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)
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.
Katie - Wellness Mama
I talk about salt lamps in this post: https://wellnessmama.com/4629/clean-indoor-air/
check out Amazon for them. They run about 25 and up depending on size.
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!!
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?
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.
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.”
The problem with paraffin that you mention is not an issue with paraffin per se, but of adulterated paraffin. Don’t take it from me; take it from a guy who’s a candle maker and a chemist: https://keeperofthehome.org/toxins-in-candles-sad-but-true/
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.
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.
Is it safe for new borns to burn beeswax candles????
No, newborns shouldn’t be playing with matches!
Funniest thing I have read all day! lol
LOL!! I caught that too!
Just make sure the little one has safety glasses on
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”. 🙁
Are there any other suggestions for vegans who do not want to use beeswax candles?
How do you diffuse essential oils? Do you have a specific brand diffuser you like to use? Thank you.
Katie - Wellness Mama
I’m going to post on this soon 🙂
are root candles good?
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.
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 😉 !
Do Himalayan Salt Lamps provide the same benefit – providing negative ions to bind with positive?
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.
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!
Thank you so much, I didn’t know this about candles.