Citronella Essential Oil: Guide and How-To

If toxic products bug you just as much as bugs do, citronella essential oil makes an excellent summer staple. But did you know it offers benefits beyond its use as a bug barrier?


Qualified as one of the EPA’s minimal risk pesticides, citronella is well-known for its safe, natural insect-repelling capabilities. Still, there’s more to this crisp, aromatic oil that will undoubtedly secure it a spot in your year-round collection.


Keep reading to learn more about this invigorating, multipurpose essential oil. 

What is Citronella?

Citronella is a fragrant grass that is native to certain Asian countries and South Pacific islands. Belonging to the Cymbopogon genus, it has a citrusy aroma that earned its name from the French term for “lemon balm.”


Historically, citronella is a centuries-old natural remedy for treating rashes, fungal infections, and other ailments. Its use originated in Indonesian and Chinese medicine, where it still holds a place today.

Citronella Oil Uses and Benefits

You’re probably familiar with citronella essential oil and its popular use for keeping bugs at bay. However, its aroma offers a surprising amount of mood-boosting and stress-reducing properties you might not have heard about.


When used in aromatherapy, citronella oil can:


  • Help reduce stress
  • Promote feelings of wellbeing
  • Fight fatigue
  • Aid focus and concentration

So, if you’re in need of an uplifting aroma to ease stress and leave you feeling alert, citronella makes a great fragrance companion. Use it alone or with your favorite citrusy and green essential oils to create your ideal blend.

How to Use Citronella Essential Oil

Depending on how you wish to use citronella essential oil, there are a few different methods to try out. Below are a few ideas for enjoying the benefits of citronella.

Adding to Your Diffuser

Use citronella oil alone in your diffuser, or with a carrier oil. If desired, create your own custom blends with well-pairing oils such as lavender, lemongrass, peppermint, and eucalyptus.

Applying Topically

Apply 1-2 drops of citronella essential oil to a carrier oil, such as jojoba or coconut. Apply to pulse points to promote a positive mood and help repel insects.

Creating a Natural Bug Spray

Add 20-30 drops to a 3-ounce spray bottle filled with water. Shake vigorously before applying.


Note: Citronella essential oil makes an excellent natural bug repellent, but will not last as long as DEET-based sprays. Be sure to reapply every hour to keep the fragrance fresh and potent. 

Using with Vanillin 

One study found that adding vanillin, the naturally-occurring compound in the vanilla bean, can extend the period of bug-repelling effectiveness to nearly 5 hours. This is available in its pure form as a food-flavoring ingredient, but there are also trace amounts (<5%) of it found in natural vanilla extract. When using the latter for your all-natural bug repellents, it won’t carry the same potency, so you should still try to reapply every few hours.

Adding to Your Shower

If you’re in need of an extra lift, the steam from your shower can help carry the invigorating scent of citronella to your senses. Simply add a few drops to your shower floor and let the bright, citrusy aroma envelope you.

Before You Use Citronella Oil

Since essential oils contain potent plant extracts, there’s a potential for irritation if they’re applied directly to your skin. Citronella essential oil can also cause an allergic reaction for certain individuals, especially in children.


Despite these mild risks, citronella essential oil has extremely low toxicity. It’s generally safe for normal use as long as you observe the proper precautions.


Here are some general safety tips to keep in mind:


  • Always apply citronella with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or coconut oil
  • Perform a 48-hour allergy test on a small patch of skin before heavier, continued use
  • Avoid the eye area
  • Don’t allow children to apply their own citronella oil
  • Only apply citronella externally
  • Do not consume citronella essential oil

One more thing to note: although citronella repels insects, it does not harm them. This includes bees and other important pollinators. Citronella oil is also unlikely to harm wildlife due to its low toxicity levels, so you can use it with confidence during your next camping trip. Just be sure to apply every hour or so to maintain effectiveness. 

Citronella Essential Oil Diffuser Recipes

No summer essential oil kit is complete without citronella, and its zingy, refreshing citrus aroma pairs wells with a variety of scents. Below are a couple of recipes to try in your home’s essential oil diffuser.

Bug-Be-Gone Blend

  • 4 drops citronella essential oil
  • 2 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • 2 drop cedarwood essential oil
  • Carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba (optional)

Add to your home’s diffuser, using a carrier oil if desired.

Peace and Serenity Blend

  • 4 drops citronella essential oil
  • 3 drops lavender essential oil
  • 2 drops chamomile essential oil
  • Carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba (optional)

Add to your diffuser, using a carrier oil if desired.

Citronella: The All-In-One Bug Buster and Mood Elevator

Though it offers the best all-natural protection against biting bugs, citronella essential oil isn’t limited to its use as a repellent. If you’re in need of some calming aromatherapy, or just a zingy pick-me-up, citronella can bring a little extra to the table. Now that you’re more familiar with this amazing multipurpose oil, grab a bottle for your collection today!

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