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Are Citronella Candles an Effective Mosquito Repellent?

Myth: Citronella candles repel mosquitoes.

Facts: Citronella candles burn in many backyards on summer nights because of the belief that they repel mosquitoes like cinnamon repels ants. But while the oil of citronella does repel mosquitoes to some degree, “in the amount and concentration that is put out via candles, it’s not very effective,” says Joseph Conlon, a technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association. “As a matter of fact, it’s really not significantly more effective than any other candle would be.”

Experts agree that the most effective repellent is still DEET, available in lotions and sprays for skin application. Another effective, topically applied repellent ingredient is picaridin, which is odorless and almost as effective as DEET, though it doesn’t work on all types of mosquitoes. Other options include repellent-imbued clothing, topically applied oil of lemon eucalyptus, insecticide foggers and butane-powered devices.

But Conlon prefers a simpler solution: fans. Mosquitoes are weak fliers and have trouble navigating a moderate breeze, he says. “Plus, the breeze will tend to dissipate all of the body odors and the carbon dioxide that people give off that attract mosquitoes, so the mosquitoes have much more of a difficult time trying to find their hosts,” Conlon says. “It’s low-tech, but very effective.”

Beth Goulart is a journalist based in Austin, Texas.