For more than 50 years citronella oil has been used to repel bugs. One of its most common uses is in candles to ward off mosquitoes and biting flies. Because the candles are easily accessible, most people assume they are safe to use and never consider the possible dangers of citronella candles to themselves or their pets.
The oil used to make the candles is citronella. It comes from a lemon-scented grass that is cultivated in Sri Lanka, India, Burma and Indonesia. It is dried and steam-distilled into a yellow-brown coloured essential oil and according to the Environmental Protection Agency "has little or no toxicity."
Making a Candle
The essential oil is added to hot wax and a wick for a dual purpose: to scent the candle and ward off bugs. The candle can be burnt out of doors and works to keep insects away by emitting an unappealing odour.
The only known side effect stemming from the 1948 EPA registered oil is skin irritation from putting the oil directly on the skin. However, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals lists citronella candles as poisonous to dogs because citronella candles can cause diarrhoea and stomach cramping when ingested by animals who are attracted to their smell.
Avoid putting citronella candles on the ground and on low lying areas to prevent curious animals from eating them and small children from burning themselves on the flame.
Citronella candles are safe to burn around people and animals, as long as they are not ingested. If your animal consumes citronella candles, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center's hotline at (888) 426-4435. It's open 24 hours.