Do Citronella Candles Work? Because the Mosquitos Are Back and They’re Ready to Feast

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Mosquitoes (i.e., the bane of our existence in the summer) are not only annoying, but they’re also known disease-carriers that can pose a considerable health risk. (Think: West Nile Virus). Which is why we’ll try almost anything to banish these pests. There’s been some buzz about citronella candles as an all-natural means of keeping these pesky bugs away but before you start buying ‘em for your backyard tiki torches, it’s worth asking—do citronella candles work? (Spoiler: They don’t, but there are plenty of other products that do.)

What is a citronella candle?

As the name suggests, citronella candles are simply regular candles made with a generous amount of citronella, an essential oil derived from fragrant Asian grass belonging to the Cymbopogon genius. As such, when these candles burn, they emit the citrusy, floral scent of citronella—a pleasant but pungent smell that some folks believe repels mosquitoes. Don’t swap your bug spray for a scented candle just yet though—there’s some myth-busting below.

Do citronella candles work?

Citronella candles, like other products containing the essential oil, are touted for their bug repellent properties and they’re undeniably more appealing than DEET. Alas, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Insect Science, citronella candles don’t do anything to scare off skeeters—nothing at all, nada. Although some all-natural bug repellent sprays, including those that feature citronella as a main ingredient, can throw mosquitos off your scent to a degree, none of them are as effective or as long-lasting as DEET when it comes to keeping bugs at bay. As for citronella candles, the perfume might be pleasant, but it is not potent enough to mask your yummy human smell and protect you from getting bitten. (In fact, in the study cited above, the citronella candle actually seemed to attract mosquitoes albeit by a margin so small it was not deemed to be scientifically significant.)

What are the most effective ways to get rid of mosquitoes?

So, if the citronella candle you have in your backyard is only good for mood lighting, how can you prevent mosquito bites? There are quite a few ways, actually—but DEET-based repellents, as well as those containing a chemical called Picaridin, come in first place. If you’re hellbent on finding an all-natural alternative to these chemical heavy-hitters, repellents that rely on lemon eucalyptus work better (by masking one’s scent) than those containing primarily citronella. Finally, a fan is also surprisingly effective at keeping mosquitoes away as they are unable to fly against the strong breeze. Of course, this last option isn’t practical in every situation, but it does work.

3 Bug Repellents That Work Way Better Than Citronella

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1. Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent

This 20 percent picaridin formula is available as a fragrance-free lotion that offers plenty of (stink-free) protection and is comfortable to wear.

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Home Depot

2. Cutter Backwoods Dry Repellent

DEET, the primary ingredient here, is undeniably effective, and the dry formula of this product means it won’t leave a gross, greasy film on your skin.

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3. Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Although it doesn’t last as long as DEET or Picaridin repellents, lemon eucalyptus is an all-natural option that actually works—just be aware that it smells incredibly strong.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...