Common Scents: Citronella

Welcome to our series, Common Scents! Common Scents is a series of articles exploring the history of commonly used essential oils and how they became popular in modern day soap and cosmetic crafting. This month, we’ll learn about citronella.

Here in the great Northeast, we love our few beautiful summer months. What we really don’t love are the mosquitoes and other bitey little fun-suckers. As you can imagine, this means the smell of citronella permeates outdoor gatherings and camping trips.

Let’s talk about where this pungent oil comes from, and find out a few other historical uses for it while we’re at it!

Citronella’s Origin Story 

Citronella is obtained via steam distillation from a  species of Cymbopogon, more commonly known as lemongrass. There are two chemotypes: Ceylon type and Java type. Opinions vary; some say that Ceylon is preferred, while others sing the praises of the java type. We’ll let you form your own opinion!

The origins of citronella oil can be traced back to Sri Lanka. Currently, China and Indonesia top the worldwide production of citronella and provide a staggering 40% of the world’s supply. Following closely are Taiwan, Guatemala, Jamaica, South Africa, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Honduras, India, Argentina and Mexico.



Citronella is believed to be a versatile healing oil and has been used for the following:

-insect repellent



-treatment of menstrual complaints

-used for relaxation

-used to combat fatigue 

Remember: this information is being provided strictly for educational purposes. The FDA has not approved citronella for medicinal use. The HSCG does not give medical advice and does not advise using or advertising citronella for medicinal purposes. 

The Battle of Citronella 

Using citronella as an insect repellent has become more commonplace, but it is not always welcome. In 2006, the EU banned citronella as an active ingredient in any insect repellent due to concerns about safety. Those who make perfumes are still able to use citronella for their blends, but it cannot be marketed as a repellent or be used for that purpose.

In 2012, Health Canada also banned the oil’s use as a repellent, but later lifted the ban in 2015. In the United States (as of the writing of this article), the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has determined that there is little to no threat to the environment when citronella is used as a topical insect repellent.

Final Thoughts

Citronella is still very popular in soaps and cosmetics, and is a fantastic top note in fragrance blends when combined with similar citrus scents or deeps, woodsy smells-think cedarwood and bergamot. And let’s be honest-anything that keeps mosquitoes away is well worth the recognizable twang of citronella!

Let’s Make a Coffee Bar!

If you’re like about 50% of the HSCG Staff, you need at least one cup of coffee per day to function!  Did you know that not only can you get a little energy boost from this miraculous bean water, but you can also use it in your soapmaking endeavors? It’s true! Let’s talk about taking you and your customer’s love for coffee to the next level with a coffee bar.

Coffee in the Shower 

There are a few ways you can go about using coffee in your soap; your vision for your final product will be the deciding factor that determines how you’ll use it.

Coffee Grounds 

Who doesn’t love a good exfoliant? Sugar is great, salt is well…salty, but coffee grounds are an unexpected winner too! Coffee grounds are larger than their sugary or salty comrades and provide a more aggressive exfoliant. This kind of exfoliant is great for people with rough heels or those who need a step above your typical exfoliant.

The most frequent question we receive about using coffee is, do I just use raw coffee?  The answer is both yes and no-again, it depends on your final product. If you decide to use raw grounds, beware that there is a moderate to high chance that the color of the grounds will bleed, and this will affect your final color. If you use used grounds instead, you will not have as noticeable of a bleeding color issue. Just be sure to dry the grounds before putting them in your soap to avoid clumping.

If you decide to use coffee grounds in your soap, when to add the exfoliant will depend on your process. If you are making cold or hot process soap, you can add the grounds at about .5-1.5 tsp per pound at trace-adjust this rate according to how exfoliating you’d like your finished product to be.

If you are making melt and pour soap, you’ll want to add the grounds while your soap is melted and at about 130 degrees. Make sure to stir well so that the grounds are suspended properly in the soap.

Liquid Coffee 

Many soapers don’t realize that you can actually substitute up to 100% of the water in your recipe with coffee! Using coffee for your lye water instead of water will lend a subtle scent and naturally brown coloring. It will also raise quite a stench in your workplace when mixed with your lye, so make sure you are in a well ventilated area that can be easily aired out. You’ll want to take the time to chill your coffee to at least room temperature; if you have the time, put it in the fridge overnight instead for the best results.

Although it might smell really badly when mixed, it is likely not because it is scorching-if you are using regular, unflavored coffee you will not need to worry about sugars being scorched by the lye. Keep in mind that if you do use a flavored coffee, it may contain sugars and you will need to account for this when it is time to mix your lye and coffee together.

A Few Notes About Brewing Your Soap 

As we mentioned, brewed coffee will discolor your soap – the color depends on how strong the coffee is. A weaker coffee will produce a less vibrant brown, while a stronger coffee will produce a much deeper color. If you want to lessen the impact of the color, you can choose to add titanium dioxide to your formulation, or forgo colorants altogether; the color of the coffee is desirable on it’s own.

When brewing your coffee, you may also want to brew using distilled water. Tap water can contain minerals and metals that are not favorable for soapmaking; using distilled water will help you to avoid that unpleasantness.

Let’s Brew Some Soap! 

For those of you who have been making soap and have an established recipe, feel free to substitute coffee as up to 100% of your water in your tried and true favorite. For those of you who are just starting out or don’t want to reuse an old recipe, we’ve got one just for you!

Please note: this recipe is provided under the assumption that you have familiarized yourself with the safety procedures and methods of soapmaking. If you have not yet done this, we recommend the following links: 

The Beginner’s Guide to Making Cold Process Soap

Hot Process for Beginners

Glossary of Soap-Related Terms

Coffee Bar Recipe 

This recipe will make 2 lbs of soap, and is super fatted at 5%. It can be used for either CP or HP methods. 

6.4 oz Coconut Oil

6.4 oz Palm Oil

15.36 oz Olive Oil

3.2 oz Shea Butter

.64 oz Stearic Acid

12.16 oz Water or Coffee

4.43 oz Lye

1 oz Fragrance (optional)

1.5 tsp Coffee Grounds (optional)

Final Thoughts

Making a coffee bar is a great way to expand your product line using a common ingredient that people already love. Do you make a coffee bar?