News: Stop Using Citronella Candles — They Don't Work

Stop Using Citronella Candles — They Don't Work

Mosquitoes are a big problem, and citronella candles are not the solution.

There are a lot of mosquito species. The American Mosquito Control Association reports there are more than 3000 mosquito species in the world, and about 200 of those occur in the US. The most common are the Aedes, Anopheles, and Culex species. These are also the three mosquito species most likely to transmit serious illness, and all of them live in the US.

Which are the scariest? The answer is, "it depends." Here's a bite of information on the bloodsuckers:

The Anopheles mosquito is a longtime resident of the US, having been responsible for the once-routine malaria outbreaks in the country. While these outbreaks faded with proper mosquito control, mosquitoes that transmit the malaria parasite still live here, and could spread the disease if infected again.

The female mosquito enjoying a blood meal on a human host in the image above is Aedes aegypti. The red tone of her belly results from the blood she is ingesting, and the blurred red in the background is newly ingested blood that she has expelled because she is over-engorged. When infected, Aedes species transmit Zika, dengue, and chikungunya viruses.

The estimated range of two Aedes mosquito species in the US. Image via CDC

The Culex mosquito species is the most common carrier of West Nile virus. West Nile virus is present in 48 states in the US, and Culex species mosquitoes cover the entire US. Although West Nile virus is most efficiently spread by Culex, it is present in a wide range of mosquitoes, leaving the possibility open of contracting West Nile virus almost anywhere in the country.

The bottom line is that mosquitoes are everywhere and they can give you more than an itchy bite. So how do you keep the bloodsuckers away? Not citronella, that's for sure.

Put the Smelly Candles & Plastic Bracelets Away

Although you can count on citronella candles to set a mood, don't rely on them to deter mosquitoes or other flying pests from your barbecue or July 4th party. One research study even found that citronella candles might attract mosquitoes to your outdoor feast.

The researchers studied mosquito response to five wearable devices, five spray-on repellents, and one citronella candle. The only repellants that worked were the Off! fogger and spray-on products with sufficiently high concentrations of DEET and PMD. None of the bracelets tested kept mosquitoes away, and the Cutter Citro Guard candle increased the numbers of mosquitoes interested in the human bait.

"While the labels of many products make strong claims, some products simply don't work," Stacy Rodriguez, of New Mexico State University, said in a press release. "These findings are extremely important for consumers because they need to be aware that there are mosquito repellent products available that are ineffective."

Instead of questionable products, consider the following options to keep mosquitoes away.

Steps You Can Take to Avoid Mosquitoes This Summer

  • Be fashion conscious: To avoid mosquitoes or ticks, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. Apply permethrin repellents to clothing.
  • Timing: Dawn and dusk are peak exposure times for mosquitoes. Avoid being outside in the early morning or twilight, or be sure you take precautions to avoid bites.
  • Garden party? Keep your yard clear of preferred mosquito spaces like stagnant ponds, pools, puddles, or birdbaths. Toys and even leaf debris provide breeding ground for mosquitoes.
  • Candles? Meh: Use citronella candles only for ambiance. Stick with DEET and PMD repellents.
  • To trap or not to trap? Like Japanese Beetle traps, mosquito traps have a downside — they are intended to attract and trap mosquitoes. You won't put a dent in the number of mosquitoes, and you will draw them to your outdoor space — so consider yourself warned.
  • A gentle breeze: For a patio or deck party, your best intervention could be a small, low-speed oscillating fan. Mosquitoes are not strong or fast fliers, so a few well-placed fans, or a larger box fan, leaves them battling the breeze. Air current also disperses the scents that allow female mosquitoes to zero in on blood meals — that would be you.

Protect yourself from mosquitoes this season with the combination of options that work best for your plans and preferences. Mosquito bites happen. If you feel poorly in the days and weeks following a bite — get medical help.

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Cover image by James Gathany/CDC

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