Dangers of scented candles: the TRUTH
Candles are a wonderful pastime that dates back 5,000 years. Heck, it doesn’t seem that long ago that whale oil was used to make candles. For those in ancient times, it was an essential source of light for survival. Perhaps we connect so passionately with candles because it takes us back to our ancestral roots. But the dangers of scented candles is often overlooked…
There’s a romantic ambience created, a relaxing atmosphere and stress-reliever. Wonderful scents fill the room, the light itself is soothing and if you sit next to it during a candle-light dinner, you feel its pleasant warmth.
But I hate to break it to you, those scented candles are bad news.
Do not fear though.💡
I’m here to provide you with all-natural alternatives so all these nice things don’t have to vanish in a puff of smoke.
Dangers of scented candles reasoning…
Well, we aren’t talking about all the candles. Those made from vegetable oils and natural ingredients can even do a good job of cleaning the air. The reason they’re hazardous is that ¾ of all the candles on the global market are paraffin, which is a by-product of crude oil. And they’re increasing in popularity: the European Candle Association reported a 24% purchase
increase between 2011-2016 for paraffin candles, probably due to the craze of aromatherapy.
So to be clear…
You’re burning fossil fuels in your house! There are no two ways about it.
Paraffin is a mixture of hydrocarbons obtained in the fractional distillation of crude oil; plain and simple. And we all know of the dangers of burning fossil fuels, not just on the environment, but to human health. Furthermore, when you burn paraffin, like other hydrocarbons, you get soot. And soot is essentially particulate matter, so not only can it make a mess of your walls, ceiling and furniture by accumulating a black layer, it can deposit deep into the lungs. Soot could also block your air conditioning.
So we’ve established paraffin candles are the problem. But to make matters worse, they’re scented, and that means chemically treating them.👩🏼🔬
Unfortunately, this isn’t a 100% natural oil fragrance; they’re laced with synthetic chemicals.
I know it’s a pleasant aroma, but the way I see it, you’re inhaling a nice smelling cigarette. And that’s crazy because I would never let someone smoke in my house, but I wouldn’t give a second thought to a candle. It could have been any type of candle before I started thoroughly researching the effects. So that’s all it is – synthetic odours. The paraffin wax is bleached (adding chlorine) and deodorized before going on the market because if it wasn’t, the natural smell would pretty awful!
You’ve got the dangers of the wax, chemical fragrances and the wick itself.
Oh gosh, the wick as well?!
The U.S. banned the production of lead wick’s in 2003, but that doesn’t stop people from bringing them back from their holidays as that’s very difficult to control. I don’t think anyone is going to ask to see your candles at customs…
It’s still relatively common to have lead wicks in Asia, with zinc being quite common also. This is an inorganic lead-type, and you’re only worsening the effects by making it inhalable when burning.
Soot is formed due to incomplete combustion and can remain in the air for hours – that’s just how candles work. If it were complete combustion, the flame would appear blue just like your stove. Also, burning fossil fuels emits carcinogens like formaldehyde, benzene, toluene and limonene.
What alternatives are there for?🤔
We’ve got 3 proven candle-types you can’t go wrong with because they’re all-natural. Avoid the dangers of scented candles with:
- Beeswax – they are the most expensive from the 3 but I’ll show you in the next section how you can cheaply make them at home. For manufacturers to legally put on the market, it has to be 100% beeswax, so rest assured, it’s completely natural. It’s wax secreted from the bees that are used to make the honeycomb. I’ve made an infographic comparing them to paraffin candles, and why it should be a no-brainer to make the switch. They also have a nice honey scent when burning, unsurprisingly, and burn for ⅓ longer than paraffin ones
2. Stearin candles – they’re made from palm oil most of the time but occasionally it could be coconut oil. Either way, it’s a plant-based product
3. Soy candles – made from soybeans, so they’re carbon-neutral when burned. Because when they’re sourced sustainably, for every batch of soybeans harvested for candle burning, a new one is planted. And just like the stearin and beeswax, they’re biodegradable.
Moreover, let’s mention some best practices when burning and purchasing candles:
- Read the label – For example, the FDA states that a soy candle can be labelled as such if it contains only 51% soy. The rest could be paraffin. You can easily find soy can candles that are 90%+ soy. The FDA has put a minimum concentration of 90% stearin though
- Check for certification on the label – you want to see the soy and stearin candles are responsibly sourced (beeswax isn’t an issue here). For example, for a stearin candle, you want to make sure it has the RSPO certificate: Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. If it doesn’t it’s probably not responsibly sourced and carbon-neutral
- Check the composition of the wick – read the label to see that it’s made of cotton or other natural substances. If you see lead or zinc, even if it’s 1 of our 3 preferred candle-types, put it back
- Increase burning efficiency – it will always be a form of incomplete combustion, but you can help matters by trimming the wick to ¼ inch and avoiding drafty areas
- Keep the room well ventilated before lighting and afterwards. Plus, take candles out of jars because that will increase incomplete combustion and deposit soot around the edges of the jar.
- Try to limit burning for 1 hour. That’s enough for a candle-light dinner, right?🕯
- For some reason, there are candles with more than one wick. If you decide to get it, cut off the remaining, or only have one lit. There should only be one wick per candle.
Make your beeswax candles
This can be fun and satisfying! You’re complete ingredient list is:
- Beeswax pellets
- Coconut oil
- Wick holder
- Slow cooker
Americans might be more familiar with the term crock-pot instead of a slow cooker, but it’s the same thing. Just make sure that if you are using one that you don’t use it for food again. I’ve inherited my parents old one when they upgraded. So if you’re like me, or find one on sale, purchase it strictly for candle-making. These ones are a good price. The reason a slow cooker is great is due to the steady burning temperature.
Beeswax has a VERY low flashpoint (204.4℃ – the temperature in which it can ignite in the air) so a slow cooker is great at keeping a consistently safe temperature. If you’re using a saucepan on the stove, that’s perfectly fine but you’ll need to keep a close eye on the wax so that it doesn’t catch fire.
Note you’ll see that we’re using a measuring jug in the comic. If any of the beeswaxes hardens in it, or the slow cooker, you can remelt it. Heck, remelt as many times as you like because it won’t affect the quality of the wax. Watch the video below for an explanation of the ingredients 🐝
We know paraffin and scented candles are not so innocent, and can be a real contributor to indoor air pollution. Thankfully, we can replace them with soy, stearin and beeswax. But it’s important to always read the label first, purchasing locally sourced ones when you can. Just remember to always check the composition of the wick if you’re bringing some back from Asia. And if you want to make your own, the comic will help you do just that.
Cleanse your home of indoor air pollution
If you like, check out my course on indoor air pollution, where we go into much more detail on combating mould, pollen, dust, chemicals and much more. Not to mention, I review the best HEPA filters, dehumidifiers and plants that’ll eat pollution for breakfast.
Check out the full informational video here.