Does Citronella Repel No-See-Ums?

Bill Swank
First Published: | Updated: February 27, 2024

Have you ever found yourself under the assault of pesky no-see-ums, leaving you at your wits’ end trying to fend off these tenacious tiny creatures? You might have come across citronella as a go-to natural remedy. Known for its mosquito-repelling properties, how well does it stand in the face of the persistent no-see-ums?

In this article, we’ll delve into the properties of citronella and comprehensively examine whether it serves as an effective repellent against no-see-ums.

  • Citronella can serve as a natural repellent against no-see-ums due to the strong scent of its oil which can interfere with the signals (carbon dioxide and body heat) that these pests are attracted to.
  • While citronella does repel no-see-ums, it is not as effective as other insect repellents such as DEET or picaridin, it provides a shorter duration of protection and needs more frequent reapplication. Plus, it may be less effective in highly humid environments.
  • Citronella is preferable for its natural composition, making it safer for both children and adults. It’s generally non-toxic, eco-friendly, and unlikely to cause skin or respiratory reactions compared to synthetic repellants.
  • In spite of its benefits, citronella’s key drawbacks include the need for frequent reapplication and it being less potent in comparison with chemical-based repellents. It often requires supplementary measures for maximum protection.
  • Other natural remedies for no-see-ums include essential oils such as eucalyptus, lavender, or tea tree oil, as well as certain herbs like basil, lemongrass, or catnip. A combined approach involving citronella and other repellents can often provide better protection.

What is Citronella and How is it Commonly Used?

What Is Citronella?

Citronella Plant

Citronella, a natural and non-toxic alternative to chemical insect repellants, is a grass that mainly grows in some Asian countries and the South Pacific. The oil extracted from the leaves and stems of the plant has several purposes, with one of the primary uses being insect repulsion.

What Are the Active Components in Citronella Oil That Repel Insects?

The primary active components in citronella oil are citronellal, citronellol, and geraniol. These compounds have strong scents that are unpleasant to many insects, thereby deterring them. Specifically, these odors can mask the smells that attract bugs, such as carbon dioxide and body heat, obstructing their path towards humans or animals.

How is Citronella Commonly Used?

Citronella oil is used in numerous products, including candles, sprays, lotions, and diffusers. Among the most popular are citronella candles which can be lit in outdoor spaces to create an invisible barrier against bugs. Citronella oil can also be applied directly on the skin via lotions or sprays, or diffused using a variety of devices for more comprehensive coverage, especially when indoors.

What Insects Does Citronella Generally Repel?

Citronella is widely known for its ability to repel mosquitoes. It’s also effective against various other biting bugs like ticks, black flies, and stable flies. As for no-see-ums—tiny, blood-sucking insects also known as biting midges, sand flies, or punkies—their knack for undeterred biting prompts a common question: does citronella repel no-see-ums?

How Might Citronella Affect No-See-Ums?

Does Citronella Repel No-See-Ums?

Yes, citronella can repel no-see-ums. The strong scent of citronella oil can mask the carbon dioxide and body heat signals that these pests are attracted to, making it more challenging for them to locate their targets. However, it should be noted that citronella is not as effective against no-see-ums as some other insect repellents such as DEET or picaridin.

Moreover, citronella’s protective effect tends to be shorter-lived compared to these alternatives, necessitating more frequent reapplication. Other factors like sweating, water exposure, or engaging in activities that cause the oil to rub off can shorten this duration even further. Citronella can also be less effective in highly humid environments, where no-see-ums often thrive.

So, while citronella does have some effect on repelling no-see-ums, its potency and duration of protection are not quite on par with more targeted, chemical-based repellents. If you plan on being in an area heavily infested with no-see-ums, it might be wise to consider a more potent solution specifically designed against these pests, perhaps using citronella as a supplementary measure.

What Scientific Studies Exist on Citronella’s Effectiveness Against No-See-Ums?

While citronella has been verified to repel a number of insects including mosquitoes and ticks, its effectiveness against no-see-ums is less proven. Research specifically involving no-see-ums and citronella is relatively scarce, and what does exist can be inconsistent. Nevertheless, the repellent properties of citronella likely extend to these tiny biting insects as well.

How Does Citronella Compare to Other Repellents Against No-See-Ums?

Compared to other repellents like DEET and picaridin, citronella oil is less effective. While these two are designed to deter a wide range of biting bugs, including no-see-ums, they are synthetic and may carry risks. Citronella, a natural alternative, may not be as potent, but it is generally safer, with a lower likelihood of causing skin or respiratory reactions.

Are There Specific Products That Utilize Citronella to Repel No-See-Ums?

While there aren’t many products on the market specifically advertising that they use citronella to repel no-see-ums, any product with citronella is worth considering. Some products might not specifically mention no-see-ums on their packaging, but may still be effective due to the general insect-repelling properties of citronella.

What are the Practical Applications of Using Citronella Against No-See-Ums?

Citronella oil can be applied directly on the skin, burned as candles, or diffused in the environment. It’s particularly beneficial in enclosed outdoor spaces where burning citronella candles can help to create a protective barrier against these tiny biting insects.

How Does the Duration of Protection From Citronella Compare to Other Repellents Against No-See-Ums?

Citronella’s protective effect is comparatively shorter-lived. It needs to be reapplied frequently, especially in warm weather or during physical activity that induces sweating. In comparison, a single application of a DEET or picaridin-based repellent can last several hours longer than citronella, providing prolonged protection against no-see-ums. However, citronella is a safer option as it is devoid of chemicals.

What are the Pros and Cons of Using Citronella as a Repellent for No-See-Ums?

What are the Benefits of Using Citronella Against No-See-Ums?

The major advantage of citronella stems from its natural composition, marking it safe for both children and adults. Its application won’t result in harmful chemical exposure, and its aroma is generally refreshing. It’s a cost-effective solution that can be conveniently integrated into candles, lotions, and sprays for easy application.

What are the Potential Drawbacks or Risks of Using Citronella Against No-See-Ums?

Despite being natural, citronella isn’t free of drawbacks. It needs frequent reapplication to maintain its effectiveness, especially if you’re sweating or swimming. Its inability to provide lasting protection in more humid environments can be a disadvantage, and its strength isn’t comparable to other chemical-based repellents.

Are There Skin or Respiratory Reactions Associated With Citronella Use?

Citronella is generally safe to use. However, like any substance, some people may have allergic or sensitivity reactions. In such cases, individuals could experience minor skin irritation or respiratory discomfort. If symptoms occur, discontinue use and seek medical attention.

Are There Environmental Concerns Linked to the Use of Citronella Products?

Citronella oil is a natural, environmentally friendly substance without adverse effects on the environment. It’s biodegradable and does not contain harsh chemicals that can contaminate water or soil. In contrast, many chemical-based repellents are not biodegradable and can have harmful impacts on our ecosystems.

What Alternatives Exist to Citronella for Repelling No-See-Ums?

What Other Natural Remedies Are There for No-See-Ums?

If you’re interested in other natural remedies, consider essential oils like eucalyptus, lavender, or tea tree oil. These oils possess insect-repelling properties and may deter no-see-ums. Planting herbs such as basil, lemongrass, or catnip in your backyard may also be effective.

How Do Synthetic Repellents Compare to Citronella?

Synthetic repellents, such as DEET or picaridin, are generally more potent and longer-lasting than citronella. However, they come with the risk of chemical exposure and potential skin irritation, especially for those with sensitive skin.

Can Combining Citronella With Other Repellents Increase Its Efficacy?

Yes, combining citronella with other natural or even synthetic repellents can often increase its efficacy. Many commercial repellents often include multiple active ingredients to better deter a wider variety of insects.

What Are the Best Ways to Apply Citronella to Achieve Maximum Protection?

Get the most out of citronella by applying it frequently. If using a skin product, concentrate on areas where no-see-ums tend to bite, like ankles and arms. Burning candles and diffusing oil in covered outdoor spaces can also help to increase your coverage and keep these small pests at bay.


Yes, citronella does have the potential to repel no-see-ums. Its appeal lies in its safe and natural properties, making it a preferred option for those who want to avoid chemical-based products. However, the extent of its effectiveness can vary, and its protection is typically shorter-lived than other repellents. For maximum protection against no-see-ums, a combined approach involving citronella and other repellents can provide comprehensive coverage. As always, choose your pest prevention methods based on your personal needs, environment, and comfort level.

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