DID YOU KNOW… Scented candles may be polluting your air?
Candles are everywhere. They come in all shapes, colours, sizes and even scents. The candles may be used for emergency situations, church services, mood lighting or maybe just placed around the house to help make the air smell nice.
In the past, the candles were mainly made with all natural beeswax. The beeswax on its own has a pleasing scent to begin with so the need for further scents was not always necessary.
If there was a need to add another scent to the candle it would have been done by adding natural resources like flowers or herbs.
Now, forward to present day, and you will find that most of the scented wax candles found in stores are made out of a wax called paraffin wax.
What is paraffin wax?
Paraffin is the residue left over during the refining process of lubrication oil. It is a white, waxy solid that has no odour or taste.
Paraffin wax is a petroleum based product. Studies show that when the paraffin wax is burned, the smoke and fumes contain a lot of the same properties of the exhaust from a car engine.
There is also much more soot produced with paraffin wax candles compared to other candles such as those made of beeswax or soy wax. If you find a build-up of soot on the walls or ceilings around candle use, it may be an indicator that the candle is made of paraffin wax.
So how do the candles smell so good?
Those nice aromas coming from the scented candles at the stores now are made with artificial oils and chemicals. The chemicals and artificial oils are added to the paraffin wax to give the wax a scent.
Furthermore, if the candle wax has colour in it, then there would have been more chemicals added for the artificial colouring as well.
Studies are now showing that these added chemicals and artificial oils are significantly adding to the pollutants expelled from the burning candles. Several different studies have found that burning candles, scented candles especially, release many different toxins into the air.
One study found that some candles that were tested released almost as many toxins as cigarette smoke. Another study found that an air sample taken from a church where candles had been burning for 9+ hours had contained as many and similar pollutants as an air sample taken from the side of a highway.
People who suffer from asthma may find that asthmatic symptoms can be triggered or worsened by the fumes given off of some scented candles.
So what toxins where actually detected while burning candles?
The petroleum based paraffin candles studied were found to release a variety of toxins into the atmosphere when lit.
Most notably benzene, toluene, lead and ketone were all found in the candle fumes, smoke and soot. Some of the other toxins detected were styrene, ethyl benzene, naphthalene, acetyaldehyde, benzaldehyde, ethanol and methyl ethyl ketone.
Lead was found to be much higher in the candles that had metal core wicks. These are the wicks with a metal wire in the center of the wick to help keep them from falling into the wax when burned.
All of these toxins listed above are known cancer causing agents.
Some food for thought, the soot from a diesel engine has the same characteristics as the soot from some of the candles tested…..
What can you do?
Just like everything in life, moderation is key. If you burn a candle once in a while in a well-ventilated area, there is probably little, if anything, to worry about.
On the other hand if you are burning several scented candles regularly, in a small confined area (say a bathroom), it might be wise to open the windows and turn on a fan for ventilation.
Here are some tips for safe candle use:
- Keep the wick low as possible, long wicks produce more soot
- Use in well ventilated areas, open a window if possible
- The most chemicals are released when the candle is blown out. If possible use a device such as a snuffer to minimise the smoke released
Try to avoid:
- Candles made from paraffin wax
- Scented candles with artificial oils
- Wicks with metal cores (metal wire in the middle of the wick)
- Candles made outside North America, where laws about production with lead might be lax
- Bees wax candles
- Soy based candles
- Scented with essential oils
- Lead free wick
- Candles made in north America where it is illegal to use lead in production
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