Candles are calming, smell great, create ambience and always score as a favourite house-warming gift. But you may have heard that they can also spew toxic, cancer-causing chemicals into the air. These rumours may leave you wondering... Don’t panic. There’s no need to throw away your stash just yet.
People always talk about the chemical that's present, but It's not simply a chemical's presence or absence, because we're surrounded by chemicals all the time in indoor and outdoor air, it's the concentration that matters. Luckily, respiratory toxicologists have said that exposure to chemicals emitted by scented candles like benzene and formaldehyde, (while very high concentrations of these chemicals might indeed be harmful,) is so low that they pose no significant risk to human health, and is ultimately trivial compared with the cocktail of toxic chemicals in the air on a busy city street.
In fact, a 2014 study that analysed the air quality of rooms of various sizes after burning candles for four hours found that the highest measured levels of these chemicals were only half of the recommended limits set by the World Health Organisation. Although, toxicity will increase if multiple candles are lit in poorly-ventilated areas for prolonged periods of time, but normal use is not generally a cause for concern.
One may also think that the stronger the smell, the higher the toxicity, however, humans can smell scents at relatively low concentrations, so don’t be fooled by a strong aroma: it doesn’t necessarily mean higher toxicity. What is worth noting is that scented candles tend to burn with more soot because the compounds added for scent change the carbon-to-hydrogen ratio in the candle, which affects the way it burns.
Soot — the byproduct of incomplete combustion — has been a source of concern as well. Both carbon and soot are released during burning. The wick is often a factor in soot production. While lead wicks were banned many years ago, wicks are often made of a blend of materials that produce emissions as they burn.
Okay, so is it reasonable to assume that candles are totally safe? For the most part, yes. But you should still be cautious about what types you burn, where and how you use them to minimise any possible harmful effect, and consider the environment too. Here’s everything you need to know to keep reaping the relaxation benefits and avoid any potential downsides.
The National Candle Association says that if people want to minimise the amount of soot released into the air, or would like to minimise staining on nearby walls, they should burn candles in well-ventilated areas that are away from drafts and vents, ensure that the melted wax is clear of debris and keep wicks trimmed to about ¼ inch.
To prevent additional emissions and minimise soot, look for 100% cotton wicks (or, better yet, 100% organic cotton wicks, which also minimises pesticide use and other harmful farming practices). Instead of blowing out a candle, use a candle snugger or dip the wick in wax.
Certain strong fragrances might also cause allergic reactions in a smaller percentage of people, or irritate some with asthma. To avoid this, look for candles scented with essential oils rather than fragrance chemical oils (or consider an oil diffuser instead).
Be wary of greenwashing when browsing the shelves as well. Terms like “natural” or “green” are not regulated, and aren’t attached to any standards for products. Besides the contents of the candle itself, the container is another source of waste. A candle or two a month might brighten up the home, but it also sends a few dozen containers to the trash every year.
If given a choice, glass is easier to recycle than plastic, and can more easily be upcycled. Keep the jar and the lid for storing food, visiting a refillery, or even refilling with wax to make your own candles. To remove the waxy residue in the bottom, pour boiling water into the jar and allow the wax to slowly rise to the surface, then remove and clean the container with soap and water.
Paraffin wax is made from petroleum by products, so if you’re concerned about the environment, consider lower impact alternatives like soy candles instead. Soy candles have been shown to produce less soot than paraffin candles. Beeswax is a favorable option for candles too: the wax of honeycombs that is harvested along with the honey made in beehives. The wax is, however, considered an animal byproduct, so vegans may choose to consider this option.
Brands like Sun.Day Of London, Skar Organics, August & Piers to name a few consider sustainability during production. The following products could also be a unique way to enjoy a contemporary alternative to candle burning.
Candle Warmer Lamp
A wax melter is a safe device that allows for scent distribution throughout a space without the use of an open flame. A unique alternative to burning candles in the general sense.
Create a warm glow without even lighting a match. Flickering LED candles are flame free and safe meaning you can use them almost anywhere.
Mini Concrete Fireplace
This aesthetically pleasing multipurpose fireplace was born with the desire for safe clean-burning. Apart from heating, its portable and offers a mystical atmosphere. It's portable and can be used inside and out using an odourless and non-smelting bioethanol fuel.