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Do Tiki Torches Keep Bugs Away?

There is nothing quite like a summer night in New England. The warm, yet crisp air offers a cool sensation after a long, hot day. Sitting out on the back patio, on the porch or deck is a wonderful way to relax and enjoy a productive day. Quite simply, sitting in a lawn chair with friends, family and neighbors telling stories and laughing is one of the best things about summer. However, as the cookouts linger and the sun falls, then the bugs and mosquitos come out to play. To some, the tiki torch and citronella oil is the answer. But, do tiki torches keep bugs away?

Let’s explore the science behind tiki torches as bug repellents and discover if they live up to the hype.

What is the Science Behind Tiki Torches & Bugs?

Tiki torches have long been used to create ambiance and provide soft, flickering light in outdoor settings. Traditionally fueled by oils such as citronella, eucalyptus, or paraffin, these torches emit a subtle fragrance that claims to repel insects. Citronella oil, derived from the leaves of lemongrass, is particularly renowned for its mosquito-repelling properties. In theory, when burned, it releases a scent that masks the odors that attract mosquitoes, thereby reducing their presence around outdoor spaces.

Yet, the question remains: do tiki torches effectively keep bugs away? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. The effectiveness of tiki torches to keep bugs and mosquitos away depends on several factors:

  • Type and Concentration of Oils: Tiki torches fueled with high-quality citronella oil or other effective repellents can help deter mosquitoes, flies, and other insects. However, the concentration of these oils in the torch fuel plays a crucial role in their effectiveness in keeping bugs away.
  • Placement and Coverage of Tiki Torch: Proper placement of tiki torches is key to keeping bugs away. For maximum effectiveness, position them strategically around the perimeter of your outdoor area, which creates a barrier of scent that insects are less likely to cross. However, it’s important to note that tiki torches alone may not provide complete coverage for larger outdoor spaces.
  • Weather-Related Factors: Wind and air movement can affect how far the scent from tiki torches disperses. For example, in windy or breezy conditions, the effectiveness of the repellent scent may be diminished. Conversely, in calm evenings tiki torches are much more effective at keeping bugs and mosquitos away.

Studies on Mosquito Repellents

Scientific research on the efficacy of citronella and other oils used in tiki torches as insect repellents has yielded mixed results. Some studies suggest that citronella oil can reduce mosquito attraction and biting activity to some extent, especially in controlled environments. However, the effectiveness may vary based on the type of mosquito and environmental conditions.

For example, Science.org commented on a lab test of common mosquito repellents, including citronella candles predominantly used in tiki torches. The results were lacking and showed most commercial products fail to keep bugs and mosquitos away. Additionally, the National Institute of Health (NIH) conducted a study testing DEET repellents and citronella oil. The results showed DEET provided roughly 360 minutes of protection compared to roughly 10 minutes for citronella oil.

Effective Use of Tiki Torches

Although studies indicate the citronella oil used within tiki torches fails to keep bugs away (vs other repellents), tiki torches can help in limited circumstances. Essentially, the culprit isn’t the tiki torch itself, but the commonly used citronella oil, which is generally effective within a small radius of a few feet.

Tiki torches contain citronella oil which releases a smoke that can confuse and deter mosquitoes when they are in close proximity to the flame. As a result, the smoke from tiki torches overwhelms a mosquito’s senses, making it harder for them to detect carbon dioxide and lactic acid that attracts them to humans.

So, if you enjoy the ambiance created by tiki torches, they can be helpful as part of your overall strategy to keep bugs and mosquitos away. To make the most of tiki torches for bug control, consider the following tips:

  • Use High-Quality Repellent Oils: Opt for tiki torch fuels with a higher concentration of citronella or other proven insect-repelling oils.
  • Strategic Placement & Quantity: Position tiki torches around seating areas or near entry points to your outdoor space to create a perimeter of protection. Depending on the size of your outdoor area, you may need multiple tiki torches to effectively cover the space.
  • Regular Maintenance: Keep tiki torches clean and well-maintained. Refill them with fresh repellent oil as needed to ensure continuous bug-repelling benefits.

Similar Alternatives to Tiki Torches That Keep Bugs Away

While tiki torches can be effective in limited space, they are not the only option for keeping bugs away outdoors. From other natural repellents to sprays, the following alternatives may help enhance the bug-free zone in your yard.

  • Mosquito Repellent Candles: Candles infused with citronella or other repellent oils offer a portable alternative to tiki torches.
  • Bug Sprays: Common over-the-counter sprays that contain DEET or picaridin can provide individual protection against mosquito bites.
  • Natural Plant Repellents: Planting mosquito-repelling plants like lavender, marigolds, and lemon balm in your garden can complement tiki torches and other repellent methods (along with generally keeping squirrels and other critters away from your garden).
  • Dry Ice: While thought of as a shipping solution to store foods, dry ice offers a unique solution to a bug-free environment (when handled following proper safety procedures). As dry ice warms, it emits carbon dioxide that attracts bugs and mosquitos, then kills them in the extreme cold as they get close. Placing dry ice in a clearly marked and ventilated container away from children, guests and pets (due to its extreme cold) will help lure mosquitos away.


Of course, professional mosquito treatment will also keep bugs away. While most of us tend to think of mosquitoes as an annoying interruption to backyard barbeques in the spring and summertime, the diseases they carry are dangerous. For example, more than one million people die from mosquito-borne illnesses each year across the globe, including over 1,000 Americans. From keeping mosquitos away from your pool to cookout, it is important to provide a safe space in your yard for your family and friends.

Eliminate ’Em provides you with fast, professional, courteous mosquito control services, free estimates, and licensed technicians to handle all your needs. In extreme cases, we can offer same-day service! Our professional mosquito technicians are available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to get rid of any pests in and around your home.

For mosquito pest control, our strategy generally entails:

  • Eliminating or reducing water sources on your property – particularly stagnant sources.
  • Treating vegetation and water sources where mosquitoes have created nests to prevent any existing eggs from hatching.
  • Remove any secondary factors that make your property a target for mosquitoes, including wet leaves, dead wood, debris, and overgrowth.
  • Offering you tips to keep the pests from returning, including effective plant-watering and lawn-mowing strategies. The less water and fewer hiding places, the better.
  • Ensuring your automatic sprinkler system isn’t causing water to pool and attract mosquitoes.

Don’t put up with mosquitoes swarming around your home and yard. If over-the-counter treatments and tiki torches haven’t helped keep them under control, set up an appointment with Eliminate ‘Em.