What is Citronella?

A citronella candle.
Mosquito about to bite.
Some manufacturers market sunscreens that include citronella as an ingredient.
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  • Written By: S. Mithra
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2014
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The smell of oil of citronella repels blood-feeding mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas. The oil is extracted from Cymbopogon nardus and Cymbopogon winterianus grasses, thus is all-natural. As a non-toxic substance, many people prefer using it to using other chemical repellants such as DEET.

Citronella oil appears in many products designed to protect humans, pets, and open-air spaces from the public health risks posed by mosquitoes and ticks. A concerned person could use a spritz on their clothing, lotion or soap on their skin, treated collars on their pets, and candles or pellet bags surrounding their picnic. Innovative retailers have even created wristbands, personal wipes, and sunblock spray. Citronella is totally harmless to most people, although occasionally a mild irritation might develop from an allergic reaction.

Most of the insect repellants whose only active ingredient is citronella are not regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) because they are not technically pesticides. The smell of the oil is unpleasant to insects, but it doesn't harm or alter them in any way. A lotion with 10% concentration of citronella oil has been shown to deter insects for up to an hour. This natural alternative to DEET, while not as long lasting, does not come with government warnings. It's often combined with other natural insect repellants, such as catnip, cedar oil, mint, or rubbing alcohol.


Mosquitoes and ticks harbor many highly dangerous diseases, such as encephalitis and Lyme's Disease. The contagion passes into our bloodstream when mosquito saliva acts as a carrier at the bite sight. Mosquito populations are best controlled by preventative measures such as eliminating breeding locations. But seasonal spikes in population, or dawn/dusk exposure, make humans especially susceptible to bites. Pets roaming in brush off trails might pick up ticks. That's why it is important to remain vigilant in the prevention agains infection.

Incidentally, growing the grass from which the oil is derived will not protect your garden from insects; it is not fragrant enough, although you might detect a faint lemon smell. Citronella oil might be found as a rare flavoring in certain dishes, adding a peculiar lemony spice. The two grass varieties are native to Java and Ceylon.


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Post 18

Citronella is also a plant, a very nice plant actually, an ornamental grass that can be added to most any garden. It is cheaper and less potentially hazardous to dogs and smalls than the manufactured product. It's a constant deterrent while growing.

Post 17

@JaneAir - I guess the only reason you might want to grow citronella is if you want to use it to cook with! I had no idea you could cook with citronella til I read this article, I thought it was just used for bug repellant. That being said, I don't really like the flavor of lemon so I doubt I'll be using citronella for anything except citronella mosquito repellent in the near future.

Post 16
I didn't realize citronella plants weren't as potent as citronella spray. I think it would be so cool to plant something in my yard to keep annoying bugs away. I guess it's just not that easy though.

Anyway, I do like citronella, but I feel like I always have to use a lot of it to make it work. In the summer I use the spray on myself, and citronella candles. Those two things together seem to do the trick.

Post 15

@Ted41 - That's great that citronella works so well for you. I keep a citronella candle on my porch to use in the summertime, and I don't even see a difference when I use it. I don't know if I just have a lot of mosquitoes in my area or what. But I'm thinking about resorting to using stuff with DEET in it next summer just to keep the bugs away!

Post 14
@anon80214 - Wow, that sounds really scary about DEET. I don't have any medical conditions, but I also prefer to use citronella repellent over DEET. When I have a choice between a potentially harmful chemical and using a natural product, I always choose the natural product. I think it's much safer and healthier in the long run!

Also, I personally find citronella to be a really effective bug repellent, and I actually kind of like the smell. I don't ever see myself purchasing anything with DEET in it again.

Post 13

@69254: This anon says you can make dog soap with citronella. How do I mix the batch?

Post 12

will citronella repel spiders?

Post 11

can i use candles with citronella indoors?

Post 10

DEET makes it hard for me to breathe, and it reacts to my nerve condition, whereas citronella does not.

Post 9

can i use citronella oil for dog shampoo and dog soap?

Post 8

is citronella available in the philippines. what type of climate is fit for growing citronella?

Post 7

i am afraid of ingredients that sound like chemical warfare.

Post 6

is citronella oil placed in a pond to kill mosquito larva toxic to birds or pets?

Post 5

Can citronella repel against fleas as well?

Post 4

You should note that DEET has been more extensively tested than any other repellent, is not toxic, is safe for children over two months, and is unquestionably the most effective mosquito repellent. A study in JFamily Practice (Oct. 2002)shows that high concentrations of DEET protect for an average of 5 hours. Citronella only lasted about 10 minutes.

Post 2

can i also use citronella for curing acne?

Post 1

Can I plant cinnamon basil and citronella together in the same pot? I live in Barbados in the Caribbean.

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