Understanding Citronella Essential Oil: An Expert Guide

Citronella essential oil is a very popular and versatile oil in the world of perfumery and fragrance. Known for its fresh, uplifting scent and natural insect repellent properties, citronella oil has become a staple ingredient in many fragrances, candles, and personal care products. In this expert guide, we will explore how citronella essential oil is made, its benefits, and how to incorporate it into your perfume creations.

1. Sourcing high quality citronella plants

The first step in making citronella essential oil is sourcing high-quality citronella plants. Citronella grass, scientifically known as Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus, is the primary source of citronella oil. It is native to tropical regions such as Sri Lanka, Java and Indonesia. When selecting citronella plants, it is important to select mature plants that have reached their peak oil content.
It is important to note that there are several varieties of citronella grass, and the oil composition can vary slightly between them. The two main varieties used for essential oil production are Cymbopogon nardus, also known as “Java” citronella, and Cymbopogon winterianus, commonly known as “Ceylon” or “Sri Lanka” citronella. Both varieties are rich in citronellal and citronellol, the main aromatic compounds responsible for the distinctive fragrance of citronella oil.

2. Steam distillation: Extraction of citronella oil

The most common method of extracting citronella essential oil is steam distillation. In this process, the aerial parts of citronella grass, including the leaves and stems, are exposed to steam, which helps to release the aromatic compounds present in the plant material. The steam carries the volatile oils into a condenser where they are cooled and transformed into a liquid state.

When the condensation process is complete, the resulting liquid is a mixture of water and essential oil. Because oil and water do not mix, the essential oil can be separated from the water through a process called decantation or filtration. The final product is pure citronella essential oil, ready for use in perfumes and fragrances.

3. Benefits of Citronella Essential Oil in Perfumery

Citronella essential oil offers a number of benefits when incorporated into perfumes and fragrances. Its vibrant, lemony scent adds a refreshing and uplifting note to compositions, making it a popular choice for creating bright, summery fragrances. Some of the key benefits of citronella essential oil in perfumery include

Insect repellent properties: One of the most well-known properties of citronella oil is its ability to repel insects. The oil’s natural insect repellent properties make it an excellent choice for outdoor or summer-themed fragrances that help keep mosquitoes and other pests at bay.

Top and Middle Note: Citronella essential oil is typically classified as a top or middle note in perfumery. As a top note, it provides an initial burst of freshness and brightness to a fragrance. Used as a middle note, it adds depth and complexity and blends harmoniously with other floral, herbal or citrus notes.

4. Blending Citronella Essential Oil in Perfumes

When blending citronella essential oil into perfumes, it is important to consider its strong aroma and powerful presence. Here are some tips to help you create balanced and appealing fragrance compositions:

Pair with complementary notes: Citronella essential oil works well with a variety of other fragrance notes. It complements citrus oils like bergamot and lemon, floral notes like geranium and lavender, and herbal scents like rosemary and basil. Experiment with different combinations to find the perfect balance.

Dilution and concentration: Due to its strong aroma, it is recommended that citronella essential oil be used in moderation. Start with a lower concentration and gradually increase as desired. Dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil or alcohol before adding it to your perfume formulation to ensure proper mixing and diffusion.

5. Precautions and Storage

While citronella essential oil is generally safe to use, it is important to take some precautions to ensure proper handling and storage:
Skin Sensitivity: Some individuals may be sensitive to citronella oil, so it is advisable to patch test before applying directly to the skin. If irritation or allergic reaction occurs, discontinue use immediately.

Storage: To preserve the quality and fragrance of citronella essential oil, store in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight and heat. Proper storage in a tightly sealed amber or dark glass bottle will help extend its shelf life.

By following these guidelines and harnessing the aromatic power of citronella essential oil, you can create unique and captivating perfumes and fragrances that provide a sense of freshness and repel unwanted insects. Enjoy the process of experimenting with different blends and let the vibrant scent of citronella take your creations to new heights.


How do you make citronella essential oil?

To make citronella essential oil, you can follow these steps:

  1. Harvest the citronella grass: Start by harvesting the citronella grass, also known as Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus. Choose mature grass with a strong aroma.
  2. Preparation: Clean the grass by removing dirt, insects, and any unwanted debris. Dry the grass thoroughly to remove moisture.
  3. Steam distillation: Take a large pot and place a heat-resistant bowl in the center. Add the dried citronella grass to the pot and pour water around the bowl. Cover the pot with a lid, but make sure the lid has an opening to allow steam to escape. Heat the pot on a stove and bring the water to a boil. As the water boils, the steam will pass through the citronella grass, extracting the essential oil.
  4. Collection of oil: The steam, along with the essential oil, will rise and condense on the lid of the pot. The condensed liquid can be collected using a separate container placed below the lid. This liquid will contain the citronella essential oil.
  5. Separation: Once the distillation process is complete, allow the collected liquid to cool down. The essential oil will float on the surface, while water will settle below. Carefully separate the essential oil from the water using a dropper or a pipette.
  6. Storage: Transfer the extracted citronella essential oil into a dark glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Store it in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight or heat.