Do Citronella Candles Repel Mosquitoes? The Truth Will Surprise You!

In spite of their small size, mosquitoes are one of the world’s most dangerous creatures. They carry and transmit deadly diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, malaria, and the Zika virus. That is why it’s essential to take measures to control their population and prevent their bites, especially during the summer months when they are most active. Citronella candles are an old, popular way of keeping mosquitoes away, but do they really work as a repellent? Let’s explore this topic in detail and find out the truth!

What Is Citronella Oil?

Citronella oil is a natural essential oil extracted from plant species like Cymbopogon Nardus (Ceylon citronella) and Cymbopogon Winterianus (Java citronella). It has a distinct, strong citrusy scent that many people find pleasant. Citronella has been used for centuries in traditional medicine, perfume-making, and as a flavoring agent in food and drinks. In recent decades, citronella’s insect-repelling properties have gained attention, and it’s now a common ingredient in mosquito repellents and candles.

How Do Mosquitoes Detect Humans?

Mosquitoes locate humans through three main cues:

  • Carbon dioxide: humans exhale carbon dioxide, and mosquitoes can detect it from over 100 feet away. They use this cue to find their target.
  • Body heat: mosquitoes perceive infrared radiation that emanates from warm-blooded animals like humans. They use this cue to get closer to their target and land on their skin.
  • Skin odor: humans release various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from their skin, which mosquitoes can detect and use to confirm that they’ve found a suitable host. Different VOCs attract different mosquito species, which is why some people are more attractive to mosquitoes than others.

How Do Citronella Candles Work?

Citronella candles work by masking the human cues that mosquitoes use to locate their target. The citronella oil produces a strong, overwhelming scent that confuses mosquitoes’ olfactory system and makes it harder for them to detect the carbon dioxide and skin odor of humans. In theory, this reduces the chances of getting bitten, and some studies support this claim.

The Effectiveness of Citronella Candles

The question of whether citronella candles are effective mosquito repellents is a controversial topic, with mixed results from studies and anecdotal evidence. Some studies have found that citronella oil can reduce mosquito attraction and bites, while others have found no significant difference between citronella candles and placebo candles, or DEET-based repellents.

A study conducted in 2013 by the University of Guelph in Canada tested the effectiveness of different mosquito repellents, including citronella candles. They found that citronella candles reduced the number of mosquito landings by 42%, compared to the control group, which received no treatment. However, the study also found that DEET-based repellents were much more effective, with a reduction of 96% of mosquito landings.

Another study conducted in 2008 by the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association tested the effectiveness of various mosquito repellents in a laboratory setting. They found that citronella candles reduced mosquito attraction by 25%, compared to the control group. However, the study noted that the effect was short-lived, and the candles needed to be replaced frequently for optimal effectiveness.

The Limitations of Citronella Candles

While citronella candles may help reduce mosquito attraction and bites, they have several limitations that users should be aware of, including:

  • Wind: Citronella candles work by diffusing their scent in the air, but wind or air currents can disperse the scent and reduce its effectiveness. In windy environments, citronella candles may not be reliable.
  • Distance: Citronella candles have a limited range of effectiveness, typically up to 10-15 feet. If you’re sitting farther away, the candles may not be effective, and you may still get bitten.
  • Mosquito Species: Different mosquito species have different preferences and attraction mechanisms. Some species may be less affected by citronella than others. Therefore, the candles may not be effective in all situations.
  • Concentration: The effectiveness of citronella candles depends on the concentration of the essential oil used. Some candles may not contain enough citronella to be effective, while others may have too much, which can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some people.

How to Use Citronella Candles Safely

While citronella candles are generally safe to use, there are some precautions that users should take to avoid accidental fires, burns, or other hazards, such as:

  • Keep away from flammable materials: Citronella candles are made of wax and can catch fire if placed near flammable materials like curtains, paper, or clothing. Use them in an open, well-ventilated space where there are no fire hazards.
  • Don’t leave unattended: Citronella candles should be monitored while burning and extinguished when no longer in use. Don’t leave them burning overnight or in a room where there are pets or children.
  • Avoid skin contact: Citronella oil can cause dermatitis or other skin reactions in some people, especially in high concentrations. Avoid touching the oil or the candle’s melted wax and wash your hands if you come in contact with them.


Citronella candles can be a useful addition to your mosquito control strategy, but they are not a panacea. They have limitations and may not work in all situations or against all mosquito species. It’s essential to use them carefully and in combination with other measures, such as mosquito nets, repellents, or insecticides, to minimize the chances of getting bitten and reducing the risk of mosquito-borne diseases.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do citronella candles repel all mosquito species?
  • No, citronella candles may work against some mosquito species but not others, depending on their attraction mechanisms and preferences.

  • What is the best way to use citronella candles?
  • Place the candles in an open, well-ventilated space, away from flammable materials or pets. Use them in combination with other mosquito control measures and replace them frequently for optimal effectiveness.

  • Do citronella candles work against other insects?
  • Citronella candles may have a repellent effect on other insects, such as flies or ants, but their primary focus is on mosquitoes.

  • Are there any health hazards associated with citronella candles?
  • Citronella candles are generally safe to use, but they may cause skin irritation or other allergic reactions in some people, especially in high concentrations. Use them carefully and follow the recommended usage instructions.

  • Can citronella candles attract mosquitoes?
  • No, citronella candles are supposed to have the opposite effect, by masking the human cues that mosquitoes use to locate their target. However, if the scent of the candle is too weak or the candle is placed too far away from humans, it may not be effective, and mosquitoes may still be attracted to other cues.

  • Are there any alternatives to citronella candles?
  • Yes, there are several alternatives to citronella candles, such as mosquito nets, repellents, or insecticides. Each option has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation, and it’s essential to choose the most suitable one for your needs.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *