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. Hilary Avatar

    Does anybody have knowledge on wood wicks? I love the crackle and the way they look. How hesitant should I be? I was thinking about making some beeswax candles at home, but would wood wicks neutralize the benefits of the beeswax?

  2. Diana Avatar

    To answer about the Scentsy candles:
    I kind of suspected this as they really bother me, but then I’m allergic to everything, so I wasn’t sure.


    *Scentsy products are petrochemicals. When you burn Scentsy, you are buying a product made from crude oil. To be more specific, paraffin wax is a bi-product of the refining process to make gasoline. Scentsy calls this a food grade paraffin, but it is still a crude oil product and is the same stuff used as a bottle and jar sealant when making preserves.

    *The Scentsy site claims that the warmers do not burn wax so that there aren’t any nasties released into the air. They neglect to mention that you can still inhale what is released from their product. According to Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, burning paraffin can contain formaldehyde. So, yes, your Scentsy product may not produce soot, however, formaldehyde may be released into the air when your wax is melted. Your walls and furniture may not have the stains from soot, but your body may be breathing in toxic chemicals.

    1. Amity Avatar

      Scentsy wax isn’t burned, it is melted, and that makes a world of difference. It is warmed at a low temperature when used properly, so there is no soot or release of anything other than fragrance oils.

  3. AJ Avatar

    Oh crap. One of my few indulgences and you go and ruin it for me. 🙁 Wuh wuh wuh. Seriously though, thanks for the info! I had no idea any of this crap was in candles. Though I typically don’t burn candles much in the warmer months, I lit them on a nightly basis in fall and winter. I love the nonscented votives and tea lights for around our fireplace but my favorite scented one was Christmas Cookie by Yankee. That seemed to be one of the few that wouldn’t give me a killer headache within minutes of burning it. Looks like I need to check out your links to beeswax candles.

  4. Jubilee Avatar

    Hi Katie,

    Thank you so much for this post. I have to be honest and say that I had no idea unscented candles were not safe. It’s so good to now know this and not purchase anymore.

    As for the scented candles, I had a funny feeling about those…such as, how on earth does this thing smell like pumpkin spice pie, yet there isn’t a bit of food in it! Made me think of Skittles and how there isn’t a bit of fruit in them to make them healthy. Thus, I left both alone.

  5. Becky Avatar

    Sigh, out go some of our candles, another sigh. We don’t use them for scent often but mood lighting and/or power outages. My friend makes her own beeswax candles each year around the holidays. Guess I will be talking to her about how she does it:) Thank you for the info. ~ even if it does make me just a bit sad. For scent, we simmer cinnamon sticks, orange peels, and other spices on the stove for a few minutes. Sometimes we throw in some outdated coffee beans, if we have them, for variety. Uhm, it’s warm, cozy, and completely homey. Thank you again for the information.

  6. Debra Avatar

    My son was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome. Scents from candles, laundry detergent, etc. will cause him to have severe tics. The only “scent” we have in our house is from our essential oil diffuser.

    1. carlye Avatar

      It has been just over a week I got my Holiday order of scentsy, which I eagerly opened and used steadily for about 6 days. It was on the fourth day my five year old developed a tic, roving eyes, moving from far downward to the opposite upper side. I asked her to stop, thinking she was fooling around by the third day I realized she couldn’t. Needless to say I was at my wits end and made an appointment with the Dr.

      After thinking about what changed in her diet or anything in the last week I thought ‘SCENTSY’
      I took is out of the house immediately, and by the next morning she was much better, and as the days progress the tic is pretty much gone!

      In my research on the internet especially on youtube there are lots of children and parents in this same scary predicament, some have even medicated their children, I just hope they find this site and at least start eliminating these toxic things in the home before turning to drugs.

      Please to all parents using SCENTSY or other fragrance candles be very careful.

      Thank you for this great website and all these great comments.


  7. Lynette Avatar

    I just threw away my scented candles. Sad that they hurt us so, yet glad for the alternatives!

  8. Sylvia Avatar

    What about natural “incense”. I have some pine sawdust and sap incense cubes that smell like a campfire or crackling fireplace. Love it for wintry evenings. Is it bad?

  9. Hali Sokolowski Avatar
    Hali Sokolowski

    Thank you for your post on scented candles. I usually use tea lights in the room I’m in and have often put my own essential oils right in the melted wax pool on top of the candle. I can change the scent every time I light one.

  10. Nicole Avatar

    I’m curious about soy – based candles. Do you avoid them on principle, or do the GMO properties affect indoor air quality? I always assumed soy candles aren’t too bad. It’s not being digested or rubbed onto the skin, but is there any research re: inhaling it? I normally use beeswax, but the better quality soy/EO candles can be so appealing.

  11. Marcie Avatar

    I was never a huge candle fan anyway, but started using essential oils about 8 months ago. They smell way better than any candle I’ve ever burned and the “mist” from the diffuser is just as calming as a flame (maybe more so). Plus essential oils have huge benefits besides just smelling good. Just make sure you purchase essential oils that do not contain any additives. They are only required to have 10% of an actual essential oil in the bottle to say “pure” on the label! Even the ones you might find at your local “health food” store could contain additives.

  12. Shannon Myrick Avatar
    Shannon Myrick

    Does this apply to warmers add well. I do not burn candles anymore, but I use warmers.

  13. Weltha Barrett Avatar
    Weltha Barrett

    I’ll bet you’re thinking about a DIY for making “safe” candles. At least I hope so. 🙂
    Thanks for all you do.

      1. Sharon Avatar

        I’m doing that right now. Coconut oil with essential oil. 🙂 on my scentsy (type) warmer. I have a supply of beeswax pastilles, shea butter, and soy. Along with several essential oils I have – I am going to make colorless scented wax melts and she lotion. Eventually may sell on Etsy. 🙂

      2. Laura S Avatar

        I just made a candle for the first time ever. I love scented candles but I am also very sensitive to scents and irritants. I just filled a coffee mug with pure coconut oil, melted it in the microwave, added several drops of lemon and peppermint essential oils, and made a wick by rolling a paper towel tightly in olive oil. I put the whole thing in the refrigerator for an hour to firm it up, trimmed the wick, and lit it. It has been burning now for 3 hours and has barely gone down half an inch. Unfortunately, it is not putting out any scent whatsoever, but I have really missed the hypnotizing flame of a candle and it is doing the job perfectly. Is there any problem with burning coconut oil like this? It seems like a great natural solution, though I would like to achieve more aromatherapy next time. Any suggestions or thoughts on this? Thanks!

  14. Misty Avatar

    An essential oil diffuser is the best way to go. If that is not an option, I do hope you consider ethical, non-animal based alternatives.

    There are plenty of non GMO soy waxes available and no wicks sold in the United States are permitted by law to contain lead. Hemp wicks are readily available and they are a renewable resource.

    1. drew Avatar

      Most wicks are a blend of paper and cotton. The metal-wick stats are OLD and unless people are buying candles at dollar stores, the likelihood of finding a metal-core wick is slim to none.

      1. Chrys Avatar

        You cant even trust a word that comes from the FDA !
        Keep that in mind… All kinds of foods, cleaning, hygiene, and house hold products are filled with things not even listed on labels… JS.

  15. Karen Avatar

    If you just warm the wax in a warmer is that any better ? Or is it just as bad as burning a candle?

  16. Lulu Avatar

    Yeah I as much as I like then candles, I knew there was something not good about them. So nice that you talk about beeswax candles. My dad who passed away from stomach cancer last year was a beekeeper and before he passed away, he and my sister created homemade beeswax candles. He loved his candles:)

  17. Lottie Avatar

    Thanks for the info and for citing sources! Had always assumed most regular candles had suspicious content in their wax and wicks so never buy them, except we do use tealights in a mason jar when we sit out on the porch. I will occasionally burn a vanilla scented soy candle indoors because I think that sometimes, to be fearful of everything around us can really rob us of joy – being very 80/20 about things I’m OK with an occasional candle, but you’ve given me another reminder to look into getting an essential oil diffuser as a preferable alternative to make my home smell yummy. Lottie 🙂

    1. Louise Avatar

      I don’t think it is about being fearful of things. It is about making informed choices. This is the only body you get, if you don’t take care of it who will??? We cannot depend upon the industries who produce our food, medicines, medical practices, dental practices, etc. to give us the truth because they have much to lose if we know the truth about what they are telling us.

    2. Kim Avatar

      I totally agree. Just stepping out of the house is hazardous. We live in a “scary” society. Watch out for this, don’t do that, don’t eat this and what is and isn’t the best is forever CHANGING! lol. I mean certainly, with good sense, stay away from some things and everything else 80/20.

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