Candles have a way to set the mood.
Whether it’s a nice relaxing bath or a romantic dinner, flickering candles make the atmosphere that much more enjoyable.
And while candles have a pretty innocent reputation, they aren’t exactly safe.
In fact, lighting a candle can actually decrease the air quality inside your home.
One Mother’s Story
When Meghan Budden lit two scented candles, she never gave it a second thought. The young mother simply wanted to create a festive environment in her home.
She then left the house and carried on with her day: “I didn’t think anything of it, I had them burning probably six or seven hours.” The next morning, Budden noticed that she had odd black spots in her nose.
She quickly rushed over to her child. “I picked up the baby to feed him and noticed that the inside of his nostril—it was all black.”
Budden suctioned her child’s nose and attempted to clean the soot with a saline solution. Despite her best efforts, her child’s nose still has spots. Alarmed, the young mother checked the label on her candles. Sure enough, the label warned not to burn candles for more than 3 hours at a time.
She shared her experience with CBS to warn other mothers of the risks associated with burning scented candles.
Why Are Scented Candles Toxic?
It’s All In The Wax
Candles, especially cheap ones, are typically made of parrafin wax. This wax is actually a highly toxic petroleum by-product.When burned, these candles release toxic compounds into the air, like toluene and benzene (1).
What’s more, scented candles contain chemicals that enhance this toxicity called VOCs (volatile organic compounds) (2).
These include formaldehyde, a carcinogenic compound that worsens breathing problems and irritates mucous tissues in the respiratory tract (3,4,5,6). It also causes nausea, vomiting, and a burning sensation in the eyes. Worse yet, the compound is linked to cognitive impairment (7).
Not surprisingly, the Daily Mail warns that “Research has shown some scented candles produce smoke laced with almost as many toxins as those produced by cigarettes.”(8)
“An occasional paraffin candle and its emissions will probably not affect you,” said Dr Amid Hamidi of South Carolina University, “But lighting many of them every day for years, or lighting them frequently in an unventilated bathroom, for example, may cause problems.”
The actually scents added to the candle aren’t much better: “fragrance” used in candles and other scented household products can contain up to 3000 different chemicals (9). 900 of these are known to be toxic, and some can actually increase in toxicity when combined (10).
While candle wicks used to be made of dangerous lead, modern candles contain much safer cotton wicks. If you purchased any candles before 2003, throw these lead-contaminated products away immediately (11).
Candle Do’s & Don’ts
To start, candles should not be burned for long periods of time. Read the label of your candle to find out what’s appropriate for your specific product.
You should also avoid burning them in a breezy area as that can lead to a more billowy flame. Dr. Lisa Liberatore warns that if you see any soot around the candle container, put it out immediately.
After blowing out your candle, you may safely open a window to let out the rush of smoke.
Before using your candle, make sure that the wick is trimmed to an 1/8th of an inch to keep the flame short and avoid soot.
If you’d like to fill your home is a lovely scent, opt for incense, natural potpourri, or an ultrasonic essential oil diffuser.
You can also make a room spray by placing a few drops of essential oil in a spray bottle full of water and shaking before use.
If you want to use candles, stick to the beeswax variety. If you absolutely want a scented candle, choose one infused with essential oils.