Breaking Down Citronella Essential Oil

When you think of citronella oil, you probably think about pest control. Citronella is used in many pest control products, from sprays to candles.

Citronella essential oil properties contain antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory factors. The oil can also be used as an antidepressant, a diuretic and a fungicide. Because it has a clean, citrusy scent, it can be used to mask odors.

What is Citronella Essential Oil?

What Citronella looks like before it becomes an essential oil

Citronella is a type of grass that has a lemony scent. It is native to Asia and some South Pacific islands.

Two different types of citronella grass, a Ceylon and a Java variety, are used to create citronella essential oil. To extract the oil, the fresh plant is exposed to intense steam. This releases and vaporizes the oils from the plant. As the oil and steam cool, they turn back into liquid form so that they can be separated. The resulting oil contains concentrated properties from the citronella plant.

Citronella Essential Oil Properties

The different types of plants produce different types of oil.

The Ceylon variation is made from the Cymbopogon nardus grass. It produces an essential oil with the following main ingredients:

  • Citronellal – 5 to 15%
  • Citronellol – 6.4 to 8.4%
  • Geraniol – 18 to 20%
  • Geranyl acetate – 2%
  • Limonene – 9 to 11%
  • Methyl isoeugenol – 7.2 to 11.3%

The Java variety is distilled from the Cymbopogon winterianus grass and contains:

  • Citronellal – 32 to 45%
  • Citronellol – 11 to 15%
  • Geraniol – 21 to 24%
  • Geranyl acetate – 3 to 8%
  • Limonene – 1.3 to 3.9 %

The concentrations of geraniol and citronellal are higher in the Java variety. Therefore, this oil is usually believed to be of better quality, and it can be more expensive. The Ceylon variety may have a more multi-dimensional aroma and a lighter color. The Java variety has more of a clean lemon scent and a darker tone.

Is Citronella Oil Good For Your Health?

Citronella essential oil is used to flavor many edibles. It can also be used medicinally. Below are some citronella essential oil properties:

  • Antibacterial – Methyl isoeugenol kills bacteria and prevents pathogens from growing in the body. It can help treat topical infections or internal conditions like urinary tract and kidney infections. Citronella can help prevent sepsis.
  • Antidepressant – Citronella is stimulatory and can help fight depression and fatigue. It can be added to the bath for an invigorating therapy. Citronella oil is often used in aromatherapy to help manage emotions. It can help reduce stress and even improve your sleep.
  • Anti-inflammatory – Citronella essential oil has been found to reduce inflammation in the organs and the digestive system. It is especially helpful at combatting inflammation caused by chemicals or toxins that you’ve ingested.
  • Calms cramps – If you have muscular or intestinal cramps, citronella essential oil can help calm spasms in those areas. It can also calm the respiratory system, helping alleviate coughs.
  • Deodorant – Citronella has a fresh scent that can be used to clear odors in your environment or on your body. It can be added to body products or to a bath to help eliminate body odor.
  • Detoxifying – This essential oil can make you sweat, helping to release toxins from the body. It is also a diuretic. This property can help eliminate waste substances from your body.
  • Fungicidal – Fungicidal infections can be common in the ears, nose, throat or digestive system. Citronella can help in these areas. It can help cure fungal ear infections.
  • Stimulating – Citronella helps to improve your blood circulation and increase central nervous system activity. This helps you have more energy and function optimally throughout your daily life.
  • Kills Pests – One of the most common uses of citronella is to repel bugs. It can help keep your home and yard free of insects. Citronella can also be used to kill parasites in the digestive tract.

How to Use Citronella Essential Oil

Citronella essential oil properties make it ideal for use around the home, as an insect repellent or even as a beauty product.

Citronella Essential Oil Blends

Citronella essential oil properties make it ideal to combine with the following essential oils:

  • Cedar
  • Clary sage
  • Eucalyptus
  • Geranium
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Tea tree

Make Your Own Natural Cleaner

Citronella’s antibacterial and antifungal properties make it a great addition to an all-natural cleaning solution. Its fresh scent will leave your space smelling sweet. It can fight against pathogens in food and harmful bacteria that is often found in kitchens and bathrooms.

Blend your own natural kitchen or bathroom cleaner by mixing 2 cups of hot water with 10 drops of citronella essential oil and ¼ cup washing soda. Keep it in a glass spray bottle. Shake well before using, and simply spray contaminated surfaces and wipe clean.

You can even add a drop of citronella oil to your laundry water or the soap in your dishwasher. This can help disinfect your clothes and dishes and add a citrusy scent to your environment.

Pain Reliever

If you have inflammation, muscle soreness or joint pain, you can use citronella as a rub or in your bath. Combine 12 drops of the oil with 1 oz. of a carrier oil such as olive, jojoba or coconut. Rub it into your sore muscles, or swirl it into a calming bath. This can help reduce swelling caused by overexertion or even arthritis.

If you have muscle spasms or cramps, massaging the affected areas with diluted citronella oil can relieve pain. It can also reduce the pain caused by menstrual cramps. Simply rub it onto your lower abdomen to alleviate the achiness.

Skin Care

Citronella can help combat skin problems and help your skin stay youthful looking. It can heal skin conditions, including bug bites, scars, dermatitis, acne and eczema. It really penetrates the skin and helps wounds heal faster.

Adding a drop of citronella oil to your facial products can help slow wrinkles from forming and even reverse signs of sun damage. The geraniol is high in antioxidants. This can help cells renew themselves and fight off injury.

You can also add citronella oil to your shampoo or body wash. It can help break up oil in the hair and on the scalp and eliminate dandruff. The oil can also protect hair from sun exposure, make the hair easier to comb and add volume to your locks.

Pet Care

Citronella isn’t only effective for calming people; it can also help stop barking dogs. One study found that spraying citronella under the chin of a barking dog was more effective than a shock collar. You can also use citronella to keep dogs off of furniture. Always dilute the citronella even if you’re spraying it on furniture or a dog. Make sure to test fabrics for staining before spraying them with a solution of several drops of citronella combined with water.

Soothing Aromatherapy

Citronella essential oil properties have been shown to induce a calm state in people who are experiencing stress or anxiety. Many studies have found that using aromatherapy with oils like rose and citrus aurantium helped reduce anxiety for birthing women. The geraniol found in citronella can also help bring about a calming effect.

You can add citronella oil to a diffuser or simply sniff it right from the bottle. Diffusing it or misting it around the room using a spray bottle can help the therapeutic effects last longer.

Citronella And Mosquitoes

Citronella is especially effective at controlling mosquitoes. It can help repel ticks as well. However, the essential oil doesn’t kill these bugs. It simply blocks the scents of carbon dioxide and lactic acid that attract the mosquitoes to their target. This helps prevent more mosquitoes from landing nearby.

One analysis found that citronella could provide up to three hours of protection from mosquitoes, especially if it was combined with vanillin.

Citronella is safe and nontoxic for use as a pesticide. As a food additive, citronella is Generally Regarded as Safe by the FDA. It is considered a minimum-risk pesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency. Any citronella essential oil properties that are ingested or absorbed by the bloodstream are eliminated as waste.

To guard against mosquitoes, you can use a diffuser in your house, porch or backyard. You can also make a variety of bug sprays to ward off the pesky insects. You could simply mix citronella oil into a carrier oil and spray or rub it on your body.

Below is another recipe for a homemade insect repellent:

Don't worry, this recipe will not look like this (and will likely work better too!)
Don’t worry, this recipe will not look like this (and will likely work better too!)


  • ¼ cup witch hazel
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 20 drops citronella essential oil


Add all ingredients to a glass spray bottle. Shake before applying. Try to spray your skin as well as your clothes. However, avoid the eyes, nose and mouth areas. If you are applying insect repellent to children, spray it on your hand before applying to their bodies.

If you do have sensitive skin, test out citronella essential oil before applying it to large areas of your body, whether you’re using it as a deodorant, part of your skin care regimen or an insect repellent. If you notice a rash or allergic reaction, reduce its concentration or stop using the product altogether.

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