June 3, 2010

Homemade bug-banishing candles

Each year, the advent of summer is accompanied by the arrival of some very unwelcome visitors: mosquitoes and the little pests we like to refer to in these parts as “no-see-‘ums.” I long ago lost faith in the efficacy of citronella candles in combating these pests during our time outdoors each evening, simply because they didn’t seem to make any difference at all in keeping the insects at bay. After doing a bit of research, though, I discovered the reason the citronella candles sold today don’t work is that the majority of them contain nary a drop of true-blue citronella essential oil. The scent is synthetically produced to smell like the real deal, but with none of the protecting characteristics. Isn’t that sneaky?

Since we spend a great deal of time outdoors in the evenings each summer (the time at which mosquitoes are the most likely to be a nuisance), I am always on the lookout for natural insect-repelling solutions. When I discovered that most citronella candles sold in chain stores are a racket, I decided to try my hand at making my own! After doing a little research, I was happy to discover the process really is quite simple.

You’ll need:
A few clean, dry glass jars (this is a great project to reuse jars that would otherwise be discarded!)
Painter’s tape
Frosted glass spray paint
Braided candle wick
Hot glue
Wooden dowels
Wooden clothes pins
Natural soy wax (I purchased mine at Hobby Lobby)
Double boiler*
Old crayons
Citronella essential oil (this is not the citronella-scented oil used to fill outdoor Tiki torches), found at natural food stores
Foam alpha or shape stickers (I highly recommend Thickers by American Crafts)

*I created my double boiler using a heavy 4-quart sauce pan and a smaller basting sauce pot with a pouring spout intended for holding sauce while basting items on the grill. I simply placed the smaller pan inside the larger, then filled the larger pan with enough water to come up the sides of the smaller pan by a couple of inches. I placed my double boiler over medium-high heat to bring the water to a boil before adjusting the heat to low to simmer. If you can find one, I highly recommend using a pan with a pouring spout as the vessel in which you melt your wax for ease of pouring your candles. If not, use a ladle to transfer the wax to your jars to make filling your candles easier and safer.

Additional Helpful Hints:
  • Do NOT use the citronella-scented oil used to refill outdoor Tiki torches! It contains no essential oil, and it is extremely flammable. 
  • If you’re not in the market for any citronella candles, you can most certainly use this process to make some scented candles to spruce up your indoor decor. Have fun experimenting with other essential oils to create your own custom scents!
  • You can find coloring wax made specifically for dyeing your candles alongside the wax and wicks if you would prefer to use that instead of crayons.


Please take a moment to stop in at these terrific places where I’ll be sharing this project!
Tatertots and Jello

Visit thecsiproject.com

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55 Responses to Homemade bug-banishing candles

  1. Julie June 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    Wow! Great tutorial. I never knew it would be so easy!

  2. ★All Thingz Related★ June 3, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    These are great! Thank you for the tutorial!

  3. Michele {The Scrap Shoppe} June 3, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Oh, Amy! You have no idea how much I needed to know how to do this! I’ve always suspected as much from the store-bought candles, plus they can be expensive and never match my decor. Love, love, LOVE, this!! I may try to talk my mom into making some with me this weekend while she is in town! And I love the tip about the crayons. 🙂

  4. Blessed Mommy of 2 June 3, 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    LOVE THIS POST! I get eaten alive by mosquitos! I WILL be making some for this summer as soon as I get the chance to get all the supplies. =)
    How’s your son? I hope better.

  5. Kelli @ RTSM June 3, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    Thanks so much for this step by step! I just pick up some wicks to make some candles in an old candle holder I made over a few weeks ago. I was just going to melt down some old candles I had around the house…do you think that is okay instead of buy the wax at the store?!?

  6. Tara June 3, 2010 at 10:22 pm #

    Oh my gosh – I LOVE this! I worked outside for less than an hour a few days ago and came inside with 13 bug bites… this is calling my name!

  7. Alison June 3, 2010 at 10:29 pm #

    I am going to have to try this out for sure!! I had no idea this was something you could really make! I love the frosted glass paint… So cool!

  8. Jenn June 4, 2010 at 1:51 am #

    School is out next Tuesday…I think this may be my first project!!

  9. Southern Fried Gal June 4, 2010 at 2:28 am #

    Another fabulous idea – cute & functional!

    Do y’all have a mosquito truck? I saw ours out in full force yesterday.

    If you get a chance stop over and link this to my Garden Party.

    Have a blessed weekend!

  10. Julie June 4, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    Now that’s original! Stopping by from New Friend Friday…

  11. kerry*lynne June 4, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    i wonder if it works for house flies…?

    • Bonnie Hilley June 22, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

      I made some of the mosquito traps with the 2 liter coke bottles and caught a lot of flies outside before they had a chance to get in the house. I loved that! Don’t remember all of the instructions but will find them if you want me to. I will try to write them for you.

  12. malia June 5, 2010 at 2:32 am #

    these rock! you always come up with the most original and stylish projects and they are always executed so well (-:

  13. Holly June 5, 2010 at 7:22 am #

    These are the best looking citronella candles I have seen…you made them stylish!

  14. Lori June 5, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    Hi! Stopping by from SITS. Hope you are having a great weekend. It is so damn cold where I live the bugs don’t even like to live here. HAHA. Those candles are very cool though. I will have to come back and visit more of your blog later today. I love getting crafty. I don’t usually come up with anything on my own, but I am good at stealing other peoples ideas : )

  15. ellie g June 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    I saw this on Tatertots and Jello. And I LOVE IT!! Plus, I am always eyeing that spraypaint and trying to think of a reason that I need to buy it and try it! Thanks for giving me one. I’m sure my husband will thank you later! 🙂

  16. Mama Peck June 8, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    Such a great idea! Thanks so much for the tutorial. Just a hint for the double boiler- Back in the old days when we used paraffin to seal home bottled jelly, I just used a big can to melt the wax. (Hubby bent it to form a spout.) The neat thing about this was that I didn’t have to worry about cleaning wax out of one of my good pans.

  17. t June 9, 2010 at 7:17 am #

    Love this idea, but sadly, I know myself too well and know that I’ll never attempt it. Psst….go over to Today’s Creative Blog. You’ll love today’s feature!

  18. BJ_Mama June 9, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    Oh, these are AWESOME! I’m going to try to make ’em before we head out for our first camping trip…THANKS!

  19. One Life Many Journeys June 9, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    Visiting from Today’s Creative Blog. I love the candles and think the crayon coloring is genius!

  20. Restorative Living June 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    I’ve been seeing your name throughout blogland lately and finally stopped by! I LOVE this tutorial! Especially since most of us have broken crayons sitting around wasting away! And I especially love how you frame your tutorials. So easy to breeze through. Great stuff!

  21. Trudie June 9, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    Hi Amy–This looks great. I was curious if you (or any readers) have had a chance to test the effectiveness of these candles yet? Any guess as to the radius protected? I have no doubt they work better than the store bought ones, I’m just also trying to consider what additional bug prevention methods I might need at my outdoor party or how many candles. Thanks!

  22. Jolie Elise June 9, 2010 at 10:50 pm #

    I found my way to your blog from Apartment Therapy & I’m looking around. Thank you for the candle information!! I’m going to have to try this!

    I’m adding you to my DIY Pin Board: http://www.pinterest.com/jolieelise
    Have a great day!

  23. Rachel@oneprettything.com June 12, 2010 at 2:37 am #

    So that’s why the candles I bought never worked! How cool. And yours are so much prettier! Thanks so much for this, I’ll be linking.

  24. Anonymous June 13, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    WOW, Thank you soo much! Never knew it was this easy! Appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

  25. Laura June 18, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

    I can’t wait to try this!

  26. Lenetta @ Nettacow June 25, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

    Super idea, and a very thorough tutorial! Much appreciated! I have always wondered about those darn candles sold in stores… I linked to this on my weekly roundup – thanks so much for sharing!

  27. Kristen July 3, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    It’s funny that you post this…my husband and I were just talking last night about how we’re not too sure about our citronella candles. We’re outside with our twins all the time and we don’t like the strong smell of the premade candles. I like the idea of using the old jars too…I’m a huge fan of mason jars so this will work for me. Can’t wait to try it out.

  28. Lisa July 6, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

    Those are pretty. What a neat tutorial.

  29. Blessed Mommy of 2 July 7, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    I finally made some! (linked back to you ofcourse!)

  30. Crafty Girl July 7, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    Thanks for the FYI on the store bought candles, never knew that. I think I may have to make these. Great idea!

  31. redtedart July 10, 2010 at 6:34 am #

    These are FABULOUS!

    I host a monthly themed Get Crafty carnival and would love to include you for my “Summer theme” this month?

    This is aperfect addition for those long summer nights!!

    Please come and drop me an email to info (at) redtedart (dot) com or visit last month’s ManMade Get Craftyand leave a comment: http://redtedart.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/get-crafty-july-2010-made-by-man/

    If I dont hear from you, will assume it is ok to include it 🙂 will feature photo, discription and link back to you as to “how to”!!!


    Maggy, red ted art

  32. Mary July 12, 2010 at 6:01 pm #

    Hi Amy,
    Thanks for the super easy-to-follow tut. I had no idea it was so simple nor that “citronella” candles aren’t 😉 I just finished pouring two and am pretty tickled with the results. I can’t wait to try my handiwork out on the patio some evening.

  33. Rustique Gal July 19, 2010 at 3:43 am #

    Thanks for the heads-up on Citronella! I hope to find the time to make some of these candles. Looking forward to seeing more of your blog!

  34. Rose :: FineCraftGuild.com July 21, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    absolutely excellent tutorial, and yes, i’ll be going on a hunt trying to find these supplies locally.

    meanwhile, do get yourself a link back and link up at

    our readers would love to discover you.

  35. Bella September 7, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    Amy this was so cool, I never knew it was so easy either. Well, maybe you just made it look easy, but I really want to try it out, and do it. Thanks for sharing. I am hosting a very new weekly party, if you get a chance, I would be honored to have you link up some of your incredible projects. 🙂

  36. stevenzzzz6 December 18, 2010 at 3:50 am #

    Would the citronella in the candle still work if you already used the candle?

  37. Tiffany April 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    Just found you via Tatertots & Jello! So glad I did… love your blog and your projects! Can’t wait to try the candles!!! I’m definitly your newest follower!!!

  38. krisna May 14, 2011 at 4:32 am #

    i followed everything..but the glue melted and my wick lifted off.. 🙁

  39. Kristi July 30, 2011 at 1:25 am #

    Thanks for giving me a mother’s day gift idea! (or for any other present giving holiday) my parents just got a summer house and we love citronella candles so we can enjoy our back yard. I can finally make some according to my mom’s theme she has going on in the house. Some of the candles from the outdoor stores are kinda ugly looking. =)

  40. Martin Family January 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    Can’t wait to make these in the spring for my garden! Love your blog and LOVE this project. THANK YOU!

  41. flounderhead59 April 10, 2012 at 12:42 am #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  42. flounderhead59 April 10, 2012 at 12:44 am #

    Why Natural soy wax over parafin? I also heard that it was dangerous to use mason jars for candles – maybe an Old Wive’s Tale?

  43. Amy @ Positively Splendid April 10, 2012 at 1:00 am #

    @flounderhead – I have always used the soy wax and don’t have any experience with paraffin, so I can’t say what the benefits of one over the other would be. And I’ve never heard that about the mason jars. Interesting! I never had any issue with mine. Is it a concern over the glass breaking?

  44. flounderhead59 April 10, 2012 at 2:06 am #

    Amy, I’m not sure what the cause would be but just heard they can break when used for candles. I think I’ll try them any how. Camping season is rapidly apporaching and the junky stuff the store sells for tiki torches and candles don’t do enough. Where is a good source for the citronella oil? Saw some on Amazon but maybe Michaels would have some?

  45. PainterCR July 4, 2012 at 9:33 am #

    Great post!

    The mason jars may break if you let it burn all the way down, depending on the quality of the jar and the temperature of the jar…to prevent that from happening, you can wrap a half inch high strip of foil to the bottom portion of the wick so the candle can’t burn down completely. It also helps prevent the candle from scorching your table. You can reuse the left over, unused wax in your next batch.

    The problem with paraffin wax is that it’s a petroleum product and the soot can be toxic. Soy is less toxic…if burning outside you probably don’t need to worry about the soot as much. Also, make sure that the wick is not lead centered (the metal stiffener inside the wick). As the candle is burned the lead flows up in the soot and into your lungs. 🙂

  46. Monkey Socks August 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    I love this idea. Citronella and candles combined :)….also a great way to use pretty jars instead of simply displying them for no purpose or having to throw them out!

  47. Nikita April 9, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    Love this! I will definitely be trying this soon.

  48. Carla May 3, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    I have candles that have lost their scents, think I will try and melt them and try to add the oil……

  49. Cindilyn June 24, 2013 at 7:55 am #

    I’ve been making red, white and blue citronella candles in the small mason jars, and they have been a hit! I found my Citronella Oil at a nearby Health Hut, Michaels didn’t carry the oil, just the wax. Had a box full of old crayons from my kids so that helped to color the wax! Anyways, I sold a few of my candles during my neighborhood rummage, $3 a jar. I had an order for 12 candles, gave $1 off and that went well! Sorry, I couldn’t share a photo, each jar was wrapped with a July 4 ribbon 🙂 looking forward to making more, having too much fun!

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