What Is Citronella Torch Fuel?

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Torches burning citronella fuel effectively deter biting insects.
Torches burning citronella fuel effectively deter biting insects. (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

The soothing glow and pleasing aroma from tiki torches filled with citronella fuel creates the ideal setting for an outdoor function. For more than 50 years, oil of citronella has been used as an active ingredient in torch fuel, candles and rub-on products, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The substance naturally repels insects and bugs, such as mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and biting flies.

Benefits

Citronella oil has a low toxicity and causes no harm to humans or animals. The torch fuel can cause skin irritation in certain individuals. A clean-burning oil, torch fuel derived from citronella oil easily ignites on a wick. The oil usually burns for up to 10 hours, depending on the size of the fuel reservoir in the torch or lamp. Citronella torch oil is available in non-smoke-producing forms for use in outdoor torches. Citronella torch fuel that does not produce smoke usually costs a bit more than fuels that produce smoke.

Deriving Oil of Citronella

Derived from grass, oil of citronella is a volatile substance that works well as torch fuel in tiki torches and outdoor lanterns. Citronella oil is usually created by steam distillation of Cymbopogon winterianus or Cymbopogon nardus grass varieties. The grass usually undergoes the process shortly after it is harvested or when it is dried. The oil derived from the grass contains geraniol, citronellal and citronellol; the latter produces the oil’s telltale fragrant odor. China and Indonesia produce approximately 40 percent of the world’s citronella oil. Ecuador, Mexico, South Africa, Taiwan, Guatemala, Brazil, India, Argentina, Jamaica, Madagascar, Honduras and Sri Lanka are secondary producers.

Origins

Some plants contain substances known as terpenes, which attract pollinators. The substance protects the plant by effectively deterring destructive insects. Citronella contains terpene. The strong odor produced by burning citronella releases terpene, which affects insects’ neurological systems. The substance interferes with insects’ ability to move and metabolism but does not kill them. Insects usually avoid burning citronella fuel, acting as a deterrent for humans in the vicinity of the torches.

Safety Considerations

Always keep citronella torch fuel out of the reach of children or pets to prevent accidental ingestion. Burn the fuel only in well-ventilated locations. Keep a fire extinguisher near the torch for safety. Never move a lit tiki torch filled with citronella fuel; the fuel could spill and cause a fire. Avoid over-filling the torch’s reservoir with fuel. Spilled citronella fuel can stain decks or other surfaces.

References

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