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May 6th, 2011

What's in Your Candles

Soot From Candles Isn't Just Ugly

It was sometime in the year 2000 that I became aware of the soot that came from my candles. I was living in England at the time, and my husband and I (and our twin boys) were about to move back to the states. As we were cleaning up our rented home, we noticed that in the bathroom, where we had daily burned a candle on the top of a wicker shelving unit, there was a lot of soot. When I say a lot, I don't mean it had a little on the wall just above the candle. I mean the kind of buildup of soot that was nearly impossible to clean off. In fact we gave up. We confessed our blunder to our landlord and suggested he keep our deposit (knowing he was going to have to repaint that room).

Why Candles Produce Black Soot

Most candles can at some time produce soot. Even the eco friendly candles can produce a little bit of soot. The problem comes when your candle is made from paraffin wax and the wick has a metal core.

Why a Candle's Wick Matters

Inside the wick of a candle is a core. This core can be made of metal (before 1970 it was lead, now it's usually zinc), cotton (often as a braided cotton wick) or even a paper core. If your candle has a metal core, you're more likely to get soot, and some chemicals released as well. Because metal cores used to be made of lead, it's important to always check if your candle has a metal core, and if it does it may be a better option not to burn it. So with the cotton and paper options, you don't need to be limited to candles with metal wicks.

Wax on, Wax Off - Why the Wax in Your Candles Matters

Paraffin wax is the low of the low among petroleum based products. It's what you get when everything else has been pulled from the petroleum. The fact that paraffin wax is made from petroleum is a concern for many as it contributes to your homes indoor air pollution levels. It can affect your families breathing and health. The soot given off by burning paraffin candles is the same as burning diesel fuel. I believe this is what causes that black soot on the wall and ceiling in my bathroom. I pray it wasn't because my candles also had lead wicks, but I'll never know. Some of the products that off gas while you're burning paraffin candles are thought to be possible human carcinogens.

Candles That Smell Good May Not Be

Besides the dangers of the paraffin wax used in candles, there are also the scents and fragrances that are added to candles that you should avoid. Most scents in candles are made from petroleum based synthetic scents. They're not made or extracted from the real source. Make sure the scents in your candles come from pure essential oils.

What Candles Do You Feel Safe Using?

What candle options are left? Fortunately there are a lot of great eco friendly and healthy candle options on the market today.

Beeswax Candles:

Beeswax candles are usually unscented, and burn longer than paraffin candles. They also emit negative ions that help to clean your air of dust, smoke and pollens. As long as you use these candles properly (trimming the wick properly and such) Beeswax candles can be smokeless and are natural.

Vegetable and Soy Candles:

Vegetable and Soy candles burn cleanly, and are made from renewable resources. They're also non toxic.

What to Avoid What to look for
Paraffin Wax Candles Beeswax Candles or Vegetable and Soy Based Candles
Lead or Metal core wicks Cotton or paper core wicks
Synthetic Scents Pure Essential Oils


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References:

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/make-safe-candles-yourself-how-to.html

http://www.greenamerica.org/pubs/realgreen/articles/candles.cfm

http://greenopolis.com/goblog/lynn-hasselberger/warning-candles-may-be-hazardous-your-health

http://www.greenfeet.net/newsletter/How-to-choose-a-safe-candle.shtml

http://www.pureintegrity.com/soot-free-candles.html

http://www.suite101.com/content/whats-in-your-candle-a117314

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraffin

http://www.alaw.org/air_quality/indoor_air_quality/candles.html