The familiar citrusy scent of citronella is practically synonymous with summer evenings. While citronella oil has been valued for its insect repelling properties for centuries, the popularity of citronella candles as a ubiquitous summer accessory is a more recent phenomenon.
Let’s explore why these scented candles came to dominate patios, decks, and backyards as a must-have summer staple.
Warding Off Mosquitos and Biting Insects
By far the main reason citronella candles gained favor as a summer fixture is their ability to naturally repel mosquitos and other biting pests that swarm in warm weather.
The grassy citronella plant contains citronellal, an oil that has long been used in Asia as an insect repellent. Burning the oil releases the vapors into the air, creating a mild protective barrier.
While not as overpowering as DEET sprays, citronella oil presented a more pleasant-smelling alternative to deter bothersome bugs. The candles allowed people to enjoy the outdoors in summer with less risk of annoying bites.
As backyard entertaining became more popular, candles were an easy way to keep guests comfortable into the evening without needing to constantly reapply harsh chemical bug sprays. Their reputation as an accessible insect repellent fueled the popularity of citronella candles through word of mouth.
Creating Atmosphere Outdoors
Part of the appeal of hosting backyard barbecues, cookouts, and patio happy hours in summer is creating cozy ambiance.
String lights lend a magical feel, tiki torches flicker, and citronella candles give off a warm, welcoming glow in addition to scent. Their soft light transformed patios and decks into attractive spaces for entertaining long after sunset.
The citronella smell provided a fresh backdrop that enhanced the atmosphere without overwhelming food and drink aromas. As outdoor living spaces became more decorated and sophisticated, citronella candles joined string lights as affordable touches to set the desired mood.
Masking Outdoor Odors
Warm weather means open windows and more time spent outside, exposing us to inevitable smells of the season. From the next-door-neighbor’s grill to garbage odors, summer air can sometimes take on less-than-pleasant scents.
When used strategically, citronella candles can subtly mask and neutralize bothersome smells that infiltrate yards and patios thanks to their crisp, clean scent. This ability made them especially popular for creating refreshing ambiance in city outdoor spaces subject to traffic exhaust and other unwanted aromas floating around.
Adding Decorative Accents
Citronella candles come in an array of decorative shapes, sizes, styles and containers – ranging from basic cups to colorful vases and lanterns.
Their appearance made them a decorative element in their own right. Homeowners and hosts welcomed the ability to accessorize with functional but stylish citronella candles that also enhanced visual appeal.
Tropical-inspired citronella tiki torches also exploded in popularity for deck and patio decor. The candles’ simultaneously practical yet pretty nature as a decorative accent fueled their popularity.
Affordability and Convenience
Part of what cemented citronella candles as a fixture of summer is their inexpensive price point and convenient form factor. The basic paraffin wax versions sell for just a few dollars apiece.
As a self-contained unit, candles required no ongoing purchases of messy oils or sprays. Easy to find in any supermarket or pharmacy, they saved trips to specialty stores.
You could grab citronella tea lights or votives for instant ambiance wherever needed – by the grill, on the picnic table, tucked in garden beds. Their fuss-free nature and affordability made utilizing citronella candles a no-brainer.
Citronella oil presented a natural alternative to harsh chemical bug repellents and smoky backyard torches. The plant-derived oil was perceived as gentler for people and pets compared to synthetic formulas containing DEET or Picaridin.
The EPA classified citronella as a minimum-risk pesticide, as the volatile compounds dissipate quickly outdoors. While not scientifically proven safer, the natural association resonated with many consumers.
The candles emanated just enough scent to deter pests yet remain pleasant for humans in close proximity. Their reputation as a natural, non-toxic option eased safety concerns.
So next time you catch a whiff of citronella’s crisp, clean aroma in the air, you’ll know why these candles came to symbolize the essence of summer. The nostalgic scent takes us right back to carefree evenings enjoying food, fun and time outdoors.