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How Do Scented Candles Affect Air Quality?

Scented candles typically invoke the idea of a calm relaxing atmosphere, but there’s a more dangerous side to scented candles that disrupts this feeling.

Scented candles can release harmful airborne compounds when burned that cause varying levels of health concerns from throat irritation to respiratory congestion to possibly contributing to cancer. When burned, scented candles can release harmful airborne compounds that can negatively affect home air quality by creating indoor air pollution if burned frequently.

Knowing what to look for while buying candles, how to burn them safely and properly, and running an air purifier with a carbon activated filter to help keep your home air quality healthy is essential. 


The Hidden Dangers Of Scented Candles

What exactly are scented candles made of? Most scented candles use paraffin wax in the base, which is made from coal, petroleum, or oil shale. Paraffin wax also emits benzene pollution, which is regularly present in tobacco smoke, when burned. There are better and safer alternatives to paraffin wax including coconut wax, soy wax, and beeswax.

According to a 2001 EPA report, scented candles emit nasty organic compounds like formaldehyde when burned, and this is still a danger to everyone who regularly burns scented candles that are bought today.

One of the biggest dangers to exist on the market were lead wicks, which were only banned back in 2003. When burned regularly, lead wick candles could lead to serious health concerns as the level of indoor airborne lead concentrations grew.

While these lead wick candles were technically banned, it’s still important to look for a “lead-free” label to guarantee there is no lead air pollution when burned. 


Toxic Emissions And VOCs Present In Scented Candles

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are carbon-based compounds that evaporate when at room temperature and have low boiling points, meaning they can easily disperse into the air we breathe, causing health issues.

VOCs that are released in paraffin wax burning candles: 

  • Acetaldehyde - a clear, colorless liquid or gas typically used to create perfumes. Acetaldehyde is the chemical created in the body when one drinks alcohol. 
  • Acrolein - a colorless liquid with a pungent smell typically used in pesticides. 
  • Benzene - a light yellow, flammable liquid found in products including industrial solvents, paints, glues, detergents, and gasoline.
  • Formaldehyde - a disinfectant and preservative found in building materials and in most household products.
  • Naphthalene - a white crystalline solid used to make mothballs and other insecticides.

Although many of these VOCs occur naturally in food and drink like Acetaldehyde being present in coffee and bread, when burned or inhaled in large amounts regularly they become more dangerous and can lead to health issues.

Infographic of candle emissions

What are the concerns with fragranced products? Fragranced products in general, whether they’re scented candles, perfume, or air fresheners, can affect home air quality and the health of everyone in the home.

Fragrances are a combination of chemicals and a type of allergen that can cause allergic reactions or trigger asthma attacks. Although they make the room smell nice, they’re not cleaning the air as an air purifier would. In fact, they’re actually contributing to indoor air pollution. 


Scented Candles And Indoor Air Quality

How do burning candles affect air quality negatively? When scented candles made with paraffin wax are burned, the harmful organic compounds that are released negatively affect the indoor air quality.

When scented candles are burned they release dangerous toxic emissions and VOCs into the air. These dangerous particles living inside the paraffin wax and candle wick are released and become airborne as the candle is burned.

The paraffin wax, and possible lead wick, release dangerous particulate matter into the air when burned. Minor and serious health issues can occur when scented candle emissions are inhaled regularly including headaches and respiratory congestion.

Although it’s safest not to burn scented candles indoors, air purifiers can help to filter out the particles released from the candles when burned. While candles can harm air quality when burned,  air purifiers take in the surrounding air, filter out any nasty particles, and push out clean air into the indoor living space. 


Scented Candles And Safety

You don’t have to stop buying or burning candles entirely, but it’s important to stay safe while buying and using them. There are particular things to look for when buying candles and a proper way to protect indoor air quality and yourself.

Tips for finding safer scented candles: 

  • Look for a “lead-free” label to ensure the candle does not have a lead wick
  • Opt for fragrance free, beeswax, coconut wax, and organic soy candles 
  • Use a diffuser and essential oils for fragrance instead of scented candles
  • Minimize candle soot and smoke by cutting the wick regularly 
  • Only have scented candles for fragrance, don’t burn them 
  • Run an air purifier regularly to help filter out any nasty particulate matter in the air