While candles can make for a peaceful, relaxing, or romantic setting, sometimes store-bought ones seem to have overpowering, unnatural smells. I’m not saying that the smells aren’t always good, in fact, I’ve always wondered how they make the “birthday cake” scent smell like one just came of of the oven. But no matter how delicious the smell might be, in the past I’ve been unsure about their true safety and now want to shed a little light (pun intended :) ) on which candles are safest to use for our health and the environment.
Unfortunately, most mass produced candles are produced with petroleum (not sustainable) and full of synthetic fragrances. Burning these types of candles can cause serious indoor air pollution and problems for our health. In fact, the EPA states that when candles are burned traces of acetaldehyde, formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), acrolein (another dangerous chemical), and naphthalene (a neurotoxin and potential carcinogen) are emitted.
They also state that the more scents in a candle, the more black soot is emitted. The soot travels into our lungs and can contain phthalates which are damaging to many organs as well as benzene and toluene (also known carcinogens). A candle will also produce more soot if you blow it out rather than properly trimming the wick (yes, I am 100% guilty of doing this).
To make matters worse, lead wicks have been used to help keep wicks upright in candles when burning. Fortunately, these have been banned from selling in the U.S. since 2003 and most members of the National Candle Association agreed to stop using lead wicks back in the 1970s. If you have a candle you are concerned about, look closely when you trim the wick to see if there is a metal core.
If there is one, it does not necessarily mean that it’s lead (although this type could still possibly find it’s way into the marketplace) as it may be zinc or tin which are considered safe. Contacting the manufacturer to determine the metal would be the best way to find out for sure whether or not it is lead. I did notice on the label at the bottom of one of my candles that the it stated only lead free wicks are used so that is another good spot to check. However, in the future, I think I’ll still try to steer clear of metal wicks and opt for pure cotton ones.
Luckily, there are a variety of natural candle options that are produced sustainably, do not emit harmful toxins, and give off much less soot. Varieties such as beeswax, soy, and other vegetable waxes are much safer and burn longer than petroleum based candles. Natural candles are also often pleasantly scented with essential oils and can even clean air rather than pollute it. These types of candles can be found handmade at local markets, health stores, or on Etsy. I’m happy that again there are great natural alternatives (as there are with so many things) so I can still enjoy candles!