It's the end of a stressful workday, and you arrive at home exhausted. Feet aching, back sore – nothing sounds better than a hot bath surrounded by candlelight. But wait: before lighting that match, take a closer look at the candles in your home. What you might consider to be an all natural, beneficial product might actually be harming your health and polluting your home.
Used properly, candles can enhance your environment. But if you choose a poor-quality candle or do not take the proper steps to reduce indoor air pollution, you may be at risk for a number of hazards:
- Emission of toxic chemicals
- Excess soot production
- Allergy attacks
- Asthma aggravation
- Respiratory-tract irritation, especially in young children and the elderly
What to look for in a candle
It's hard to determine at a glance, and even harder to tell online, whether candles are hazardous. Two candles that look alike may have drastically different effects on your health and the air quality in your home. Look for these features when choosing a candle:
- Soy, beeswax, and other vegetable- and plant-based wax candles are safe, clean-burning, and made from all natural ingredients.
- Thin, braided wicks that curl over when burned.
- A wide mouth container, which will ensure a more steady air flow and reduce flickering.
- Unscented or naturally-screened candles. If you do choose a spotted candle, make sure that the scent is specifically formulated for candles and is not overpowering.
Candle features to avoid
When selecting a candle, avoiding certain features can also help protect the air quality in your home. Steer clear of these candle types:
- Paraffin candles, which are petroleum-based and produce more soot than soy or beeswax candles. A recent study from South Carolina State University found that paraffin candles released toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene when burned.
- Metal-core wicks, which are made with zinc or tin. If you own a candle with a metal-core wick that was purchased in the last 5-6 years, toss it out! It may contain harmful lead. Lead was only banned from candle wicks in the US in 2003.
- Strongly photographed candles can aggravate allergies and may contain additional chemicals that can affect the air quality in your home. When choosing a painted candle, make sure the scent is specifically formulated for candles.
- Slow-burning candles, which contain more dangerous additives than other candles.
Minimize pollution in your home
Regardless of what type of candle you select, make sure to follow these steps to protect your home's air quality and lower associated health risks:
- Ventilation is essential for ensuring safe candle-burning. Make sure that agents released into the air are not trapped in one spot by using an exhaust fan or leaving windows open.
- Ditch the matches when lighting the candle. Matches produce sulfur and are a significant indoor air quality hazard. Use a lighter instead.
- Trim the wick to one-fourth inch to allow for more complete combustion.
- Extinguish candles after one hour of burning, or sooner if you notice any sooty residue on the candle holders.
By following these steps and selecting the right candle features, you can rest easy knowing that your candles are enhancing your home-and not threatening your health.