Why I Don’t Use Scented Candles

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The problem with most scented candles and non-toxic alternatives
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I’ll admit- sometimes, I wish I could climb back into my years of ignorance is bliss and forget everything I’ve learned about real food and natural living. It would be so easy to go back to before I knew about the problems with vegetable oils, or sugar, or processed grains.

It would be so easy to feed my kids cereal out of a bag and use regular laundry detergent. But I can’t.

One of the areas I most wish this about is scented candles. Even innocent looking scented candles with their soft warm glow have their dirty secrets. Ready to throw your hands up in despair that everything is toxic?

Hear me out:

How are Scented Candles Made?

Though they seem safe, regular scented candles are a huge source of indoor air pollution and they put off chemicals that are considered just as dangerous as second-hand smoke. Paraffin is a petroleum waste product and has to be deodorized and chemically bleached before it can be made in to wax. (source)

Most candles are made of paraffin wax, which creates highly toxic benzene and toluene when burned (both are known carcinogens). In fact, the toxins released from paraffin candles are the same as those found in diesel fuel fumes.

On top of that, many scented candles also have wicks that contain heavy metals like lead, and even a few hours of burning them can create levels of airborne heavy metals that are much higher than the acceptable limits. In the US, candle wicks are supposed to be made of cotton or paper, but studies have found that as much as 30% of candles contain heavy metals in the wicks.

“A candle with a lead-core wick releases five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children and exceeds EPA pollution standards for outdoor air, says the CPSC, which is why they banned lead wicks in 2003. Exposure to high amounts of lead has been linked to hormone disruption, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and numerous health problems.” (source)

Many candles also contain artificial scents and dyes, which release additional chemicals when burned. (source)

“Other toxic chemicals that may be present in the paraffin mixture and released through burning include: Acetone, Trichlorofluoromethane, Carbon Disulfide, 2-Butanone, Trichloroethane, Trichloroethene, Carbon Tetrachloride, Tetrachloroethene, Chlorobenzene, Ethylbenzene, Styrene, Xylene, Phenol, Cresol, Cyclopentene. Some of the toxins are found in other products such as paint, laquer and varnish removers– that’s potent and powerful stuff!” (from Keeper of the Home)


“Petro-soot from paraffin candles gives off the same soot as the exhaust of a diesel engine, and is considered just as dangerous as second hand smoke, causing problems from headaches to lung cancer. Paraffin fumes have been found to cause tumors in the kidneys and liver of lab animals.” (source)

When I first realized all the problems with scented (and unscented paraffin based candles) candles, I was really disappointed. Thankfully, I found some great alternatives…

Alternatives to Scented Candles

Fortunately, there are some great alternatives to scented candles and after trying them, I realize I like the alternatives more.

One alternative is soy-based candles, but the majority of soy is genetically modified, and I prefer to not use soy at all. The best alternative I’ve found is beeswax candles, which are not only safe, but have the added benefit of helping clean indoor air.

I’ve talked about how we use them to help purify indoor air, and beeswax candles give off the warm glow of candles without the toxic effects.

Beeswax candles emit negative ions, which help reduce positively charged ions in the air. From the dictionary:

“Positive ions, or cations, are formed by the loss of electrons; negative ions, or anions, are formed by the gain of electrons. An atom that has either lost or gained one or more electrons, so that it has an electrical charge. Ions can be either positively or negatively charged.”

Positive ions are generated by electrical devices, by scented candles, by walking across carpet, and even by heating/cooling systems. They are a fact of life, but they can carry everything from dust to pollen to toxic mold, so it is important to reduce them. Indoor air typically has a higher concentration of positive ions.

This is where negatively charged ions come in. They bind together and have a heavier molecular weight so they are no longer floating around the air.

Beeswax candles are a source of negative ions, and can help reduce indoor air pollution. (Here are some other ways to improve indoor air quality)

What we Use

I threw out all of our scented candles and now just keep on hand:

I also found beeswax birthday candles to use in place of conventional birthday candles. (We sometimes put candles in our banana nut muffins at birthday breakfasts)

The one thing I did miss about scented candles was the scent, so I also started diffusing essential oils to freshen indoor air. My favorite oils to diffuse are peppermint, citrus and lavender.

Detoxing our indoor air

After I discovered the problems with scented candles, I also wanted to find out what I could do to reduce/remove the pollutants I had already released in to our home. I found out about beeswax candles (which I had already used to replace our scented candles), salt lamps and indoor plants.

I started using these methods to detox our indoor air. We now have salt lamps and indoor plants in most rooms and when I need/want to burn candles, I use beeswax.

I wish sometimes that I could use conventional scented candles, but am happy to be able to provide a healthier alternative to my family with beeswax candles and essential oils for scent.

Do you use scented candles? Ever considered the alternatives? Tell me below!


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Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


282 responses to “Why I Don’t Use Scented Candles”

  1. Mic Harris Avatar
    Mic Harris

    I am painfully allergic to beeswax, it causes my skin to crack open. My lips will crack to til bleeding – especially at the corners of my mouth. Can you recommend an alternative? I’ve seen mixed reviews for Soy candles, and I can’t seem to find much else. I appreciate your thoughtful commentary.

  2. Kirstyn Avatar

    I appreciate the input from those who scent their homes simply using a pot to simmer cinnamon, cloves, orange rinds, etc. I also think that trying those flameless candles with the new more realistic flickering bulbs might help satisfy the desire for the glow of candlelight, while the spicy blend simmers on the stove.

    Nevertheless I’d be interested in making my own candles using a blend of coconut and olive oil and possibly soybean oil or even palm oil. I find that beeswax is expensive and prefer to avoid any animal derived products anyway. However, I’ve read that certain candles might be unable to produce a satifactory scent using essential oils, unless the oils are potent.

    Essential oils aren’t really things I want to try burning in a candle. I would like to know if Katie or anyone on this thread has ever tried infusing cinnamon, cloves, or other spices into coconut or other oils before incorporating them into an all veggie based candle and producing a pleasing (not so mild that it’s unnoticeable, and not overpowering), and lasting scent. I am trying to achieve that same “autumn scents simmering in a crockpot” aroma using plant-based waxes and simple, common spices in a hand made candle. Anyone tried this?

  3. Cara Avatar

    Katie, I got rid of my paraffin candles a whille ago after finding all this out. I did try the natural beeswax candles and find they do not produce any scent at all. I found this article that lists the safest non toxic candles for 2019, and a lot of them are seriously expensive. I am thinking about the more affordable Wax & Oils company candles. I would probably purchase straight from the website to ensure authenticity. The other candle I thought looked interesting was the Peace Gorilla, based on a coconut wax. The first candle I referenced above uses soy wax. I also avoid eating and using any soy products on my skin, etc. but what’s the issue in using candles crafted from soy? I had ED so I freaked worrying about that getting worse. I am using Aromascape currently, however as they burn down they tend to make me sneeze and smell like burning chemicals, which perhaps means they are putting other chemicals in there w/out putting them on the label, and I think they might also contain paraffin.

  4. Karri Avatar

    Do you know of any scientific research articles that show that beeswax candles produce negative ions or are hypoallergenic? Would you mind sharing? I’m very interested in this topic but haven’t been able to find any research supporting it.

  5. Ben Avatar

    I don’t understand how you finish the article with, “The one thing I did miss about scented candles was the scent, so I also started diffusing essential oils to freshen indoor air. My favorite oils to diffuse are peppermint, citrus and lavender.”
    Why would you inform people of all the dangers of scented candles, but then turn around and completely endorse “essential oils”? First of all, there is no such thing as “essential” oils. Its a term coined by Gary Young, the brain-injured creator of Young Living. I strongly recommend you read up on him. He didn’t make the cut as a doctor but decided to practice anyone in places like Mexico. The man committed myriad crimes against his “patients”, such as treated cancer patients with cyanide pills. When his clinics were finally shut down, he came back to the States and invented essential oils.
    Take 30 minutes and do some homework on essential oils. They are about as natural as cigarettes, and more carcinogenic. Not to mention absolutely toxic to pets, especially cats. The site raves that it’s 100% safe for pets, but that’s the beauty of being in a completely unregulated industry. You can say whatever you want”essential” oils. I would burn a 1000 candles in my home before I’d put a drop essential oil anywhere. That’s an obvious overstatement and in truth I wouldn’t use either in my home or around my loved ones. I just can’ wrap my head around people demonizing the burning of one kind of chemical slurry for an even less known chemical concoction. At least scented candles have been around long enough for us to see some of the long-term health effects. In the opinion on the scientific community, essential oils as an alternative to scented candles is about as safe as vaping as an alternative for smoking. In case you’ve been living under a rock these last few years, do a Google search on the ‘health effects of vaping’. And then go buy a pack of smokes, cause you’ll live way longer.
    Stop blindly buying into whatever new fad comes along and start learning from history. More chemicals will never equal better and ‘all-natural’ is a very effective marketing ploy with no accountability. If you HAVE to have scents in your home, then you unfortunately HAVE to accept the possible health risks. Unless you are growing flowers and trees in your living room, there is NO natural and 100% SAFE way to artificially scent the air. The air isn’t supposed to be scented. If it is, it’s because you added chemicals. And almost 100% of the time, those chemicals will prove more harmful than healthy. So either get over your need for scents or accept the risks to yours and your family’s health. There are no shortcuts and magic formulas.

  6. Greg Nelson Avatar
    Greg Nelson

    I highly recommend making your own candles with a commercial wax melters. Coogar Products has some great options.

  7. Lauren Ruiz Avatar
    Lauren Ruiz

    Do you know anything about essential oil diffusers, as far as their safety to our health?

    I recently caved and bought some cheap scented candles because of how expensive the alternatives can be and because I was bored with the unscented ones. I missed them. But I already feel a little sick and my partner recently mentioned off-hand how toxic conventional candles can be. “Yes, yes, I know.” 🙁 So…I’m going to try to return/toss these. And remember to stay the course next time.

    I’ll feel better in the end. 🙂

  8. Danica Avatar

    Thanks for informative post! I bumped into it doing a search on “toxic tealights.” We had a lovely dinner at a friend’s house a few days ago (with the exception of the many, many tealights that were lit in multiple “tealight holders” around the room). I know the visual is very pretty, you enter into a darkened room with 40 or 50 tealights burning in their holders. It’s probably fine when the candles are first lit, but once they became completely liquefied, I could smell the overpowering odor of gas or diesel. With a massive headache, we made excuses and left early. Three days later, I still have the headache, not as severe as the night of. I suppose it makes sense when you think about it. Ordinary candles drip and get smaller, but tealights continue to burn in the liquid wax. Maybe the wax heats up beyond its smoke point, (if that’s what the term is) and hence the diesel smell. I realize my reaction to the tealights is more extreme than most, I wonder if others have experienced the same thing?

  9. Sandy Avatar

    What is your opinion about using nonorganic beeswax candles? Has there ever been an air quality test to check for pesticides that you know of?

  10. Claudia Avatar

    Hi! Thank you for posting this. I had no idea candles were so bad. I went to a little store yesterday and everything was organic and natural and i was in love so i decided i wanted to turn my home into a peaceful clean natural space. But i love candles. Which oils do you use to diffuse for smells ?

  11. Jesselle Rodriguez Avatar
    Jesselle Rodriguez

    I couldn’t imagine getting rid of scented candles so I had to do some research because I was constantly getting migraines! I love having my home smell good and do not use any aerosol cans either. My alternative is Partylite! The wicks are cotton and the wax is food Grade! Natural and non toxic!!

  12. Simon Avatar

    Your sources are awful and you obviously haven’t read them or you would have seen that beeswax candles are equally as ‘polluting’ as mineral wax (from your own ‘source’). You take minuscule, irrelevant comments and try to apply them as fact to fit your warped idea of a healthy environment. Just another example of an the uneducated quoting ‘science’ to the masses and getting it all completely wrong. I really don’t care one iota how you live your life, but please stop spreading this garbage as fact. It is toxic.

    1. Jo Avatar

      Hi Simon, i’m interested to learn more about the potential effects of beeswax. Could you link me to a good source?

  13. Samone Avatar

    Thank you, Katie, for sharing this and the many wonderful pages of information you share. I tried to look up information about burning waxes, and got inundated with SEO-optimized sites saying it was crazy to think wax could be toxic. Even CNN joined the candle discussion to debunk the suspicion.

    Your site floated to my attention like a butterfly through the haze. I was so relieved when I saw your link.

    It’s getting harder and harder to source fair, objective information. There are fewer sites I reliably feel I can trust because back-door endorsements erode the authenticity of the creator. Thank you for being one of the few creators who still exercise integrity.

  14. Anita Marskamp Avatar
    Anita Marskamp

    Hi Katie,
    Study shows there is no health issues on burning candles

  15. Cate Avatar

    The only thing I will burn now is unscented 100% beeswax tea lights ( candles are a potential fire hazard) due to having pets in the home. One of the things that saddens me the most, is how big scented candles / burning essential oils / inscense sticks and diffusers are. Yes, they are lovely, I cannot deny but most people have pets and essential oils are toxic to our pets.

  16. mea Avatar

    Hi I am doing a project on the issue with candles dose anyone have any helpful comments they can give me to help with my project

  17. Mea Avatar

    Hi I’m a six grader from Winston Churchill middle school and I am doing a project on harmful chemicals in candles and I would like to ask you some questions for my project. 1)what healthy candles company would u recommend. 2) how did u first find out about the issues with candles.3)do you have any interesting facts about candles thank you for your time?

  18. Jeanne Avatar

    Thank you!
    I did not know that about the toxins and lead in the wicks.
    You are a life saver.!
    I had an urge to make beeswax candles because I love that warm honey scent and was looking for ideas and saw your blog. Thank you so much .You are creating good in th world.All blessings to you always.

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