed Diffuser Sticks (link brings you to Amazon). For one, you’ll have enough rattan sticks to potentially last you years. These reeds are also natural, 10 inches long, and even have visible “channels” for the oil to travel through for a great fragrance experience!

4. The Oil Is Naturally Subtle

If your diffuser’s scent has been extremely faint since its unboxing, your fragrance oil may just have a naturally gentle scent profile. 

There are a few reasons this happens, the first being that the fragrance oil itself is lacking in the fragrance department.

This phenomenon is particularly common amongst scents like:

  • Lavender
  • Rose
  • Chamomile
  • Jasmine
  • Vanilla

Some manufacturers use a lower concentration of fragrance oil to avoid an overpowering fragrance. Carrier oils (like jojoba oil) are also somewhat thicker and could be the reason behind the dialed-back aroma.

How To Fix It

Add More Reeds

By adding more reeds into the mix, you can increase the surface area of the reeds, exposing even more of the oil to the air for diffusion.

Add More Oil

using pipette to add more fragrance oil to reed diffuser

If this is a homemade reed diffuser, add a few extra drops of fragrance oil to increase the diffuser oil’s potency. Do this gradually.

Switch the Diffuser to a Smaller Space

Moving the reed diffuser to a smaller, more enclosed room—like a closet or half bathroom—could make your reed diffuser smell stronger. Doing so will limit the scent’s escape.

Use a More Potent Fragrance Oil

If the scent is still too subtle (or even non-existent), it’s best to replace the oil entirely with a higher-intensity version.

5. The Fragrance Oil Is Low-Quality or Has Gone Bad

If your reed diffuser has literally no aroma since setting it up, low-quality fragrance oil is likely to blame. Low-quality oils may lack scent concentration or have additives, fillers, and low-quality ingredients. 

If your diffuser has a rancid or even a chemical-like smell, the oil is — more likely than not — past its expiration date. Just keep in mind that reed diffuser oils will naturally fade in intensity with time, and replacing the oil entirely every 1–6 months is normal.

How To Fix It

A reed diffuser oil is essentially unfixable if it’s extremely low quality or exceeds its predicted shelf life (R.I.P.).

6. The Container Is Too Large

large vs small reed diffuser vessel

When talking about a diffuser’s size, you typically refer to its height and diameter, both of which could lead to a toned-down aroma.

A container that’s too large in diameter will have an off-balance oil-to-reed ratio. Diffuser reeds can only wick up oil so quickly, and the oil level won’t be as high due to the jar’s larger width. That means there’s less oil-saturated reed surface area exposed to the air for evaporation. 

On the other hand, the reeds might not touch the bottom of a vessel that’s much too tall. Without contacting the bottom, the reeds may not absorb the oil as effectively

How To Fix It

Add More Reeds

Adding a couple more reeds to the container slightly increases the surface area of oil-soaked reeds hitting the air.

Use a More Potent Fragrance Oil

You’ll still lose some of the aroma due to the oversized container. However, a more potent fragrance oil will ensure that the released fragrance is somewhat more noticeable.

Try Multiple Reed Diffusers at Once

Adding a second diffuser of the same scent could increase the surface area and diffuse more of a fragrance overall.

Move the Diffuser to a Smaller Place

By moving the diffuser to a smaller, enclosed space, you can increase the concentration of the scent in the air. Of course, this strategy only works if your diffuser is still relatively new and has some scent.

7. The Room Is Too Large, Hot, or Humid

The diffuser’s physical environment is just as important as the reeds, oil, and jar. 

Reed diffusers tend to thrive in smaller, enclosed spaces with decent air circulation. The larger the room, the more heat and humidity, and the less sufficient the airflow, the subtler the scent may seem.

Now, there are a few possible reasons for this:

  1. In larger rooms, the scent molecules released into the air may only reach some room corners before the aroma fades.
  2. Heat encourages these airborne scent molecules to evaporate too quickly. Faster evaporation and more airflow shorten the fragrance’s longevity.
  3. Higher indoor humidity could saturate the reeds with excess moisture. This can complicate the wicking of oil or force it to evaporate much too quickly.
  4. Spaces with generally less air movement won’t distribute the fragrance as evenly and could even lead to a stale or stagnant fragrance.

If your reed diffuser is in a steamy hot bathroom or in a high-traffic area like a living room with vaulted ceilings, this is likely why your reed diffuser appears not to be working.

How To Fix It

Try Multiple Reed Diffusers at Once

If you’re dead set on keeping the diffuser in this particular space, try adding another one with the same fragrance. This solution will even out the scent distribution throughout the room.

Move the Diffuser to an Area With Better Ventilation

Choose a room or space with an open window, air vents, doorways, or a fan to maximize the fragrance flow.

Swap Out the Diffuser Oil

For reed diffusers in oversized rooms, try swapping in a more concentrated oil or a scent better suited for big rooms.

Maintain a Lower Temperature + Humidity

Reed diffusers work best in 60–80°F (15-27°C) temperatures, with 40%–60% humidity. To do this, lower the temperature on the thermostat or use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture.

reed diffuser next to hygrometer

If you need an effective way to monitor your home’s temperature and humidity, I highly recommend the AcuRite Indoor Thermometer + Hygrometer pictured above (link brings you to Amazon). This little gadget is accurate within 2 degrees and 3% (respectively) and has a magnet on the back for attaching it to metallic surfaces.

Final Thoughts

New-ish reed diffusers could stop (or never start) working for various reasons. So before you completely give up on your diffuser, try the simplest fixes first:

  • Flip the reeds.
  • Add more reeds.
  • Move the diffuser to a better location.
  • Replace your old reeds with new reeds.
If you find yourself dealing with the opposite problem (an overpowering scent), check out Reed Diffuser Too Strong? Here’s Why [+ How to Fix It!].