Does Citronella Repel Flies? The Simple Answer

A fly being repelled by citronella

Citronella has been used by many people over the years to help deal with a variety of insects.

But does citronella repel flies?

This guide breaks down the effectiveness of citronella on keeping flies away, and the various methods that actually work.

What Is Citronella?

One sure sign that summer is on its way is the appearance of citronella candles, tiki torches and other citronella-based products on store shelves. The citrusy-smell of citronella is almost synonymous with backyard barbeques and nighttime get-togethers, and you’ve probably used a citronella-based product yourself.

But do you really know what citronella really is?

The citronella oil that’s used in many insect-repelling products is an oil that comes from the leaves and stems of the citronella plant.

There are two kinds of citronella plants:

  • Citronella grass
  • Citronella geranium

The most effective oil comes from citronella grass, so that’s usually the source of the citronella oil that’s found in the products you’re familiar with . 

Many people think that citronella and lemongrass are the same thing, but they are completely different plants. They might be close in appearance and fragrance, but they are not interchangeable. While it’s true that they both can repel flies, citronella grass is the one that is used the most.

Does Citronella Repel Flies?

While many people think of citronella as a mosquito repellent, citronella can also repel flies. By flies we mean anything from fruit flies and green flies to common house flies and crane flies. Nothing can ruin a fun summer picnic or barbeque faster than a swarm of flies hovering over your food, and citronella has proven itself to be an excellent way to keep flies away without the need to use harsh chemicals around people or food items.

Expert Tip: One thing to remember before you decide to use a citronella-based product is that it won’t actually kill the flies that are bothering you. The job of citronella is to repel flies and keep them from ruining your enjoyment of the outdoors, but it won’t actually eliminate them.

How does citronella repel flies? The secret is that this is one of the scents that flies absolutely hate. In much the same way that you might use a lemon-scented kitchen spray, candle or floor cleaner to cover up bad smells, citronella works to mask the kinds of odors that flies find irresistible. 

It doesn’t take long for the scent of grilled burgers, potato salad, desserts and even the smell of human sweat to attract a horde of flies to your picnic table or backyard patio. The powerful, citrus scent of citronella works to cover up these delicious smells, and if the flies can’t smell the food, they won’t be tempted to come over and investigate.

Why You Should Consider Using Citronella To Repel Flies

We highly recommend using citronella to repel flies for a number of reasons.

First of all, it smells great. Its pleasant, citrusy-scent makes a nice change from some of the more harsh smelling insect sprays that can be found on the shelves. 

Secondly, citronella is an all-natural and much safer alternative to harsh chemical sprays. Since citronella oil is derived from citronella grass, it’s usually quite safe to use. 

Expert Tip: However, caution should be taken when using any kind of citronella-based products around your pets. The citronella plant is very toxic to animals, so we don’t recommend planting it in your yard if you have outdoor pets. In fact, it’s better to keep all citronella products away from pets.

Another reason why we recommend citronella for repelling flies is that it comes in many forms. You can find citronella oil in candles, tiki torches, sprays, essential oils and so many other products. You can even add it to a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, olive oil or jojoba oil, to create an all-natural, DEET-free fly repellent.

To sum up, using citronella is a safe, natural and effective way to repel flies and stop them from ruining your outdoor events. It’s inexpensive, smells wonderful and can be found in a wide variety of forms.

How To Use Citronella To Keep Flies Away Indoors

If you’re bothered by flies inside your house, you may be wondering if citronella can be used indoors. The answer is yes, but there are some restrictions and points to consider before using citronella to keep flies away inside.

Expert Tip: As we mentioned before, citronella is very toxic to pets. If you have pets in the house, we suggest finding a different method for getting rid of flies. As always, talk to your veterinarian with any questions or concerns.

Another point to consider is that citronella is known to have some adverse side effects for young children and the elderly. If you’re not sure whether citronella is safe around your loved ones, we recommend discussing it with a doctor.

One way to use citronella inside is to put drops of citronella oil into an aromatherapy diffuser. While you can place the diffuser anywhere that flies tend to congregate in your home, the best place is near a window or a door. The citronella smell may help to discourage flies from entering your house.

Another way to use citronella in your home is to bring in a citronella plant. Not only is this aesthetically pleasing, but it may help keep those annoying flies at bay. If you choose this method, please be aware that the citronella plant doesn’t give off its characteristic scent until it’s touched. To activate its fly-repellent smell, just lightly touch the leaves.

The one citronella product that should never be used indoors is a citronella candle. Even though you may enjoy the way citronella smells, these candles are not meant to be used for aromatherapy or relaxation. They are dangerous when used indoors and are meant for outdoor use only.

If you’re bothered by flies in your house, then you can try alternative methods such as using fly paper, eucalyptus oil or malt vinegar. There are even a few crazy contraptions, like fly vacuums and bug shooters, that are said to work against an indoor fly invasion. If the situation feels beyond your capabilities, then you may need to call in a pest control specialist.

How To Use Citronella To Keep Flies Away Outdoors

The best and safest place to use citronella to repel flies is outdoors. As we mentioned above, using citronella indoors has its limitations, but it’s an excellent choice for keeping outside flies at bay.

Citronella products come in a variety of forms that range from simple candles and citronella bracelets to elaborately designed torches and beautiful hanging coils. The citronella product you choose is totally up to you and using more than one is perfectly fine.

Let’s take a look at a few ways that you can use citronella to keep your next outdoor event pleasant and free of flies.


Probably the most common way to use citronella to repel flies outside is by burning a citronella candle. As we will cover this in much more detail further along in this guide, we will only mention it briefly here.

Tiki Torches

Another common and fun way to utilize citronella to keep flies away outside is with a tiki torch. These are torches, often made from bamboo, that are filled with citronella oil and lit from the top. They really add a special touch to a backyard get together, especially one at night.

Since using torches involves fire, special precautions must be taken before using citronella torches. First of all, they need to be placed at least six feet away from any structure, and you should never put them under low hanging branches, under trees or near anything that could easily catch fire.

However, make sure to place them where you need the most protection from flies and other insects. Once you have found the spot where you want to put your citronella torches, make sure to pound them a good eight inches into the ground for support. Even though most citronella torches come with an extinguisher cap, it’s always a good idea to have a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of an emergency.

Citronella Oil

Another citronella product that works for flies and is also aesthetically pleasing is the citronella coil. After hanging the citronella coil, light the end, and the scent and smoke will help to keep flies away. Some of these coils also come with a stand, so they can be placed on a flat surface. It’s a good idea to wrap the part you don’t want to burn with aluminum foil, so it will safely burn out on its own.

There are also glass torches that can be set on a table, you can plant citronella grass in your backyard and there are citronella sprays that can be sprayed where you want protection.

Do Citronella Candles Work For Flies?

In the previous section, we discussed some of the ways that citronella can be used to repel flies in an outside environment. One of the methods mentioned was the use of citronella candles. These candles can be found just about everywhere from retail stores and hardware stores to grocery stores and places online. But are they the most effective way of repelling flies? Let’s take a look.

A citronella candle being used to keep flies away

Lots of people swear by citronella candles, and they certainly do work to some extent. The issue with some citronella candles is that many of these candles don’t contain enough citronella oil to be highly effective. Since citronella works by hiding the smell of things that flies find attractive, if there is not enough oil, then it’s not going to really work. In other words, not all citronella candles are made the same, so it can be a bit of a trial and error thing until you find one that works for you.

Another issue with citronella candles is that they only work within a certain radius. Unless you are within that radius, they may not work as well. Because of this, you may either need to place more citronella candles around, or you will need to place them closer to the area or areas where the flies are most bothersome.

Need fly protection on a windy day? Then citronella candles are probably not going to cut it. Either the wind is going to blow the candles out, or the citronella smell will be blown away from where you need it to be. If there is not enough scent to block out the smell of food or of humans, then it’s pointless to use a candle.

Something else to think about before depending on citronella candles as your only source of fly-repellent is the fact that citronella does not work on every kind of fly. That’s right. Some flies appear to be immune to citronella, so using candles alone probably won’t work.

Expert Tip: We’d like to mention here that it’s super important to read the label on the candle before you buy it. Many candles contain things that are considered to be carcinogens, so you’ll need to do your research before buying and using a citronella candle.

In conclusion, citronella candles do work on flies to some extent, but it’s our opinion that they are best used with another citronella product. As was mentioned before, citronella candles are for outdoor use only and should never be used indoors.

Does Citronella Kill Flies?

While citronella is a safe, all-natural alternative to chemical-style insect sprays on the market, it won’t actually kill flies. Citronella repels flies by working to cover up the scents that usually attract flies. Even then, citronella is a temporary fix that works in some conditions and doesn’t in others. 

If you’re looking to actually kill flies, then you’ll need to pursue other options. 


You now know that citronella does repel flies, but only when used correctly. If you’re thinking about using it for your fly problem, make sure you refer to this guide to increase your chance of success!

If you have any other questions about using citronella to keep flies away, we’re more than happy to answer your questions.

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