Updated October 2021
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Buying guide for best citronella candles

Love the great outdoors but hate mosquitoes? Citronella candles are a natural option for discouraging annoying pests. While they won’t completely stop mosquitoes from hanging around and aren’t ideal for serious insect protection, they do emit a natural scent and smoke that’s unpleasant to flying bloodsuckers.

Avoid sticky, strong-smelling bug spray and light a candle instead. Citronella not only offers a pleasant smell for humans, but the delicate flames also provide a nice atmospheric touch for outdoor evening gatherings. They’re easy to place anywhere, and all you need is matches or a lighter to light them.

You’ll likely still experience a few itchy bites while using citronella candles, but if you’re outside exposed to the elements and want to light some candles, why not choose the kind that might help deter pests? Our shopping guide has what you need to know before you buy.

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Mosquitoes aren’t just attracted to human excretions like carbon dioxide and sweat. They also love bright lights. Consider placing a bright light at the edge of your yard to confuse and divert pests.

Key considerations


Citronella is a natural oil extracted from certain varieties of lemongrass. The strong scent is intended to cover up the smells and body odors that make humans so attractive to blood-sucking bugs like mosquitoes. But don’t expect miracles when using citronella candles.

Citronella candles are most effective at a distance of one yard, and even at close range, their effectiveness isn’t rated at 100%. A stronger concentration of citronella oil will provide better results, but often candles don’t contain high percentages of the oil. Studies have also shown that citronella oil, even in high concentrations, isn’t effective against all species of mosquitoes. The smoke from a burning candle does most of the work in keeping mosquitoes away, so while citronella offers a pleasant smell, these candles aren’t particularly effective when compared to many bug sprays.

Citronella candles vs. citronella sprays

Wouldn’t a citronella spray applied directly to the skin be more effective than candles? Not necessarily. While topical application of citronella-based repellents may last a couple of hours, a candle is capable of burning and releasing the oil for a longer period of time. Unfortunately, candles don’t often contain high concentrations of citronella oil. If you have a serious mosquito problem in your yard, it might be worth considering other pest repellent options.


The bigger the candle, the longer it will burn. A larger candle, though, isn’t necessarily more potent. The size and type of wick may affect how much smoke the candle produces, which may contribute to its pest-deterring abilities.

Burn time

Expect small tea lights to last at least a few hours. Larger candles may burn for up to 100 hours.

Severity of pest infestation

A few candles won’t be very helpful if you’re dealing with an intense infestation. Consider calling in a pest expert if mosquitoes are causing you to avoid your outdoor area completely.

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Did you know?
DEET insect repellents are the most effective option for warding off mosquitoes.



For a natural option, look for candles made with essential oils. Most citronella candles have a distinct smell, while others feature other scents in combination with the lemony odor.


Citronella candle styles vary from functional designs to attractive candles with cute tins or holders.

Number of wicks

The wax in a candle with multiple wicks burns more evenly. An even burn will help your citronella candle last longer.

Prices for citronella candles

On average, citronella candles cost between $5 and $25. Single small candles or small packages of tea lights are the cheapest options. Large and attractive name-brand candles are more expensive and are often packaged in high-quality tins. Typically, the longer the burn time, the more expensive the citronella candle.


A candle isn’t enough to entirely ward off mosquitoes. Here are a few tips for keeping bugs at bay while hanging out in your backyard.

  • Get rid of standing pools of water. Mosquitoes reproduce in standing water. Stagnant pools, ponds, and buckets filled with water are all perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. After a heavy rainfall, investigate your yard and toss out pooled water (e.g., a rain-filled wheelbarrow). Keeping a cover on your pool will prevent mosquitoes from multiplying there, and adding a fountain to a pond makes the location less attractive to these bloodsuckers.

  • Invest in added protection. Consider investing in a gazebo for your deck’s dining area, and choose a model with insect netting to keep mosquitoes and other bugs away.

  • Harness the wind. Mosquitoes are pesky insects, but they’re not invincible. Bring your fan outdoors or invest in an outdoor fan to blow the suckers away.

  • Don’t scratch! It’s tempting, but try not to scratch those itchy bites. Apply a mosquito bite reliever or calamine lotion, or pop an allergy pill to diminish the urge to scratch.

  • Protect yourself while you sweat. If you’re heading out for a run in the heat of the summer, you may remember to apply sunscreen, but you might not think about mosquito protection. Trail runners, especially, may want to consider applying insect spray or lotion since mosquitoes are attracted to lactic acid in sweat.

  • Clothing adds another barrier to insect bites. Cover your body, and wear light colors. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing, so wear white for your next outdoor party. Don’t forget to protect your toes! Itchy bites on your feet are incredibly uncomfortable.

  • Don’t forget Fido. Mosquitoes feast on non-human critters, too. Your dog is as likely a target as you are, so be sure to keep up with vaccinations to prevent canine mosquito-borne infectious diseases.

  • Visit your neighbor. Have you checked your property for standing water? Are you still finding the mosquito problem unbearable? Your neighbor’s pool or pond may be the culprit. Consider having a friendly chat about the perils of standing water.
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Avoid bug zappers! They might kill a few mosquitoes, but they also kill countless beneficial insects like bees and ladybugs.


Q. Why should I worry about getting bitten by mosquitoes?
It’s not just the unpleasant resulting itch that’s cause for concern. While excess scratching may potentially lead to skin infections, mosquitoes are also capable of transmitting diseases like malaria and Zika.

Q. I’m traveling to an area where mosquitoes are prevalent and disease transmission is possible. Should I bring citronella candles with me?
Unfortunately, citronella candles won’t provide much protection in mosquito-infested areas. Consider topical repellents with stronger ingredients, and be sure to reapply as needed. You should reapply after swimming or sweating profusely. If you’re traveling overseas, you’ll likely need vaccinations to ward off diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and other insects. Check with your doctor, and stock up on bug spray, long-sleeve shirts, pants, and protective netting.

Q. Do citronella candles kill mosquitoes?
Citronella oil does not kill mosquitoes. If you have a severe mosquito infestation, consider other means of controlling these pests. Bug zappers are capable of killing mosquitoes, but they also kill lots of other good bugs. Killing a few mosquitoes won’t get to the root of the problem, though, if you have standing water somewhere nearby.

Q. Are citronella candles safe?
There’s little to no evidence that citronella candles are unsafe, but you shouldn’t directly inhale the smoke. If you’re worried about exposure to anything other than citronella oil, check the ingredients list on your candle. The shorter the list of ingredients, the less potential for harm. Avoid citronella candles if you’re allergic to lemongrass.

In the United States, the FDA classifies products with citronella oil as unregistered. This designation refers to products that pose little to no significant health risk to consumers. Other unregistered insect repellent ingredients include essential oils such as peppermint oil, cedar oil, and geranium oil. Although these ingredients are considered safe, the unregistered designation does not translate to an endorsement of effectiveness. Because citronella oil has been classified as posing a minimal health risk, citronella products are not regulated by the FDA.

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