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. Nancy Avatar

    Won’t burn. Beeswax is a viscous wax and a cotton wick won’t cut it. Good luck. Lots of misinformation, lies and bs in this article. You get more fumes filling your gas tank than burning paraffin. Most of these falsehoods were created by people trying to sell crappy soy candles which have no throw. You would have to be in a sealed phone booth for six weeks breathing nothing but candle fumes 24/7 to get anywhere close to a toxic dose of the trace chemicals found in a paraffin candle. Soy candles quit being natural the second the candle maker added synthetic color and scent to the product. By the way, the study from which this whole thing started was paid for by the soybean growers lobby.

  2. Jeffrey Avatar

    I am so glad you wrote this piece. It is important to educate the public when it comes to hidden dangers…like paraffin candles. I would prefer you not to lump all scented candles into the same category though.

  3. Satwant Sheila Kaur Avatar
    Satwant Sheila Kaur

    I like a lovingly scented home. Apart from diffusers & beeswax, what else can I use ?Xoxo

  4. Dori Avatar

    I was enjoying your well written article about scented candles and was about to share and then you ruined it all by promoting diffusing Essential Oils to fragrance living spaces. There is more than enough information out there showing they are just as unhealthy as the scented candles. I’m so disheartened and disappointed. Please revisit your suggesting diffusers as a healthy alternative to candles.

  5. Magda Avatar

    I don’t really understand why you care about gmo soy when using soy wax for candles. The particles it produces when burning just can’t be any different than those from non gmo soy wax. While there is a difference when ingesting gmo vs. non- gmo crop, there just can’t be any when burning candles.

  6. Taylor Avatar

    Hey I am curious about beeswax, how is it that beeswax is sustainable for candles? I am having a difficult time choosing candles and is beeswax really better for the environment than others?

  7. Chelsea Avatar

    This is a very informative post. I would only add to those exploring diffusing oils for the first time to use caution around pets.

    Many essential oils are quite potent and can be toxic to animals. Lavender is fine, but tea tree or citrus could potentially cause issues for pets.

  8. Liz Avatar

    I’m sorry, but this post has so many factual and scientific inaccuracies. Molecular weight does not determine whether molecules or atoms float in air. Beeswax candles burn just like any other organic compound does during combustion, in which the carbon-based compounds react with oxygen in the air to produce carbon dioxide and water (steam). Burning candles does not spontaneously create negative ions. Ionized air is a phenomenon that happens during thunder and lightning storms. Static electricity occurs when you rub insulating materials like carpet, but it just makes no sense in the context of candles! I am disturbed that this purported health blog is perpetuating pseudoscience without an understanding of fundamental chemistry and science.

  9. Rob Avatar

    There is virtually no scientific truth to this article, particularly when referring to ions “carrying” dust or mold. The quote about what ions are is accurate, but the further conjecture on what they DO, anyone with a junior high understanding of chemistry would be able to debunk.

  10. Eunice Avatar

    Hello Katie,
    What about a non toxic scented candle? Can you recommend any. I do use diffusers everyday and night but I would still love to find a scented candle

  11. Jay Avatar

    This is great stuff. I’ve always wanted to look into manufacturing process and ingredients but I find it is often hard to do so as the companies are not always willing to share especially if it is not a favorable process. How have you been able to research this ? And not only with candles but in general?

  12. Janice Avatar

    I have a scented candle (from essential oil) that is made from “high grade paraffin” …what constitutes “high grade”???

  13. James Avatar

    Hi Katie,

    I found this article very interesting, especially after having received some candles this Christmas! I was surprised to discover that the biggest candle brand, Yankee, uses paraffin in their ‘luxurious’ products. Although I understand this may deter you from such products, it must be noted that a candle will not even nearly cause as much harm as diesel fumes or other. The example of tumours in lab animals is also a slightly unfair comparison, as these studies do not replicate the average persons useage, and I believe that is the key here – candles being lit is generally a transient procedure, and for that reason, the harmful consequences you mention would be mostly insignificant.

    In addition, I wanted to ask why you are against soy, purely for the fact it may be genetically modified? Having a biochemistry degree from a top UK university, this interests me. GM crops are sustainable, offer poor farmers more certainty in their income, higher yields and have absolutely no worse health implications than a wild vegetable. I would appreciate to learn why you don’t support GM crops. 🙂

    Kind Regards.

  14. Penny Avatar

    Thanks for sharing! I’d like to hear your thoughts on coconut wax or apricot wax candles? What about the usage of pure natural essential oils in these candles (coconut, apricot, or even beeswax) for scents, as opposed to synthetic “fragrances” aka chemicals.

  15. Amanda Avatar

    I have found not one viable study that shows that beeswax cleans the air when burned. Please be responsible to your readers and actually research (*and provide links to published studies) when you claim to have a background in research. At best this reads as a fluff piece lacking in actual research and at worst you’re negatively impacting people’s health with negligent reporting :-/

  16. Selena McPhail Avatar
    Selena McPhail

    Hi, I was wondering if I make beeswax candles and use pure 100% essential oil for fragrance, could that be a good alternative to using synthetic fragrance oils? I also added pure coconut oil to a beeswax candle and it helps with the scent throw.


  17. Patti Avatar

    What about using scented wax in warmers. Would that also be toxic if it’s warmed as opposed to burned?

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