Using Citronella Oil as an Insect Repellent

A mosquito that has landed on someone's skin.
What You'll Need
Citronella oil
Liquid base for oil (witch hazel, olive oil, vodka or rubbing alcohol)
Essential oil from other plants (such as basil, catnip or juniper)
Citronella candles
Citronella infused oil for tiki torches
Citronella oil-infused incense
Wire whisk
Spray bottle

Citronella oil is a natural insect repellant, especially for mosquitoes. Tests have shown it to be less effective than the standard chemical used in repellants, DEET. However, those same tests indicate that it is an effective, natural deterrent against insects.

There are a number of ways to introduce citronella into your environment. Below are several methods and recipes using citronella oil to repel insects.

Spray Repellant

Make a spray-on repellant by combining citronella essential oil with a liquid base. Witch hazel, olive oil, vodka, or rubbing alcohol are all possible bases to use. Some will dry skin, others will moisturize. Experiment to find which suits you best.

In a spray bottle, combine 2 oz. of the base with 60 or 120 drops of citronella essential oil. 60 drops will make a 5 percent solution, and 120 drops will make a 10 percent solution. Choosing which solution is better for you depends on how often you wish to apply the repellant and how sensitive your skin is to citronella oil.

Citronella Lotion

A lotion is basically an emulsion of water and oil. Place 2 oz. of water in a deep mixing bowl. Drizzle in 2 oz. of oil slowly, whisking with a wire whisk until the two are combined into a creamy, white lotion. Stir in 120 drops of citronella oil. Place the lotion in a bottle and label.

When to Reapply

The disadvantage to natural repellents is that they are not effective as long. Many chemical insect repellants are good for hours. It is recommended that citronella repellants be reapplied every 30 to 60 minutes. Some purchasable repellants with citronella have been tested to repel insects for two hours, but even then the effectiveness decreased after 40 minutes.

Increasing Effectiveness

One way to increase the effectiveness of your homemade citronella spray or lotion is to add essential oils from another plant identified to repel insects. Some suggestions are basil, catnip, cedarwood, juniper, lemon, lemon eucalyptus, myrrh, pennyroyal, rose geranium, and rosemary. Not only will this allow you to increase the effectiveness of your spray or lotion, it will allow you to adjust the scent to be most pleasing to you.

Citronella Candles

An option for keeping mosquitoes out of your garden is to light citronella candles around the space. Alternatively, there is citronella infused oil for tiki torches if you want a party atmosphere, and there are incenses being made with citronella oil. The smell from the burning end of the candle, torch, or incense will repel the insects to some degree, but none are as effective as a direct application of the citronella to the skin. The closer you are to the candle, the safer you are.

Tests have shown that having lit candles around decreases the number of insect bites by 23 percent, likely due to the additional heat source distracting the insects. It might be worth it to combine candles and a topical solution.

Warning About Citronella

There is some risk of allergic reactions to citronella. Whenever trying a new repellent, apply a small amount to a spot on your arm in advance. If there is no rash or reaction, then use your new repellant in good health.

Citronella should not be used by pregnant women. It can increase your heart rate. All lotions and sprays should be kept away from the eyes and mucous membranes.