Nov 06, 2023

The 5 Best Citronella Candles of 2023

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Food & Wine / Maria Ridgway

Summer evenings are best spent around the fire, on the patio eating a dinner cooked on the grill, or at your favorite park for a sunset picnic. To make these nights as enjoyable as possible, prepare to keep pesky bugs at bay; as you know, the party is over as soon as the mosquito bites start.

While there are different insect repellents on the market, citronella candles are a mellow-yet-effective choice to fight off mosquitoes, flies, ticks, and other irritating insects. They work by releasing citronella oil into the air, which drives pests away and masks the human scents they’re attracted to. The closer you are to the candle, the more you’re protected — this goes for your food, too. In addition to their bug-repelling capabilities, they gently perfume the air with a citrusy aroma and add a cozy ambiance to your get-together. Overall, citronella candles aren't a one-stop answer to all protection from bug bites, but they create an additional layer with minimal effort.

The best citronella candles are long-lasting, so you don't have to replace them often, and they contain the right amount of citronella oil to combat pests. After researching top-rated candles, we rounded up the ones worth buying.

Pottery Barn

Pros: It's attractive enough to display on a patio table and has a 50-hour burn time.

Cons: It's on the pricey side, but its ceramic holder can be repurposed.

Our first choice, the Repel Citronella Triple Wick Candle, is sold out at the moment, but luckily, we have a runner-up that we love just as much, plus it's a lot better looking. This three-pound citronella candle from Pottery Barn is a solid choice for those wanting to cover a large area. It has a burn time of up to 50 hours and emits a pleasant aroma of citronella, geranium, rose, eucalyptus, oakmoss, and cedarwood while combating pests.

Before each use (after the initial burn), trim each wick for a clean and even burn. The blend of wax and oil sits inside a hand-molded ceramic holder that can be repurposed as a plant pot after the last burn. While the manufacturer doesn't specify, we suggest using this candle (and most citronella candles) outdoors only.

Price at time of publish: $59


Pros: The lid prevents dirt or dust from accumulating, and they are easy to disguise as standard decorative candles.

Cons: The scent is stronger than average.

If our top pick is more than you’re wanting to spend, look no further than this under-$20 citronella candle. While it has a shorter burn time, it's an excellent choice for many reasons beyond its low price. It features three wicks that are spread out for optimal heating and melting, a whimsical tin holder inspired by Vincent van Gogh's paintings, and, most importantly, the bug-repelling property citronella oil.

The candle is made of pure soy wax, so it burns with fewer toxins than paraffin. It has a burn time of up to 30 hours and should be lit for four hours at a time, as suggested by the merchant. Unlike other citronella candles, it's smokeless; that means it's a good option for porches or outdoor areas close to your house, but keep in mind that citronella is toxic to pets and can potentially permeate furniture.

Price at time of publish: $15


Pros: You don't need to worry about undisclosed chemicals with this natural candle that utilizes essential oils to keep bugs at bay.

Cons: The beeswax in these candles may attract bees.

For frequent outdoor dining, this six-pack of citronella candles is a smart choice. Despite their smaller size in comparison to the three-wick picks above, each candle burns for up to 30 hours, which is either the same or only a fraction less than their larger counterparts. Let's say you spend about two hours enjoying dinner on your patio. With this set, you have enough candles and burn time for 90 meals without pests bothering you.

Murphy's candles are free of harsh chemicals, employing essential oils from plants, including citronella, rosemary, peppermint, lemongrass, and cedarwood. This adds to the protective nature of citronella without having you ingest commercial pesticide ingredients. Unlike standard candles made from paraffin, these contain soy and beeswax, making them even safer in the air, as paraffin burns less cleanly. Keep in mind that bees are attracted to the scent of beeswax.

Price at time of publish: $66 for 6


Pros: Ordering in a pack of six provides a steep cost discount for these sturdy candles with a handle for placement and moving.

Cons: The specific chemical ingredients aren't disclosed on the label.

You’ll essentially get a full candle for free when purchasing the Cutter citronella candle as a six-pack, making it all the easier to scatter these around your campsite to create a border against pesky invaders. The handles make them easy to carry and move around as needed, though you’ll want to do that before they’re lit, as the handle can become hot once they’re aflame.

These candles blend in nicely with woodsy areas thanks to their copper color, providing a comforting glow without being visually invasive, and the wideness of the base helps prevent them from toppling over. Each 20-ounce candle burns for up to 40 hours, enabling you to use them for several evenings on a camping trip.

Price at time of publish: $42 for 6


Pros: These tealights protect your area from bugs while adding a charming glow to your table.

Cons: You’ll need to use many at once, making for more upkeep than triple wicks.

Comprising an essential oil blend similar to Murphy's candles, these tealights protect your space from mosquitoes without DEET or other pesticides. They have a light, refreshing scent and a fairly quick burn time of four hours per candle perfect for one use.

With 16 in a pack, it's easy to set up a perimeter around your blanket or scatter them across a picnic table without taking up too much space yet doing the trick to keep pests away from your food dishes. Because they are so small, you can easily toss them in a picnic backpack or tote bag. Tip: If you’re hosting an outdoor dinner party at home, you can put the candles in miniature candle holders you have on hand to make your tablescape look more put together.

Price at time of publish: $14 for 16

We love the Abbott Concrete Candle from Pottery Barn because it burns for 50 hours, has a pleasant aroma, and looks attractive on display. If you want to spend less but still have a stylish holder, reach for the La Jolie Muse Indoor Outdoor Citronella Candle, which is indistinguishable from any other decorative candle.

Citronella candles range in size. The smallest are tealights, great for one-time uses, such as picnics or an at-home date night on the patio. They also work well between dishes on an outdoor table or running along a deck ledge for bug protection and a festive glow. Medium-size candles, like our best overall pick, aren't necessarily travel-friendly for picnics, but they are perfect for patio tables and porches and last several uses. Larger, bucket-style candles are smart for campers and those who like to sit around the fire pit or table for hours.

Most citronella candles are unscented, in that they don't have perfumes added. However, because they contain citronella, they will all have a strong citrusy scent. The smell of citronella is considered powerful to some people, so even citronella candles that are unscented will still smell much more powerful than a regular paraffin, soy, or beeswax candle that is only for decoration.

The size of the candle determines its burn time. For tiny, tealight candles, you’ll get up to four hours out of them. Single-wick candles will burn up to 30 hours, and big, bucket-style ones can burn up to 50.

Citronella is not safe for any pets. You should not burn citronella candles near your dog, or let them into the area where you are burning one.

Citronella candles should not be used inside. There are two reasons for this: First, the volatile oils can get trapped in fabrics and leave an odor behind. Additionally, as citronella candles burn they create smoke, which could lead to setting off fire detectors.

Contributor Ariane Resnick is a special diet private chef, a certified nutritionist, and a lifestyle writer with two decades of culinary and literary experience, and her work has been featured in Simply Recipes, The Spruce Eats, Clean Plates, Huffington Post, Verywell, and more. For this article, she conducted market research and drew on her experience of growing up in the woods of rural Massachusetts, where preventing bug bites was always paramount to outdoor activities.

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