Citronella Is An Effective Rat Repellent: Here’s Why

green citronella being rubbed in hands

A single encounter with a rodent of any type trying to settle into your home or garden is enough to send you searching for anything and everything that is effective in eradicating them – trust me, I’ve been there.

Rats are unusually hard to control because of their ability to adapt and learn from their mistakes; they’re pretty smart, which is rather unfortunate for you and your home.

Rats rely upon their sense of smell to seek out sources; their survival depends upon it. Using strong scents to target the olfactory system (the nose) of rats inhibits their ability to invade our homes in search of food and shelter.

Luckily for us, citronella is a natural, grassy-like scent that works to repel rats.

You won’t find a rat making the same mistake twice or following in the footsteps of their fallen friends, so if you were lucky enough to trap one of their buddies, your luck ends there. In order to properly rid your home of rats, you must proactively prepare your home to ward off any unwanted house guests.

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Does Citronella Repel Rats?

Citronella has been consistently used for centuries to repel unwanted pests and insects. Something about the strong aroma is unsettling to the senses of many species.

In recent years, Citronella has gained popularity for its natural repellent properties in averting rats. Findings conclude that citronella is an effective rat repellent for many reasons. One of the better studies out there found that when citronella oil was inhaled by rats over a period of weeks, the rats that were exposed to citronella oil (specifically β-citronello) led to a decreased appetite AND lost brown adipose tissue (fat.)

If you’re desperate to rid your home of the potential residence of rats, keep reading to learn the ins and outs of using Citronella to repel them.

Why Citronella Is An Effective Rat Repellent

Brown Rat (norway rat) in field hidden under plants

Citronella produces a clean, grassy-like scent that is often overwhelming to the senses of a rat. The smell alone is repulsive to them and can confuse their senses, making it nearly impossible to carry out small, daily survival tasks.

The scent is so overwhelming that rats will actually stop eating and stop searching for sources of food and shelter near the scent.

Rats have an aversion to strong scents for this reason, so Citronella has become useful in households as an effective rat repellent.

Just incase you’d like to bookmark this, take a peak at our full list of the Scents That Rats Hate where we discuss more options similar to citronella that you may even have in your spice cabinet at home!

Citronella Oil Is A Repulsive Scent To Rats

Rats do not enjoy clean scents, which would make you think that a clean home is enough to repel rats alone. Wrong. Rodents will enter any home that shows a promising potential to become their next palace.

This is why it is important to practice the use of the repelling properties of certain plants and oils that studies show are effective in repelling rats and other pests from your home.

Citronella oil has a scent so strong that rats tend to immediately turn away from it; they find it repulsive.

Citronella Can Confuse Rodent Senses

Like any scent-driven animal, strong smells can confuse the olfactory system and send startling signals to their senses. For rats, citronella commonly confuses their sense of smell and inhibits their ability to search for survival sources.

Perhaps they initially entered your home from the smell of pet food, but encountered a whiff of citronella on their journey. The rat will immediately turn away from the scent and instantly lose the ability to distinguish between the pet food and citronella causing them to scurry elsewhere for a new food source.

Some research even suggests that certain smells carried into the olfactory system of rats can send confusing signals to the brain and create sensations of pain. Rats will then associate the smell with the discomfort it creates. 

Imagine sniffing a sweet scent and immediately feeling a ping of pain – confusing, right?

Citronella Oil Cancels Out Potential Rat Attractants

The aroma of citronella oil is so strong that it can actually mask the scent of rat attractants. Rats are driven by their survival needs, as are we, so they’re often using their nose to find food around them. 

The clean scent of Citronella oil actually cancels out the inviting scent of food and other rat pheromones around them.

The scent itself actually makes them feel unsafe because they lose the ability to use their nose properly, which stops them from hunting for food and protecting themselves from predators.

If rats are unable to smell the things that bring them to your home and garden in the first place, you’ll likely never encounter them around your home again. 

Citronella Oil Acts As An Appetite Suppressant In Rats

Strong concentrations of Citronella oil around your home actually acts as an appetite suppressant to rats. The scent is enough to turn their stomachs sour.

The most convincing study that captured the efficiency of citronella as a rat repellent was published in Applied Biological Research. This study found that rats consumed significantly less food in areas where Citronella oil was present as compared to those with no Citronella.

They concluded the study by saying that the daily application of Citronella oil in concentrations of at least 10% were effective in repelling rats.

Brown Rat running in basement along beams

To preface this next study, it is important to understand how scents enter our bodies and how essential oils work. 

We are constantly inhaling the scents in the air around us. In aromatherapy, the inhalation of essential oils sends scent molecules directly to the olfactory nerves of the brain. Sounds similar to how the scent confuses rats, right?

Well, the research we mentioned in the beginning found that the direct inhalation of citronella oil decreased the appetites of rats. You can simply protect your home from becoming their next nesting place by allowing citronella to dominate their senses.

The main point is that simply spraying citronella oil, coating cotton balls, or burning citronella candles with the oil disperses scent molecules around your home that will inevitably be inhaled by the rats.

If they’re not hungry, your home has already become a less desirable hunting ground.

How To Use Citronella Oil To Repel Rats

So then, how do you use Citronella oil properly to repel rats? Luckily, there are many ways to introduce Citronella to your home to deter rats from scurrying through your doors.

Common ways to use Citronella around your home to repel rats include covering cotton balls in the oil, creating a sprayable solution, planting citronella around your home, or burning candles and torches containing citronella oil.

In all studies, it was recommended that Citronella oil is used in a 10% concentrate meaning that your pure essential oil should be diluted down in water or rubbing alcohol until only 10% of the concentrate is Citronella.

Cover Cotton Balls With Citronella Oil To Keep Rats Away

The quickest and easiest way to repel rats is by covering cotton balls in drops of Citronella oil and strategically placing them around your home to keep rats away.

Place these Citronella coated cotton balls in places around your home that show evidence of rats or in rat prone areas to repel future generations from settling in.

You can also cover cotton pads, cotton cloths, or rags with Citronella oil to place around your home. Cotton will soak up the scent and stay fresh around your home longer.

Citronella coated cotton balls are most effective at repelling rats when placed in corners of your home, near window sills, in air vents, or around entryways.

Create A Concentrated Spray From Citronella Oil To Repel Rats

A Citronella concentrated spray is the most effective and versatile rat repellent around.

  • Are rats in your garden? Spray your flowers with it.
  • Are rats in your home? Spray your fabrics with it.
  • Are rats in your yard? Spray the perimeter of your home with it.
  • Are rats in your barn or shed? Spray the inside of the building with it.
  • Not sure where the rats are getting in? Spray any hole, opening, window sill, or entryway with the solution to keep them away.

See how versatile it is? With proper and consistent applications, you can repel rats from any area around your home with Citronella oil.

To create your own Citronella rat repellent, you’ll need to mix pure citronella essential oil with water or rubbing alcohol at a 10% concentration of the citronella.

Remember, the studies above suggested daily application of the concentration for highest efficiency, so be sure to reapply the solution often.

Plant Citronella Around Your Property To Repel Rodents

Citronella, as we know it, often comes from the lemongrass plant. However, both lemongrass and citronella plants are effective at producing that pungent scent to repel rats and mosquitoes.

If you’re backed to a heavily wooded forest or an open field out in the country, planting lemongrass and citronella around the perimeter of your home, garden, or property can be effective at repelling rats.

In fact, rats are different from mice in the way they nest. Mice prefer to nest in areas made out of shredded materials or mattresses whereas rats tend to burrow deep within the ground or in woodpiles and garbage around your home.

Since rats prefer the warmth of the underground, it is often that you’ll find them roaming outdoors instead of indoors, so planting citronella around your home is most effective for rats. Here’s our full guide which details where rats live.

Burn Citronella Candles And Torches In And Around Your Home To Repel Rats

You’ve heard of tiki torches to repel mosquitoes, so why not use it for its two-in-one ability to repel rats and mosquitoes? If you’re looking to upgrade the ambiance of your backyard while also repelling rats, tiki torches filled with Citronella oil are the way to go.

Once you purchase tiki torches that match the theme of your outdoor paradise, you can place them around your garden, near your patio, or around the perimeter of your property to repel an abundance of pests and insects.

The TIKI Brand actually sells Citronella Scented Torch Fuel to put into your torches to repel rats. Plus, you’ll also be repelling mosquitoes! 

Citronella oil candles are also an effective rat repellent when burned indoors or outdoors.

The TIKI Brand also sells bucket candles made from Citronella oil. These Citronella Wax Bucket Candles are better curated for an outdoor atmosphere, but citronella scented soy candles made for indoor use are also effective!

Does Citronella Keep Rats Away Forever?

It’s probably not the answer you’re looking for, but no, Citronella will not keep rats away from your home permanently. As for any repellent, they are meant to keep pests away from your home, not to get rid of them if they are already there. 

brown rat (norway rat) in pipe

Not only that, but over time, it is common for rodents to become accustomed to the scents around them. 

Citronella oil is to act as an aversion – something that rats will turn away from or become confused by. While it is extremely effective in masking scents, confusing their senses, and reducing their appetites, it’s not effective in eradicating them altogether.

So Then, What Keeps Rats Away Permanently? 

Rats act as scavengers; often you’ll find them dining on dog food, canned foods, and spoiled leftovers around your home and garden. 

To keep rats away from your home permanently, you must reduce the food and shelter sources around your home that attract them in the first place. Rats search for hiding places, garbage, wood piles, and pet food. 

If any of these attractants are within reach for a rat, you might as well consider them a resident within your home.

There are many steps to keeping rats out of your home long-term, but practicing proper home and yard maintenance while introducing repellents is the best way to keep them away. Of course, if the rats are roaming and burrowing around your garden, that’s a whole other problem to solve.

If rats are rummaging through your garden, try to tidy it up, trim trees and plants around it, and spray the citronella solution nearby. 

A combination of practices is truly the only way to keep rats away long-term. And that goes for practically any pest around the neighborhood.

Other Pests and Insects That Citronella Oil Can Repel

The combination of the lemon-like, floral and grassy scent of Citronella oil is effective in repelling more than just the pesky house rat. 

Citronella oil can also repel:

  • Cats
  • Mice
  • Mosquitoes
  • Flies
  • Fleas
  • Ticks
  • Spiders
  • And almost any other insect you can think of!

It is also common for rats to feast on insects, so if you keep your home clear of bugs and insects, it is easier to keep your home clear of rats. To effectively reduce populations of these pests around your home, consider any of the above uses of Citronella oil.

Our Conclusion

Let’s revisit the most important information you need to get rid of those rats wreaking havoc in your home. Citronella is an effective rat repellent because of the way it affects their bodies. 

Citronella can:

  • Be repulsive to rats
  • Cause confusion in rat senses
  • Cancel out potential rat attractants
  • Act as an appetite suppressant for rats

For these reasons, the scent of Citronella oil is a natural enemy to the nose of a rat. In order to properly repel rats, Citronella oil must be used in concentrated amounts and applied regularly. 

As if Citronella oil effectively repelling rats wasn’t convincing enough, it can be used to repel an abundance of annoying insects around your home, which can ultimately reduce rodent populations. Better?

However, to keep rats away permanently, you must use a combination of tactics and repellents for the best results.

If the rat population around your home has gotten out of control, consider contacting a professional to get rid of them once and for all and then practice the use of Citronella oil for additional and long-lasting protection.


Baker, B. P., Grant, J. A., & Malakar-Kuenen, R. (2018). Citronella & citronella oil profile.

Batubara, I., Suparto, I. H., Sa’diah, S., Matsuoka, R., & Mitsunaga, T. (2015). Effects of inhaled citronella oil and related compounds on rat body weight and brown adipose tissue sympathetic nerve. Nutrients, 7(3), 1859-1870.

Gupta, R. C., Doss, R. B., Srivastava, A., Lall, R., & Sinha, A. (2019). Nutraceuticals for Control of Ticks, Fleas, and Other Ectoparasites. Nutraceuticals in Veterinary Medicine, 625-633.

Singla, N., & Kaur, R. (2014). Potential of citronella oil as rodent repellent measured as aversion to food. Applied Biological Research, 16(2), 191-198.

Small, W. S. (1899). Notes on the psychic development of the young white rat. The American Journal of Psychology, 11(1), 80-100.

Srivani Maddala, V. K. (2019). Green pest management practices for sustainable buildings: Critical review. Science Progress, 102(2), 141-152.

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