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

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.)

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LAST UPDATED

May 7, 2022

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