Can citronella actually repel mosquitoes? Entomologists explain

Citronella has been used as a herbal mosquito repellent for decades, but is it just an old wives' tale?

citronella leaves
(Image credit: Alamy)

Summer is a time to enjoy the great outdoors, however, while we spend more evenings outside, one thing we don't want to worry about is mosquitoes or the prospect of getting bitten by them.

Many people go to extraordinary lengths to get rid of mosquitoes and although there are over-the-counter creams and sprays you can buy, these can often be quite harsh on the skin and contain chemicals. 

Using homemade mosquito repellents and different scents to deter mosquitoes away can also help to get rid of these pesky flying insects for good.

Can Citronella Repel Mosquitoes?

Experts share whether natural citronella works and how it can be used this summer.

citronella leaves

(Image credit: Alamy)

What is citronella?

Citronella can typically be found in two forms, the oil you can buy over the counter and there is also a species of scented geranium known as a citronella plant.

Citronella oil is an essential oil obtained from the leaves and stems of these plants. It can be purchased widely and many use it on the skin or burn it in an oil burner when they are dining outside. It is a natural oil that contains no harsh chemicals and is suitable for adults and children.

Can citronella repel mosquitoes?

Swarm of mosquitoes in a field

(Image credit: GettyImages)

According to Zahid Adnan, founder of The Plant Bible, the oil derived from citronella plants can be very effective, because it contains compounds that mask the scents that attract mosquitoes. This makes it harder for them to locate their human targets.

'While citronella can be effective to some extent, its efficacy may vary,' Zahid says. 'This depends on factors such as concentration, application method, and individual sensitivity to mosquito bites.'

However, the oil from the plant definitely plays a role in deterring mosquitoes. 'I have personally seen a reduction in the number of mosquitos in my yard when I use the oil both topically and burn it,' he adds. 

Zahid Adnan
Zahid Adnan

Zahid is a renowned figure in the gardening industry, with extensive experience and hard-earned skills in horticulture. He is the Founder and Editor of

Citronella plants can also help in the fight against mosquitos – David Blue, President of Mozzie Dome Pest Control says the citronella plant, specifically Cymbopogan Nardus, is a great mosquito-repellant plant for your yard, and recommends positioning it around the border of flowerbeds or in patio pots. 

The strong citrus scent that the citronella plant gives off is said to repel mosquitoes as they are known to hate anything that smells acidic. That said, citronella plants work best when used in conjunction with citronella oil. This is because citronella oil, at Walmart, is much more concentrated and therefore more potent against those nasty pests.

The main reason why potency is important is that mosquitoes rely heavily on their sense of smell above all their other receptors. Citronella works by utilizing its strong scent and in turn impacts the mosquitoes' sensory receptors. 

'When exposed to citronella, mosquitoes become disoriented, this confusion disrupts their ability to find and bite humans or animals,' says David Blue of Mozzie Dome Pest Control. Citronella also contains specific compounds like citronellal and geraniol that act as irritants to mosquitoes, making it unpleasant for them to remain in the vicinity of the citronella scent.

David Blue
David Blue

David Blue has a background in pest control, and studied Entomology at the University of Wisconsin. His organization, Mozzie Dome is a dedicated pest control company to finding the best mosquito control for homes and businesses.

How to use citronella effectively

citronella leaves

(Image credit: Alamy)

There are multiple ways that you can use citronella, and you can purchase these in various forms such as candles, at Amazon, as well as sprays, and even bracelets.

The main reason many people opt for citronella is because it is a natural alternative to chemical bug repellents. However, an important thing to be aware of is that citronella tends to evaporate quickly, which can reduce its effectiveness over time. 

'If you're using citronella candles or oils, you'll need to remember to replenish them frequently.' says A.H David, Owner of Pest Control Weekly. For example, if you are using a citronella candle, it might keep mosquitoes at bay in a small area for as long as the candle is burning. But once it burns out or if you move away from that candle, the protection diminishes.

A.H advises that citronella works best when used in high concentrations, which is often not the case in many commercial products. Additionally, its efficacy can also depend on how it's used. For instance, a citronella-infused bracelet or candle might not provide full-body protection like a topical oil would, so it may be best to use a range of options.

A.H David

A.H David is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Pest Control Weekly. By hobby, he is a gardener and has experience dealing with all types of pests found in backyard gardens. His goal is to provide well-researched and authentic information about pests from his own experiences.

Nicole Carpenter, CEO of Black Pest Prevention says that applying citronella directly to the skin it stops mosquitoes from wanting to land on you. It also works by naturally reducing their presence in the area you are in, as the smell is so strong to these tiny insects. Another effective way to use citronella is through the use of citronella soaps and bath oils these help penetrate into the skin while you wash and are a great addition with the use of oils.

Nicole Carpenter
Nicole Carpenter

Nicole Carpenter first began working at Black Pest Prevention when she was a junior in high school. While attending N.C. State University she continued to work for the company and has since worked through the organization to now becoming its CEO. Black Pest Prevention is a Charlotte pest control company that serves North and South Carolina.

Is citronella toxic to pets?

Yes, citronella can be toxic to your pets, so use it with caution. If you have dogs and cats at home, make sure that your citronella plant is in a raised bed or a plant pot so that pets are not directly exposed to it. 

Citronella is a good natural remedy for keeping mosquitoes at bay, whether you plant it, use it as an oil and in the form of candles and sprays.

The most effective way to use it is with direct contact with the skin through creams and lotions. It's best not to rely on one method, but to try a combination instead. While it won't eradicate them, take note of colors that repel mosquitoes, too.

Seraphina Di Mizzurati
Contributing Editor

Seraphina is a contributing editor at Homes & Gardens, writing Solved features on organizing and storage. She loves to decorate and also grow her own produce from her home in London. Her previous experience includes working at Women's Health and Fabulous Magazine.