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The Dirty Truth about Candles and Indoor Air Quality

Your favorite candles are hiding something…the negative correlation between candles and indoor air quality.

Candles create a relaxing, intimate environment in your home. As accents during family celebrations and holidays, candles remind us of joyful times with loved ones. A dining table set with candles is an elegant statement, literally lighting up the room. And many people use scented candles to freshen their homes.

Sadly, scented candles may be a health hazard. The dirty truth is that a conventional candle contributes to indoor air pollution, posing serious health risks by poisoning the air in your home. Candles can effectively enhance or poison our home’s air quality depending on the types of candles chosen by consumers.


The Problem with Conventional Candles

Commonly found candles contribute to indoor air pollution by producing invisible particles and placing particulate matter into the air. This dirties the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in your home or workplace. Scientific studies have shown a link between these particulates and cancer. 

Most candles are made from paraffin and have toxic metal wicks. Paraffin is a petroleum by-product, the lowest and nastiest goop in the oil barrel after oil and gas are produced. This residue is treated with stabilizing chemicals and bleached to be used in a variety of products. Paraffin-based candles produce smoke and soot as a byproduct. Even unscented, dye-free paraffin candles release pollutants into your home’s air.

SEE ALSO: Why Do I Need to Change My Home Air Filter?


Scented Candles aren’t as Sweet as You Thought

Scented candles also release toxins and soot into your home’s air. This in turn contaminates vents and ducts while air is redistributed into the home through the HVAC system. Fragrance is also dangerous. Did you know up to 90 percent of fragrances are made from chemicals? These fragrances often contain phthalates (hormone-disrupting chemicals) and other harmful chemicals such as toluene, benzyl acetate, limonene acetone, and phenol. Synthetic fragrances in paraffin candles are the worst health-wise, as these emit toluene, benzene – both volatile organic compounds linked to cancer – formaldehyde, lead, tin, zinc, benzopyrene, naphthalene, acetyldehyde, acrolein, polychlorodibenzo-p-dioxins, polychlorodibenzofurans (PCDD and PCDF), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), alkanes, wax esters alkanic and alkenoic acids, alkenes, and particulates which all are toxic. 


Candles And Indoor Air Quality

Soot particles invade the deepest areas of the lungs, lower respiratory tract, and alveoli. Inhaling these pollutants and known carcinogens contributes to the development of health risks. Common allergies, asthma, puberty disruptions, hormone alteration, early menopause, skin, eye, and lung irritations and the often deadly killer- cancer- have been linked to candle toxins. 

A 2001 report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that burning candles in enclosed spaces causes air pollution, resulting in indoor air lead concentrations above EPA-recommendations. This lead is commonly found in the soot resulting from the metal-core wicks that help keep the wick standing. (United States EPA-600/R-01-001, Environmental Protection Agency, January 2001)


Candle Choices and Health Considerations

Thankfully, there are alternatives to petroleum (paraffin) based, toxin scented candles. The healthiest candles include:

  • beeswax and organic soy candles 
  • wicks made from braided cotton or paper using a cellulose core to prevent the wick from falling over
  • scents which are plant based, or all-natural essential oils (These usually don’t trigger asthma and have a therapeutic effect.)


Beeswax Candles

Beeswax is a naturally occurring, non-toxic alternative to conventional candle ingredients. It allows for complete burning of the wax and wick because of its hot flame. Additionally, beeswax gives a slow, even burning, dripless, clean, smoke-free, soot-free burn, leaving no inorganic byproducts or chemicals. Beeswax candles also release a slight honey fragrance and have a golden bright light. It also cleanses indoor air of odors and allergens.


Look Out for Soy Candles

Another alternative to conventional candles is soy, which is also a clean burning and healthy alternative to paraffin candles. Soy wax candles made with pesticide-free, non-growth-modified-organisms (non-GMOs) soy plants are a clean, easily renewable choice. GMO soy is a pesticide intensive, high water usage genetically modified crop to cultivate. This means chemicals have been introduced to make the plant more drought, mold, or freeze resistant -to name a few reasons behind GMO’s- but this alteration of the organic plant has forever chemically modified this plant. 

These chemical deletions and additives are passed along to the consumer. It is estimated that 91% of the soy grown in the US is genetically modified. Unless it boasts the USDA-certified organic label, it’s likely that your soy candle is made from GMO soy. It can be difficult to be certain your soy candle is 100% soy (for example, not 10% soy and 90% paraffin). 


Palm Oil Candles

Palm oil candles also burn cleanly, however the controversy over palm tree plantations being responsible for the destruction of rainforests makes these a questionable choice.

Any of these options will allow you to enjoy both your candles and good indoor air quality.


Tips for Burning Candles in Your Home or Workplace

Even the healthiest candles can be dangerous if mishandled, so remember their open flames and take precautions to prevent an unexpected fire. Follow these tips in order to minimize any negative health impact:

  •               Trim candle wicks to a quarter of an inch or less to minimize smoke and soot
  •               Consume only beeswax or soy candles with cotton or paper wicks
  •               Choose unscented candles when possible and diffuse essential oils for aroma 
  •               Only burn candles in well-ventilated areas
  •               Consider alternatives such as candle warmers or diffusers
  •               Never, ever leave burning candles unattended
  •               Keep children and pets away from lighted candles by placing candles out of reach
  •               Use sturdy candle holders
  •               Keep candles clear of combustible materials 


Candles and HVAC Filters

The soot and smoke released when conventional candles are burned cause HVAC filters to become dirty and clog up quickly, causing the system to stop running. If you regularly burn candles in your home or workplace, check and change all HVAC filters often to ensure cleaner air is circulating in the enclosed environment.

When purchased and used correctly, candles continue to evoke pleasant memories, enhance the ambience of a home, and make elegant statements. Thanks to scientists, researchers, and government agencies revealing the truth about toxins, there are more and more manufacturers making pure, safe candles. The trick is taking time to find these candles. Aren’t you worth it? Choose the healthiest candles and educate others on the risks to burning candles in the home. 

For inquiries regarding candles and indoor air quality, or your HVAC system, don’t hesitate to contact your trusted, local HVAC company.

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