Citronella Candles Aren't The Best Option: 7 Other Ways To Keep Bugs Away

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Outdoor Candles and Pillows on a Rug

Image by Luke Liable / Stocksy

An old standby for warding off mosquitoes, citronella is an essential oil extracted from the leaves and stems of the Cymbopogon nardus plant. Citronella candles are a common fixture in backyards across America, especially in the height of summertime buggy season. But are they actually effective? Here's what experts had to say on the matter, plus some ideas for other pest repellents.

What the research says about citronella.

According to experts and research, citronella isn't exactly the miracle cure many of us want it to be. Entomologist and professor at Michigan State University Howard Russell, M.S., tells mbg that he doesn't consider citronella an effective mosquito repellent. That's not to say that citronella candles don't repel bugs at all; they do, largely thanks to the fact that they help mask the scent of people.

In one study, citronella essential oil candles were able to reduce the number of mosquitoes by about 35% and sand flies by 15%. However, other essential oils seemed to be more effective at repelling bugs. Another study found that having citronella candles or incense burning did reduce the number of mosquito bites on participants, but only by about 42% and 24%, respectively.

To that end, it would seem that though citronella candles deter some bugs, they're not a foolproof option. Consider pairing yours with these other bug-repelling options to keep bugs at bay and bites to a minimum at home.

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7 other ways to keep bugs away:

1. Wear loose-fitting clothing.

Starting with the basics, if you're really looking to keep bugs off of you, Russell notes it's important to wear light, loose-fitting clothing (preferably with sleeves, if weather permits).

2. Light geraniol and linalool candles.

In the aforementioned study that compared essential oils, geraniol and linalool essential oil were more effective at repelling bugs than citronella. Linalool candles were able to reduce mosquitoes by nearly 65% and sand flies by 48%, and geraniol candles reduced mosquitoes by over 80% and sand flies by just under 70%. Burn or diffuse these scents in your yard for a fragrant bug-fighting mix.

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3. Apply DIY bug spray.

If you're not looking to use DEET, check out this effective DIY bug spray that combines various essential oils to give you natural, chemical-free protection. Apply to exposed skin before entering a buggy area.

4. Sit near some bug-repelling plants.

Green thumbs, this one's for you: Certain natural insecticide plants can help deter pests. Consider adding lavender, basil, or mint to your garden.

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5. Run the fans on high.

A simple solution if you're in a pinch: Turn your fan on high to blow bugs away and disperse odors, making it harder for them to smell you.

6. Use DEET at low concentrations.

For those who just want the bugs gone, or are concerned about insect-borne diseases, DEET isn't totally off the table. In fact, it's what Russell uses himself. "I live in a swamp, and right now we are plagued by clouds of mosquitoes," he says. "I spray to survive." That said, the Environmental Working Group recommends limiting DEET concentrations in products to 30%, so check those labels.

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7. Staying inside during peak hours.

Sounds simple, but mosquitoes tend to come out around dusk and dawn, so staying inside during these times can reduce your risk of exposure.

If you are going to be spending time outside during peak hours, remember Russell's first point about covering up with loose clothing. Then, whip up some DIY bug spray, turn on the fan, and relax, and maybe keep these anti-itch recipes on hand too—just in case.

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