How to Make an Oil Reed Diffuser (so your House Smells in a Good Way)

April 16, 2015

As satisfying as a well-written recipe, a smart and thoughtful DIY is our kind of lunch break reading. Bonus points if it's an easy project AND teaches us how to make something beautiful.

Today: Scent your home in a natural, inexpensive way—and with whatever fragrance you like (sorry, cucumber melon).

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Reed diffusers are today’s potpourri—they scent a room naturally and also double as attractive room decor. But, they’re a lot more expensive to purchase than a handful of dried plants. I have spent so much money on reed diffusers. I have spent so much money on reed diffusers that smell like something I don’t like. The solution is embarrassingly within reach: Find a cool vessel, head to the kitchen for bamboo skewers and vodka and water, pick out some essential oils, and do it yourself. The skewers—which, if you don’t already have, can be found at any grocery store—act as reeds, siphoning fragrance from your solution into the air. Your home will thank you for the gentle, natural fragrance that’ll soon be wafting through its halls.

To make one diffuser, you’ll need:

A glass or ceramic container with a narrow top opening
5 reed diffusers or bamboo skewers (yeah, like the ones you make kebabs with)
1/4 cup tap water
1/4 cup vodka
20 drops essential oil(s) of your choice

How to make your reed diffuser:

1. Choose your container: You’ll want something glass or ceramic that has a narrow opening so your sticks can arrange nicely and the oils are released slowly. Look for interesting bottles: vintage milk jugs or maple syrup containers, flower vases, or beakers—or reuse bottles from a previous diffuser.


 2. Combine the liquids: The essential oils carry the fragrance, but they need some help moving up through the reeds. Alcohol evaporates quicker than water, making it the ideal liquid for drawing oils up through the reeds. You could use rubbing alcohol instead of vodka, but I’m more likely to have the latter on hand. Some use carrier oils (like safflower) instead of alcohol, but that makes for a greasy mess if the diffuser is knocked over. 

Heat the water in a kettle until warm but not boiling, then transfer it to your vessel of choice, along with the vodka and your essential oils. Which essential oils, you ask? They could really be any scent you want your room to smell like. You could use one, or mix a variety. Some suggestions for simple combinations:

  • Jasmine + lemon
  • Orange + anise + cedarwood
  • Sassafras + rosemary
  • Geranium + peppermint
  • Lavender + oregano


3. Shake: Plug the top with your finger and give the mixture a careful little swirl.  


 4. Add your diffusers: Stick the sticks into the oils. Four or five is a good number.


5. Be patient: Place your diffuser wherever you’d like it to do its thing—the bedroom, living room, or bathroom. The kitchen is not an ideal choice—because your kitchen should be filled with food smells. It will take a bit of time for the liquids to start moving up through the sticks, but you’ll eventually be hit with a great smell that’ll subside into something subtle but present. It’s what you always wanted from that plug-in.


6. Maintain: Flip the sticks every once in a while to keep the scent from fading. When the sticks are completely saturated with liquid, replace them. When your liquid is all gone, make a new batch—switch the essential oils up if you like. There are likely lots of rooms in your home that would be happy with their own reed diffuser. You might also have a mom who wants to be gifted one for Mother's Day.

Photos by Bobbi Lin

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Michi
  • Sora
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Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.


Michi November 6, 2017
How many drops of the essential oils would you recommend using?
Sora May 3, 2016
Bamboo skewers don't work the liquid only goes up about a third of the way. don't waste your skewers. Go to Amazon and look for rattan diffuser sticks.
catalinalacruz November 28, 2015
Good job on this, Ali. Contrary to a previous comment, most of us do not expect this piece to be encyclopedic, but sufficient information to achiece the desired result, which this does. Who wants to breathe chemicals, which is what synthestic fragrance oils are. Give me natural ingredients, please, for a healthier home environment.
carollbert November 25, 2015
Make a scented home humidifierWith the heat on all the time you need some humid air in the house. A stovetop simmer like this grapefruit and cinnamon combination is so easy and smells amazing. Have fun experimenting with different scents!
Diane October 21, 2015
I get essential oils from Puritan's Pride. They are reasonably priced.
Rachele October 18, 2015
previous comment meant to say "half the story in a how-to" not 'have the story' (I usually reread comments to correct errors, this time I must not have!)
Rachele October 18, 2015
Actually synthetic fragrance oils are an option too I'm told & also that they have a stronger fragrance than essential oils; also they're tremendously cheaper. I'm disappointed that this article doesn't deal with that, as I always am when I get only have the story in a how-to because the author doesn't bother researching a topic to give complete information
Jerry July 26, 2015
What about putting the diffuser on a coffee warmer before company come over, I just made my first one yesterday,used 91% alcohol.
kathi July 26, 2015
I love pomegranate but can not find pomegranate oil locally so I purchased rose petal. Not really smelling but I have not had any mold. Will continue to try I like this idea.
cstanko July 26, 2015
Tried this once; smelled ZERO scent (and I have a nose like a bloodhound). After a couple of weeks went I went to turn the sticks around, I found they were a moldy mess at the waterline. Jus tried it again with rubbing alcohol this time; hope I fare better because I really like this idea.
Eileeno July 7, 2015
The Nature Company (out of business now) had a great refresher oil "Woodpath" which I've been hoarding for years. I have no info on the ingredients but would love to reproduce it. Any hints on so few clues?
KC H. July 6, 2015
You are my new best friend. Thanks to you, my home smells great. I used tea tree oil, fantastic!
Ali S. July 6, 2015
You made my day!
Jerry July 6, 2015
Thanks for all your hard work.
Smoothiesrule July 6, 2015
I buy 70% alcohol at Costco. no water. all else same. works great
May T. July 6, 2015
I am going to try this definitely. Thank you for sharing this recipe.
Gail S. July 6, 2015
Can you use chopsticks for the reeds?
Ali S. July 6, 2015
I haven't tried it, but my hunch is it might take quite a while for the liquid to move up the sticks. If you try it, let us know how it goes!
Sora May 3, 2016
No. Tried that too. I also tried soaking the bamboo and chopsticks in hot water for 12 hours. No good. They are way too dense to absorb the liquid up the stick.
Melissa July 6, 2015
It is also a good idea that your vessel be heat proof to avoid a shattering mess. =•)
Kate B. July 6, 2015
Aromatic oils are available as either "fragrance" oils or "essential" oils. The EOs are infinitely fresher smelling because they're extracted from living plants. Even though they cost more, I think they're worth it. Especially when it comes to creating fragrance blends. I used to make natural Victorian potpourri, and my preferred source for essential oils was Atlantic Spice Co. and Rainbow Meadow.
Steve_LA July 6, 2015
Thank you, Kate. That was what I was looking for.
Brandi April 23, 2015
Cucumber melon! Gah! The worst!
Wissal B. April 19, 2015
Can we substitute Vodka with pure alcohol or any other substitute maybe?
Ali S. April 19, 2015
You could use rubbing alcohol. Some also use a base oil—like safflower or almond—but it makes for a sticky affair if the diffuser gets knocked over.