Do Citronella Candles Expire? Inquiring Mosquitos Want To Know!

Mosquito season is upon us and my patio is surrounded by citronella candles. I found one candle that was quite old and unburned, I thought I would do a little research to see if citronella candles expire! Apparently my mosquitos are more stubborn at my new house compared to my last house!

Citronella candles do expire. Use your citronella candles within 1 year of opening from original packaging. Citronella essential oil and citronella fragrance oil should also be used within a year. Likewise, all candles should be used within a year of opening the original packaging.

You can still burn old citronella candles and even aged candles. Furthermore, properly stored and sealed candles might still produce the desired effect!

Don’t just throw out a candle that has reached it’s birthday. In the grand scheme of things, a 365 day-old candle is no different than a 364 day-old candle. But it is a good idea to plan accordingly and rotate your citronella candles based on their age. I’ll go over what I found in my research!

How long does wax last?

There are several types of wax used in candles, some lasting longer than others. The most common candlewax in commercial Citronella Candles is Paraffin. The other two natural waxes you might find in your picnic basket for pesky mosquitoes are soy and perhaps beeswax.

Paraffin- Paraffin is a petroleum base wax designed to burn. It is paramount to natural waxes as it holds a better hot and cold scent throw than it’s natural counterparts. Paraffin wax is the most economic and is most likely what you will see in your standard Citronella candles. Even most Soy candles are actually a blend of Paraffin to help achieve a balanced and effective candle in both burn and scent. It is believed Paraffin emits toxins into the room while burned which is why this ideal wax isn’t the only wax on the planet.

Well kept Paraffin candles can last 5 years or longer! So If you pull out that box of Citronella Candles and can verify the wax is Paraffin, very little degrading may have occurred! If you find that your candles are made of this wax, skip down to the fragrance paragraph below to learn about how Citronella Oil maintains freshness and effectiveness.

Soy- Soy wax is a wax processed from the everyday Soy Bean. The process is quite close to natural and some Soy Wax is even food grade. 100% Soy candles are believed to be one of the cleanest burning candles on the market. Unfortunately (or fortunate for the lost candle in the closet) most Soy waxes are a blend of Soy and Paraffin for better curing during the candle manufacturing process. Even most colorants have paraffin wax in them. This may help preserve your old Citronella candle! As a rule of thumb, well stored Soy Candles should be used within a year.

Beeswax- Beeswax is one of the toughest, natural candle waxes in the known universe! Beeswax has been found in shipwrecks and the tombs of Egypt! Bees really know what they are doing when it comes to being sustainable! If you were to have a beeswax candle, dust off any wax and light it up! However, for every positive comes a negative. Beeswax does not hold a fragrance like the first two waxes (Paraffin and Soy). It would be very unlikely to find a 100% Beeswax Citronella scented candle. Even-more-so, beeswax has been known to attract bugs and bees (not to mention larger wildlife such as bears) so this might not be the best wax for your citronella candle anyway.

How long does fragrance last?

There are several kinds of fragrance used to produce a desired scent in a candle. Let’s focus on synthetic fragrance oil and pure citronella essential oil, both of which lose potency rather than go rancid. Along with being encased in a jar of wax, it is likely for the candle to produce a smell if properly stored, however, Citronella must be strong to produce a barrier between you and flying pests!

Fragrance oil- Fragrance oil is a man-made chemically produced oil with a high flash point. The flash point in the candle world is simply the temperature at which the vapors can ignite in the air. Most fragrance oils designed for candles have a flashpoint of around 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Although my initial thought was fragrance oil should have a long shelf life, most manufactures recommend using their fragrance oils within a year of purchasing! Lastly, most fragrance oils contain phthalates and vanillin, both of which are known to release toxins and carcinogens into the air.

Essential oil- Pure essential oil is derived from plants. Plants are heat distilled, solvent based or cold pressed to release the oils of the plant which hold the essence of said plant. All candles should use heat distilled essential oils, but that doesn’t mean that using heat distilled essential oil is bullet-proof. This simply means that essential oil should have a higher flashpoint and will be more stable and less sensitive in a candle. Essential oils often pose a problem of effectiveness in a lit candle since the heat of the flame can burn off the essential oil before dispersing into the air.

Citronella Essential Oil is derived from the lemongrass plant and is often used as a pest repellant. Oregon State University claims there is little to no proof of Citronella Essential Oil being harmful to anything except possibly aquatic life. Citronella repels bugs rather than killing them although there are many studies that prove Citronella only lightly repels bugs and mosquitos.

Do Wicks Degrade?

Our ecosystem has a great way of repurposing, well, pretty much anything! That said, a standard wax dipped cotton core wick is going to degrade, and possibly break through months and years of improper storage. If it lights, it could burn enough to melt the wax. But if it has degraded enough to have a small flame, the candle will simply burn itself out before it has even benefitted you in any way. Other than melting the candle and re-wicking the wax, it would be impossible to fix your candle should your wick be compromised. If you do find yourself with a wick-less candle, consider a candle warmer or wax melt to use the fuel of your votive!

How to prolong the life of your candle

If you plan on storing a used candle, consider these tips! Burn your candle long enough to melt the wax the entire diameter of your container candle. Pillar or votive candles often have a small enough wick to only melt the inside of the candle and maintain a shell of unmelted wax around the outside. It generally takes 1 hour for every inch of diameter. In other words, if you have a 3” diameter candle, the first burn should last for about 3 hours. Wax has a memory and this step is very important for all of your candles!

Since you will likely be burning your citronella candles outdoors, consider a candle-safe shade or jar to protect the flame from added oxygen (aka a breeze). While a strong enough breeze will extinguish a flame, a subtle breeze will improve the oxygen and add fuel to your flame. A hotter flame will burn your candle too hot and too quickly resulting in fragrance prematurely evaporating and the wax will be consumed quicker than necessary.  

Lastly, read the warning label and follow the manufactures recommended candle usage! Keep the wick trimmed to ¼ inch. Just as stated above, a larger flame is not a good thing to have in a candle. A larger, therefore hotter, flame can even crack the container holding the candle!

How to store your citronella candle

Store your candles in an airtight container. I it is a container candle, keep the lid on. Fresh air, while good for your, will assist in your candle losing potency and degrade the wick and wax. Keep your candle at room temperature, you can even store your candles in the refrigerator to avoid melting in a hot camper! Just as burning the candle releases the fragrance, melting in the hot sun will do the same, and potentially make a mess in the process!

Inspect your candle

Prior to burning your citronella candle at your next barbeque, check for damages to the container, broken wicks, flammable debris and an improperly melted candle. All of which should be considered before lighting. If the candle looks questionable, toss it and buy another one. If everything is inspected to your satisfaction, light the candle and remember the potency of your old candle might be less than necessary to keep those pesky mosquitos away!

Final Thoughts

In our disposable and consumer world I try and repurpose and save as much as I can. Replacing old products that would otherwise be useful often leads to increased packaging as well as the old product ending up in our local landfills. Consider purchasing only enough citronella candles that will easily be stored and used during your barbeque season to avoid questioning the candles ability to repel bugs!


Erin is a crafty, fun-loving, mom who takes pride in her kid's creativity and talents.

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