Do Citronella Candles Work? Repellents to Try Instead

Citronella candles are a popular choice for repelling mosquitoes and other biting insects. But do they really work? Let’s take a closer look at the effectiveness of citronella candles and some alternative repellents you can try instead.

How Do Citronella Candles Work?

Citronella candles contain oil from the citronella plant, a grass variety with a strong, lemon-like scent. When the candle is lit, the oil is warmed and released into the air. The theory is that bugs don’t like the smell, so it keeps them away.

Some studies have found citronella candles reduce mosquito bites by roughly 42-48% compared to plain candles or no candles. However, results can vary based on factors like:

  • Airflow – More breeze disperses the scent faster
  • Proximity – You need to be within 3-6 feet of the candle for effects
  • Mosquito population – More bugs means less effectiveness

So while citronella candles may help repel some mosquitoes, they don’t provide full protection.

Limitations of Citronella Candles

There are a few reasons citronella candles have limited effectiveness against mosquitoes:

Scent Fades Quickly

The citronella scent is strongest when first lit. But the scent intensity fades within 30 minutes to an hour as the candle burns down. Once the smell weakens, bugs aren’t as deterred.

Short Range

Citronella oil doesn’t diffuse very far – only about a 3-6 foot radius from the candle. So if you’re sitting farther away, you won’t get protection.

Mosquitoes Can Get Used to the Smell

Mosquitoes aren’t innately repelled by citronella. With repeated exposure, they can become desensitized and ignore the scent.

No Effect on Ticks

While citronella may help against mosquitoes, it doesn’t work against ticks. Ticks don’t respond to scent-based repellents.

Doesn’t Stop All Mosquitoes

Not all mosquito species are deterred by citronella. Plus, hungry skeeters may still bite you despite the smell.

Wind Can Limit Effects

Breezy conditions rapidly disperse the citronella scent, reducing the repellent effects.

So while citronella candles can provide some extra protection, they shouldn’t be your only defense. Relying solely on them leaves you vulnerable to bites.

Do Citronella Candles Work?

The bottom line – citronella candles alone don’t give great mosquito protection. Under ideal conditions (no wind, new candle), you may get 42-48% fewer bites within 3-6 feet of the candle. But that still leaves over half the mosquito population untouched.

For better protection, use citronella candles alongside other repellents like sprays, lotions, or fans. Or rely on more powerful alternatives like DEET repellent or certain essential oils.

If you want to try citronella candles, look for those made with 100% pure citronella oil, like Cutter, Repel, or OFF! Avoid cheaper candles with diluted oil. Place candles upwind and near seating areas for the best effects.

But don’t depend solely on citronella candles to keep mosquitoes away. For the most effective protection, opt for the following alternatives.

Mosquito Repellents That Work Better Than Citronella Candles

Here are some top repellent options that are more reliable than citronella:


DEET is the most widely used and studied insect repellent. It’s considered the gold standard for warding off mosquitoes, ticks, and other bugs when used correctly.

DEET works by blocking insects’ sense of smell so they can’t detect you. Products with 25-35% DEET provide up to 8 hours of protection against mosquitoes.

DEET can be used by adults and children older than 2 months. Apply DEET lotion or spray to exposed skin and clothing, avoiding hands and eyes. DEET may damage plastics, leather, and synthetic fabrics with repeated use.

Some top DEET products include:

  • Off! Deep Woods
  • Sawyer Premium Maxi-DEET
  • Cutter Backwoods

2. Picaridin

Picaridin is a synthetic repellent that’s odorless, non-greasy, and won’t damage fabrics like DEET might. It’s almost as effective as DEET at warding off mosquitoes and ticks.

Look for picaridin products containing 20% active ingredient. Applied correctly, 20% picaridin protects against mosquitoes for up to 8 hours.

Some top picaridin options include:

  • Sawyer Picaridin
  • Repel Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Cutter Advanced

3. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is a plant-based oil that offers protection similar to low concentrations of DEET. OLE products provide up to 6 hours of mosquito protection.

OLE is safe for children over 3 years. Avoid applying it to hands or faces, as it can irritate eyes and mucous membranes. OLE also has a short shelf life compared to DEET products.

Good OLE repellents include:

  • Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural
  • Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus
  • OFF! Botanicals

4. IR3535

IR3535 is a synthetic repellent originally derived from amino acids. Products with 20% IR3535 protect against mosquitos for up to 8 hours.

While not as long-lasting as DEET, IR3535 is less irritating to skin and eyes. It also doesn’t damage plastics or fabrics. IR3535 is safe for children over 6 months when used as directed.

Some IR3535 options to try:

  • Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus
  • Coleman Skin Smart DEET-Free Spray
  • Repel Scented Family Spray

5. Permethrin for Clothing

Permethrin is an insecticide that binds securely to clothing fibers, remaining effective through several wash cycles. It repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes, and other bugs that land on treated clothes.

Apply permethrin spray to shoes, socks, pants, and jackets. Let dry fully before wearing. Use DEET or another repellent on any exposed skin. Reapply permethrin every 4-6 weeks for maximum protection.

Good permethrin choices include:

  • Sawyer Permethrin Clothing Treatment
  • Repel Permethrin Clothing & Gear Spray
  • Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent

6. Spatial Repellents

Spatial repellents create a protective “zone” that keeps mosquitoes away from a certain area. Options include:

Mosquito misting systems – Automated misters deliver repellent throughout your yard or patio at regular intervals.

Repellent candles – Citronella isn’t very effective, but candles with eucalyptus, lemongrass, or catnip oil work better.

Mosquito-repelling plants – Some plants like lavender, marigolds, basil, and mint repel mosquitoes from an area when planted nearby.

Mosquito zappers – Electric devices that lure and kill bugs via electric shock. Help reduce local mosquito populations.

Fans – Strong air currents make it hard for mosquitos to land on you. Box fans on the highest setting push mosquitos away.

Spatial repellents create a “bubble” of protection in your yard or patio, but you still need repellent on your skin when venturing outside the safe zone.

Preventing Mosquito Bites Without Repellent

Along with using effective repellents, you can take other steps to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Wear protective clothing – Long sleeves, pants, hats
  • Limit outdoor time at dawn and dusk when mosquitos are most active
  • Get rid of standing water on your property where mosquitos breed
  • Install tight screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitos out
  • Stay away from still bodies of water where mosquitos congregate
  • Run overhead fans – Mosquitos struggle to fly against strong air currents
  • Plant mosquito-repelling plants around your yard like lavender, mint, basil and lemongrass

Are Citronella Candles Safe?

When used properly, citronella candles are safe for adults and children. Potential risks include:

  • Fire hazard if left unattended or placed near flammable materials
  • Skin irritation for those allergic to citronella oil
  • Indoor air pollution from smoke if used in enclosed spaces

Never leave burning candles unattended. Place candles at least 3 feet from flammable items on a non-flammable surface. Avoid using citronella candles indoors where smoke and scent build-up could occur. Extinguish candles before going to sleep.

Citronella oil is non-toxic, but may cause skin reactions in some individuals. Do a spot test before using citronella products on skin. Don’t apply citronella oil on or near the face.

The Bottom Line

Citronella candles provide a minimal repellent effect – enough to take the edge off mosquito exposure but not full protection. Don’t rely on citronella as your sole defense against mosquitos.

For the best results, use EPA-registered repellents like DEET, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus when going outside. Employ multiple repellent strategies like lotions, sprays, clothing treatments and spatial repellents.

Limit time outdoors during peak mosquito hours. Eliminate standing water sources in your yard. Install protective screens on windows and doors.

Citronella candles can offer a small protective boost when entertaining outdoors. Place 3-5 candles around seating areas 15 minutes before guests arrive. Use them to supplement other repellents, not as your only line of defense against annoying mosquito bites.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions about citronella candles and mosquito repellents:

Do citronella candles really work?

Citronella candles only repel mosquitoes within a 3-6 foot radius. They reduce bites by about 42-48% when used properly. They don’t provide full protection and should be combined with other repellents.

What repels mosquitoes better than citronella candles?

DEET, picaridin, lemon eucalyptus oil, IR3535 and permethrin all provide longer-lasting, more effective protection than citronella candles. Spatial repellents like fans and zappers also help reduce mosquito exposure.

How long do citronella candles repel mosquitoes?

The mosquito-repelling effects last 30 minutes to an hour before fading as the candle burns down. Mosquitoes can also become used to the citronella scent with repeated exposure.

Do citronella candles keep ticks away?

No, citronella has no effect against ticks. For protection against ticks, use DEET or permethrin on skin and clothing.

Can you use citronella candles indoors?

It’s not recommended to use citronella candles inside because the smoke and scent buildup could be irritating. Use fans, screens and air conditioning to prevent indoor mosquito problems instead.

Is citronella oil safe for your skin?

When diluted and used properly, citronella oil is non-toxic for adults and children. Do a patch test before applying to skin. Avoid contact with eyes and mucous membranes.

How often should you reapply mosquito repellent?

Reapply DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus every 2-4 hours for continued protection. Reapply IR3535 every hour. Re-treat clothing and gear with permethrin every 6 weeks.

What can I spray around my home to repel mosquitoes?

Use permethrin or pyrethrin-based sprays designed for outdoor spaces. Read labels carefully and follow all safety directions when applying.

Do mosquito-repelling plants work?

Plants like lavender, mint, citronella grass, catnip and basil have natural oils that help repel mosquitos to some degree when planted nearby outdoor living spaces.

Do mosquito zappers effectively control mosquitoes?

Mosquito zappers attract and electrocute insects, lowering the overall mosquito population. But they may not prevent bites, so use additional repellents when outdoors.


Citronella candles shouldn’t be your only mosquito deterrent. While they provide a minimal protective zone, citronella doesn’t effectively repel all mosquitoes or last very long. Use the candles to supplement more reliable repellents like DEET, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus when outdoors.

Implement multiple repellent strategies using lotions, sprays, vaporizers and spatial deterrents. Wear protective clothing and avoid peak mosquito hours. Eliminate breeding grounds on your property. Citronella candles can be part of your mosquito defense system, but shouldn’t be the only tactic you employ.

With the right combination of repellents and preventative measures, you can enjoy the outdoors mosquito-free! Carefully chosen products plus smart practices will keep those pesky bugs at bay.