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. Lisa Ann Kelly Avatar
    Lisa Ann Kelly

    Please allow me to state here that smoke of any kind is harmful to humans. I don’t care if it’s wood smoke, cigarette smoke, smoke from your “special” beeswax and essential oils candles—-whatever. When things burn, the particulate matter that is created and diffused into the air is full of harmful chemicals. If you can smell it you are breathing it in. If you’re breathing it in, those particulate matter microns are damaging your lungs and heart. Whatever you do, DO NOT BURN WOOD. That’s worse for you (and your neighbors and the planet) than cigarette smoke and by worse I mean A WHOLE LOT WORSE.

  2. Lisa Ann Kelly Avatar
    Lisa Ann Kelly

    One thing I have learned is 99% of people JUST DON’T GET IT about how smoke coming off ANYTHING is bad for one’s lungs. You can either smile again and lie to her and tell your friend you’re not using the candle because you don’t ever want to have to let it go—-or you could be me and try to educate her. Watch out. Even my best friend still doesn’t get it, and she’s pretty damned educated and no dummy. When it comes to wood smoke/candle smoke/incense smoke—-she’s the biggest ignoramus. I have given up trying to get her to stop burning stuff. She’d be healthier, but it’s her right to be stupid about certain things I guess.

  3. Karon Avatar

    Thank you so much for this article as it answered all my questions. I just installed some votive candle holders in my bedroom and wanted more info on alternatives.

  4. Rachia Avatar

    What about coconut wax with essential oils in them? I saw some with a wooden wick but wasn’t sure if they were ok.

  5. Suzanne Clark Avatar
    Suzanne Clark

    I knew that most candles are not good, so I don’t use them, but a friend gave me one for my birthday. I just smiled and said thank you. Now I’ll know how to explain why I can’t use her candle. (If she asks)
    I think she’ll want to know too.

  6. Angelina Avatar

    I use rose scented candles.But when I have used up the once I have, I will make my own beeswax with rose oil!

  7. Rene Kittle Avatar
    Rene Kittle

    Great discussion! In my former years I used a lot of candles and love the light and mood around candles. But we have switched to the salt light and diffusers for ambiance with with pure, natural essential oils that help detoxify the air add the aroma to the air without toxicities!!! Not to mention the ability of essential oils to reduce stress and tension.

  8. Mi Avatar

    Excellent and informative comment. I hope readers heed your words and let others know.

  9. Meagan Avatar

    I’m going to try to make my own candles out of beeswax and essential oils!

  10. Susana Avatar

    Hi, I love the scientific explanation on ions, of which I had no idea about its interactions with air and humans. I wonder if having plants in the bedrooms is a good idea considering that plants release carbon dioxide at night affecting peoples health.

  11. Denise Avatar

    Most wicks are metal read the bottom of your candle it will say if it’s a lead free wick. I would only buy if I saw this, which isn’t too often, but now I’m backing away from them all together. I use a diffuser in our bedrooms but it’s time for me to open my new one And use in our living room after reading this article ??

  12. Lily Avatar

    Burning natural wax or fuel of any sort is still a chemical combustion reaction. You are still putting out some carcinogens no matter what you burn, “natural” or not. I am a chemist and see so much false information being spread around about this. Burning candles with essential oils is slightly better than artificial but still not good for you. Better to skip the candles entirely
    🙁 The worst part of this article is the talk about how some ions are “good” others “bad”. The most important thing to look out for if you must use a candle is the type of wick. Almost all wicks contain lead unless it says metal-free wick. You really don’t want to burn those indoors.

  13. S. Foster Avatar
    S. Foster

    I had the same concerns and movd to using electric wax warmers and fragrances wax. The warmers are on timers so I can “set and forget” them plus, it’s great to have lots of fragrance without any burning smell from a wick. Since the wax doesn’t combust or burn, it doesn’t evaporate which means my husband doesn’t have to paint over sooty walls! Result. My eldest child has ata and gets chesty with candles but with wax warmers, he has no irritation and actually likes to have a eucalyptus wax. I highly recommend them all round.

  14. Mimi Avatar

    This according to site “empowered sustenance:”
    A soy or beeswax candle scented with essential oils will release toxins, since combustion changes the molecular structure of these oils. 100% pure beeswax candles require no added fragrances or dyes, because the pollen and honey content of the wax offer a natural orange color and light, sweet fragrance.Sep 14, 2012

    I say why burn things indoors or out? Breathe it in and your lungs pay the price.

  15. Mitt Avatar

    Nicola: You said what I was itching to say and you stated it so well. Why burn anything inside your home? Use essential oils. There are all sorts of great recipes online now re: how to make one’s own organic and safe to use air fresheners. I will never use store-bought chemical junk again. If you can smell it, you’re breathing it in. Why breathe in toxins?

  16. Summer Avatar

    Is there a difference in burning candles vs using a candle warmer? I normally buy soy based candles in general. Unsure of fragrance added, but I never actually light a flame. The wax just melts.

  17. Kerry Avatar

    Citrus oils can release Limoges which over time turn s into formaldehyde in the air. I’ve stopped using except lemongrass as alternative.

  18. Taylor Avatar

    Excellent, extremely well-written article. Thank you for educating me further. I knew candles and scented candles weren’t good for me, but now I know exactly why.

    Now please write about the health hazards of burning wood. People are stupendously ignorant about the toxins given off and the toxic effects of particulate matter associated with wood burning.

    And incense. Ugh. Thanks again for a terrifically informative article.

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