Are you burning candles that are causing you harm?

Nothing’s better than walking into a house with the warm scent of fresh baked cookies in the fall. Instead of actually baking cookies everyday and gaining lots of weight, we resort to obtaining the same smell from an artificial source. Fall is candle time. Cinnamon spice, autumn leaves, pumpkin pie and cranberry spice are a few of the wide variety of fall candles filling the store shelves.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution levels of many pollutants may be two to five times, and, occasionally, more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels. And one of the unassuming culprits that increase air pollution in your home are candles.

Most candles are made from paraffin, a petroleum by-product of the nonrenewable resource, crude oil. When candles are burned they emit particulate pollution, into the air. These tiny bits of pollution known as particulates, can inflame the respiratory tract and aggravate asthma. The effects of air pollution in your home can take years to manifest. Candles also contain artificial “fragrances” just as other air fresheners such as sprays, plug-ins and gels do. Air fresheners emit harmful volatile organic compounds (VOC) such as benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, ethylene and more, which have toxic side effects, some that are carcinogens. VOCs are not all harmful and are compounds that evaporate quickly (i.e.: you can pick up their scent!), and the organic in VOCs means they contain the carbon molecule.

I’m attracted to the candles with the natural packaging. But very few candles are non-toxic. The popular choice for an environmentally friendly candle is candles made with soy wax. Soy candles burn on average 50 percent longer than paraffin candles and release less toxins. The problem is it takes about 60 pounds of beans to make 11 pounds of oil, making it a resource heavy product. Soy is also a soft oil and is often mixed with palm oil to harden for candle usage. If you read my column a few weeks ago, palm oil agriculture is causing huge environmental and social issues in Indonesia. You can imagine my dismay recently, when I found out my soy candle was in fact a soy/palm candle.

Beeswax is the least harmful, and known to be the least toxic when burning. Beeswax is harvested from bees that use the wax to make their honeycomb home. Harvesting too much of the beeswax can cause danger to the survival of the hive. Beeswax is also the most expensive wax to use and the hardest to add fragrance to. Synthetic fragrances can give off harmful VOC’s, so using fragrances derived from essential oils with an unbleached cotton wick is your best choice.

And then there are Scentsy’s. The new trendy electrical heated wax melt full of fragrance. Scentsy products do use natural oils for fragrance, but they are also utilizing artificial fragrances. That means even though you are not burning a candle, you can still be releasing harmful VOCs into the air from the wax blocks. And at high scent levels, the worst smell in the world could be covered up by a Scentsy which may cause more harm than the nasty smell.

Same thing with incense products. Studies in Singapore on a population of elderly adults found long-term exposure to incense burning at home was associated with increased risk of mortality and increased risk of upper respiratory tract cancer.

But I, like you, love a good candle. It makes me happy, and it makes me feel like I’m at home. If you are going to burn a candle, light up the incense or use a Scentsy, pick the most sustainable product and open the windows. The more air flow you have through your house, the less build up of harmful VOCs will occur. Also, remember you can recycle the glass container. A good trick is after the candle is used and leftover wax remains, throw the entire container into the freezer overnight. The next morning the wax will pop right out, and you can reuse or recycle the container.

sustainable candle

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly. 

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