Are Citronella Candles Safe? (Know This Before Burning)

Citronella candles are a great way of keeping bugs away. These bug-repelling candles are just like regular candles but include citronella essential oil as an ingredient. Citronella is a type of lemongrass. As a DEET alternative, citronella can help keep annoying mosquitoes at bay – and the itchy bites that come with them. But, with these candles being so great at repelling bugs, we might question their safety. 

A photo of a melted citronella candle in a foil tray
Citronella candles are amazing for keeping bugs and critters away on a warm evening but are they safe?

So, are citronella candles safe? The short answer is yes; it is generally safe to use citronella candles. However some studies have shown that Citronella can irritate susceptible peoples airways and also cause mild irritation to users eyes if adequate ventilation is not provided. Citronella is also toxic to many animals so it is not safe to keep around your pets.

Read on to find out more about where you can and can’t burn a citronella candle. 

How is citronella made, and how is it used?

Citronella occurs naturally, and its essential oil is extracted by steam distilling the stems and leaves of Cymbopogon (lemongrass).

If you would like to know more about essential oils in candles have a look at this guide I wrote

While citronella oil is used most often to repel insects, it is also used in soaps, cosmetics, foods and beverages, as a fragrance or flavouring. In addition, it has been registered to be used as a plant-based repellent in the U.S. since 1948.

As well as citronella oil repelling insects, its fragrance also masks other odours that attract midges or mosquitoes. 

If you would like my recommendations on good quality Citronella candles these Citronella candles on Amazon are perfect. They are high quality and come in beautiful vessels ready to get rid of those annoying bugs.

What does research say about citronella?

Studies have shown citronella candles to be effective in reducing the number of bugs. One study revealed a 15% decrease in the number of sand flies and a 35% decrease in the number of mosquitoes. Another study released that burning citronella incense or candles reduced the number of mosquito bites by around 24% and 42% respectively.

Is Citronella toxic?

Citronella is an excellent way of repelling insects and is not toxic. Another substance often used as an insect repellent is DEET, but this has been known to cause harm in the way of seizures or increased brain toxicity in children, for example. 

Citronella, therefore, is much safer than the alternatives. Citronella candles are a lovely way of repelling bugs without the use of aerosols.

As far as citronella toxicity, citronella candles have about the same level of toxicity as other scented candles. Therefore, they pose minimal risk to health.

Are citronella candles safe to use indoors?

Even though citronella candles are safe to burn around humans, they can lead to a poorer quality of air when they’re used indoors. For this reason, they should be used outside only. 

Another reason for keeping citronella candles outside is because the oil can work its way into the fabrics of your soft furnishing because these candles burn with more smoke than typical candles.

What’s more, the oil is known to be mildly irritating to the eyes so it’s best to avoid the smoke being in an enclosed room.

What are the dangers of inhaling Citronella?

Citronella has been linked to breathing issues. Inhaling the oil can cause lung damage and irritation to mucous membranes. People with compromised lungs should avoid citronella. Also, young babies’ lungs are still growing and forming, so they should not be exposed to citronella oil. Outside, of course, things are different. 

Are citronella candles safe for dogs?

While we might like the smell of citronella, your dog probably doesn’t. You should never let your dog get too close to a citronella candle, product or plant as these are toxic when consumed. These can also cause skin irritation or rashes on your dog. 

Suppose your pet ingested any part of a citronella candle or citronella oil. In that case, he might have a range of symptoms from a mildly irritated stomach to a serious issue with the central nervous system. 

Even though the majority of citronella candles will have less than 5% citronella oil as an ingredient, they are still classed as toxic. Also, remember that wax itself is not good for animals to consume – especially if it’s paraffin wax. 

Have a read of this article to learn more about the different types of waxes used in candles.

Are citronella candles safe for cats?

Cats are often deterred by citrus smells like citronella candles, which is good news as they won’t want to go near the candle or try to consume it. So if you’re burning candles outdoors, your cat will probably stay away. But if you think your cat might try and approach, it’s a good idea to keep him locked inside. 

Are citronella candles safe around babies and pregnant women?

The likelihood of anything untoward happening with a citronella candle is minimal. That said, they should be avoided. While it is known that all scented candles pose a risk to babies due to their small, developing lungs, there is little in the way of research about the effects of burning citronella candles on foetuses and pregnant women. 

Other essential oils known to repel insects

One study has shown that two other essential oils are much better at reducing mosquito numbers. These are linalool and geraniol. The former reduced sand fly numbers by 48% and mosquito numbers by almost 65%. On the other hand, Geraniol reduced sand files by almost 70% and mosquitos by a whopping 80%.

Other ways of repelling mosquitos 

If you want to add to your mosquito prevention repertoire, a simple fan is something that works really well. Mosquitoes are pretty terrible fliers and so by circulating the air, you’ll be able to stop them from getting to you. Another reason fans work well is because they move the odour of people’s bodies and the carbon dioxide we breathe out. It is these things that mosquitoes are attracted to. The best place for a fan is knee level.  Don’t forget – fire and wind aren’t great combinations, so be careful where you place a fan when you’re using a citronella candle.

Final thoughts

Citronella is renowned globally for being a great insect repellent. However, like other things designed to repel insects, people often question whether or not citronella candles are safe. As we’ve seen in this article, citronella candles are safe. However, they should only be used outside and should be kept away from dogs, cats and children. What’s more, pregnant women should avoid burning a citronella candle as there is little known about the effect it might have on them or their unborn child. There are other ways of keeping biting insects at bay too, like having a fan at knee level, which prevents mosquitoes getting to you due to them being weak fliers.

Andrew Scents and Aroma