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homemade citronella candles

Last weekend we had our first outdoor happy hour with some friends and just like every year, once the sun goes down the mosquitos come out.  And, just like every year, I light up my citronella candles only to be baffled by why they don’t seem to work.

Then, just this week, I realized that the candles I bought didn’t repel the mosquitos for a very obvious reason.  They were citronella, after all.  They touted mosquito repelling qualifiers on the packaging, but one very important factor was missing.  

Instead of containing citronella oil (which is the main deterrent of the prehistoric pests) the candles just were citronella ‘scented’.  Big difference.  It’s the essential oil in the candle that is responsible for keeping insects at bay, not the scent.

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After my discovery, I realized that not only would making my own candles work better, but it would actually be a whole hell of a lot cuter. No more ugly jugs of bright yellow wax.  If I was going to make citronella candles, they’d be subtle white soy candles with only the real citronella oil inside.

The materials were easy to gather, Soy wax flakes and wicks from the craft store and citronella oil from a local vitamin shop were purchased in a quick trip.  I had a few little bowls from Anthro at home that I had no clue what to do with, but thought they were adorable, so I hung onto them… and now they’d meet their destiny!

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First, I just stuck the wick (and metal base) to the bottom of the bowl with some double stick tape. Then I propped the wick up against a butter knife so that it stood up straight.

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I melted one pound of wax flakes in a medium mixing bowl over top of a small saucepan of boiling water – similar to a double boiler. The wax melted to look like olive oil in a little less than five minutes.  After it was completely melted, I mixed in 10 drops of citronella oil, then poured the wax into my prepared bowls. **UPDATE** The scent on these was really really subtle, so for my second batch, I up’ed the citronella to 20 drops which seemed to be a perfect amount.

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What resulted was better than I even expected!  The wax hardened into a clean, smooth white surface and smells just wonderfully of citronella.  One pound of wax did both of these candles with just a teeny bit left over.  With any leftover wax, just pour out as much as possible into the trash, then wash the bowl really well with hot water and lots of soap.

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The candles were SO much easier to make than I’d anticipated.  It made me wonder why I don’t make my own candles more often! I cannot wait for our party this weekend to burn these guys and watch the cloud of real citronella oil keep all those little flying blood hounds at bay. Plus, they look pretty awesome too.

Have you ever made your own candles?  How about citronella?

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Latest comments
  • These are awesome! Totally adding to my DIY list 🙂

  • I had no idea about the scent vs oil thing…that makes total sense now. Love your chic DIY version!

  • I think this might be my favorite DIY I’ve ever seen. I usually hate how ugly citronella candles can be and especially how lack luster their results are. Can’t wait to put some of my couldn’t pass up sale bowls to use.

  • This is genius! Mosquitoes love me, and I always have a problem sitting outside in the summer. I’m going to check my candles now to make sure they’re not just citronella scented and then try to make my own! Love how you used those cute bowls!

  • Another genius project from you Erin! I’ll be honest – I stopped buying citronella candles for two reasons – they never seemed to work and they were always the most unattractive candles on the shelf. You’ve just resolved both of my issues with this project. I’ll let you know how mine turn out!

  • I love making candles from the wax that’s leftover in candle jars – somehow no matter how I burn them I always seem to have a half inch or so of wax at the bottom. I melt the wax that’s in them (if they’re the same kind) and then pour into a single container. I use chopsticks (the way you use a butter knife in the picture) to hold the wick straight. I would love to try wooden wicks though – I find that the candles I purchase that use wooden wicks burn more evenly and I’m not left with a lot of wax on the bottom.

  • These would be the perfect gift to bring to a party this summer! Pinned for later 😉

  • I love these! I have some cute large tea cups that I’m going to use for these!!

  • Did they keep the mosquitos away though?

  • Okay so I live in South Florida and mosquito time here is ALL THE TIME. I want to burn these in my house b/c not matter what we do we can’t keep the little buggers out of the house.
    Now, all I’ve found to buy specifically says “not for indoor use” and I see everyone referencing outdoor use. Can I make these candles using soy wax and essential oils and use them indoors?

  • So glad I have read this it now makes sense why candles I have bought from shops have never worked . I will give these a go thanks for a very informative article 😀👍

  • How many candles does 1 pound of wax make? I realize it depends on the size of container you pour into. How many ounces were your Anthro containers? How many candles did you make? Did you have any wax left?

  • What are the difference between citronella oil and citronella snented and how could identify them

  • Awesome idea! Do you know how many hours they burnt for?

  • HI,
    All the ladies out there!
    This is a more simple trick that is quick enough and won’t need early preparation!

    Just take a glass bowl (medium size), fill half the bowl with water.
    Now take edible oil (preferably groundnut oil)
    Gently from any point from the circumference fill 1/4 of the bowl with oil.
    Oil will float above water.
    Add 20-30 drops of Citronella oil.
    Take plastic stand(for the wick to keep floating) from the craft shop and wick of 1 cm dip it in the oil along the stand and Done.
    Put some flower petals to decorate it.
    This is done in India during Diwali(traditional festival of India), we put this at the centre of rangoli( a design made in front of the house during celebration of festival)

    Now important thing,
    The reason I poured water at the bottom was so that the essence is maintained also the flame emits less smoke to avoid irritation and keeping the main essence of the oil extract balanced.
    You can also try this by keeping the candles in bowl of water they emit less amount of carbon.

  • Hi! Is the citronella an essential oil? I read that essential oil candles can catch alight, how did these go? Really want to make them!