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Summer dilemma: Citronella or bug zappers?

Citronella candles do well at keeping bugs away, especially during the summer months.
Citronella candles do well at keeping bugs away, especially during the summer months. Special to The Bee

The sun is high, the mosquitoes are biting and the age-old rivalry between citronella and bug zappers lives on.

Bug repellent can be picked up at nearly any corner store, but the best pest solution is still being contested: In this world, there are those who turn to nature, and there are others who summon electricity.

For the organically inclined, citronella is a grass-derived oil often incorporated into lotions, candles or sprays for its bug repellent properties. The plant’s scent masks human odors that attract bugs, making it difficult for an insect to detect a potential meal.

“These are plants mostly used as repellents,” said Dr. Praveen Buddiga, an allergy specialist at Baz Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center in Fresno. “We don’t see a clear allergy to the plant itself, but it is a good repellent.”

Buddiga commonly sees mosquito and other flying insect bites during the summer months, and recommends setting up high-powered fans to deter flying insects. In addition, the plant’s oil is a strong alternative for other more toxic products available, Buddiga said.

On the side of technology, electric bug zappers offer another solution for buzzing pests. Lanterns and path-lighting zappers lure flying insects with ultraviolet lights, and hand-held rackets appeal to the more active bug hunters among us. However, zappers lack selectivity, electrocuting mosquitoes, butterflies and fingers alike, Buddiga said.

This season, Fresno Ag Hardware has seen an increase in sales of products like three-wick citronella candles, said Andrew Lohuis, the store’s outdoor living manager. So far, the store has only sold one or two bug zappers this summer, he said.

“Bug zappers aren’t a big seller – at least this year,” Lohuis said. “They’re effective, but people are coming in looking for mosquito repellent, and the citronella Tiki torches and three-wick candles just work better for mosquitoes.”

So, what should you try this summer?

When it comes to making sure itchy red bumps don’t distract from the fireworks, Fresno experts recommend citronella as a cheaper and more effective solution.

While electric insect zappers range from about $18 to $60, pure citronella oil retails for $9. Citronella candles, sprays and lotions sell for as little as $5, depending on the brand and quantity.

For the more adventurous, citronella-coated party streamers, dog shampoos and infused cloth can be used in pre-Fourth of July party prep to keep the buzzing to a minimum.

Citronella is safe to use around humans and pets. Approximately 48,000 pounds of the oil is used annually, according to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sydney Maki: 559-441-6141, @symmaki

Supplies for a bug-free Fourth of July

  • Three-wick candles, $5.23 on Amazon
  • 1-ounce organic citronella oil, $8.95 on Amazon
  • Electric bug zapper, $35.57 on Amazon
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