Picture this: It’s your date night at home. You’ve pulled all the stops to make the occasion special for both of you. Nothing screams romance like a candle-lit dinner—just the two of you eyeing each other in the evening glow.
But, wait, could those candles be causing indoor air pollution and affecting your long-term health?
The unique glow of a candle is soothing and inviting. It provides the perfect ambiance to unwind after a long, stressful day at work. Candles help to enhance your home comfort and transform it into a relaxing haven.
Unfortunately, these same candles may be a health hazard. Yes — they could be affecting your indoor air quality.
Have you ever had a stuffy nose after lighting a candle in your living room? Or felt an itch in your throat after breathing in a scented candle?
These could be a reason for concern and the topic of our discussion today.
How do candles pollute indoor air?
Most candles are made of paraffin wax which is a by-product of petroleum. The paraffin has to be deodorized and bleached before it is made into wax.
Some of these candles also come with lead-core wicks. But, most countries have now banned them due to concerns over lead poisoning, especially among young children.
When burned, the candle releases particulate matter (candle soot) into the air. A burning candle releases hydrogen and carbon from the wax. These two compounds combine with oxygen in the air to produce carbon dioxide and water vapor.
It also releases trace gases, smoke, and soot.
Now, carbon dioxide isn’t exactly safe. Indeed, it’s responsible, among other greenhouse gases, for global warming. The toxic carcinogens emitted decrease the air quality in your room and can be harmful to your health in large amounts.
Shockingly, some of the trace toxins released from burning candles, such as formaldehyde, toluene, and benzene, are similar to those emitted when burning diesel fuel.
As for scented candles, which are popular with homeowners, the risk posed is much higher than conventional candles. They release a substantially higher amount of particulate matter due to the extra ingredients that give them the added smell.
Fragrances in scented candles sometimes contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause irritation and allergic reactions. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals could lead to asthma or even lung cancer.
Besides having adverse health effects, burning candles also affects one’s surroundings. Soot, a by-product of burning candles, can cause discolored walls, ceilings, and fabrics.
You may notice, for example, a dingy gray look on your curtains or a black film on some plastic items in your house after prolonged use of burning candles.
Are there safer alternatives to regular candles?
Yes, a few alternatives can help recreate the blissful ambiance of a candle glow without the adverse health effects.
Beeswax candles are safe, environmentally friendly, and non-toxic. They make an ideal option to keep your home free of soot and smoke.
They help clean the air by producing negative ions that neutralize pollutants.
Beeswax also burns three times longer than paraffin candles. While it has no added fragrance, it still emits a natural, subtle smell of honey.
In addition, beeswax candles are hypo-allergenic hence suitable for people with allergies.
Derived from soybean oil, soy-based candles are yet another worthy sustainable alternative to scented candles.
They are free of toxins and burn 50% longer than the standard paraffin candles. Soy wax spills are also easy to clean up by simply using soap and water.
Essential oil diffusers
If you are an aromatherapy enthusiast, then you’ll like essential oil diffusers. This safe, smoke-free alternative fills your home with exotic scents when diffused.
They come in various shapes and sizes, so you can select one that blends with your surroundings.
Oil diffusers have also been scientifically proven to help deal with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Tips for picking a safer candle
When shopping for candles, there are three key components you should look for — wax, wick, and aroma. Here is why you should assess each element keenly before making that purchase:
As you buy your candle, ensure the wax ingredients are anything but paraffin. Consider other options like soy wax, beeswax, or coconut wax which are more Eco-friendly.
However, remain cautious. Some brands may blend candle waxes to get the best of both worlds. Therefore, a candle will bear the label “made with soy wax,” but it has been blended with other ingredients like petroleum in the real sense.
To avoid this, look for candles labeled ‘paraffin-free,’ or follow up with the company if you are unsure about the ingredients.
Candles made with ‘fragrance’ are a red flag that you should avoid. This is because most scents are made from synthetic petrochemicals, which can be harmful to human health.
Instead, go for candles scented with essential oils only as they are derived from plants and still provide a naturally alluring aroma.
Beware of candle wicks that contain metal as they might be toxic. Metal-cored wicks are used with a few candles to keep the wick upright while burning. However, these metals may contain zinc or, worse, lead, which many countries have banned.
Choose wicks that are made purely from cotton or hemp.
Are candles that bad for indoor air quality after all? Probably not. You only need to stay proactive in choosing candles to keep your indoor air quality in check. Otherwise, consider safe and non-toxic alternatives. They still provide an inviting scent that won’t compromise your home’s air quality.