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Do citronella candles really work? The answer might surprise you

Plus, we found some other natural repellents to keep the bugs away.
Flame of candle for mosquito
Getty Images stock
/ Source: TODAY

Summer days can feel glorious after a long winter. Unfortunately, though, along with hot and sunny days come mosquitos.

Naturally, many people strive to repel mosquitoes as effectively as possible. And, often, they turn to citronella candles (like the Cutter Citro Guard). But, does citronella really work, or is it just hype? TODAY Home asked experts about how to repel mosquitoes to get to the bottom of it.

Do citronella candles work?

Citronella is naturally occurring oil that repels insects. It is distilled from two types of grass, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. While it is currently approved as safe for humans and the environment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that doesn’t mean that it’s effective. And, because it is a “minimum risk pesticide” in terms of its effect on human health, it is exempt from EPA evaluation.

The oil is supposed to work by masking scents that are attractive to insects, according to the NPIC. However, the center notes that it hasn't found studies to demonstrate that this actually works. An article in the Malaria Journal from 2011 says that people have been using plants to drive away mosquitoes as far back as the Greeks and Romans, and citronella is now “one of the most widely used natural repellents on the market.”

how to get rid of mosquitoes
Does citronella work to repel mosquitoes?PAULO WHITAKER / Reuters

The article explains that products with a citronella base are only effective as a mosquito repellent for about two hours, because the oils rapidly evaporate. It also says that products like candles help by continuously evaporating the oil, but the authors note that field studies show using candles only reduces mosquito bites by about half and concludes “...for the time-being, travelers to disease endemic areas should not be recommended citronella-based repellents.”

“Citronella oil is repellent to mosquitoes to a degree, but the amount being put out by a candle isn't going to be very effective,” Eric Hoffer, president of Hoffer Pest, told TODAY Home. “In most cases, a citronella candle is only going to contain a 5% concentration of citronella or less."

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention does not include citronella products on its list of recommended mosquito repellents.

Natural mosquito repellent alternatives

Products that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus, which comes from the gum eucalyptus tree, are a lot more effective than citronella, Hoffer said. “People who use botanical repellents should be aware that they're less effective and will need to be reapplied often, but 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus is usually a sufficient concentration to keep mosquitoes away for a few hours at a time," he added. And, the CDC includes it on their list of recommended mosquito repellents.

Here are seven products to try as a mosquito repellent instead of the traditional citronella candle or torch:

1. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent Pump, $5, Amazon

This spray for skin and clothing is 30% lemon and eucalyptus oil. It’s supposed to repel mosquitoes for up to six hours, but it says you should only apply it up to twice a day. There are more than 2,800 five-star reviews on Amazon, though people have commented on its strong smell.

2. Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, $15, Amazon

Cutter also makes a 30% lemon eucalyptus oil spray that can repel mosquitoes for up to six hours when applied to skin and clothing. It says it should not be used on children younger than 3, but is safe for fishing and camping gear.

3. Para'kito Natural Mosquito Repellent Roll-on-Gel, $20, Amazon

This mosquito repellent uses a mix of citronella, rosemary, geranium, mint, clove and peppermint essential oils. The company says it has tested its effectiveness in a lab and that it provides more than 90% protection for the first three hours of use. It is safe to use on children and pregnant women, since the mixture is non-irritating. To use, roll in a straight line down arms, legs or neck, and reapply after swimming or sweating.

4. Para’kito Mosquito Repellent Wristband, $20, Amazon

This waterproof mosquito repellent wristband comes in a variety of colors and prints. It can be worn on the wrist or ankle, and uses a replaceable pellet, which provides protection from mosquitoes for up to 15 days. The pellet uses a patented formula of essential oils, which are slowly diffused to help make it last. The oils mask body odors, making it harder for mosquitoes to find you.

5. Sky Organics Organic Bug Spray, $14, Amazon

As an essential oil bug repellent, Sky Organics bug spray is vegan, cruelty-free and safe for kids, babies and even pets. It uses a mixture of soybean, castor, citronella, lemongrass, lavender, rosemary, cedarwood and peppermint essential oils and comes packaged in a durable, eco-friendly aluminum bottle. It also does not contain alcohol, chemicals or additives. Sky Organics claims it deters mosquitoes for up to four hours, and the company offers a 30-day money back guarantee.

6. All Terrain Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Insect Repellent Spray, $14, Amazon

This natural bug spray uses soybean oil as its primary ingredient followed by citronella, peppermint, cedar and a few other oils to mask your scent from mosquitoes. The company says it’s been independently proven to be non-irritating for use on skin and doesn’t damage clothing or equipment. It has about 500 four- and five-star reviews with some users saying it’s the only product without DEET they’ve ever used that truly works.

7. Bounce Dryer Sheets (240 sheets), $19, Amazon

While the science is still out on this one, many people swear by using a Bounce dryer sheet, either in their pockets or rubbed on the arms, as a mosquito repellent. One study did seem to confirm their ability to repel gnats, but no studies have been done on their impact on mosquitoes. But if you have a sheet at home already, why not give it a try?

8. Honeywell Electic Fan, $12 (usually $16), Amazon

If all else fails, Hoffer said to pull out an electric fan for the patio.

“The wind can dissipate the carbon dioxide and odors that you put out that attract them, so they'll have a hard time finding you,” he added. “Mosquitoes also have a hard time flying in a breeze, so they'll stay away while you're enjoying your backyard."

For more summer recommendations, check out:

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