Citronella Essential Oil Benefits, Uses & Side Effects

Citronella oil is an oil extracted from two types of grass plants, Ceylon and java. Its most common use is being a natural insect repellent in the form of bug repellent sprays, bug repellent lotions, candles, torches and can also be found in many pesticide products, but what else is it used for and as?

Citronella oil is mainly used to repel insects, including mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks, as its scent deters them. You can also use citronella oil to speed up the healing of wounds, as a massage oil, and much more. However, it is also known to be a skin irritant for some and is toxic if ingested.

If you are interested in learning about over 20 uses for citronella oil, its associated benefits, any side effects it has, as well as have your most common questions about the oil answered, this article is for you. 

Insect Repellant

Citronella oil is a natural insect and animal repellent that works by masking scents that are typically attractive to the pests. This makes it hard for them to find where you may be and prevent getting bitten.

However, a study published in 2015 compared citronella oil to DEET (an active ingredient in most insect repellents) and found that it was not even close to being as effective DEET is. Where the citronella oil stopped working as effectively to prevent insects after only 10.5 minutes, DEET stayed strong for 360 minutes (6 hours).

With that said, citronella oil, when in the form of a bug spray or lotion repellent needs to be reapplied very often to remain effective. If it is mixed with vanillin, however, it can be effective for up to 3 hours a 2011 review found.

Here is a list of all the insects that citronella oil has been found to repel:

  • Mosquitos
  • Fleas
  • Ticks
  • House Flies
  • Fruit Flies
  • Ants
  • Wasps
  • Ground Bees
  • Spider Mites
  • Springtails
  • Spiders
  • Roaches

Whether it is diluted and applied to the skin, burning in a candle, sprayed around your home, or used to wipe down places bugs may enter, citronella oil is a natural repellent that can repel almost any pest. 

Other Types of Insects Citronella Oil Repels

Not only will citronella oil help get rid of the pesky bugs you will commonly find outdoors, but here are some uncommon bugs it also helps to keep away and how it works:

  • Head Lice. It was found to help repel against head lice in a controlled 2003 study, where children who were not treated with citronella oil were more likely to get head lice or be reinfected by it. 
  • Dust Mites. Researchers found that by using citronella oil in a warm laundry load will kill almost all dust mites. With citronella oil being found to kill 60% of dust mites in only 10 minutes, making it just as effective as 0.5% benzyl benzoate.
  • Scabies. Scabies is a parasitic infection where an oil like citronella oil, lemongrass oil, was found to help control it as it is promising at killing mites. 
  • Aphids. Aphids are a small pest that can be found on your produce such as lettuce. While citronella oil is not the most effective form of aphid repellent, it was found to kill some of the insects when larger concentrations were applied to the plants with aphid colonies. 
  • Termites. A chemical component found within citronella oil, geraniol, is highly effective at repelling termites. While it is best to contact a specialist if you have found termites in your home, this can be an easy, quick fix while you wait for one to get to your home to stop them from chewing through your wood. 
  • Bed Bugs. The fragrance of citronella oil will not only repel bed bugs but will also kill them and any of their eggs. By mixing this oil with water and spraying it to bed bug-infested areas, you can quickly eliminate your bed bug problem. 
  • Moths. By putting some of the citronella oil on your outdoor lights, the heat of the light will actually disperse the oil to the surrounding area when it’s turned on and result in helping you keep the moths away. 

Rodent Repellent

In addition to the scent of citronella oil repelling insects, it can be effective at repelling rodents as well, such as mice, rats, and squirrels.

While there isn’t much proof of how effective this is alone, citronella oil remains a natural way to repel rats, mice, and squirrels. It is also a common ingredient in most rodent repellents, such as the Victor M809 Mouse and Rat Repellent Spray.

If you want to try using citronella oil alone, you can mix 2 teaspoons (9.9ml) of the oil with 1 cup (0.2L) of water or rubbing alcohol and spray it in areas you find traces of rodents. You will need to do this once a week for it to remain effective.

Alternatively, you can dip cotton balls in the citronella oil solution and leave this in the areas you think the rodents may be and then only have to replace them after 2 weeks.

As a Fragrance

Citronella oil has a fresh, musty, and citrusy scent that somewhat resembles that of a lemon. It can commonly be used as a room spray or as an essential oil in a diffuser blend.

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To add to a diffuser, you will use the citronella essential oil and add a few drops to the water you typically have in a diffuser.

The scent of citronella is known for having either a soothing or stimulating effect on those who smell it. 

For Killing Fungus

Citronella oil has exceptional antifungal properties., allowing it to weaken or destroy certain types of fungi.

In a 2013 study, researchers found that citronella oil was able to destroy the cell wall, making it a good candidate as a safe and environmentally friendly fungicide.

  • Wound Healing. Citronella oil can offer relief to wounds by helping speed up the healing process and preventing any further infections. It also has potential anti-inflammation properties that have been proven effective on rats but have yet to be proven to work on humans.
  • Ringworms. With it having antifungal properties and the ability to heal wounds, applying it to ringworm may support healthy healing the infection. 
  • Toenail Fungus. With citronella oil having fungicidal properties, it may support the riddance of toenail fungus. Mix the 2-3 drops of the oil with 20 drops of a carrier oil such as coconut oil or jojoba oil and apply it to the fungus with a clean and sterile cotton pad. You may need to reapply 2-3 times a day for several weeks for it to be effective. 

For Your Skin

While there can be a variety of ways to use citronella oil on your skin, always keep in mind these two things. It is recommended to not apply citronella oil directly to your skin, always dilute it first. Check the diluted solution on a small portion of your skin to ensure you are not allergic and are not irritated by it.

  • As a massage oil: You can add citronella oil to oils and creams to massage the skin with. If you choose to do this, always make sure you dilute the oil in another oil such as coconut oil, cream, or lotion. 
  • Acne: The antibacterial properties of citronella oil make it a potential oil that can help fight breakouts. Citronella oil is non-comedogenic, meaning for most people, it will not clog your pores or cause blackheads. 
  • Scars: Since citronella oil does promote wound healing, it is possible that it may help you get rid of scars. 
  • As a beard pil: You can use a small amount of citronella oil in your beard oil for a musty, fresh scent. 
  • For warts: While other essential oils may be better at getting rid of warts, the fungicidal properties of citronella oil may help get rid of warts. 
  • For dandruff: Applying citronella oil to the scalp can help get rid of dandruff by moisturizing the scalp and further preventing any dryness. 

For Your Sinuses

By diluting citronella oil into a diffuser, such as the ASAKUKI Essential Oil Diffuser, its possible anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial properties can help ease your congestion and irritation with your sinuses. 

For Your BBQ

By placing citronella oil in a tin directly near your barbeque, you can help keep the bugs away while you are cooking. This seems to be more effective and cheaper than opting for other bug repellent options while you barbecue.

You can also opt to use this to light your charcoal barbecue; however, you should know that it does not create the cleanest smoke and has a very citrusy odor when burned. 

On Plants

If you are looking to keep flying or crawling insects out of the garden, using citronella oil on your plants is a great way to do so without harming the health of the plant. By spraying diluted citronella oil on your garden, you can actually benefit your plants. 

For Dogs and Cats

Both dogs and cats really hate the scent of citronella, and because of this, they can act as deterrents to keep them away. However, you should always consult a veterinarian before using the essential oil around your pets. 

Stops Dogs From Digging

If you want your dog to stop digging in your garden, you can spray some citronella oil around your plants to keep your dog from going in that area. However, this won’t stop them from digging in any other area.

Nonetheless, you should also be aware of the safety of citronella oil for dogs that are mentioned below before you spray anything.

Helps for Training Dogs

Citronella collars can be seen as either a smart or cruel way to train your dog to not bark due to the fact citronella oil is toxic to pets (more on this below).

This collar works by spraying out a small amount of the oil when it hears audio from the dog. After a few times, this displeasing scent will stop your dog from barking. It is also said that after a few times, even just seeing you pull the collar out will make your dog behave as it does not want to smell the oil. 

Repels Cats

Just as you can use the oil to keep dogs out of the garden, you can do the same to deter cats from a certain area of your backyard. 

Is Citronella Oil Safe for Dogs, Cats, or Horses?

While some people may use citronella oil as a flea or tick deterrent on animals, essential oils remain potent substances and can be irritating to the skin.

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With citronella oil also being a strong-smelling substance, excessive inhalation can pose as a health risk for animals.

If your dog or any animal you are taking care of has ingested citronella oil, contact your vet and poison control immediately as it is highly toxic. 

Is Citronella Oil Safe for Babies?

While there isn’t much research on using citronella essential oil around babies, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians suggests waiting until your baby is at least 3 months old before introducing them to essential oils, or 3 months after their due date if they were born early.

However, citronella oil is a known skin irritant, and it is best to avoid using it on your baby as they have very sensitive skin.

If you want to use citronella oil in a diffuser, it is best not to do this while the baby is around so it does not irritate their airways. However, if you choose to, make sure it is diluted more than normal. 

Is Citronella Oil Safe for Kids?

If you want to use a citronella oil-based insect repellent on your kids, it is possible. Since kids’ skin can be more sensitive, though, you should definitely test it out on a small portion of their skin before spraying them down with the repellent and consult appropriate health professionals if they have any existing skin related conditions.

Just ensure that you are applying it for them, so they do not get it anywhere they shouldn’t. When putting it on them, avoid spraying their hands since most children will then proceed to put their hands in their mouths or touch their eyes. Also, keep it out of their reach to be safe.

For application, it would be even safer to put the repellent onto your hands and then to rub their skin with it, to avoid getting it anywhere near their eyes or mouth. 

Is Citronella Oil Safe During Pregnancy?

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy does not have citronella oil listed as an essential oil to avoid during pregnancy; however, there are not many studies completed to confirm there are no side effects to doing so. 

Benefits of Citronella Oil

There are three main benefits of citronella essential oil: pest control, being an antifungal agent, and having physiological benefits. Making this naturally derived oil quite beneficial for many different reasons. 

Pest Control

The most popular use of citronella oil is for its ability to repel bugs, most commonly to repel mosquitoes in the form of a spray, lotion, candle, or tiki torch. The scent that is put in the area causes bugs like mosquitos or bees to be unable to smell anything else, such as humans. Its ability to naturally repel any kind of bug has made it become an extremely common bug repellent. 

Antifungal Agent

The largest health benefit of citronella oil is the fact that it is an antifungal agent, which means that it has the ability to weaken or destroy certain types of fungi.

Many fungal infections, such as toenail fungus, may be benefitted from the topical application of citronella oil as its antifungal properties help heal wounds faster. Its ability to be anti-inflammatory is also beneficial in speeding up the healing process of wounds; however, more studies on this need to be completed on humans. 

Physiological Benefits

When the scent of citronella is inhaled, it was found to either have a relaxing or stimulating effect on those who smelt it. 

Side Effects of Citronella Oil

It is possible that if you choose to use citronella oil on your skin, you could develop an irritation or be allergic to it. With that being said, before you proceed with using citronella oil, especially through topical application, you should be aware of any possible side effects. 

Skin Irritation or Allergy

The National Pesticide Information Center states that brief exposure to citronella essential oil can result in slight irritation. This can be both felt on the skin or through your eyes.

If your skin is irritated by it, you will notice that it could be red, blotchy, itchy, or swollen. This could also be the indicator of an allergy.

While no one has been reported to have anaphylaxis when coming in contact with citronella you should be aware of the following symptoms and go to your nearest emergency room:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing or coughing
  • Swollen throat
  • Red rash
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea

Potentially Harmful and Toxic

In Canada, retailers have phased out citronella oil-based products that involve being applied to the skin directly. This is mainly due to the fact that concerns were brought to light about how it involves methyleugenol. In animal studies this has shown to be carcinogenic, meaning it could cause cancer.

Other laboratory tests also showed that reproductive and developmental toxicity was found at high-dose levels.

The United States still allows citronella oil products that are applied to the skin to be sold, where the United States Environmental Protection Agency has citronella and citronella oil listed as safe to use as an insect repellent.  

Cough or Throat Irritation

If citronella oil is ingested orally, people may cough or have a slight throat irritation.

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If a large amount is ingested, or a pet of yours ingests citronella oil, however, it is best to contact poison control to be safe.

If it is a small amount, it should leave the body itself after being broken down in the digestive system. Nonetheless, remain aware of any unusual symptoms and be sure to connect with a healthcare professional for proper guidance.

Other Related Questions

What Is the Difference Between Citronella Oil and Lemongrass Oil?

Where citronella oil comes from the citronella plant, lemongrass oil comes from the lemongrass plant, both of which are from the same mother plant. While they are frequently mistaken for each other and have similar smells, they are not exactly the same.

Unlike citronella oil, lemongrass oil is more commonly used by healthcare professionals. One study from 2010 found that it can be used to treat infections that are otherwise found to be drug resistant.

Other uses or potential benefits of lemongrass oil that are not found in citronella oil are:

  • Preventing gastric ulcers 
  • Relieving nausea
  • Helping to ease diarrhea
  • Helping to reduce cholesterol
  • Helping to regulate blood sugar and lipids
  • Acting as a pain reliever
  • The scent could help relieve anxiety and stress

What Is Java Citronella Oil?

There are two varieties of citronella where the essential oil is derived, Ceylon and java. Java citronella oil is believed to be the higher quality of the two, generally having a fresher lemon scent that is not as musty as the Ceylon variety.

Both Ceylon citronella and java citronella, however, have extremely similar uses and benefits. 

How Do I Extract Citronella Oil From the Plant?

If you are looking to extract citronella oil from a citronella plant, you can easily do it at home.

To do so, you will need 4oz (118ml) of dried citronella in a small jar, mixed with rubbing alcohol. After it has sat for 3 days, you can strain the contents of the jar into the container you plan to keep it in.

If you want to watch a video of it being done, you can see the extraction process below:

Can I Make My Own Citronella Oil Candles?

Yes! You can make your own citronella oil candles at home. Here is a list of things you will need to make them:

  • Mason jar or any glass jar
  • Cotton wicks
  • Thick tape or hot glue
  • Wax of any kind
  • Pot to melt the wax
  • Citronella oil either store-bought or homemade from the plant
  • Old crayons for color 

To make the candle, you need to tape or glue the wick to the bottom of the jar. Then proceed to melt the wax on a pot on a stove. You will then add approximately 3 drops of oil per cup of wax and consistently stir.

A great way to add color is by adding old crayons. After it is all mixed and melted, have the wick straight and fill the jar to complete your homemade citronella candle. 

Can I Make My Own Citronella Oil Bug Spray?

Yes! There is a very simple way to make your very own citronella oil bug spray. To make this bug spray at home here is a list of things you will need first:

  • 4oz (118ml) spray bottle
  • Water
  • Vodka or Witch Hazel
  • Citronella oil that is either store-bought or homemade from the plant
  • Any additional essential oils you want to add for scent

Using a 4oz (118ml) spray bottle, fill it with 2oz (59ml) of distilled or boiled water. Add 1oz (29ml) of vodka or witch hazel followed by 50 to 75 drops of essential oils, with the majority being of citronella oil.

It has also been found that mixing vanilla with the citronella oil makes the repellent last longer and work better. This will also make for a sweet-smelling fragrance. 

Where Can I Buy Citronella Oil?

There are a ton of places where you can buy different citronella oil-infused products or the pure citronella essential oil, where most of the products are made as an insect repellent in the form of a candle, torch, or spray.

Below you can find where to buy the best citronella oil and citronella oil-infused products:


The essential oil, citronella, has many very helpful uses with it most popularly being used as an insect repellent and most commonly for mosquitos. However, there are also very many uncommon uses that surround its ability to be an antifungal agent.

It is important, however, to always keep in mind that if you do choose to use citronella oil for any of the uses that involve topical application that you always test it out on a small part of your skin first. This is to ensure that you do not react negatively to the product and do not have a skin allergy.