Skip to Content

The 5 Common Bugs That Citronella Repels

Picture this: a warm summer evening spent without the annoying mosquito bites, the incessant buzzing of flies, or the annoyance of gnats dive-bombing your face. Peaceful, isn’t it?

Luckily, I’ve found a solution for this – citronella!

I’ve grown citronella for many years, and I’ve found that it repels at least 5 common bugs, including:

  1. Mosquitoes
  2. Flies
  3. Gnats
  4. No-see-ums
  5. Ants

In this post, I’ll take a look at:

  • Each of these 5 bugs in turn – how to identify them and some top tips
  • The components of citronella
  • Exactly how citronella repels them
  • Citronella-based products you can get and their impact
Citronella leaves up close

Citronella: Your Ally Against Biting Insects

Citronella, scientifically known as Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus, is a perennial grass native to tropical regions such as Asia and the South Pacific.

It’s widely renowned for its potent, citrus-like fragrance, which has made it a popular ingredient in various insect-repellent products.

The essential oil derived from citronella grass contains several active compounds, including:


Citronellal is a primary compound in citronella oil that exhibits strong insect-repellent properties. It has a lemony scent that repels mosquitoes and other flying insects.

Citronella acts as a deterrent to insects, making them approach less in areas with citronella.


Geraniol has a floral scent and acts as a natural mosquito repellent. Geraniol disrupts the sensory receptors of mosquitoes and other insects, deterring them from approaching or biting.


Citronellol contributes to the aroma of citronella. It creates an environment that insects find unfavorable, reducing their attraction and presence.

These compounds work by masking the scents that attract insects, making it harder for bugs to locate their human target.

5 Bugs That Citronella Repels

Citronella’s effectiveness as a natural insect repellent has been extensively studied and documented, particularly against mosquitoes.

While it’s most commonly associated with keeping mosquitoes at bay, citronella can deter other flying insects like flies, gnats, no-see-ums, and some types of ants as well.

Here are the five bugs that citronella repels and how it works:

1. Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are one of the most common bugs that citronella repels.

They are annoying every time you spend your afternoon outside.

Using citronella helps to keep the peace. Citronella has a strong fragrance that helps mask human scents that attract them.

Masking human scents makes it difficult for mosquitoes to detect and locate their human target. The strong fragrance confuses the mosquitoes leading them to seek out other targets or abandon their quest for a blood meal.

Citronella owes its effectiveness to citronellal and geraniol. These compounds within citronella are responsible for repelling mosquitoes effectively.

2. Flies

Flies are insects with two wings and compound eyes. They’re pesky little creatures.

Similar to mosquitoes, citronella repels flies due to its strong scent.

The powerful aroma of citronella masks the attractive scents for flies, making it less likely for them to be attracted to areas with citronella.

Citronellal and geraniol are the compounds responsible for repelling flies effectively. Though the compound citronellol has limited effectiveness, this doesn’t decrease the potency of citronella against flies.

3. Gnats

Gnats are tiny flying insects that belong to the family of flies. They are commonly found in moist environments such as wet soil, decaying plant material, and damp areas.

Gnats rely on their sense of smell to locate food, mates, and suitable environments.

Citronella overwhelms gnats’ olfactory senses, making it difficult for gnats to find attractive scents or navigate effectively.

Citronella creates an inhospitable environment for gnats, which makes them swarm less in areas with citronella.

4. No-see-ums

No-see-ums are among the bugs that citronella repels. They are also called biting midges or sandflies, which deliver painful bites despite their small size.

Citronella’s strong fragrance makes it difficult for no-see-ums to locate and feed on human hosts, reducing their presence and potential for bites.

They are attracted to carbon dioxide and body heat emitted by humans and animals.

Citronella interferes with the no-see-ums’ ability to detect these attractive cues. It confuses them, disrupting their navigation.

Although, there are three main compounds in citronella, the same as the other insects above, citronellal and geraniol are responsible for citronella’s effectiveness against no-see-ums.

5. Ants

While not all ants can be repelled by citronella, common household ants such as Argentine ants, odorous house ants, pavement ants, and black garden ants are some of the bugs that citronella repels.

By creating an unfavorable scent barrier, citronella discourages ants from entering certain areas or foraging for food. Citronella disrupts the ant trails and communication system ants use to navigate and find food.

The compounds in citronella may have a limited impact on ants as their effectiveness as repellent can vary depending on the ant species and the specific circumstances.

Citronella plants up close
Growing citronella in your garden repels a range of common bugs

Citronella-based Products: Candles, Sprays, Lotions, Oils, and Torches

Citronella-based products have gained popularity as convenient and accessible options for bug repellency. These products use the natural repellent properties of citronella oil to help ward off insects.

Here’s a breakdown of different citronella-based products and their effectiveness:

ProductTypeApplication MethodEffectiveness Against InsectsDuration EffectivenessAdditional Features
Citronella CandlesAmbientBurningMosquitoes: Moderate Flies: Moderate Gnats: Moderate No-see-ums: Moderate Ants: Moderate1 to 4 hoursCreates a bug-repellent atmosphere in outdoor areas
Citronella SpraysTopicalDirect application to the skinMosquitoes: High Flies: High Gnats: High No-see-ums: High Ants: High2 to 6 hoursPortable and convenient for on-the-go protection
Citronella LotionsTopicalDirect application to the skinMosquitoes: High Flies: High Gnats: High No-see-ums: High Ants: HighModerate to Long-lastingMoisturizing properties, suitable for prolonged outdoor activities
Citronella OilsEssential oilDiffusers, oil burnersMosquitoes: Moderate to High Flies: Moderate to High Gnats: Moderate to High No-see-ums: Moderate to High Ants: Moderate to HighShort to ModerateVersatile application options can be used indoors and outdoors
Citronella TorchesOutdoorBurning, oil-soaked wicksMosquitoes: Moderate Flies: Moderate Gnats: Moderate No-see-ums: Moderate Ants: ModerateModerate to Long-lastingDecorative and functional create a bug-free zone in outdoor spaces

It’s vital to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer for proper use and to maximize the effectiveness of citronella-based products.

When choosing the most suitable product for your bug repellency needs, you should consider individual preferences, environmental factors, and specific insect concerns.


  • Kaylee Vaughn

    Kaylee is the Founder of She has set up and run two homesteads, a one-acre in Idaho, and her current two-acre dream homestead in the Pacific North West. Her qualifications include a Permaculture Design Certification from Oregon State University, and she is a Gardenary Certified Garden Coach. Kaylee currently produces at least 80% of her own food. She contributes to our site through articles, training and coaching to our clients. You can read more about her at