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Do Citronella Candles Actually Repel Mosquitoes?

At every store and in every article online, you’ve likely seen citronella boasted as an effective mosquito repellent. Citronella oil has been formulated into sprays, lotions, and candles. But does citronella actually work to keep mosquitoes away? If you place a citronella candle outdoors in the summer, the oil burning may aid in repelling mosquitoes and other insects.

However, any effectiveness is short-lived. In fact, some research has shown that citronella candles may only be effective for a couple of hours. 

Person lighting citronella candle

What is Citronella?

Citronella is a naturally occurring oil that is derived from leaves and grass. This gives the citronella oil a characteristic yellow/brown color with a grassy, floral, and citrus scent. Citronella essential oil is used for many purposes, namely a natural insect repellent, as perfume, as a food additive, to promote wound healing, and even as an antifungal agent. Citronella candles have since become a very popular product that is marketed to repel not only mosquitoes but a variety of other insects as well.

How Do Citronella Candles Work?

Citronella actually works to repel insects by masking the scents that otherwise attract bugs. The scent of citronella can make it difficult for mosquitoes to locate you. But just how effective is citronella to keep mosquitoes away? Research has found that citronella oil, when combined with vanillin, can provide mosquito protection for three hours. When combined with DEET, a citronella product can protect you for over six hours. However, citronella candles alone have been found to give barely any protection against mosquitoes.

Citronella Candle Alternatives To Repel Mosquitoes

Citronella candles are a popular choice for repelling mosquitoes, but there are alternative methods worth considering, that could be more effective for your needs:

Chemical Repellents

Chemical repellents offer potent protection against mosquitoes. DEET-based products, for example, are widely used and recommended by health authorities. Picaridin and permethrin are other common chemical options. These repellents create a barrier on the skin, effectively deterring mosquitoes and reducing the risk of bites. However, some individuals may have sensitivities or concerns about the potential long-term effects of chemical exposure.

Natural Repellents

Keeping mosquitos away with natural repellents provides an alternative for those seeking a more eco-friendly approach. Essential oils like citronella, lavender, and eucalyptus are known for their mosquito-repelling properties. These can be used in candles, sprays, or applied directly to the skin. Other natural options include garlic, neem oil, and catnip. While generally considered safe, it’s important to be mindful of individual sensitivities and to follow proper dilution and application guidelines.

Mosquito Control Techniques

Implementing mosquito control techniques can help reduce mosquito populations in and around your home. Removing standing water where mosquitoes breed is crucial. This includes emptying containers, cleaning gutters, and ensuring proper drainage. Installing screens on windows and doors, using mosquito nets over beds, and employing outdoor traps or bug zappers can also be effective measures. Additionally, landscaping with mosquito-repelling plants such as marigolds, basil, and rosemary can create a natural barrier against these pests.

Can Citronella Plants Repel Mosquitoes?

Citronella plants, typically sold as lemon-scented geraniums, do not repel mosquitoes. It is the oil within the leaves that contains the properties needed to repel mosquitoes. The leaves must be crushed or rubbed to extract the oil, which could help to keep mosquitoes at bay. When it comes to repelling mosquitoes, it’s important to always rely on more effective and approved methods of prevention.


Mosquitoes dislike several scents, including citronella, lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, lemongrass, and geraniol. These scents are commonly found in essential oils and are often used in mosquito repellents, candles, and sprays. Additionally, mosquitoes avoid strong-smelling herbs such as basil, rosemary, and thyme. 

Yes, several substances are known to repel mosquitoes effectively. These include DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Natural essential oils are also commonly used to help deter mosquitoes but can have limited success. Additionally, certain plants like citronella, marigolds, and catnip have mosquito-repelling properties.

Citronella candles are moderately effective in repelling mosquitoes. The scent of citronella oil masks the carbon dioxide and lactic acid emitted by humans, making it difficult for mosquitoes to locate their hosts. While they may reduce mosquito activity in a small area, their effectiveness can be limited.

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