Are Your Candles More Harmful than Burning Diesel Fuel?

Via Lynn Hasselberger
on Jun 29, 2012
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Maybe not worse. But potentially just as bad.

Did you know candles, if scented, can be just as bad for us as smoking?

I love burning candles no matter the season. But many candles are unsafe. And I’m not referring the potential fire hazard…

Paraffin is the predominant wax used in the candle industry. Why? It’s very inexpensive. Paraffin is basically the “bottom of the barrel” final byproduct in the petroleum refining chain…even after asphalt is extracted. Petroleum sludge, if you will.

So it makes sense that paraffin creates indoor air pollution. The soot given off from the burning of paraffin candles is the same as that given off by burning diesel fuel. How romantic!

Some of the air contaminents in paraffin fumes include toluene, benzene, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and naphthalene—substances found in paint, lacquer and varnish removers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that benzene and toluene are probable human carcinogens.

These “emissions” can also leave dark shadows (ghosting) or soot on the walls, furniture and in the heating and cooling system.

And beware of scented candles. Most oils used in scented candles are petroleum-based synthetics and not the natural plant-derived essential oils. The American Lung Association says, “refrain from burning scented or slow burning candles that have additives.”

Beeswax (and soy candles), on the other hand, are natural and renewable.

Not to mention more economical. While more expensive, beeswax candles burn up to five times longer than paraffin!

Here are some other cool facts about beeswax candles:

Dripless, as long maintained properly.

Cleanest burn of any candle.

The only wax that emits negative ions when it burns. Negative ions help to clean the air of dust, smoke and pollens and can help reduce fatigue.

Has its own wonderful fragrance.

Better for the environment beecause they’re smokeless and natural.

Make sure to select 100% non-imported beeswax with no lead/metal in the wick!

Labeling laws allow candles that have as little as 10% beeswax to be sold as beeswax candles. Most of these so-called beeswax candles are blended with cheap paraffin to cut costs! And, many candle wicks contain metal cores and lead! I also recommend you select beeswax that has no additives.

Tips for burning beeswax candles:

  • >>Keep wick trimmed ¼” for tapers and figures; 3/8” for pillars
  • >>It is best to burn beeswax pillars about one hour for each inch in diameter. For example, a 3” diameter candle needs a continuous burn of approximately three hours. After extinguishing the flame and the candle has cooled to warm, gently mold the edges inward with damp fingers.
  • >>For votives and tea lights, it is best to have a continuous burn. Burn both candles in fireproof containers.

As noted earlier, soy candles are another sustainable option, as long as they’re GMO-free and labeled 100% soy.

Adapted from my blog, I Count for myEARTH.

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About Lynn Hasselberger

Lynn Hasselberger is co-founder of GDGD Radio; The Green Divas Managing Editor; and Producer of The Green Divas Radio Show. She’s also a mom, writer and award-winning cat-herder who lives in Chicagoland. Sunrises, running, yoga, lead-free chocolate and comedy are just a few of her fave things. In her rare moments of spare time, she blogs at and A treehugger and social media addict, you’ll most likely find Lynn on twitter (@LynnHasselbrgr @GreenDivaLynn & @myEARTH360), instagram and facebook. She hopes to make the world a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking. Like her writing? Subscribe to her posts.


14 Responses to “Are Your Candles More Harmful than Burning Diesel Fuel?”

  1. Interesting that the candlelight dinners contributes more in the meal that includes meat than in the candle to global warming!

  2. Alamantra says:

    Great article! I've never cared for parafin and prefer to roll my own candles with sheets of bee's wax that I purchase at a mercantile store that gets it from local beekeepers.

  3. slsimms says:

    After Carrie Bradshaw likened candle gathering to the equivalent of a spinster with a house full of cats I've refrained from getting excited about them. But it's great to have some idea of what to purchase if I should decide to give in, thanks Lynn!

  4. Will Space says:

    Thanks! Candles are amazing!

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  8. Steph says:

    I love beeswax candles and prefer them to paraffin for several reasons. However, the assertion that they "burn cleanly" while burning paraffin candles give off "air contaminents" is hyperbole. Any burning candle gives off by-products of combustion. Although repeated all over the Internet (especially by websites promoting beeswax candles!), there is never any science provided to back up this rather weighty claim. And the whole negative ion generating claim…easily dismissed by people with science knowledge. Remember folks – use your critical thinking skills. The bigger the claim, the bigger the burden of proof.

  9. Paul W says:

    Since "Labeling laws allow candles that have as little as 10% beeswax to be sold as beeswax candles", how do you know if they're "100% non-imported beeswax with no lead/metal in the wick" ? Thanks.

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