Do citronella candles keep bugs away?

Gravenback’s post over on wilderness tripping page cites a healthy and hungry insect population at my next paddling destination.

Can citronella candles help keep bugs at bay? I have never found them very effective, altough it does seem to me most people put them too high. On the table might create a bug free zone above the table, while the bugs feast on those sitting around it.


They’re not supposed to work, but I always find that lighting them helps. I use a citronella candle in one of those UCO aluminum candle lanterns.

It could just be a placebo effect, but I always notice a difference after lighting one. Every little bit helps I guess.

I would say, Yes
but I light them early before the mosquitos become a problem. A smokey campfire alsoworks.

Paddlin’ on


From the EPA website:
“Oil of Citronella is a volatile, liquid oil derived from dried cultivated grasses. It works on insects without harming or killing them. It has a distinctive odor which may make it difficult for some pests to locate a host. The length of repellency time varies with the inert ingredients and the amount of citronella oil in the product.”

limited repellancy
If there is a breeze they are useless. If it is dead calm studies show a limited amount of repellancy.

I’ve used these before when hunting and even at the kids ballgames and they work great. I just recently bought a kayak and I want to do some fishing. I live in Florida and the mosquitos, gnats, etc. can be quite bad on the rivers here. So, I have not tried these in a kayak, but I would think that they would work just as good as they do when sitting in the woods.

citronella candles
Bears love them.

Canadian bears dont
They work if they are in a confined space. We light some under a tarp.

Bye bugs…OK dont know if it works on subtropcial bugs but it does work on Subarctic bugs.

However we use the coils, because we have no table. They have a higher concentration of citronella and cannot be upset.

The jury is still out on this one…
not had too much success with citronella.

didn’t work for me

– Last Updated: Aug-25-08 3:04 PM EST –

I lit a citron candle in the vestibule of my Timberlite tent only to watch the bugs gather there swarming around with no effect from the candle.

Better to lite a couple original coils of Pic. It actually kills them.

Not really
Try a pocket sized bottle of Ben’s in the little orange spray bottle with the black cap. Your best friend in the buggy parts, hands down. In camp, smoky fire.

This reminds me of a story…

– Last Updated: Aug-25-08 5:13 PM EST –

Long long ago, when I was just a pup, I was visiting with some friends of my dad who had an old house on Tilghman Island, which is on eastern shore of Maryland at the mouth of the Choptank River. This guy had cases and cases of military surplus citronella in little glass bottles and he used to dump it in to candle wax, torch fuel and I think he even used it as aftershave. Being young and not too bright I asked him exactly what citronella was made out of and he told me that it was the juice taken from the rectum of the grey african rhino. I protested that that could not possibly be true and to prove his point he asked "Well have you ever seen a grey african rhino with mosquito bites on his rectum?" Amazingly enough, I had not.
Imagine my shock, when my High School Chemistry teacher asked if any of us knew what citronella was made of and I volunteered the information, that she sent me directly to the dean of discipline.
Twenty years later, when I had a child of my own who asked "Daddy, what is citronella made from?", I told her the same thing. Fortunaltely she did not believe me and asked her mother (who told her the same thing, since she already knew the story). Now we just sit back and wait....


I’ve been where the mosquitoes lived on Deet and citronella.I would have paid 3X for one of these after a night in mosquito hell.

Look into the Thermacell units.
We used them up north in very brutal mosquito territory and had very good results with them. We used 2 at a time, spaced about 10 feet apart upwind. Once the skeeters leave the area you can shut them off as it seems to keep them away for a couple hours. Downside is the cost but I will always use them in the future they work so well.


Thermalcell and Off Lamp similar
The product Mike recommends seems similar to the thermacell a few of you recommend. Both use a candle to heat up a pad that puts out a gas that discourages bug intrusion. Maybe not so good in wind, but wind will hold the bugs down anyway.

Mike, sounds like another product comparison just itching to get done, Maybe over at Tingles Island about this time of year. Yes, one night with the thermal cell, one night with the Offlamp thingie, one night with the 15 citronella candles (don’t forget fire permit) they claim the products are equivalent to, and the all important one night au natural for control purposes. Better take a crew of large campers so that you don’t end up with shriveled husks of people by the time the test is complete.

I’ll have to pick up one of the products at the Indian Hill store before we go out there and see how it works. And I do have some citronella candles that fit into my candle lanterns. If nothing else, the natural law that says the more prepared you are for the situation, the less likely to run into it should work in our favor. Weighing the boats down with anti bug stuff should decrease the chance of seeing bugs. Right?

Thanks for the feedback, everyone.


Candles no, citronella on skin yes
You can get citronella repellents that you apply to your skin, such as Naturapel. They’re non-greasy (unlike DEET), the scent is more pleasant and they work pretty well. On hot days, they seem to provide a cooling sensation for a while, too.

I’ve seen them work.
The bug died when it flew into the flame.

I don’t rely on candles or
harsh chemicals. I use a combination of oils; catnip, marigold, red clover, and pennyroyal. It works well in temperate areas. It will not work in south florida’s marshes and swamps, especially in the summer but I don’t know of anything, outside of bug net suit, that will. And it’s got to be no-see-um proof or it’s a waste of money.

Something else that may help - don’t eat any bananas at least a week before heading into bug country. There’s a chemical in the banana that when ingested is excreted through skin pores and that attracts mosquitoes.

Worst Mosquito Stories
OK, following in the grand tradition of string’s Scar post, what is the worst experience you’ve had with mosquitos or other biting insects?

Mine was when I hitched out to Assateague the summer after high school graduation, intending to backpack the length of the island. The only backpacking I’d done was in the High Sierra where it gets cold at night year-round, so I took my down sleeping bag, assuming I could snuggle in and pull the drawstring closed over my head. I don’t think the temperature on Assateague ever got below 80F, so this tried-and-true technique worked for exactly one minute. Finally lay down on damp sand and tented the bag over me, only to have SOMETHING come up from below and bite my butt.

I ended up walking and batting at the mosquitos all night. The next morning caught a ride to Chincoteague and got some breakfast at a little general store. They had a horse’s skull nailed over the door with a sign under it that said “Assateague Mosquito”, which at least helped put my experience in perspective.

DEET is our friend.

Ok, just bought a Thermacell
I’ll check it out sometime in the next few days. The mosquito’s at sundown on the back deck are irritating!