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:
- A case of votive beeswax candles
- 9-hour burn beeswax candles for power outages (we had one tonight)
- A case of tea lights for candle holders
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!
Discussion (282 Comments)
This actually made me consider… I’m a total scented candles fan.
This is an old article, but I want to point out that burning anything is going to release harmful particles. Also this “negative ion” nonsense is not true, and I’d like to see any proof of it. You know UV rays have negative ions? So you should never go in the sun if you think that.
Additionally, studies show that beeswax candles can release even more pollution than other candles, at around 35% more. They are a much thicker substance. Same with soy. There are NO safe candles, at all. So if you’re really worried about it, don’t use them at all. Because the safer candles do not exist, and beeswax does not “cleanse” the air. That is not even possible by burning something to clean the air.
What about melting soy wax in an elecrtic burner? Would that be the safest option?
Teresa Liddell Shepherd
I put an open bottle of essential oil in a warm place in every room/cupboard. Sometimes I put an incense stick at the back of radiators or anywhere else. For decorative effect I have an egg-shaped piece of wood – any shape or sculpture will do – sat in a base with essential oil so it soaks it up.
Thank you for “clearing the air” 🙂 But seriously, yes this nonsensical mess about which candles burn cleaner is dizzying. I am considering candle making and have been reading article after article and understand what you say: burning candles pollutes the indoor air, period. But since I love scented candles, I choose to offset the pollution by having ventilation and burning candles for small periods of time.
What about wax burners? I’ve got several and don’t use candles hardly at all anymore. I’m guessing that wax burners have the same issues, minus the wicks. Thoughts?
I mostly use essential oil diffusers. Really love them because they smell good and have emotional/medicinal benefits without the toxins.
Thanks for your post.
Interesting! Never would have thought candles could be harmful. What about scentsy warmers that just warm the wax, are they toxic? Could you just make your own beeswax candles and scent them with the EO? That way you still get the benefits of beeswax candles and the scent if essential oils. Just a thought. Love reading your post, however it depresses me to think of all the harmful things we are surrounded by how many more changes I would like to make.
The fragrance wax melts that you use in a warmer can cause terrible problems for pets. A friend has been using one for quite a while and during this time her beloved cat was getting sicker with
incessant scratching, pulling out its fur, runny eyes, vomiting. Finally found out that the wax melts being used to fragrance the air were causing the problem. She quit using the scentsy pot, and the cat recovered. All of this caused by the cat breathing this stuff in!
Hi Jamie! I know exactly how you feel about being depressed! It’s depressing because all the bad stuff surrounds us everywhere and we have to seek out the healthier alternatives. It’s time consuming, usually more costly, and stressful trying to make sure we are making all the right decisions! I wish life were easier sometimes! But we are both here, learning new things so I think we are both on the right track! 🙂 Good luck to you!
I’d love to read the response to this, I had the same question!
My husband and I actually make Soy Candles that are GMO and pesticide free from a responsible soy wax provider. We then layer the soy with pure botanical essential oils and a cotton only wick. It is possible to use natural only ingredients! The additional upside is the environment renewability and sustainability of using soy and they also burn about 5 times longer that most candles. If you’re ever interested in checking out our products or their benefits please do visit us at GibAndNimm.com.
I enjoy your posts, please keep them coming! Be well, Corinne
Hi Corinne, where do you get your non GMO soy from? I really think that is an important characteristic to keep in mind.
Thanks a million
The only supplier I know that carries a safer wax is NGI. It’s what I use when making candles. http://ecosoyabrands.com/products.html
Essential oils containing limonene should never be used in any candlewax. When burned the Limonene contacts the air and turns into formeldyhyde at the rate of two molecules of formeldyhyde for every one molecule of limonene introduced to the air during burning candles with the essential oils. Diffusing oils is perfectly safe please hear me it is only burning citrus oil’s with Limonene in them, that causes the reaction when they are burning and released into the air it then reacts with the air and causes formaldehyde molecules to be formed. The term natural only should never be used even with the central oils just because their natural does not mean that if used inappropriately like burning them and candles they can cause dangerous chemical reactions and cause toxins to build up in your home.
Yes, excellent point about the simple aldehyde formation! I wouldn’t have thought about it in this context.
This is a tough fight in my house. My husband loves scented candles especially during fall. He loves all the harvest-type scents. I want to try winning him over by purchasing a diffuser. Which one do you use? And which essential oils would you recommend for autumnal scents? Right now, I’m thinking cinnamon, but that’s about all I can think of.
How about heating apple cider in a pan on the stove with cinnamon sticks in it. Leave it on low and you will have a wonderful fall scent that you can also drink! I haven’t tried this but you could try heating cranberry juice for a different aroma.
I make spiced grape juice on stove or crockpot.it’s grape juice cinnimon stick,whole cloves,fresh lemon slices,and orange slices,bring to boil then simmer smells wonderful and juice is too.
You can also get a small crock pot add some mulling spices and leave it on all day. Very safe and the house smells amazing!
What all do you put in the crock pot?
Indeed, toss some red wine into that delicious mix and he will forget about the candles altogether
I use rosemary, cinnamon sticks and an apple spice …. on the stove top. Smells amazing
My husband is terribly allergic to scented candles, and when I’m pregnant (I am right now), I become allergic to candles (including scentsy wax melters) and even other peoples perfume. I break out in hives if I’m in someones house with candles burning right now. We like to put orange peal, cinnamon sticks, and cloves in a pan on the stove with water and let it simmer all day, it smells like fall 🙂 I also think you could get orange and cinnamon EO’s and diffuse them, or mix them with hot water in a spray bottle and spray carpet or furniture, but haven’t tried. Lastly, make an orange and clove pomander. Take an orange or a tangelo and poke little holes throughout the orange peal, then stick whole cloves into the holes, wrap ribbon around the orange and hang from door know, towel rack or Christmas tree. Smells delightful and totally natural!!!
Thanks, Caitlyn! I want to try that this Christmas. Approx. how long does one orange’s aroma last?
Orange essential oil & Clove Essential oil
cinnamon, pepermint, clove, frankinscense, balsalm,
I have a blend of clove, cinnamon, & orange that smells very fall-like. In a diffuser, you could do 2 drops of orange, 1 each of clove & cinnamon.
I’ve used DoTetrra Onguard for my fall scent. It’s wonderful!! I diffuse it almost daily during the fall. 🙂
i recently bought a candle warmer it warms the wax – u don’t light it – put the jar on it and it heats it up – i presume since u aren’t burning wick or candle, just emitting the smells it is safer
I have lots of Yankee Candles – guess I’ll use the candle warmer for them instead of tossing them.
doTERRA’s On Guard is a protective (immunity boosting) blend that has a nice fall scent with Wild Orange, Clove & Cinnamon. I also add a couple more drops Wild Orange and Clove to it in the diffuser.
i love Young Living oils and diffusers!! they smell amazing the Thieves is a great one with cinnamon and clove in it and has great health benefits also!!..
I diffuse cinnamon bark essential oil andborange essential oil and maybe add in a drop of clove for a fall scent.
What is the best way to diffuse essential oils for scent?
Aroma diffuser!! Check out Muji they make a really nice one, you just put in water and a couple drops and watch the beautifully diffused water fill the air!
The best way to get essential oils into the air is a diffuser. After I gave my only diffuser to my mom when she had a cold, I purchased a small ceramic kettle and have been heartily boiling water and oils in that (until my new diffuser comes). Also boiling water in a ceramic Corning Ware dish works. Anything to get the water diffused into the air will do.
I’ve used some diffusers from spark naturals that work quite well and if you want to go a different way you could also mix them in witj candles that you make!
If you have a diffuser just add water and a few drops of your favorite essential oil. If you have pets then Purification is great and really helps with odors. I like to use Lemon for a clean, fresh scent. Thieves is a favorite to support my families immune system and it smells amazing! Get creative and mix oils too. There is no wrong answer here. Whatever you enjoy. Good luck!
Not my candles too! Oh well, time for beeswax, I like the smell anyway. Can’t believe I didn’t put two and two together after seeing the soot on my glass candle jars. Great post. 🙂
I too have been weaning myself away from “traditional” scented candles. I love the soft glow and watching the gentle flicker of the flame. I switched to soy and for a time “oil burners” for aroma therapy. Guess it’s time to try beeswax 🙂
I never gave any thought to the soot before! I just assumed that’s what happens when you burn candles : (
I have a package of beeswax pastilles that’s kind of going to waste. Could I melt those down in a glass container and use that? Also, where could I buy non-toxic wicks for that? And lastly, can I add essential oils to homemade beeswax candles and get the same effect?? Thank you Katie!
Now you’ve got my brain going! I also have a bag of (organic?) beeswax pastilles with no future. Perhaps we could make beeswax candles with EOs and cotton wicks? Worth a shot!
Yes! Of course! That’s what we use to make beeswax candles and they are amazing! Add 10-20 drops of your favorite essential oils snd voila!
Do you just use plain beeswax (with your EO)? We are beekeepers and have a little beeswax leftover from extracting last time. Would love to do this with it. I made candles years ago, so still have some supplies for them.
Have you read that burning EO at a high temp is not good for the brain it causes migraines.
Essential oils should not be used in candles as they emit toxins when burned.
do you have evidence of that (EO emiting toxins when burned)? is it low grade EOs?
I totally get your opening statement! There’s just something about candles that’s so appealing. Then you learn the truth! I discovered beeswax candles on your site and love them. I do have to admit that I have a soy candle right now. I’m pretty sure it’s scented with only essential oils but I’m not positive… it was a little splurge and I hope it’s not quietly making our air toxic! Thanks for another great post 😀
I love this article! I have been using soy, coconut and beeswax candles for a couple years now. I save the nibs from burnt out candles and melt them down into a mason jar with a piece of cotton butcher string with a few staples added to one end for weight as a wick to make a “new” candle that’s basically free to me about 2 or 3 times a year. I didn’t know about the negative ions in beeswax candles and am wondering if coconut wax has a similar effect?
This article is full of misinformation
Beeswax doesn’t release negative ions
paraffin wax burning is not toxic is releases vapor and carbon dioxide
What difference does it make if your soywax is gmo? Your not eating it are you.
The biggest problem with scented candles is the scent and now, most of them are phthalate free. But if your still worried make your candles with essential oil.
Please post the links to the reseach done on Parifin wax and the claims in this article. A lot of inaccuarate information. And like Pete stated, GMO soy does not change the way the wax burns.