Citronella Oil Guide - Benefits, Properties, Characteristics & Composition


Citronella oil is a popular essential oil widely used in insect repellents, perfumery, cosmetic products and aromatherapy. Citronella oil is extracted from the plants of the species – Cymbopogon nardus and Cymbopogon winterianus – in the Cymbopogon (lemongrass) genus family. These different species yield different types of citronella oil.

  1. Ceylon citronella oil: It is extracted from Cymbopogon nardus, a grass commonly found in Indian Subcontinent, Indochina, Central and Southern Africa, Madagascar and Seychelles.
  2. Java citronella oil: It is extracted from Cymbopogon winterianus, a grass commonly found in Borneo, Java, Sumatra. Nowadays, it is cultivated in parts of South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa and South and Central America.


Synonyms of Citronella

  1. Cymbopogon nardus: Andropogon nardus, Sri Lanka citronella, Lenabatu citronella
  2. Cymbopogon winterianus:  Citronellae aetheroleum, Maha Pengiri citronella

Citronella Plant  

Citronella grass is an aromatic perennial clumping grass that may grow up to 5-6 feet. Its base stem is usually magenta in colour. It is expected to have developed from wild mana grass, Cymbopogon confertiflorus Stapf, found in Ceylon.

Citronella grasses are part of the most extensive plant families in the world, cosisiting of more than 500 genera with over 5000 species. Three are over 40 species in the genus Cymbopogon, including lemongrass, palmarosa and gingergrass.

Java citronella has fairly broad leaves and larger tufts than Ceylon citronella grass and is characterised by a rapid growth.

Citronella plant has been in use since ages in many cultures for its aromatic and medicinal properties. Leaves of citronella plant has been used to treat fever, intestinal parasites, digestive and menstrual problems. In Chinese culture, it has been used to treat rheumatic pain.

Extraction of Citronella Oil

Citronella essential oil is extracted from steam distillation of finely chopped fresh, part dried or dried citronella grass.

Characteristics of Citronella Oil

Name Citronella Oil
Botanical Name Cymbopogon nardus / Cymbopogon winterianus
Family Poaceae (Gramineae)
Genus Cymbopogon
Colour Pale Yellow to Pale Yellowish Brown
Aroma Warm, Citrusy, Woody
Note Top

Composition of Citronella Oil

There are more than 80 components present in the oil. About 50 of these constituents make up 90% of oil. However, the main components of the oil are citronellol, citronellal, and geraniol. Following are the ISO reference for the major constituents of the Ceylon and Java citronella oil.

  1. Ceylon citronella oil: Citronellal (3–6%), Geraniol (15–23%), Citronellol (3–9%), Limonene (7–12%), Methyl isoeugenol (7–11%)
  2. Java citronella oil: Citronellal (31-39%), Geraniol (20-25%), Citronellol (9–13%), Geranyl acetate (3-6%), Limonene (2-5%)

Difference Between Ceylon and Java Citronella Oil

Ceylon citronella oil contains up to 35% mixed monoterpenols (geraniol, citronellol, borneol) and relatively balanced percentages of aldehydes, esters and phenols. On the other hand, Java citronella oil has higher levels of citronellal (<50%).

Java citronella oil is darker and has sweeter and floral aroma than Ceylon citronella oil. Ceylon citronella oil is grassy and warm-woody.


Citronella oil blends well with geranium, lemon, bergamot, orange, cedar wood and pine oil. 

Properties of Citronella Oil

Citronella oil is found to have antiseptic, antispasmodic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, anthelminthic, antipyretic or heat-clearing and stimulant properties.

Citronella oil owes its antibacterial and antiseptic properties to compounds like methyl isoeugenol. Other principal chemical constituents of citronella oil – geraniol and citronellol – are responsible for its antiseptic properties.

The research stated that oil of citronella has potent anti-fungal properties that help suppress the growth of fungi species, such as Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Eurotium.

In addition, citronella oil has anthelminthic properties due to presence of geraniol present and it helps in treating  parasitic worms, bugs and leeches from the body.

Citronella Oil

Usages of Citronella Oil

Citronella oil is a popular oil that has found many applications in perfumery, toiletries, insect repellents and aromatherapy.

Perfumery: The main constituents of citronella oil – citronellal, citronellol, and geraniol – are extensively used in perfumery because of their scent profiles. It is widely used in fragrances and personal care products.

Insect Repellents: Citronella oil is widely popular for its use in and as insect repellents. The oil help in repelling the mosquitoes for up to 2-3 hours by blocking the scent that attract mosquitoes.

Pest Repellent: Research also indicates that citronella oil is an effective repellent for body lice, head lice, and stable flies. Citronella oil is widely used as pest repellent in products such as sprays, lotions, candles, sunscreen, wristbands and flea collars. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies citronella oil as a bio-pesticide with a non-toxic mode of action.

Food and Flavouring: Citronella oil is extensively used for adding flavour and as preservative to a lot of daily consumed products like dairy products and alcoholic drinks.

Source of Natural Components: Citronella oil is used to extract natural grades of geraniol and citronellal.

Other Uses: Citronella oil is effective against certain bacteria and help in treating wounds. In addition, it may help in treaing infection in body parts like bladder, prostate, gastrointestinal tract, kidney and colon.

Citronella oil is helpful in treating insects bites because of its anti-fungal properties. Citronella oil is used in soaps, household cleaners and detergents owning to its antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial properties. Research found that using citronella oil can help calm barking dogs.

Aromatherapy: Citronella essential oil is one of the popular aromatherapy oils. Citronella oil is helpful in providing relief from stress, relax moods and control emotions. It can serve as a natural and safe temporary remedy for anxiety, stress, trouble sleeping and depression.

How to Use Citronella Oil:

  • Use the oil in a spray or diffuser as an insect repellent.
  • Add a few drops to your unscented shampoo to repel lice or to treat them if they are present.
  • If you are traveling to a tropical area, include a few drops in your body lotion or cream and massage over the body to keep you safe from mosquitoes.
  • Use in a deodorant by massaging two to three drops in one teaspoon of coconut oil for addressing perspiration and balancing the skin.
  • Diffusing the oil can also refresh a sickroom, and massaging onto the stomach, arms, and legs, two drops citronella with one tablespoon of a carrier oil, can bring down a fever.

Safety with Citronella Oil

Citronella oil is usually considered a non-toxic and non-irritant oil.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognised the oil as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). In addition, according to Environmental Protection Agency considers, citronella oil is safe and has no or little toxicities.

Oral ingestion is NOT recommended at all. However; If ingested, body discard most of the compounds from the oil through urination.  In case of ingestion, you should consult medical practitioner.

It is advised that citronella oils should NOT be applied to skin directly. It may cause skin irritation and allergic reaction and in some case, may also raise heart rates. It should always be diluted with the carrier oils before applying to skin.

Citronella oil should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation because of higher sensitivity of skins during these periods. The oil may lead to loss of spontaneous contractions in the uterus upon the in vitro use.

Citronella oil should NOT be used on babies and young children due to their delicate skin. Seek the advice of your paediatrician before using citronella oil on your children.

Consult your healthcare provider if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or being treated for other health challenges.

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