Are Your Candles Toxic?

Are Your Candles Toxic?

Candles are a common object in almost every household. Decorative pillars set the mood for dinner parties, scented votives help many people relax at the end of a long day, and basic candles are a must in any emergency kit. But have you ever stopped to think about where those candles come from or how they’re made? There are a wide variety of commercially available candles, so it is important to understand the pros and cons of each type.

There are two main elements to any candle: the wick and the wax. When a candles burns, the wick pulls up the melted wax, which acts as fuel for the flame. Before the 1970s, wicks were made from metals such as lead, which help to stabilize the wick. This practice has been illegal for some time due to health and safety concerns, but lead-enforced wicks still sometimes make their way into stores, so it can be a good idea to check your candles (lead wicks will leave a mark when scratched across paper; zinc or paper reinforces will not). The best choice is a candle with a wick reinforced by paper or other natural fibers.

The main difference between candles is the type of wax used. Common candles sold in most stores will be made from paraffin, a byproduct of petroleum production. There are a number of reasons to avoid paraffin candles. Because they are a petroleum product, not only are they part of a very damaging industry, but they also release small amounts of toxins such as toluene and benzene when burned. The fast burn on paraffin also leads to the production of soot, which refers to the particles released from the incomplete burning of the wax (you’ll recognize soot as the black stains left on the wall or ceiling near a poor-quality candle). Soot particles are especially dangerous because they are so small and can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Paraffin wax is also non-biodegradable and can leave untreatable stains on fabrics and hard surfaces.

There are a number of alternatives to paraffin wax. One is soy wax, which is made from soybean oil. Soy wax is biodegradable, free of the petroleum chemicals found in paraffin, and is easily cleaned with soap and water. Studies also show that soy candles release less soot. In addition, because it burns slower, it will also last 25-50% longer than a paraffin candle. However, soy wax is softer than other waxes, so it is not commonly used to make tall, stand-alone candles. Instead, soy candles are usually sold in containers like glasses or tins. Soy wax is frequently blended with other waxes, including paraffin. There are no regulations for candle labels, so be sure to look for candles that say they are paraffin-free. You can also look for soy candles made from locally sourced soybeans to help support local farmers. Organic vegetable wax candles are also an eco-friendly option.

Beeswax is another natural alternative to paraffin. Made from the honeycombs, beeswax has been used in candle making for thousands of years. Like soy wax, beeswax is biodegradable, free of the toxins found in paraffin, and easily cleaned. Some people even believe that burning beeswax candles improves indoor air quality. Another benefit to beeswax candles is that they release a natural honey fragrance when burned. Beeswax is also strong enough to make into tall pillars and tapers. Be sure to look for candles made from solid beeswax – those made from unprocessed honeycomb beeswax will have more air and so will burn faster.  Green Home has a variety of beeswax candles from beeswax birthday candles, beeswax pillars, and a decorative beeswax globe candle.

Candles made from a blend of soy and beeswax are common and combine the benefits of both. Choose from the following soy and beeswax candles: soy and beeswax votivesoy and beeswax candles in glasssoy and beeswax pillars.

-Rachel Tardif is a freelance writer and editor.

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