Citronella: How Does It Actually Work Against Mosquitos

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Citronella oil in a bottle


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Mosquitos are one of the most annoying nuisances when it comes to summertime. With their sharp and stinging bites that itch for hours, it’s hard to enjoy being outside.

Then add in the recent diseases like West Nile & Zika; you can never be safe enough.

There are many Citronella products in the market claiming to work against mosquitos. But does citronella work against mosquitoes for real?

Citronella is a natural insect repellent derived from a plant called Pelargonium citrosum(1). People in many parts of the world have used this natural repellent for years. Citronella oil is also used to make mosquito coils and for mosquito control in many parts of the world over insecticide pest control options.

It is a strong-smelling plant growing in many parts of the world. For millennia, people have used it to keep off insects, mainly to get rid of mosquitoes. The plant can also ward off other types of insects and bugs.

It emits an odor that mosquitoes find intolerable and induces them to fly away from the vicinity making for an effective mosquito repellent.

Citronella oil in a bottle

What is Citronella? 

The citronella plant is a perennial herbaceous plant with long grass-like leaves and slender stalks. It has simple and wavy leaves that are lanceolate in shape and dark green in color. The spikes can be solitary or bisexual.

The buds of the citronella plant are oval, flattened, and hairy. Both male and female flowers produce aromatic white or yellowish ovoid flowers. It can bear fruits that have a long stalk covered with gleaming white hairs.

Since the Middle Ages, people have used the citronella plant to treat everything from fatigue to skin irritations.

Many people have found a lot of uses for citronella oil. The oil comes from the citronella tree, which grows in India, China, and Malaysia, among other tropical places.

It is typically a small tree with an aromatic leaf similar to lemongrass and an oblong stem with small white flowers.

The oil from the leaves and stems is extracted via steam distillation. It is also important to note that citronella, due to its many advantages and uses, has frequently been used as a natural insect repellent.

It is widely used in topical products offered to aromatherapy practitioners. Citronella essential oils are 100% pure, meaning they will not include synthetic compounds or other ingredients. 

The blossoms of the lemongrass-like citronella plant are steam-distilled to produce citronella essential oil. The citronella plant grows in tropical areas of Asia and Africa.

Does Citronella Repel Mosquitoes? 

If you think about the Citronella plant, it has an essential role in ecosystems. When citronella plants bloom, and all their leaves are aromatic, they can send out a solid and pleasant fragrance that is effective at repelling many insects.

Some studies have shown that this can be enough to deter or repel mosquitoes from landing on plants in your yard or even lawns in surrounding areas.

In India and other parts of the world, citronella has been used for hundreds of years as a powerful natural insect repellent. It feels sticky and works well as a barrier against insects.

Many commercial products, like bug spray and candles, incorporate it as an ingredient, as they know it is effective at repelling mosquitoes.

Citronella does not simply repel mosquitoes. However, it also masks the human scent that mosquitoes are looking for. Mosquitoes are mouth parts that utilize their sense of smell to find their victim and feed. 

On the other hand, the human scent is a mixture of carbon dioxide and lactic acid paired with a distinct pheromone unique to us. The pheromone attracts mosquitoes because it triggers its interest signals.

But how effective is citronella in keeping mosquitoes away? According to research, citronella inhibits mosquitoes by interfering with the olfactory receptor sense of smell to capture human scent instead.

Citronella-repellent products may include other essential oils such as lemongrass, eucalyptus, cedarwood, and lavender. They also produce a strong scent that masks human body odors.

Though citronella doesn’t have an instant effect on mosquitoes, it will take about 10 to 20 minutes before the natural bug repellent takes effect.

When properly applied and left to dry, it is chemical-free and doesn’t produce any unpleasant smells. 

Hence there are no worries about it getting into your clothes or skin. However, if applied with other synthetic fragrances, it can cause skin irritation. If you are allergic to citronella oil, avoid using it.

yellow citronella candle with some water inside after rain

How to Use Citronella to Repel Mosquitoes?

The main thing citronella repels that people care about is mosquitoes. But it also repels flies, gnats, fleas, and ticks. The specific ingredient in citronella oil that repels mosquitoes is the ketone “citronellal.”

Citronella is a good repellent for black and deer flies since it’s effective at deterring them without being toxic.

The usage of citronella is pretty simple. You can opt for body sprays, candles, reed diffusers, or natural bug deterrent mats. Setting up citronella repellents around your home and work environment is vital.

Body spray

Citronella-scented body spray with other essential oils works as an excellent mosquito repellent. Spray the citronella-scented body spray on your clothes and skin.

Many commercial mosquito repellents also have sprays with citronella in them, which can be sprayed right on the skin.

However, following the label directions is crucial because citronella oil can cause skin irritation if too many particles are absorbed into the skin.


Citronella reed diffusers for indoor use come in wide varieties, but you can easily make one using coconut husk fibers.

Soak the coconut husk fibers with citronella oil, then leave them in the sun to dry. After drying, the fibers can be used to make a mosquito-repellent diffuser.

You can buy a humidifier and use the dried fibers in it with water which will gradually spread the fragrance in your room. This fragrance will help to keep the mosquitoes far from your room.

Citronella candles

Citronella candles are also a good way to keep mosquitoes away. It provides a great atmosphere with its pleasant aroma as well.

To get the maximum effect, burn the candle all night long in outdoor areas, near doorways or windows where mosquitoes typically fly into your house. 

Most citronella candles contain citronella and additional essential oils such as lemongrass. These candles have a strong scent and are effective in keeping mosquitoes away.

You can find Citronella candles in many natural health stores and eco-friendly shops.

Citronella oil

There is nothing better than making your natural mosquito repellent using citronella oil. You will have to choose the right oil for your application since many companies market their oils as natural mosquito repellents. 

You can apply the oil to kill insects or use it to ward them off. The aroma of citronella oil is citrusy. It is made from the citronella plant, a particular type of the geranium family, oil or wax.

Several varieties of lemon grass (Cymbopogon) are among the many other plants that produce the citronella fragrance from which the oil can be extracted.

Citronella oil mats

Use natural citronella mats made of bamboo or reeds to protect outdoor places surrounding your home.

Simply make a natural mosquito repellent by soaking the bamboo mat in citronella oil and leaving it in the sun to dry.

Once the mats are dry, place them in your yard to stop mosquitoes from entering your backyard .

Does Citronella Help to Repel Mosquitoes in Backyard Settings?

Citronella is one of the most powerful mosquito repellent tips for backyard settings. The strong, distinct scent masks other attractants, making it difficult for mosquitoes to locate their prey. The use of citronella candles, torches, or oils can help create a barrier against these pesky insects.


Citronella really works and is an excellent natural insect repellent that can effectively keep mosquitoes away. It’s also odorless, safe, and affordable to use. But does citronella work against mosquitoes?

Citronella is a good alternative to synthetic insect-repelling products such as DEET. It has a long-lasting effect. Hence there is no need to keep applying it regularly.

Many choose citronella candles and simply burn them outdoors before bedtime, and don’t forget to apply citronella-scented body spray on your clothing to help prevent mosquitoes.