Do citronella candles actually repel mosquitoes? Science reveals the truth

If you've been using citronella candles to keep mosquitoes away from your garden patio, you might want to rethink your strategy...

A citronella candle (unlit) placed on a wooden table
(Image credit: Getty)

Every lazy summer evening in the garden requires three things: a pitcher of something icy cold, a plate filled with something delicious, and a stash of citronella candles to repel mosquitoes.

There's no doubt in our minds that citronella candles will be somewhere near the top of your list of garden ideas every year running, whether you're the kind of person who spends ages tablescaping before a party, or who prefers to keep things as simple and pared-back as possible.

Why? Well, because everyone knows that these bright, fresh, and lemony candles are the best way to keep mozzies at bay... right? 


Well, no. Wrong, as it turns out.

Candle planters using terracotta pots to make a simple patio display, a table with crockery and cutlery outdoors, with lit candles in old terracotta pots.

(Image credit: Dominic Blackmore/Future Publishing Ltd)

Do citronella candles repel mosquitoes?

While they are absolutely the sort of garden party ideas to set the mood for an outdoor event, it seems we've all been misled when it comes to the superior bug-repelling powers of citronella candles.

According to the results of a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, essential oils are very volatile, which means they evaporate too quickly to repel mosquitoes effectively. In fact, they only 'provided protection for a mean duration of less than 20 minutes' – less than half an hour. 

Citronella candles/citronella torches burning in a garden to repel mosquitoes

(Image credit: Getty)

Still, there's no need to banish citronella candles from your list of easy garden ideas completely. 

After speaking with Laurence Zwiebel, the chair of biological science at Vanderbilt University, The New York Times has found that citronella candles provide as much protection from mosquitoes as any other candle-produced smoke (no more, no less).

Essentially, this means that the biting beasties aren't fond of the scent or heat that comes hand-in-hand with smoke, so will try to avoid it as much as possible – although a campfire or garden torch is likely to do the job more effectively than a candle.

So, what should we use to repel mosquitoes instead of citronella candles?

If you are looking for simple ways to repel mosquitoes from your home, you're in luck: we previously spoke to Howard Carter, UK Bite Protection expert and advisor to the UK and Brazilian governments and founder of Incognito, to glean his top tips.

His advice was simple: we need to CLOAK.

  • C - Cover up arms and legs with suitable clothing.
  • L - Light coloured clothing is advised.
  • O - Odours, bodily or otherwise, like certain kairomones and perfumes
    are strong attractants. So wash thoroughly, including exfoliating with a
    loofah, and do not use perfumes.
  • A - Apply an effective insect repellent, such as incognito, available at Amazon.
  • K - Keep your garden tidy, and avoid stagnant water wherever possible.

A beautifully adorned outdoor table, which has been tablescaped with gem-coloured glassware

(Image credit: Getty)

Somewhat surprisingly, it seems desk or pedestal fans are another good way to keep mosquitoes at bay – if your extension cable allows it, of course.

How does it work? Well, mosquitoes are notoriously weak fliers, so all you need to do is pop a fan on (experts suggest keeping it at knee level), sit back, and relax as the biting bugs are thwarted in their attempts to get at you. 

Your fan will also help disperse the carbon dioxide you exhale, which attracts mozzies, and keep you cool as you relax. Win win!

Still, it just wouldn't be summer without the distinct waft of citronella candles in the air. Maybe we'll just stud one or two around our garden table, for old times sake...

Kayleigh Dray
Acting Content Editor

Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home’s Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.