I knew that burning candles is not great for indoor air quality, but Willy and I indulged a few times recently. After tucking Sweet William and Fergus into bed, it felt cozy and relaxing to eat a simple dinner by candlelight. But my nagging conscience finally got me, so I did some reading.

Most candles are made of paraffin. It’s a cheap material, a petroleum byproduct that releases toxins such as benzene and toluene when it’s burned. These toxins linger in the air and accumulate in soot. Paraffin candles are as dangerous to the lungs as secondhand cigarette smoke.

Additionally, cheap imported candle wicks may contain lead. Yes, lead.

Finally, the synthetic fragrances in scented candles contain toluene and phthalates. Exposure to these substances is linked to nervous system damage and endocrine disruption.

Bottom line: Willy and I rounded up every candle in the house and put them out on the curb. (I love that New York is city of scavengers and re-users. Someone taking our candles probably would have bought others, so we are reducing waste and demand.)

Beeswax candles are a safe alternative, but because they sometimes contain a mix of beeswax and paraffin, I’m going to look for 100% organic beeswax candles with cotton wicks. And I will save them for special occasions.

7 Responses to Candlelight

  1. Rev Billy Talen January 30, 2012 at 8:51 am #

    Scary and – very pracitical for us. We light candles at dinner and don’t necessarily think about their origins, and 21 month old Lena is at the table with us. Thank you.

  2. Italian Hearts Old World Style Pasta Sauces January 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    We also love candles but the fumes get to our allergies. We discovered these LED candles that are battery operated with timers. We bought several and have them all over our home. They come on at 5pm and all go off at 11:00. Batteries last for about 5,000 hours. They are excellent and give the glow of real candles we enjoy them very much. We leave our lights off so its conserves energy. We got ours at Costco. If you get some be sure they are the ones with timers and last this long as there are several brands out there. Ours come in a 4 pack for $20.00 again at Costco. Enjoy
    Val & Sal of Italian Hearts ™

    • Elizabeth Monaghan January 31, 2012 at 11:41 am #

      Thanks for the tip. We love LEDs! I haven’t investigated LED candles, but we are gradually replacing the incandescent and CFL bulbs in our home with LEDs. The Daily Green has a helpful guide to efficient bulbs here. We’re really pleased with the bright white light of the EcoSmart LED A19 13W, available at Home Depot. It’s not cheap, but with a claimed life span of 25,000 hours, it should pay off.

  3. Joe January 30, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    Lead in candles is banned by the Consumer protection agency

  4. Joe January 30, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    Sorry meant lead in candle wicks is banned by the CPA

    • Elizabeth Monaghan January 31, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      It’s true that lead hasn’t been used in wicks made in the U.S. for some time. But it occasionally shows up in candles manufactured in other countries. If the candle came from abroad, there’s a chance that its wick contains lead.


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