Warning: Candles May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Warning: Candles May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Did you know many candles may be unsafe?
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Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 11:30am


No matter what time of year it is, I love burning candles. But did you know many candles may be unsafe? And, no, I’m not talking about the potential fire hazard…

What’s in your candle?
Paraffin is the predominant wax used in the candle industry. Why? Simple. Paraffin is very inexpensive. It is basically the “bottom of the barrel” final byproduct in the petroleum refining chain…even after asphalt is extracted. Petroleum sludge, if you will. Mmmmm. Love the idea of breathing that in.

Beeswax candles, on the other hand, are natural and renewable.

Why does it matter?
Bottom line: paraffin creates indoor air pollution. The soot given off from the burning of paraffin candles is the same as that given off by burning diesel fuel.

Some of the air contaminents in paraffin fumes include toluene, benzene, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and naphthalene—substances found in paint, lacquer and varnish removers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that benzene and toluene are probably human carcinogens.

These “emissions” can also leave dark shadows (ghosting) or soot on the walls, furniture and in the heating and cooling system.

What about scented candles?
Most oils used in scented candles are petroleum-based synthetics and not the natural plant-derived essential oils. The American Lung Association says, “refrain from burning scented or slow burning candles that have additives.”

What’s so great about beeswax candles?

  1. More economical. While more expensive, beeswax candles burn up to five times longer than paraffin! And they’re dripless, as long maintain them properly.

  2. Better for your health. Beeswax is the only wax that emits negative ions when it burns. Negative ions help to clean the air of dust, smoke and pollens and can help reduce fatigue. Beeswax has its own wonderful fragrance.

  3. Better for the environment. Because they’re smokeless, natural.

Make sure to select 100% non-imported beeswax with no lead/metal in the wick!
Labeling laws allow candles that have as little as 10% beeswax to be sold as beeswax candles. Most of these so-called beeswax candles are blended with cheap paraffin to cut costs! AND, many candle wicks contain metal cores and lead. I also recommend you select beeswax that has no additives.

And while you're at it, consider what type of candle holder to use. There are some cool ones out there made from reclaimed materials or maybe you give an old glass a new purpose.

Tips for burning beeswax candles:

  • Keep wick trimmed ¼” for tapers and figures; 3/8” for pillars

  • It is best to burn beeswax pillars about one hour for each inch in diameter. For example, a 3” diameter candle needs a continuous burn of approximately three hours. After extinguishing the flame and the candle has cooled to warm, gently mold the edges inward with damp fingers.

  • For votives and tea lights, it is best to have a continuous burn. Burn both candles in fireproof containers.

What about soy candles?

Soy is one of the big three genetically engineered (GMO) crops, so take that into consideration. I'm in the process of researching whether GMO soy compromises the safety of soy candles, but am aware of it's negative impact on small farmers and the environment. If you'd like to learn more about GMO's, I recommend you watch movie Food, Inc.

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