Citronella: The Buzz About Whether It Actually Repels Flies

Citronella Juice

Flies are like that one annoying guest who just won’t leave your party. Are you tired of pesky flies ruining your outdoor gatherings and leaving you feeling like you’ve been swatting at the air all day? It’s time to fight back with the power of Citronella. 

As someone who has dealt with their fair share of fly invasions during the summertime barbecues, I can tell you finding an effective solution is like finding a needle in a haystack.

But fear not; we’re about to dive deep into the science behind citronella and explore whether or not it’s truly a fly’s worst nightmare. 

So, sit tight, and let’s separate fact from fiction.

The Science Behind Citronella

Citronella Grass

Citronella oil is obtained from the leaves and stems of the citronella plant, also known as Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus. The oil is extracted through a process called steamed distillation which involves steaming the plant material to release its essential oils. 

Steam is passed through the plant material during the distillation process, causing the essential oil to evaporate. The vapor is then condensed and collected in a container, producing pure citronella oil. 

Now, what exactly is citronella oil? Well, let me tell you! Citronella comprises several compounds, including citronellol, geraniol, and citronellal. These compounds give the oil its characteristic citrusy scent and are also responsible for its insect-repellant properties. 

Speaking of insect repellent, there’s actually been quite a lot of scientific research done on citronella as a fly repellent. Studies have shown that citronella oil can be an effective insect repellent, particularly against mosquitoes and flies. 

In fact, one study conducted in India found that citronella oil was just as effective as DEET, a common insect repellent, in repelling mosquitoes. Now that’s some powerful stuff!

Every summer, I get eaten alive by mosquitoes, and I have tried everything; one year, I researched so many different options for mosquito repellent. I made a really stinky concoction of a mix of essential oils and citronella, which gave me the best results! With that being said, it wasn’t the most attractive scent you would want to wear in public! 

The Truth About Citronella as a Fly Repellent

Fly Repellent

Well, it’s time to separate fact from fiction when it comes to citronella as a fly repellent. There’s no denying citronella has a strong pleasant smell that many people associate with repelling flies and other insects. But does it actually work?

Let’s take a look at the evidence. Some studies have suggested that citronella oil can be an effective repellent, particularly against mosquitoes. However, when it comes to flies, the evidence is a bit more mixed. 

One study conducted in Australia found that a spray containing citronella oil was no more effective in repelling flies than a placebo spray. Another study conducted in the United States found that a citronella-based repellent was only moderately effective at keeping flies away. 

So why might citronella not work as well as people think it does? Well, for starters, flies are known to have a high tolerance for specific scents, including citronella. This means that even if citronella does repel flies to some extent, it may not be enough to keep them away altogether. 

Additionally, the effectiveness of any insect repellent can depend on varying factors, including the concentration of the active ingredients, the method of application, and even the individual differences in body chemistry.  

Now I’ll admit it, I’ve used citronella oil as a fly repellent before, and it seemed to work pretty well. But as with many natural remedies, it’s essential to take the evidence with a grain of salt and not rely solely on anecdotal experiences. 

Alternatives to Citronella

Citronella Oil

Suppose citronella isn’t cutting it when it comes to repelling those pesky flies; never fear! There are plenty of other options to consider. 

First up, we have good old-fashioned insect repellent containing DEET. While DEET has gotten a bit of a bad rap over the years, it’s actually one of the most effective insect repellents out there. Just be sure to follow the instructions carefully and use them sparingly. 

If you’re looking for a more natural option, there are a few essential oils that have been shown to have insect-repelling properties. These include Lemon eucalyptus oil which has been approved by the EPA as an insect repellent, and Lavender oil, which has been shown to repel certain types of flies.

 Let’s take a look at these essential oils a little further:

  • Lemon eucalyptus oil- Contains a compound called PMD that has been shown to be an effective insect repellent, including against certain flies. 
  • Lavender oil- Has a strong scent that many insects, including flies, find unpleasant. 
  • Peppermint oil- Contains a compound called menthol that can act as a natural insecticide and repel flies. 
  • Tea Tree oil- Has antimicrobial properties that can help keep flies and other insects away. 

When using essential oils as a fly repellent, it’s important to dilute them correctly and follow the instructions carefully. It’s worth noting that while essential oils may be effective to some degree, they may not be as powerful as chemical insect repellents like DEET. 

Another option to consider is installing screens on your windows and doors. This can help keep flies and other insects out of your home without the need for chemicals or repellents. 

And if all else fails, there’s always the trusty fly swatter. Sure, it may not be the most sophisticated method, but sometimes you just need to take matters into your own hands! 

Plants that Prevent Flies

Plants that Prevent Flies

Although they may not be a complete solution, by having a few of the following plants around your home, you could also prevent the number of flies:

Basil: This fragrant herb not only adds flavor to your food but also helps to repel flies. 

Lavender: This beautiful plant has a pleasant scent that flies don’t like. You can plant it in your garden or keep it indoors in a pot. 

Marigolds: These vibrant flowers are great at keeping flies away. They are easy to grow and add a splash of color to the garden. 

Mint: Another fragrant herb that repels flies. You can plant it directly in your garden or keep it in a pot on your windowsill.

Rosemary: Rosemary is an all-around favorite and not just in the kitchen. The strong scent of rosemary can act as an insect repellant, so if you keep it in a pot on your windowsill or plant a hedge near your front door, it could keep the pests away. 

Eucalyptus: This tree has a strong scent that flies can’t stand. You can plant a eucalyptus tree near your home to reduce the number of flies in the area. 

With a few herbs sitting on your kitchen windowsill, you could be one step closer to keeping your cooking space a fly-free zone. In addition to that, you could plant these herbs around the edges of your home to increase the chances of repelling these pesky critters.

Lifestyle Tips to Prevent Flies

Tips to Prevent Flies

Some age-old methods to tackle these pesky flies while they invade your home include:

Keep your home clean and tidy– flies are attracted to food and other sources of organic matter. Keeping your home clean and tidy can go a long way in preventing them from taking up residence. Especially in summer- they seem to find the smallest of food crumbs on the kitchen bench!

Cover your food- If you’re enjoying a picnic or outdoor meal, be sure to cover your food with a mesh screen or lid to keep the flies from landing on it.

Seal your garbage cans- Flies love nothing more than a good dumpster dive, so be sure to keep your garbage cans tightly sealed and take your trash out regularly. 

Install screens on your windows and doors- this is one of the best methods, especially in the summer when you want to open the house to fresh air. The screens will stop flies and other insects from entering your home.

Natural fly repellents– as we’ve discussed, there are a variety of essential oils and other natural fly repellents that may be effective, so it’s worth giving them a try. 

Using a fan: This is especially useful in the peak of summer when the nights are hot. The flies and other winged critters can’t keep up with the wind flow, so they avoid the area where there is so much air movement. 

Traps: Some people swear by making a trap with sugar and water in a jar and using it to trap the flies. The flies are attracted to the sugar and fly into the jar and get stuck.  

Keeping mosquitoes out of my home has been an uphill battle. I have tried all of the above methods. One thing that works too is incense- Sandalwood incense sticks are also helpful with flies. Flies don’t like smoke, and although lighting a fire may be nearly impossible, incense sticks do seem to give off a steady stream of smelly smoke they tend to avoid. 

Pros and Cons of Citronella

Before ending this buzzing topic and making a decision whether to fork out on Citronella weapons, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Citronella:


  • Citronella is a natural, non-toxic way to repel flies, which is a pro as it doesn’t harm the environment or other animals.
  • Citronella has been shown to be effective in repelling flies, meaning it can keep these pests at bay. 
  • Using Citronella to repel flies is as easy as pie requiring little effort or expense to set up. You can find it in the form of candles, sticky strips to hang up oil to light in a lantern, or incense sticks. 


  • Using citronella to repel flies might be a drop in the ocean as it may not be effective in all situations and may not completely eliminate the presence of flies. 
  • The effects of Citronella can be short-lived and may need constant replenishment – keeping candles lit, incense burnt, etc. 
  • Using Citronella to repel flies may be a double-edged sword as it may also repel other beneficial insects or pests. 

Considering Citronella to Repel Flies

All in all, citronella has proven effective against flies and those filthy mosquitoes. As a natural and environmentally friendly option, it makes it ideal for regular use. Although it is not as potent at killing flies as its chemical counterpart DEET, it does have its own benefits. When following good lifestyle habits to repel flies and citronella, you can be one step closer to keeping them at bay. 

For me, I prefer to use citronella or essential oils when it comes to topical application on the skin. The mosquitoes are rife in my area, so applying DEET to my skin on a daily basis feels damaging. When it comes to outdoor entertainment like evening BBQs and summer pool sessions, I find a combination of burning Citronella candles and Sandalwood incense sticks to be effective. 

The choice is yours, and depending on how much you are irritated by those pesky flies will determine your weapon of choice! 

Ready to Find Out More About Beneficial Plants?

Head over to our planting guides where we’ve got all the tips and tricks on keeping your garden in shape. 

Whether you’re just branching out into the gardening world or are a Jungle Jedi you’ll find all the necessary gardening tools to get started.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Does Citronella Plant Repel Flies?

The Citronella plant is known to repel flies and is where the Citronella oil is extracted from to create candles and other fly-repellent products.

Does Citronella Repel Fruit Flies?

Citronella contains a strong fragrance that can repel fruit flies and other insects.

Does Citronella Candles Repel Flies?

Burning Citronella not only emits the fragrance into the air to repel the flies but the flame and smoke from the candle are also something that flies and insects steer clear of.

What Percentage of Citronella is Effective?

Some studies have shown that Citronella candles made with the Citronella Essential oil were able to reduce mosquitoes by about 35% and sand flies by 15%.
In light of that, the number of bites from mosquitoes in the study was reduced by 42% and sandfly bites by 24%.

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