Does Citronella Actually Repel Mosquitoes?

Who doesn’t enjoy relaxing outside with friends and family during the summer months? But even when the weather’s perfect, the pesky little mosquitoes that buzz about the yard pose a big problem. You might consider repelling them using citronella candles, but is this enough to actually keep mosquitoes away?

While citronella is known to repel mosquitoes, citronella candles are too small to offer substantial protection. Using bug spray with other repellants (like an electric fan) is effective, but it’s best to remove nearby sources of standing water to prevent them from laying eggs in the first place.

With the limitations of using only citronella candles in mind, it’s worth taking a look at other methods of protecting yourself from pests. Let’s look at the science behind citronella candles and alternate options for repelling mosquitoes that you may want to use this summer. 

What Attracts Mosquitoes?

Mosquito larvae in underwater

One of the best ways of controlling nearby mosquito populations is to get rid of the things in your yard that mosquitoes are attracted to. A mosquito’s number one interest is standing water.

This is because most species of mosquitoes need to lay their eggs in standing water. So, by carefully eliminating sources of standing water in your yard, you cut down your chances of having to deal with them.

That said, it’s important to know that mosquitoes don’t need much water to spawn. Containers as shallow as a bottle cap are viable places for mosquitoes to lay eggs. Take care to remove water present atop pool covers and inside objects like pet food dishes, bird baths, wheelbarrows, and gutters.

There’s no need to stow away your bird bath for the summer, though. Just make sure that you replace the water every three days, as it takes four days for mosquito larvae to hatch. You can also chemically treat the water to kill mosquito eggs.  

Those with a fish pond don’t have to worry, as most types of fish will consume the mosquito larvae and eggs. Double-check the species present in your pond before you rely on this method of mosquito prevention, however, as not all fish will do so.

Water can also collect inside leaves and other kinds of yard debris, so it’s a good practice to spend time clearing any piles of plant matter from your yard. 

Can Citronella Candles Repel Mosquitos?

In recent years, many companies have begun selling citronella candles with the claim that they help repel mosquitoes. But do they actually work?

While mosquitoes don’t like the scent of citronella, there’s just one problem with the candle: it’s too small. Perhaps if you sat right next to the candle, you wouldn’t get bitten, but anyone else in your party that is just a little bit further away probably would. 

Citronella candles aren’t necessarily a scam. They’re simply too small to be very effective.

Can Citronella Plants Repel Mosquitoes? 

Citronella plants, similar to citronella candles, emit a scent that keeps mosquitoes away. The problem is the same, however, as the plants have a limited range of influence.

The best way to use a citronella plant is actually to break the leaves and rub the oil of the plant on your skin, as this is what actually keeps the mosquitoes away. The oil doesn’t last, though: it will only stay on your skin for about two hours. 

Again, if you are sitting near the citronella plant, you’re less likely to get bitten. But of course, not everyone in your yard can circle around a single plant and be assured that mosquitoes won’t pester them.

A better course of action is to combine planting citronella with another form of mosquito control. For example, you can combine the properties of mosquito repelling plants with the use of screens to keep your deck area mosquito-free after dusk. 

Alternatives to Citronella Candles 

Woman applying mosquito repellent on the hand skin in the forest

Because a citronella plant or candle is unlikely to work all on its own, you will likely still need to wear some bug repellent as well as invest in some mosquito-repelling gadgets in order to keep yourself bite-free. 

Best Natural Bug Repellants 

Just because you can’t rely on a citronella candle doesn’t mean you have to douse yourself in DEET-based bug sprays. There are actually quite a few all-natural bug repellents that you can use to keep mosquitoes at bay. 

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent

Repel (on Amazon) uses lemon eucalyptus, another oil that mosquitoes don’t like, as the main ingredient in their repellent. DEET isn’t present in their formula. Surprisingly, this scent lasts much longer than citronella products, and users report that you only have to apply it twice per day. The only downside? The scent of this spray is quite strong. 

Para’kito Natural Mosquito Repellent

Para’kito (on Amazon) is a good option for those who want a mosquito repellent that is all-natural but a bit less pungent than the aforementioned Repel. Para’kito is made from a combination of citronella, rosemary, geranium, mint, clove, and peppermint — a proprietary blend that keeps mosquitoes away.

As you can expect, this repellent needs to be reapplied frequently, even more so if you are sweating or swimming. This usually means reapplying at least once every three hours. For sporty types and those of us who will definitely struggle to remember to reapply, Para’kito offers a wristband version (also on Amazon).

Sky Organics Bug Spray

Sky Organics (on Amazon) is another natural bug spray made of oils that is safe to use on babies, when pregnant, and even on pets. It’s made from soybean oil, castor oil, and citronella, along with a few other plant oils

Because this is another product that relies on citronella for its protection, you do have to reapply frequently: every four hours, according to the bottle. 

Best Mosquito-Repelling Gadgets 

You shouldn’t solely rely on repellents, mostly because the natural ones need to be reapplied so frequently. Instead, it’s helpful to use natural bug spray alongside one of these mosquito-repelling gadgets

A Fan

Mosquitoes hate rapidly moving air, so bringing your household fan out onto your patio for a BBQ can go a long way towards keeping away those pesky mosquitoes. It doesn’t even have to be a special fan. Any box fan will do so long as you ensure that your family sits within the stream of air for the best protection. If you have a large family, consider using multiple fans. 

Mosquito Traps

Another method of repelling mosquitoes is using zappers, like this one by FECOOR (on Amazon). These devices attract the insects via a special UV light to kill them using electricity. While this won’t nab every mosquito in your yard, having one or two of these in the vicinity can help keep the mosquitos away from you.

Just be sure they are placed out of the reach of children who might find the light fun to play with. 

Mosquito-Repelling String Lights

Certain strings of lights, like these by TIKI (on Amazon), are outfitted with mosquito-repelling light bulbs. These are bulbs that, when on, also emit a scent that repels mosquitoes, like citronella. Note that these bulbs only work while on, and if you want to avoid DEET, you’ll have to buy ones that only emit naturally derived scents. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, while citronella candles may not provide 100% protection against mosquitoes, citronella itself is helpful in doing so. You’ll get a stronger effect for a few hours when its oil is applied directly to your skin.

As you plan events this summer, take the time to keep your yard free of sources of standing water, and consider combining citronella products with bug spray or electronic devices to ward off those pesky mosquitoes. 

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