10 Reasons Why You Might Not Smell Essential Oils

What hWhy your essential oils do not smell - lavender filled on the left and a dried up field on the right

By Mark Piatt

Updated on February 1, 2021

Have you ever wondered why you might not be smelling your essential oils?

So, you or someone purchased an ultrasonic essential oil diffuser and you are excited to use it. 

The diffuser instructions say it will last 8 hours per refill and since you love citrus smells, you put 7 drops of sweet orange in your diffuser and turn it on.  MMMMM, that smells just like you envisioned – fresh oranges. 

After a few hours, you realize you do not smell any orange – if any.  You go to check if your diffuser is working – yes, it is.  You stick your nose in the mist and can somewhat smell the orange, but not like it did when you first turned it on.  This can happen with any essential oil.

We have all been there, including me.  What happened to that wonderful aroma?  We are going to explore what is going on and ways you can improve the aroma of your essential oils.


Information provided in this description is for educational purposes only.  For possible treatments of physical or mental diseases, please seek a trained and licensed health professional.  Enchanted Aromatics is not responsible for any adverse side effects resulting from the use of any suggestions, products, preparations, or procedures mentioned or from following historical uses of essential oils.

10 Reasons Why You Might Not Smell Your Essential Oils

Sensory adaptation

woman smelling a flowerHow many of you have had children?  They are so cute and smell wonderful when they are first born.  Then they drink their first real meal.  What happens?  They poop and whew, you start to gag (looking at all you dads).  After 2 dozen diaper changes, you have suddenly become immune to that smell.  What happened?  Your smeller has adapted to the smell. 

This is an element of human physiology that means “you get used to things.”  Sensory adaptation happens with such things as loud noises, pain, and smells.

Nose blindness or olfactory fatigue, as it is sometimes called, is a temporary condition that happens to all of us.  It usually occurs in areas we spend a lot of time in such as kitchens, work, restrooms, around our pets, etc. 

We live in a commercial world of synthetic aromas.  Most of the sprays and various fragrances are manufactured for the sole purpose of generating intense smells.  They accomplish this by using powerful chemicals.  As a result, we have become used to these powerful aromas and do not smell weaker aromas.

When using essential oils, we are relying on nature to generate the aromas.  Usually, the aromas generated by nature are not as powerful as those produced in a chemical factory.

Because of this, when you first start using essential oils, give your body time to become used to these less intense aromas. 

Do keep in mind there is a condition called anosmia, where one’s overall sense of smell is permanently reduced or even lost.  This can be a dangerous condition, but that is not what we are talking about.

One thing to note though is if you are using your essential oils for the health benefits, you will still be receiving those benefits even though you can no longer smell your essential oils. 

Purity of the essential oil

Essential oil bottle with flowersYou are probably using a diffuser as a healthy alternative to make your home smell nice or perhaps to treat a medical issue of some type.  A common mistake to make, especially when you are first learning about essential oils, is to assume that all essential oils are created equal.  But this is not true.  The quality and purity of essential oils can vary greatly between companies.

Some companies purchase their essential oils in bulk from various sources.  Some of these sources are known to sell cheap products.  They then add their branding to the essential oil and sell the essential oil to you on Amazon, eBay, supermarkets, and even their websites.  (Note, not all essential oils on these platforms are cheap, there are good brands on these platforms.) 

These companies that purchase these cheap essential oils in bulk to resell to you only have the word of the distributer that the essential oil is pure.

You go to one of these places and see the essential oils cost less compared to other places.  You assume all essential oils are the same and decide to purchase the less expensive essential oil.  You do not know if these essential oils have been adulterated, “watered down”, if a lower quality species of plant that costs less to grow has been used or what process has been used to extract the essential oil.

You use the less expensive essential oil in your diffuser for a while, and then decide it does not smell much and is not worth the time and effort.  Why?  You have probably purchased an adulterated essential oil that uses synthetic chemicals or has been diluted to increase profits.  The aroma is not powerful enough, does not last long, or does not smell good.

I will not mention brands, but I am guilty of doing this to save money.  It was not until I purchased more expensive essential oils that I realized you get what you pay for. 

Do yourself a favor.  If you have been purchasing inexpensive essential oils, try purchasing the same type of essential oil from a company that may cost 2-10 times as much.  I think you will be shocked by the difference.   Smell your inexpensive essential oil and then smell your expensive essential oil.  You may find the inexpensive essential oil has a “chemical” smell to it.  Trust your nose.  It probably does have synthetic chemicals. 

The other problem is that sometimes the cheap essential oil smells like the product they are trying to imitate, but the cheap essential oil does not have any of the health benefits of the essential oil it is mimicking.

How do you know if your essential oils are pure?  Your nose can be a good indicator, but this is not very scientific.

The best way is through GC-MS (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry) testing.  This is the core of quality control procedures for essential oils.  Any company can claim their essential oils are 100% pure, but unless they have these tests performed on their essential oils, they or you would never know. 

This can be a complex subject since these tests only indicate compound proportions.  This test produces a list of hits of what is in the essential oil but can make some misidentifications.  But the test can be of considerable help for identifying if an essential oil has been adulterated.

Because of the complexities involved, it is best to leave the analysis of essential oils to professionals.  But with that said, any company selling essential oils should have their essential oils tested.  Most companies that sell inexpensive essential oils do not have their essential oils tested.  Here at Enchanted Aromatics, the two essential oil brands we sell, Sparoom and Artisan Aromatics, do have their essential oils tested by third-party laboratories. 

The note of the essential oil – Top, Middle, Base

Essential oil bottles surrounded by flowersThe note of the essential oil will determine how long the aroma will last.  If you are using only a top note essential oil in a diffuser that is set to mist for more than a few hours, you will probably not smell that essential oil after several hours.  You may need to add more essential oil to your diffuser after a few hours.

Classifying an essential oil as a certain note can be a very subjective opinion since many essential oils are composed of multiple notes.  Being composed of multiple notes results in the aroma changing over time.  Also, some essential notes may be listed in more than one classification, such as eucalyptus.

When blending essential oils, you may wish to blend essential oils that have a top note, middle note, and bass note.  This way the aroma from your diffuser will last longer and will change over time. 

Let us look a little closer at each note starting with top note essential oils.

Top Note

We typically think of these aromas as being light and sharp.  These types of aromas can dissipate very quickly.  In some cases, they can dissipate within 10 minutes, but can sometimes last for several hours.

Top note essential oils include citrus oils, mint oils, many evergreen oils, and many others.  Keep in mind that classifying an essential oil is very subjective and that essential oil can have multiple notes.

When creating an essential oil blend, the top note will usually consist of 15% – 25% of the blend.

Here is a list of 48 essential oils classified as being a top note.


AniseBasilBay Laurel
BergamotBlack SpruceBlood Orange
Blue CypressChocolatePeppermint
Dalmatian SageEucalyptus GlobulusEucaluptus, Lemon
Eucalyptus RadiataFennelFir Needle
GalbanumGrapefruitHemlock Spruce
Ho LeafHoly BasilLaurel Leaf
LavandinLavenderLavender, Spike
SageSaroSilver Fir
SpearmintSpike LavenderSpruce
TangerineTea TreeTulsi
White FirWintergreenYuza

Middle Note

These types of essential oils do not evaporate as quickly as top notes.  They will usually last at least 2 hours.

When blending essential oils, consider middle note essential oils as the body or heart of the essential oil blend.  These types of aromas will make their presence known after the top note has dissipated.  When using these essential oils topically, they will linger on the skin for a longer period compared to top note essential oils. 

When creating an essential oil blend, the middle note will usually consist of 30% – 40% of the blend.

Here is a list of 63 essential oils classified as being a middle note.

AllspiceBergamot MintBlack Pepper
Blue CypressBlue TansyCajeput
Camphor, WhiteCardamonCarrot Seed
Chamomile, GermanCinnamonCitronella
Clary SageClove BudCypress
Eucalyptus GlobulusEucalyptus, LemonEucalyptus, Radiata
FennelFir NeedleGeranium
GingerHinokiHo Wood
HopsHyssopJapanese Cypress
Jasmine AbsoluteJuniper BerryLavandin
LavenderLavender SpikeLemon Balm
Myrrh, SweetMyrtleNeroli
OreganoPalmarosaPalo Santo
Parsley SeedPepper, BlackPepper, Pink
Roman ChamomileRoseRosemary
RosewoodSilver FirStar Anise
Tea TreeThymeViolet Leaf Absolute
White FirYarrowYlang Ylang

Base Note

The aroma from these essential oils will linger the longest, sometimes for an entire day.  The reason being is that essential oils with a base note have the largest molecules and take the longest to evaporate.  These also tend to be the most powerful essential oils, so you generally do not need to use them as much.

Base note essential oils will add depth and richness to your essential oil blends.  When these essential oils are part of a blend, their aroma may not appear until several hours later, after the top and middle notes have mostly been used. 

When creating an essential oil blend, the base note will usually consist of 45% – 55% of the blend.

Here is a list of 30 essential oils classified as being a Base note.

AmyrisAngelica RootBeeswax Absolute
BenzoinCadeCedarwood, Atlas
Cedarwood, VirginianCistusClove Bud
Copaiba BalsamCuminCypress
Java PepperLabdanumMyrrh
PatchouliPeru BalsamRock Rose
SandalwoodSpikenardTaiwan Hinoki
VanillaVetiverYlang Ylang

Using a single essential oil or a blend?

If you are using a single essential oil in your diffuser, you may find the aroma to be powerful when you first turn on the diffuser, but after several hours, you may find you can barely perceive an aroma, or it does not smell at all.  This is especially true with citrus-based essential oils and mint-based essential oils.

If the essential oil is a top note or even a middle note essential oil, the aroma may not last through the entire cycle of your diffuser.   The best bet is if your diffuser has a timer, do not set it for more than 2 hours when using a top note essential oil.

If you are planning on using a top note essential oil in your diffuser for more than a few hours, you would be better off blending the top note essential oil with a middle note and even a base note essential oil. 

This way, you will continue receiving an aroma throughout the entire cycle of the diffuser.

As an example, if you are using sweet orange in your diffuser, you can add a few drops of warm scented essential oil such as lavender, frankincense, or cedarwood. 

When choosing a base note to add to your citrus blend, only use a drop or two.  You do not want to overpower your citrus blend.  Citrus oils also blend well with floral oils such as lavender and rosemary.  Spicy essential oils are also a good choice such as cinnamon and clove.

Age of the essential oil

All essential oils have a shelf life.  That shelf life is different for each essential oil and what you intend to use the essential oil for.

Over time, essential oils can lose some of their strength and effectiveness.  If you are using the essential oil for its aromatic properties versus its therapeutic properties, you can use your essential oil for a longer period.

Technically, an essential oil does not spoil or go bad the way food does.

When an essential oil encounters oxygen, light, or heat, it begins to oxidize. 

To ensure your essential oils can stay potent for long as possible, limit the amount of time the bottle is uncapped.  You want to minimize the exposure of the essential oil to oxygen.

Also, be sure to apply the cap tightly when you are done.  You do not want oxygen molecules sneaking into your bottle. 

Essential oils will last longer if they are stored in a cool dark location.  Do not expose them to direct sunlight.

How do you know if your essential oil is passed its useful life?

    1. The smell has changed since you first opened the bottle.
    2. the color may become cloudy or the color may even change.
    3. the consistency of the oil may be different compared to when you first opened it.

Following is a table showing the average life span of 92 popular essential oils.  The average age could be more or less, depending on how your essential oils are stored. 

Essential Oilyears
Balm Mint Bush4
Balsam Fir3
Basil Linalool4
Blue Cypress5
Blue Tansy5
Blue Yarrow3
Buddha Wood8
Carrot Seed4
Chamomile German3
Chamomile German4
Chamomile Roman3
Cinnamon Bark4
Cinnamon Cassia4
Cinnamon Leaf5
Clary Sage4
Clove Bud5
Coriander Seed4
Dill Weed3
Eucalyptus Dives4
Eucalyptus Globulus4
Finger Root3
Fir Needle3
Geranium Bourbon5
Geranium Egyptiian 5
Ginger Root4
Ho Wood4
Jack Pine3
Jasmine Absolute4
Juniper Berry3
Laurel Leaf4
May Chang3
Orange Blood2
Orange Sweet2
Pine Scots3
Rose Absolute5
Rose Otto5
Sage Dalmation5
Sandalwood Australian8
Sandalwood Indian8
Star Anise4
Tea Tree3
Thyme Linalool4
Thyme Thymol4
Tumeric (CO2)5
Valerian Root5
Vanilla (CO2)5
Vanilla Oleoresin4
Ylang Ylang Complete5
ylang Ylang Extra5

Your essential oils are too diluted

When adding essential oils to your diffuser, you want to use the minimum amount to accomplish your goals.  Diffuser manufacturers usually recommend how much essential oil you should add to your diffuser based on its volume.

But the amount of essential oil you add also depends on the essential oil itself.  Some essential oils are more powerful compared to others.  Cinnamon is one such essential oil.  If you are blending essential oils, you must be careful how much cinnamon you add because it will overpower many other essential oils.

A quick guide on how much essential oil to use in your diffuser

    • 100ml: 3 – 5 drops.
    • 200ml: 6 – 10 drops.
    • 300ml: 11 – 15 drops.
    • 400ml: 16 – 20 drops.
    • 500ml: 21 – 25 drops.
    • 600ml: 26 – 30 drops.
    • 700ml: 31 – 40 drops

These are the maximum amounts that you should normally use.  If you can get away with using less then do it.

Length of time you are diffusing

Most essential oil diffusers run for too long.  You really should only be running your diffuser for 15-60 minutes.  This is the length of time it takes to saturate your living space.

By cycling the diffuser, you give your nose a break and help prevent it from becoming nose blind to the aroma of your essential oils.

Most diffusers have a timer.  Instead of letting the diffuser run until the water runs out, run the diffuser for the minimum time you can.  Also, if your diffuser has a setting for cycling the diffuser off and on, use that setting.  I always use this setting on my diffuser.

On some diffusers, you can use a smart plug.  With a smart plug, you can set times down to the second using your smartphone.  If your diffuser can use a smart plug, you can set it to cycle every 15 or 20 minutes. 

Not all diffusers can use a smart plug because some require you to physically push a button to turn it on.  But if you can turn the diffuser on and then cycle its power with a smart plug, this is the way to go. 

By doing this, your essential oils will last longer since you will be using less.

Size of the space you are using your diffuser in

Some diffusers say they can work in a room up to 1,000 feet.  It has been my experience that a room larger than 800 sq. feet needs 2 diffusers.

If you are using your diffuser in a large space, I know it can be difficult, but try to place your diffuser in a central location.

Also, if your space does not have much air movement, it will be difficult for the aroma to disperse around the room.

For a large space, you may want to increase the amount of essential oil that you would normally use.  This will require experimentation on your part until you find the right amount to use for your specific room.

A small 100 ml diffuser on the other hand is perfect for a bedroom, restroom, kitchen, office, etc. 

How much mist the diffuser produces

When I first got into diffusers, I made the mistake of thinking that the larger the diffuser was, the larger the space it would cover. 

The size of the diffuser has nothing to do with its coverage.  The size represents the amount of water it can hold. 

In our living room, we have the Sparoom Onyx Black diffuser.  The specs say it works in rooms up to 300 sq feet and has a 200 ml capacity.  Running in intermittent mode, it can last for 16 hours!  This is because it gives off a slow steady mist.  For our living room size, the amount of mist it produces is perfect.

If we were to just use a citrus spray such as orange, after a few hours, we would no longer smell the orange.  So, for this diffuser, we use a variety of blends we have purchased or made ourselves.  This way, the aroma will usually last all day. 

For a large space, this diffuser would probably not be good because it produces such a small amount of mist for a large room.   

Diffusers usually come in 4 sizes.

Small – rooms less than 150 sq ft.

Medium – rooms between 150 -300 sq ft.

Large – rooms between 300 – 500 sq ft.

X-Large – rooms larger than 500 sq ft.

This size does not necessarily refer to the water capacity size, it refers to the amount of mist produced by the diffuser.  But I have found that the larger capacity diffusers usually produce a larger amount of mist, so the two could go hand in hand.

Quality of diffuser

When I first started playing around with essential oil diffusers, I was trying to save money, so I purchased one of those cheap little diffusers for $12.99.  Since this was my first diffuser, I had nothing to compare it to.

It was one of those diffusers that have the diffuser mechanism at the top of the diffuser.  The water is sucked up through a small cylindrical filter, and then a tiny amount of mist is released.  I loved it – I thought.

After about 2 months, the diffuser stopped working.  The filter had clogged up and needed to be replaced.  While trying to remove the filter, which was jammed in place, I landed up breaking the plastic clips that held the filter in place.  That was the end of my diffuser.

I next purchased a high-quality diffuser from a well-known brand – Sparoom.  The difference was night and day.  The Aromasource Bliss diffuser produced a much larger and more powerful mist compared to my first diffuser.  This diffuser worked like most ultrasonic diffusers – using an ultrasonic plate at the bottom, with a small fan hidden in the base to blow the mist out. 

Plus, this diffuser used medical-grade plastic.  This is important because medical-grade plastic is temperature, chemical, and corrosion-resistant.  Since many essential oils can be corrosive, such as the citrus-based essential oils, you want to make sure chemicals from the plastic are not being leached out with your mist. 

If medical-grade plastic is not used, a synthetic compound known as BPA (bisphenol A) could be getting leached into your mist.  BPA binds to estrogen receptors and can alter bodily functions such as growth, cell repair, fetal development, energy levels, and reproduction.

Do yourself a favor, DO NOT purchase those cheap diffusers.  They do not work as well as a high-quality diffuser, and they could be hazardous to your health.


I hope you have found this guide useful.  Essential oils can be a wonderful alternative to those chemical sprays and can help many people with all sorts of medical issues.   Although your essential oils might not smell strong all the time, following this guide, you can get the most out of your essential oils.

While you are here, check out our essential oils and diffusers here at EnchantedAromatics.com.  We do not sell the cheap stuff.

Take care and stay safe.



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