What Is a Citronella Torch?

Emily Daw

Pesky, biting insects can ruin an otherwise pleasant summer evening. In addition to the discomfort and annoyance that these insects cause, their bites can transmit illnesses such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease, so avoiding them is a matter of hygiene as well as comfort. One popular solution to this problem is a citronella torch, which burns an oil whose scent repels insects such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. The oil in a citronella torch comes from the plants Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus. Citronella torches can be purchased at hardware stores, at home décor stores or over the Internet.

A mosquito, which is repelled by citronella.
A mosquito, which is repelled by citronella.

There is a wide variety of citronella products available, and in general, they have some advantages over more traditional insect repellents. Unlike diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET), citronella products are all-natural and are not considered pesticides. Many people prefer the scent of citronella to other insect repellents.

Citronella candles and torches can help deter mosquitos and ticks.
Citronella candles and torches can help deter mosquitos and ticks.

Citronella torches, in particular, are especially popular. Some citronella products are applied directly to the skin, but these tend to require frequent reapplication — as often as every 30-60 minutes, in some cases. A citronella torch can burn for considerably longer periods of time. It also provides protection to a whole area instead of only to a single person, which is in contrast with topical creams or ointments.

Furthermore, citronella torches can add to the ambiance of an outdoor event, providing both light and decoration. They are available in a wide variety of colors and styles, from luau-style Tiki torches to classically inspired lamps. In fact, any outdoor oil lamp can be refilled with citronella oil. If a torch that has been used with a different type of oil is being filled with citronella oil, the lamp should be cleaned, and the wick should be changed to ensure a clean burn. Another common style of citronella torch burns wax instead of pure oil, functioning like an oversized candle on a tall bamboo rod.

On the other hand, a citronella torch is not the ideal form of insect repellent for all circumstances. After they have been lit, many types are not easily portable, making them ill-suited for camping trips, for instance. A small percentage of people might have allergic reactions to citronella oil, and others might find the odor unappealing. Decorative torches might be more expensive than types methods of insect repellent, because they are marketed for style as well as effectiveness. Lastly, wind can decrease the effectiveness of a citronella torch because the flame might be blown out, or the insect-repelling citronella scent might be dissipated.

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