Does Citronella Repel Bees?

Bee stings may be tiny in stature, but they can be dangerous if a person with an allergic reaction gets stung. More than 2 million people in the United States are allergic to a bee sting, and almost three percent of children stung have allergic reactions [1]. This brings the matter at hand, do citronella grass and citronella-based products repel bees?

Citronella and other products derived from it, like essential oils, sprays, lotions, and candles, can repel bees and other insects, like mosquitoes, flies, and ticks. These products are derived from citronella grass, a type of lemongrass with a citrus-like aroma. However, some people also experience allergic reactions to these products, so skin-testing them first will be helpful.

Now, let us understand more about citronella grass and how it can be used to repel bees.

Why do people want to repel bees?

Bees are crucial to the environment since they are natural pollinators and help pollinate various plants and flowers we commonly consume. This affects not only food security and ecological factors but also economic factors [4]. However, with every pro are also cons.

However, there are millions of people in the United States that are allergic to bee stings. The worst case is people who are stung will experience anaphylactic shock that can tighten or start the swelling of the throat, requiring epinephrine shots immediately. This is one of the reasons why approximately 40 people die from allergic reactions to these bee stings when not handled immediately [2]

So, whenever the swarm season arrives in late Spring, from April to May (even up to June) in the United States [3], parents and bee-anxious people start to find ways to repel bees and other bugs. 

One of the popular ways of repelling bees and other insects is through the use of natural insect repellants, like citronella-based products that are added to essential oils, sprays, lotions, and more.

Do citronella-based products repel bees?

Citronella-based products and other natural insect repellants increase in demand every year from May to June since this is typically the bee swarming season. And many people want to avoid getting stung by bees and repel insects like mosquitoes and ticks.

Citronella is an aromatic grass that is a natural insect repellant that is used to distill oil through steam distillation, which is the base of various citronella products [5]. Citronella is included in the minimum risk pesticide list of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The good thing about citronella is it’s not harmful to bees and won’t kill them. The scent of the citronella products masks the attractive scents to bees and other insects, which causes them to simply ignore you. However, there is not enough scientific information on how citronella works.

What types of citronella-based products are available in the market?

Several products are derived from the citronella grass that uses the distilled oil from it and is added to products. The output is mainly used as an insect repellant, especially for mosquitoes. Still, it is also used to repel other insects, such as bees and wasps. Here are some of the available products in the market.

1. Citronella Spray

A common citronella-based insect repellant comes in spray form that is used for rooms or applied on the skin. It contains citronella oil added into water or a dispersing agent, like solubol. However, since these products do not have an active ingredient for insect repellants like DEET [7], it doesn’t last as long. 

You may need to continuously re-apply the spray to your skin or to your room every now and then to ensure that insects are deterred. 

It is also critical to have a quick skin test for allergic reactions before spraying it all over your skin. Some allergic reactions can cause itching, redness, and swelling in the applied area.

2. Citronella Essential Oil

Recently, there has been an increasing demand for plant-based essential oils, including citronella essential oil. The citronella essential oil can be diffused in a room, and it will give off a citrus-like scent that has been advertised to repel insects, including bees and mosquitoes.

3. Massage Oil and Cream

Citronella oil can also be added to massage oil and cream that can be applied to your skin. Aside from acting as an insect repellant, it can also help to kill germs and fungi.

However, it is important to avoid applying the concentrated oil straight into your skin when using citronella oil. You must ensure that you add it to a carrier oil to lessen its adverse effect on the skin.

4. Citronella Candles

Another way to use citronella as a bee repellant is by adding it to candles. Then, lighting the candle and melting the wax will release the scent that is a deterrent to bees and other insects within the area where the smell reaches.

What are the side effects and safety of using citronella products on people?

Citronella-based products are either applied to the skin, taken in through food, or inhaled through natural oil diffusers. However, there are still possible side effects of using this, especially since there is not enough available data regarding citronella [6].

1. If taken by mouth.

When taken orally, citronella is most likely to be safe when taken in small amounts, like in food. It is also important that only a tiny part of it is added to your food to avoid any possible side effects.

2. If applied to the skin.

On the other hand, when citronella oil is applied to the skin, it is mostly safe if it is in the form of lotion or cream. Still, it can cause an allergic reaction for some people, triggering itching, redness, and other irritations, so a skin test is necessary. 

Concentrated citronella oil must be diluted properly on carrier oils, like coconut and jojoba oil, before applying it to the skin to lessen the strength.

3. If inhaled

Inhaling citronella oil is possibly dangerous because there were reports of lung damage. Though citronella essential oils are available and are inhaled, it is not recommended to be directly inhaled.

You may use a diffuser and follow the instructions to avoid untoward incidents.

What other insects are repelled by citronella?

Citronella has been widely used as an insect repellant. Aside from repelling bees, it has also been proven to be effective against other types of insects, particularly mosquitoes, flies, and ticks. 

The smell of citronella can either drive away insects from you, or it can mask your odor from these insects.

Other ways to avoid bees.

The citronella grass and its various products are only one way to repel bees. Aside from citronella oil, other topical bee repellants are lavender oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, lemon, and lime are available in the market.

However, if you’re trying to avoid bees altogether, there are several helpful ways that you can try. 

1. Avoid sweet-smelling perfume and scents

One of the reasons why bees will approach you is because of your sweet scent. It is important to know that bees are attracted to sweet smells because their food from flowers is also sweet. 

2. Avoid going places with bees when you’re sweating or crying.

It has been documented that there are species called sweat bees that love to drink people’s sweat. So, while it is helpful for the bees to get free minerals from you, it is still better to just avoid too much sweating near foraging areas of bees.

3. Wear clothing in light colors.

Dark colors can cause aggression to bees because their natural predators commonly come in darker colors. So, it is helpful to wear clothes in a lighter color. 

Light-colored clothing can also lessen your sweating which will also decrease the likelihood that bees will be attracted to you.

4. Avoid going near beehives.

Prevention is better than cure. So, if you’re anxious about bees going near you, it would just be easier to avoid going near beehives. If worse comes to worst and you anger a hive, no amount of citronella oil can repel hundreds of bees.


Citronella grass has a citrus-like aroma that has been used as an ingredient in many insect repellants and can also deter bees. When distilled to become citronella oil, it can be added to various products like essential oils, sprays, lotions, creams, and even candles.

However, while citronella oil can be used as a bee repellant, it is still important to note that it can be harmful to apply concentrated citronella oil on your skin or inhale. When applying to your skin, you need to add other carrier oils to lessen the effect of citronella.

With swarming bees increasing in number during Spring, you can avoid getting stung by bees through these insect repellants. However, some people may have allergic reactions to citronella-based products, so testing them is still important. 


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