When the weather warms up, there is nothing more relaxing than sitting outside and enjoying a meal. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find something more annoying than pesky flies hovering around your guests and landing on your food. So, does citronella repel flies? How does it work and what are your options?
Citronella is a plant-based, very effective, natural insect repellent that people use to repel flies and other types of insects. Whether in a candle, plant form, or oil form, citronella releases a scent that works nicely to mask other smells that would draw flies to the area, making it difficult to locate and zero in on those unpleasant scents that flies love.
There are several great ways you can introduce this item to your outdoor or indoor space to help keep flies away. Does citronella repel flies? We’ll break down everything you need to know below.
Citronella is a very popular, natural way to repel flies and other pests. It’s also a pretty ornamental grass to add to your landscape.
Before we can jump into knowing does citronella repel flies, you have to know what it is. Simply put, citronella is an oil that comes from Citronella grass leaves and from the Citronella Geranium plant. It’s commonly used as a natural, plant based alternative to ward bugs like flies and mosquitoes away. Citronella oil gets added to bug repellants, candles, and sprays as a means to keep bugs away.
Citronella oil is a naturally occurring oil on a perennial plant called citronella grass. The oil this plant produces is an essential ingredient used to repel a host of pesky bugs. There are several ways you can introduce this oil to your indoor or outdoor space to give it some extra protection from flies or other insects, but you have to know what types of citronella are available first.
Two Types of Citronella Plants
First off, there are two main types of plants that produce citronella, and they are Citronella Grass and the Citronella Geranium. However, when you’re trying to figure out does citronella repels flies and which form works the best, you should note that when you’re talking about the oil, it always comes from Citronella Grass. This is what you pick out if you’re after some effective, quick-acting, natural bug repellant. The plant also makes a fabulous accent to your garden, and you can easily incorporate it as a decorative feature around your landscaping while warding bugs away.
With the mounding growth habit and what people say about this clump of ornamental grass, the foliage will grow out and long and then arch downwards to leave you with a very hardy-looking plant. However, if you plant this grass, there’s a way to get them to the highest insect repelling nature possible. To achieve this, you’ll crunch and crush the leaves and agitate the foliage to get it to release the oil. The other option you have is to plant Citronella Geranium. Even though it’s in the same family, it doesn’t work nearly as well as the grass to repel flies. It’s a purple-flowering, beautiful plant to feature in your landscape, but it doesn’t ward bugs away too well.
Does Citronella Repel Flies? How?
The main question we’re going to answer today is does citronella repel flies? The short answer is yes, but it may not work like you think. Citronella won’t get rid of these pests in the sense that you’ll never see them again. However, it will repel them to keep them out of your immediate area.
The citronella oil or plant doesn’t actually kill the flies. However, it will repel them nicely. It produces a very lemony smell that is so aromatic and strong that it works to mask any smells that flies or other insects can be attracted to. In turn, this will make it harder for them to locate or find these stinky smells that they love.
Citronella is generally very lemony and fresh-smelling, and although most people enjoy it, insects find the scent very overwhelming and it makes it hard to smell anything nearby. It’s effective when it’s being used, but the candles only work when you burn them. The sprays that have citronella in it will have to get reapplied to your skin every few hours.
So, the scent of citronella isn’t necessarily something insects don’t like. However, the scent is simply so strong that it takes over any insect’s senses and makes feeding much more difficult. Having no food or desirable scents in the area will drive the flies elsewhere.
There are several ways you can use citronella to repel flies, and the scent is strong enough to mask smells the flies find appetizing.
What Flies Like to Eat
Flies are attracted to some of the worst smells. In fact, they don’t really like anything that smells good. So, think of garbage or rot, dampness or food waste. If the thought of these smells makes you cringe, this is exactly what flies love. However, what flies like to eat all depends on what type of fly they are and their main food source as it can vary from fly to fly.
There are a few very common types of flies that you deal with when you go outside, including Blow or Bottle Flies, Fruit Flies, and House Flies. Although they’re very similar in the sense that they love strong smells, they feed on different items. Those include:
- Bowl or Bottle Flies – These flies eat the worst things possible. They are the type of fly that feeds on decomposed or dead substances or rotten things. Telling them apart from other flies like the housefly is easy as this one has a metallic sheen to it.
- Fruit Flies – As the name suggests, these are the flies you find around your food, and they love to eat fermented foods like pineapples, bananas, and fruits that are starting to go bad. Their food list also includes sugary things, vinegar, or candy.
- House Flies – These pesky types of flies get into buildings, land on your food, and hover around people. They like to eat any overripe vegetables and fruits, decomposing excrement, and sugary substances.
So, the gist of the matter is, flies like to eat almost anything that repels humans. However, no matter what the type of flies’ desired tastes may be, all food attracts all types of flies, and nothing masks these smells quite like citronella.
Benefits and Drawbacks to Using Citronella to Repel Flies
There are benefits and drawbacks to using citronella to get rid of those flies around your yard or garden. They include but are not limited to:
- Different Forms – There are several products available to choose from with citronella oil mixed in. You can buy it as a candle, burn the oil in oil lamps, buy a spray, or get it as an oil that you dilute and rub directly on your skin if you don’t do well with products that have DEET.
- Inexpensive and Easy to Get – Products containing this plant’s oil are virtually everywhere, so they’re very easy to get. You can also buy it for a very low cost.
- Non-Toxic – Citronella is non-toxic to people. It’s actually a plant oil extract that you burn as an oil in a candle or tiki torch, and it’s safe to have around people.
- Not as Effective – Because it’s natural, this oil isn’t as effective as DEET to repel flies and other pests.
- Reapply it Frequently – If you choose to use citronella as a topical agent, you’ll have to reapply it much more frequently than any product that has DEET in it.
- Toxic to Pets – If your cat or dog accidentally gets citronella oil and ingests it, they could have massive issues.
Using Citronella Outside to Deter Flies
If you have a constant issue with flies, planting citronella plants in raised beds or containers alongside these fly-prone areas is a great starting point. However, before you plant these grasses, make sure that you rub and crunch the leaves to encourage the plant to release the oil. If you plant it as-is without doing this, there is a good chance that you won’t get the full benefit of the oil, so agitating the greenery lightly is an important step.
If you like to eat outside or host BBQs frequently, it’s a good ides to have citronella oil or citronella candles on hand. The candles work very well when you burn them because the scent gets so overwhelming for these insects that it creates a natural shield.
Citronella also works well in an oil diffuser, or you can dilute the oil and add it to a carrier oil like coconut oil or a lotion and apply it right to your skin. This will help ward off flies, mosquitoes, and other pesky insects at all times. However, you always, always want to dilute the citronella oil with a carrier oil before you use it topically as it can cause irritation otherwise.
Using Citronella Inside to Deter Flies
There are many ways you can use citronella inside to help repel flies, including fruit and house flies. If you have an aromatherapy diffuser, this is a great way to start experimenting with using the oil and seeing if you like the scent. Putting your diffuser in a fly-prone area like on a windowsill or near the front door can be very effective, and it will help keep any other flies from getting in.
It’s also safe to have citronella plants inside as long as you keep them out of reach of your dogs and cats. The scent can quickly fill the room when you agitate the leaves, and this will ward pests away. It’s particularly useful in the kitchen around your fruit or vegetables.
Specific Ways to Use Citronella to Repel Flies
We touched on does citronella repel flies and what it is, and you also know that you can get this oil through a few types of grass plants. However, all of these plants fall into the Cymbopogon family. It’s a very versatile natural product that works well to repel flies. You can actually use this oil to create several products that keep them away, including incense, sprays, and oils. The slightly lemon scent of the oil is used to keep insects out of different areas. The form you pick out will depend on what your main intentions are for it as well as your personal preferences. The following are ways you can use citronella to repel flies:
Citronella oil is very popular in candles. When you burn the candle, it releases the scent of the oil into the air to keep bugs away. When flies do come around, they tend to get overwhelmed easily and leave. But, not all citronella candles are the same. Some come with a higher concentration of citronella oils than others. This means that when you burn them, they release bigger amounts of oil into the air to be more effective at getting rid of flies and bugs in the area. Some even offer multiple wicks that allow the candle to burn much faster.
Since these candles can be very potent, it’s recommended that you burn them outside of your home. If you’re camping, it could be a great thing to bring one of these candles along to keep the flies away. Also, it can reduce how many mosquitoes hang around the area, so they’re great to have on your porch or patio. However, on average, citronella candles can also reduce fly or mosquito activity in an area by 50% at most.
If you plan on going somewhere where mosquitoes are likely to be diseased, it’s a good idea to pick out a more effective protection method in addition to the candle. You can find these candles both in shops and online, including on Amazon or at Target or Lowe’s. If you’re looking for a specific brand that is very effective at helping to get rid of flies, go for more well-known brands like Murphy’s Naturals or Repel.
Citronella candles are a very easy way to cut the flies or mosquito amounts by roughly 50% when you light them around your patio, porch, or entertainment area outside.
Citronella incense is another solid option to consider if you’re looking for something to repel flies. There are dozens of different incense brands on the market that list citronella oil as the main active ingredient, so you have plenty of options to try. Very similar to how the candle works, it only works to repel flies while it’s burning. This is because it only releases the scent at this time. A lot of incense brands combine citronella with other plant-based ingredients like rosemary. Always double-check the labels, but most are free of any toxic ingredients that are in commercial fly repellents.
Citronella oil is an essential oil that the citronella grass plant releases when you crush or agitate the leaves. The scent allows it to effectively deter flies. If you’re using the oil to repel flies, you have a few options available. There are dozens of products that have this ingredient listed. It’s also added to candles, as we covered earlier. If you want something a little more natural, it’s possible to rub the crushed grass onto your skin or clothing. This will leave a light scent behind to repel flies.
The citronella plant refers to several varieties of an Asian grass plant. It’s called citronella grass, but the scientific name is Cymbopogon Nardus. Citronella grass has a very bright green coloring to it, and it has reddish-hued sections that tend to grow in clumps or patches. It can get up to six feet tall in ideal growing conditions. If you want to repel flies in a specific area in your yard or garden, the grass by itself will be a good choice, but it won’t be 100% effective by itself. Since oil extraction is what keeps the flies away, you’ll need to take steps to release the oils yourself. You can do this by crushing the leaves.
Types Of Flies Citronella Will Repel
When you wonder does citronella repels flies, you have to consider that it works better on some fly species than others. If you have the following around your space, citronella can be a viable option.
- Black House Flies – Black House flies are your very common, generic fly. They are the bigger ones you usually see buzzing near the window but can’t seem to get out. You can shoo them away by having citronella in the house.
- Crane Flies – Many people mistake Crane Flies for mosquitoes because they have a very similar build and wing structure. Citronella works fairly effectively to get rid of them, both indoors and out.
- Fruit Flies – Fruit Flies are very common, pesky indoor flies that appear when you have produce that is out in the open and ripening. You can use citronella to repel them, and you can mix it with other ingredients in a diffuser for it to work well.
- Green Flies – You can find Green Flies inside or around homes. These flies are the ones that feed on feces and garbage when they have the chance. Because they’re attracted to the more potent scent of these items, burning citronella candles can mask these scents and keep them away.
- Sand Flies – As the name suggests, these files are found in areas with a lot of sand. They are brown in color and very small. Citronella oil works nicely to repel them, and you can also try other natural repellents like eucalyptus oil to get rid of them.
- White Flies – You can find this fly in and around your garden, causing plant damage and spreading diseases. Sometimes, a strong spray with the hose will help you get rid of them, but if you have a big amount of them, try citronella as it can effectively repel them.
- Yellow Flies – These flies bite, and you can find them both outside and inside. Yellow flies are slightly harder to get rid of than other common types, and citronella may help. However, it’s recommended that you use a stronger repellent for them as citronella alone won’t be strong enough.
There are many types of flies you can have issues with, and some have painful bites.
Other Scents That Keep Flies Away
There are a few other scents that flies tend to avoid, and you can typically use them in tandem with citronella to repel the pests. Flies tend to hate stronger scents that people love, including:
Flies absolutely can’t stand the scent of basil. Adding a basil plant to your herb garden or home in a container can help keep them away.
Bay leaves are another scent that people seem to love and flies hate. It’s a very popular ingredient in Italian food, and crumbling up a few leaves and sprinkling them around the perimeter of your home or garden can be an effective measure to keep the flies out.
Nothing smells warmer or more welcoming than fresh cinnamon rolls baking in your oven, but flies don’t like it. Cinnamon, used in oil form, ground form, or stick form, can be an easy way to lend a pleasant scent to your home while pushing the pests out.
Arguably one of the most feel-good, relaxing aromas is lavender. This is a very light floral scent, and lavender oil comes from the hardy lavender plant. Adding it either in plant or oil form in or around your home can keep a variety of bugs away, including flies. Be aware that if you do choose the plant form, you’ll have to touch the leaves to get it to release the oils.
Lemongrass is actually a cousin of the citronella plant, and it has lemongrass oil that is very similar to citronella oil. So, it makes sense that it also has fly-repelling properties to it that you can use to your advantage when you’re trying to get and keep bugs out of your home. It grows well in well-drained but sunny areas, and it can top out at four feet tall at full maturity. Plant it straight in the ground or in big containers outside of your home where the scent will drive flies away.
Vinegar is a very hardy substance that works as a cure-all for a range of issues. Malt vinegar works to repel some flies. All you have to do is boil it and put it in any area infested with flies. The smell can cause the flies to try and get away. You do want to take care not to scorch the vinegar as you boil it or you may end up with an unpleasant residual odor in the house. You can find it at your local grocery store, and it’s a very strong, natural cleaning agent.
Marigolds are a very common and pretty flower with an aroma that many insects hate, and deer dislike them too. Plant marigolds in your flower beds or garden to add pops of color, and you get much more than an eye-catching flower. You now have a purposeful and functional plant to keep flies away.
Peppermint is a natural stress-reliever, and it’s a no-go for most insects. It has a very strong scent to it that overpowers the insects’ senses, and this makes them avoid it at all costs. You can get the peppermint plant or an oil that you can use to create a spray, dilute it and wear it topically, or use it as aromatherapy.
Peppermint has a very strong and sharp scent to it, and this is why it’s so effective for repelling flies.
How to Prevent a Fly Infestation
So, does citronella repel flies? You now know that it’s extremely effective at keeping them away. But, how do you prevent them from coming around in the first place?
While they do look icky covered in flies, flypaper is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to help get rid of large amounts of lifes. You want to hang them out of reach of pets and kids and be careful not to accidentally walk into them yourself because they are extremely sticky. You can find it just about anywhere to buy it, and it’s very cost-effective.
Keep Your Garbage Stored
This is kind of a gross tip, but when you keep your trash looking and smelling like trash, it’s going to attract flies. They love to eat trash. Keeping your trash cans closed, using a trash bag to contain the garbage instead of throwing it directly into the bin, and keeping your full trash can in a low-moisture area will all work to keep flies away.
Keep Your Garden Clean
If you have fruit trees or if you have a vegetable garden, it’s extremely important that you keep these areas clean. Make sure that you pick up and get rid of any rotting fruits or vegetables, and get rid of any fruits or vegetables that are on the ground. If you don’t, they’ll start to rot and draw the flies in.
Keep Doors, Vents, and Windows Closed
Another great tip, especially if you already have an issue with flies, is to keep your doors, windows, and vents closed as much as you possibly can. It can be something as quick as propping the door open to carry groceries inside. Once there is an opening, it’s more than enough time for flies to make their way inside.
Remove any Standing Water
Sometimes, after a heavy rain, and for other reasons, you can end up with standing water around your home or in your yard. Try to prevent this from happening by routinely aerating the soil and your lawn, and if you do spot standing water, try to get rid of it as quickly as you can. Insects adore standing water and will hover around it, and this will make it harder to get rid of them as long as the water is there.
Believe it or not, setting up a fan at your entry points in your home can help keep the flies out. They don’t like to be in the path of strong winds, and they’ll choose to go elsewhere. This can be a fast, easy method to keep flies away if you know they’ll be around.
Does citronella repel flies? You now know that there are many ways to keep flies from bugging you, including several ways to use citronella. If you have more than a few flies, figure out why they’re attracted to your space. They could be attracted to something as simple as your trash can. Try out the methods we mentioned and see which ones work best to help keep the flies to a minimum so you can enjoy your space.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.