With its warm, flickering light and sweet fragrance, a scented candle may seem like the ultimate home accessory to promote relaxation. However, if you knew about the hidden dangers that candles can pose, you might not feel so calm anymore. Scented candles increase your risk for fires, can aggravate allergies, and may send toxic chemicals into the air. Before you light another candle, find out about the trouble they can cause and the alternatives available to you.
House Fire From a Scented Candle
While a candle can offer a lot of comfort as long as it remains under control, you should never assume that it is safe to use. Any open flame, including candles, can ignite flammable materials around your home if brought into contact with them, even accidentally. Candles were responsible for an estimated 7,610 house fires in the United States between 2014 and 2018. On average, these fires resulted in the following:
• 21 home candle fires a day
• 677 injuries
• $278 million in property damage
• 81 deaths
Despite only accounting for 2% of all house fires, candles are responsible for 3% of the home fire deaths in the United States, 4% of the property damage, and 6% of all home fire injuries.
The risks of burning candles might be acceptable if there were no other lighting options, as in the days before electricity, and no other way to simulate the effects a scented candle can produce. Thanks to modern technology, however, there are ways to get the same benefits of a candle without the risks of having an open flame in your home.
Electric candles can produce the same warm glow and flickering ambiance without the open flame, and scenting your home using a diffuser can release the same fragrances. Knowing that you are safe from a house candle fire may help you to relax even more than you would be able to otherwise.
Burn Injuries From Candles
Even if a candle doesn’t start a fire, the melted wax can cause a severe burn injury if it comes in contact with your skin. The skin consists of several different layers, and burn injuries are categorized according to how many layers of skin are affected. The more layers of skin that a burn injury extends down through, the more severe it is.
The most severe burn injuries are third-degree burns. These injuries are also called full-thickness burns because all the layers of skin are affected by the burns, destroying the sweat glands and the follicles and potentially damaging the tissues underneath. The only way of healing these injuries is with skin grafts. Second-degree burns are often called partial-thickness burns because they do not affect all the levels of the skin. Some second-degree burns can be nearly as severe as third-degree burns depending on how deep beneath the skin’s surface they extend.
When a candle burns, the wax melts and turns into liquid. The melted wax can spill over the side of the candle. If the candle is handled, the wax may come in contact with the skin and potentially cause an injury. A liquid at a temperature of 156 degrees Fahrenheit can cause a third-degree burn within one second if it comes in contact with the skin. Different parts of a candle flame burn at various temperatures, the hottest of which can be over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Burn injuries from melted candle wax may be more severe if it sticks to the skin. There is no need to burn or heat the fragrances we offer, and our diffusers install easily onto your HVAC system, so there is no risk of any burn injuries.
Phthalates From Candle Scents
A scented candle usually uses synthetic fragrances produced in a lab to create its pleasing aroma. Unsurprisingly, synthetic fragrances may contain many different chemicals, including phthalates.
When an alcohol reacts with an acid, it produces a class of compounds called esters. Phthalates are esters of phthalic acid. They are used in hundreds of different products, including perfumes and scented products such as candles.
The role of phthalates in scented candles is to increase the strength of the fragrance. It does this by working as a solvent and breaking down the different materials used in the fragrance. Without phthalates, candles wouldn’t smell as strongly as they do.
Burning scented candles releases phthalates into the air. They can enter the bloodstream by being absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Phthalates may alter hormone levels, potentially posing reproductive risks. They may also aggravate asthma symptoms or trigger allergic reactions.
Fragrances from Whole Home Scenting contain a blend of organic and synthetic ingredients. However, none of our fragrances contain any phthalates or other harmful chemicals. They are compliant with safety standards set by the International Fragrance Association.
Paraffin Wax in Scented Candles
While some candles today are made of natural beeswax, soy, or other organic products, most are made out of paraffin wax. Don’t let the goofy-sounding name fool you into thinking it is something harmless: Paraffin is a petroleum product, a byproduct of the process used to make gasoline.
Being a petroleum product, paraffin candles burn very effectively. However, the chemicals they can release into the air are similar to those found in diesel engine exhaust, such as toluene, a potential carcinogen.
There has been some question over whether a paraffin candle releases these chemicals in sufficient quantities to harm human health. Many of the questions and challenges come from organizations of candle manufacturers, which certainly have a vested interest in convincing people that candles are safe and harmless.
Even if the paraffin wax found in candles doesn’t pose a direct health risk, petroleum products are not good for the environment. Burning candles can contribute, albeit in a very small way, to climate change by releasing carbon dioxide. A much more significant concern is some of the methods used to mine petroleum, such as fracking, that can have dire ecological effects. Therefore, even if the risk to your health from paraffin candles is small, they may pose a much bigger risk to Earth itself.
Volatile Organic Compounds From Scented Candles
A carbon compound that turns into a gas at room temperatures is a volatile organic compound. Not all VOCs are dangerous. For example, the smell of some flowers is caused by the evaporation of VOCs naturally occurring in the blossoms. However, VOCs are also found in many manufactured products. Candles contain VOCs such as benzene, acetone, and formaldehyde, which is the chemical used to preserve dead bodies prior to burial. All of these VOCs are potential carcinogens.
During the manufacturing process of plastics and other consumer goods, carbon compounds get trapped in the material. Over time, they convert to a gas, and VOCs are released into the air via a process called off-gassing. If you’re familiar with the “new” smell of cars and home furnishings, what you’re actually smelling are VOCs from off-gassing. While the smell often fades within a few days, the process of off-gassing can continue releasing VOCs into the air you breathe for years.
VOCs are also released by the burning of fossil fuels, meaning that they are present in factory pollution and car exhaust. Since a paraffin candle is a petroleum product, burning it releases VOCs into the air of your home. While more research may be needed to confirm, it is possible that candles may also release VOCs into the home by off-gassing as many other consumer products do. In either case, VOCs from a candle may be inhaled or potentially absorbed through the skin.
A scented candle may be a relatively small source of VOCs compared to all the others polluting the atmosphere, both inside and outside your home, on a daily basis. However, longer exposure to scented candles at close proximity over the course of many years may cause cancer or other negative health effects over time.
Particulate Matter From Scented Candles
As a candle burns, it releases soot, which is the charred remains of the wax used to fuel the flame and the wick used to draw the fuel up into it. It also releases small droplets of liquid. Together, these materials are known as particulate matter. The human body has natural defense systems in place to prevent inhaled particulate matter from reaching the respiratory system. Unfortunately, some of these particles are so small that they can get past the defenses when inhaled and make their way into the lungs.
Inhaled particulate matter is responsible for a wide range of respiratory illnesses called pneumoconioses, many of them related to occupational hazards. For example, miners often develop black lung disease from inhaling too much coal dust. While there is no known documentation of any specific pneumoconiosis caused by candles, it is possible that the particulate matter from a scented candle could build up in the lungs the same way that coal dust or asbestos fibers can, gradually causing scar tissue by irritating the interstitial tissues.
What makes pneumoconioses so dangerous is that the condition develops gradually over time. By the time you develop symptoms, it may be too late to do anything about it. However, inhaling particulate matter from a candle may cause acute problems as well. For example, it could disrupt your ability to breathe, causing wheezing or coughing.
As with VOCs, it is believed that the health risks from inhaling particulate matter from candles increase over time. Experts and candle manufacturers recommend that you burn candles only occasionally for relatively short periods and take care to do so in a well-ventilated area. However, this may negate the effects.
Cored Wick in a Scented Candle
If you look at a candle, you may notice that the wick usually stands straight up. This may be because it contains a strand of metal. A cored wick consists of cotton fibers wrapped around a metal strand. In the past, cored wicks contained lead, an extremely poisonous metal that can cause damage to almost every organ in the body, including the brain and kidneys, if ingested or inhaled. When burned, a lead-core wick exceeds EPA standards set for outdoor air pollution and releases five times the amount of lead considered hazardous to children’s health.
Fortunately, the federal government and U.S.-based candle manufacturers recognized the danger a long time ago. In 1974, the National Candle Association voluntarily agreed to stop using lead wicks. Approximately 30 years later, in 2003, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted to outlaw the manufacture, sale, and importation of candles with lead-core wicks in the United States.
However, that doesn’t mean that wicks are completely safe. Candle wicks manufactured in the United States are supposed to be made out of paper or cotton, but wicks in candles manufactured in other countries, such as Taiwan or China, may still contain heavy metals. Cored wicks do not contain lead anymore; instead, they contain metals such as tin or zinc. Nevertheless, burning these metals may still release toxic chemicals into the air.
If you have candles and want to find out if the wick contains any lead, there is a simple way to find out before burning it. If the candle has not been burnt yet, rub the wick with some white paper. A lead wick will leave a gray mark behind on the paper. Safer yet, just throw the candles away and use a diffuser for scenting your home instead.
Avoid Scented Candle Dangers With Whole Home Scenting
Candles have a lot of symbolic meanings, and the associations that most people form with them are largely positive. However, not all the dangers of candles are widely known, and if they were, people may not see candles as benign.
Admittedly, there are some ways that you can mitigate the risks involved with burning scented candles. However, these may defeat the purpose by lessening the effects. With a home diffuser that releases safe and responsibly produced fragrances into your home, you get almost all the same benefits of a scented candle with none of the associated dangers. Contact us today for more information about Whole Home Scenting and our products.