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!

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. Chriss H. Avatar
    Chriss H.

    Any suggestions for salt lamps? I’ve been interested in them for awhile now, but being somewhat broke, I can’t quite afford to try some random item.

    1. Louise Avatar

      I got mine from mercola.com
      Dr Mercola has lots of very good, informative articles including one on salt lamps. Love his website and his products!!

  2. Claude Avatar

    Thank you so much for this well-researched (yet horrifying) info!!
    I was wondering what you can tell me about diffusing oils. I’ve been using the same ceramic oil diffuser for years (you know the kind they sell at Body Shop with a tealite candle on the bottom and a little “bowl” on top where you put the oil). I recently tried using essential oils mixed with a little water to avoid the chemicals in the diffuser oil but that did not work well at all (i.e. no detectable scent). Any ideas about an alternative?

  3. Belinda Avatar

    My sister-in-law actually told me about this a few months ago. Instead of tossing all my candles, and I have a lot, I bought one of those warming bases. It warms the candle and scents the whole room without burning the actual candle. I have bought a few healthier candles for burning because I do like seeing the flickering fire too sometimes.

    1. Nicola Avatar

      The problem is not only with burning the candle, though. The scents of most candles are actually neuro-toxic. The chemicals that make up perfumes, scents, etc., are actually harmful to our brains and nervous systems when they are released in the air whether or not they are burned. This also applies to perfumes, body sprays, scented lotions, etc. They can cause many symptoms, but whether or not one experiences symptoms, these chemicals are certainly doing damage to the body, which can even be cumulative. (See the abstract of this study for more info: “Acute toxic effects of fragrance products” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9577937.

      Please, please do the research and consider using essential oils or herbs as an alternative to air fresheners, scentsy wax, candles, perfumes, etc!

      More info here: “Neurotoxins: As far back as 1986, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences identified fragrance ingredients as one of six categories of neurotoxins (chemicals that are toxic to the brain) that should be thoroughly investigated for impacts on human health.”

  4. jake Avatar

    Talk to a pulmonologist (lung doctor) about breathing in aerosolized beeswax from candles. S/he will tell you that the beeswax is horrible for your lungs. beeswax candles leave little particles in your lungs that your body can’t get rid of. Beeswax candles are fine for outdoor use but not indoors.

    1. Alyssa Avatar

      I am a beekeeper and sell beeswax candles I make from my beeswax. I have done extensive research on burning beeswax and I have never heard of this. I don’t want to discount your doctor but I would need some documentation in this to be swayed.

          1. Michelle Avatar

            Funniest thing I have read all day! lol
            Thank you

        1. MJ Furniss Avatar
          MJ Furniss

          Burning any candles produces black carbon (soot) and fine particulates. Both are bad for healkth. We all love candles but the idea that natural wax (soy, beeswax) don’t pollute is simply incorrect. Candles burn with incomplete combustion and that’s the primary problem. Both soy and beeswax may contain environmental pollutants as well and there is no way to confirm that they do not. That candles are bad for indoor air is an “inconvenient truth”. 🙁

      1. Jo Avatar

        Are there any other suggestions for vegans who do not want to use beeswax candles?

  5. Lorena Avatar

    How do you diffuse essential oils? Do you have a specific brand diffuser you like to use? Thank you.

        1. Alexis Hadden Avatar
          Alexis Hadden

          Root Candles are a big “no” from me. The wax is a “blend”, and the scents are just as bad as brands like Yankee Candle.

          Many of the standard artificial fragrances give me bad headaches when I’m exposed to them. Root Candles, which I tried because they claimed beeswax and essential oils, is as bad as the rest of them. They omit the full details on what’s included. And even their “unscented” candles had a fragrance to them that wasn’t the natural smell of beeswax, and gave me headaches.

          Right now, if you can get a hold of candles from a 100% beeswax brand like Bluecorn, Big Dipper (both US), or Honey Candles (Canada). You are better off.

  6. Rachel Avatar

    I cannot believe you posted this within an hour of the first time in many months I have burned candles… I knew better even though the details were not something I had researched. Sigh, off to blow out the candles and google how to make my own with beeswax and essential oil. Thank you for the post even if the truth makes me sad 😉 !

  7. Bobbie Avatar

    Do Himalayan Salt Lamps provide the same benefit – providing negative ions to bind with positive?


    1. Kim Avatar

      I used to love my candles….until I realized that the “dirt” on one part of our ceiling was really soot (and that we had been breathing it in, I would have gladly sacrificed the ceiling paint to continue the candles). Sadly. I came to the conclusion that we don’t need to be breathing in anything burned in our indoor air, so the candles have gone and we keep our lovely Vermont castings wood stove for power outages (I LOVE a wood fire; can you hear me sobbing?). All these decisions were made while we watched several friends go through bouts with different cancers and realized that the soot and wood smoke were factors that couldn’t be ignored. Now, I use essential oils in a diffuser so that they do not reach too high a temperature. They’re lovely. And the salt lamps I got are really beautiful and calming.

      Note that if your pets ever react to something, that is your own personal scientific animal test, so saving them will save your family. I really wish I had figured this out when our dear kitty was still alive.

  8. Reni Avatar

    I’ve had my suspicions about scented candles which is why I’ve cut them out. That artificial scent has to be bad for you some how. Glad I made that decision. Definitely will be trying beeswax candles. Thanks for the info!

    1. Neil Sharma Avatar
      Neil Sharma

      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.

      1. Sara Avatar

        What about melting soy wax in an elecrtic burner? Would that be the safest option?

      2. Teresa Liddell Shepherd Avatar
        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.

      3. Thomas Avatar

        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.

  9. Lauren Avatar

    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.

  10. Jamie Avatar

    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.

    1. Felicia sanders Avatar
      Felicia sanders

      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!

    2. Jackie Avatar

      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!

  11. Corinne Akins Avatar
    Corinne Akins

    Hello Mama,

    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

    1. Sara Avatar

      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

    2. Heather B Avatar
      Heather B

      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.

      1. Kim Avatar

        Yes, excellent point about the simple aldehyde formation! I wouldn’t have thought about it in this context.

  12. Alex Avatar

    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.

    1. Louise Avatar

      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.

      1. Tacey Avatar

        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.

      2. Joni Avatar

        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!

      3. Kim Avatar

        Indeed, toss some red wine into that delicious mix and he will forget about the candles altogether

      4. Susan Avatar

        I use rosemary, cinnamon sticks and an apple spice …. on the stove top. Smells amazing

    2. Caitlyn Avatar

      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!!!

      1. Heidi Christopherson Avatar
        Heidi Christopherson

        Thanks, Caitlyn! I want to try that this Christmas. Approx. how long does one orange’s aroma last?

    3. Michelle Avatar

      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.

    4. Lynn Avatar

      I’ve used DoTetrra Onguard for my fall scent. It’s wonderful!! I diffuse it almost daily during the fall. 🙂

    5. Robin Wenz Avatar
      Robin Wenz

      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.

    6. Tami Avatar

      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.

    7. doreen Avatar

      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!!..

    8. Heather Bowser Avatar
      Heather Bowser

      I diffuse cinnamon bark essential oil andborange essential oil and maybe add in a drop of clove for a fall scent.

    1. Maria Avatar

      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!

    2. Vickie Sylvain Avatar
      Vickie Sylvain

      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.

    3. Trish Stone Avatar
      Trish Stone

      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!

    4. Jillian Avatar

      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!

  13. Holly Avatar

    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. 🙂

    1. Linda Avatar

      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 🙂

    2. Delia Camp Avatar
      Delia Camp

      I never gave any thought to the soot before! I just assumed that’s what happens when you burn candles : (

  14. Jennifer Avatar

    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!

    1. Becca Avatar

      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!

      1. Nicole Avatar

        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!

        1. Marta Avatar

          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.

        2. Megan Avatar

          Have you read that burning EO at a high temp is not good for the brain it causes migraines.

        3. Janet Avatar

          Essential oils should not be used in candles as they emit toxins when burned.

          1. Jenna Conwell Avatar
            Jenna Conwell

            do you have evidence of that (EO emiting toxins when burned)? is it low grade EOs?

  15. Tierney Avatar

    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 😀

  16. Corinne Nussbaum Avatar
    Corinne Nussbaum

    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?

    1. Pete Avatar

      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.

      1. Bonnie Avatar

        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.

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