Do Flies Hate the Smell of Lemon?

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is; flies have a habit of turning up and buzzing around. Not only are these pests extremely annoying, but they can spread diseases and cause other issues with the bacteria they carry.

Whether on your kitchen counter or your dirty dishes, flies will show up, land, and leave something nasty.

Quick Answer:

Yes, flies are generally repelled by the smell of lemon. Using lemon infused with cloves is a common natural remedy to deter flies. Simply cut a lemon in half and insert cloves into each half, then place them where you want to repel flies. However, it should be noted that while this can help to deter flies, it may not be effective against a large infestation.

Any of the surface cleaners or insect repellents we grab seem to be scented with citrus fruits, and the spray bottles full of natural repellents all contain lemon.

Since all of these fly, insect, and mosquito repellents have a strong smell of lemon, the natural conclusion is that flies hate lemons. To find out, I filled a spray bottle with nothing but lemon juice and water and sprayed on and around fruit flies and house flies to see how much they hate lemon.

What I found was not what I expected at all when I used a lemon-scented spray to stop flies. 

Does Citrus Bother Flies

Some flies, like house flies, may momentarily be bothered and displaced by a fresh blast of citrus. As a preventative measure for fly infestations, pieces of citrus fruit or homemade sprays with a citrusy scent are not very effective, and rotting fruit might even attract fruit flies and other pests.

If the clean scent of lemon doesn’t work as a natural pest repellent, then why is it in pretty much every bug spray? 

Citrus II Hospital Germicidal Deodorizing Cleaner Gallon Refill, 128 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 4)

Most all-purpose spray and disinfecting spray contains the fresh scent of citrus because it is pleasing for us to smell. The formulas and oils that kill most pests can be pungent, and citrus is a neutral smell that most people find pleasing. Since it is not exactly effective at killing or even repelling flies, it is not necessary to add it to homemade pest sprays if you have other pleasing scents like peppermint or cinnamon. 

Scents That Repel Flies

Even though lemon is not the end-all-be-all to pest control, it can be used effectively to balance odors that are not as desirable. Killing insects with cloves is easier, but the smell of cloves is not as popular as lemon. A mixture can bring the best of both ingredients and make a better all-around spray to use in your home. 

Other scents that repel fly and have a much longer lingering effect, like the smell of basil or lavender plants, can be used instead of lemon when repelling is the goal of the spray. A surface cleaner and degreaser will benefit from lemon being added, but to stop insects like fruit flies and house flies, you will want stronger scents like cinnamon essential oils or even lemongrass essential oils. Mixing solutions can yield the best pesticide for your specific issues; some ideas are below.

ScentHow to ApplyEffects
CinnamonCrush and place in water or other liquid solutionWill repel flies as long as it is heavy in the air
HerbsGrow near windows and doors to naturally repel Stops flies from landing around entry points and can be picked and placed where flies are likely to hang out 
Essential OilsAdd drops to water or other base solutionThe right oils will kill and repel flies and other insects very effectively
White Wine or VodkaCan be used to distill oils to make them stronger as well as having their own insecticidal properties Will kill flies that are sprayed; some wine will attract flies if it begins to ferment
Apple Cider VinegarSpray on pests or leave in a bowl with sugar water and dish soap and Flies attracted by the sweet scent of apple cider land on the water but fall under and drown because of the dish soap 
Cayenne PepperSprinkle in areas with pests are likely to show upAnything that relies on scent to find food will be bothered by cayenne pepper, and direct contact with its powder or a solution made with cayenne will kill flies 


Cayenne pepper and cinnamon powder can be used dry and still retain most of the pesticide and repellent properties Sprinkling the powder around windowsills and door thresholds can greatly decrease the number of pests that enter your home, including flies, since they often crawl into homes.

Sprinkling powders or dropping cinnamon sticks in the bottom of trash cans and other rubbish collection areas can prevent maggots and other fly issues from forming. 


Essential oils and liquid additives in solutions that kill pests are very effective. Tea tree oil, eucalyptus essential oil, and peppermint essential oil are all effective insect repellents that don’t have the same health dangers as chemical repellents. The options for strong, natural, liquid insecticides and repellents are vast so experimenting with what you already have is a good way to figure out what works best for your pests. 


If you have a basket of fruit and you know it will become over-ripe fruit before you get around to cleaning it up then you can place fresh herbs like basil, lemongrass, or leaves from lemon balm plants to keep flies away longer. Planting fresh insect repellents like the citronella plant and basil plants or even an entire rosemary plant near entries to your home and waste collection areas can greatly reduce the number of pest nests that pop up around your property. 

How to Repel Flies with Lemons

It is possible to use lemon to repel flies, but other ingredients will be needed to make it effective. the initial blast of lemon directly at a group of flies will repel them and send them flying away. However, if the attractant that brought them is still there, then they will quickly return and continue to cause problems. 

In most cases, lemon should be added to help clean, sterilize, and mask some of the stronger chemicals that kill flies quickly. Using lemon in this way helps break down toxic residue, clean surfaces the flies have been crawling on, and help leave a fresh scent for you to enjoy.

On its own, lemon will not repel flies. 

Why Lemons Repel Bugs

There are other insects, like ants, that are more sensitive to lemon since they have to spend more time in contact with it, and they communicate with pheromones. Strong smells like lemon can make it hard for ants to find the food they were scouting for or return to their nests. These disoriented ants will eventually die if they cannot rejoin the colony. 

With lemon sprays, flies have the advantage of flying over counters with lemon scent residue, whereas crawling insects end up covered in it as they crawl through it. Roaches and other insects also groom, meaning they will ingest what they have crawled through, and depending on what’s mixed with the lemon, can kill them from the inside.

If flies never land on lemon-covered counters, it will have no effect, and since the smell is not one that bothers flies saving the citrus from other pests, that is a chance of stopping since flies do not hate the smell of lemon.