It seems when you light a candle in your home, most of us tend to focus more on the beauty of it and its relaxing qualities and less on the fact that candles produce a fair amount of smoke. Additionally, candles often have quite a few scents added to them, so it begs the question, are scented candles safe to breathe?
Candles scented using fragrance oils or commercial candle making scents can release trace amounts of petroleum distillates, formaldehyde, and other potentially harmful compounds. In a large, well-ventilated room, scented candles shouldn’t noticeably affect air quality and are safe to breathe.
There is a lot of contradicting information on the safety of breathing scented candles, so let’s take a closer look to sort through the misconceptions and find out whether it is truly safe or not.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the different ways candles are scented and distinguish between the toxic ones and those that are entirely safe to breathe. There are also many other ingredients added to candles that can potentially be unsafe to breathe, so we’ll go over a few of those as well.
Are Scented Candles Safe to Breathe?
When making candles, there are typically four major categories of scents that can be used to make a candle smell a particular way:
Some of the scents used in candles release trace amounts of toxins into the air. There is no concrete evidence pointing to these released chemicals from candles causing illness in humans, but breathing fewer toxins is always a good thing!
Before you start freaking out and throwing away all of your candles, a 2014 study on the emissions of scented candles concluded that “under normal conditions of use scented candles do not pose known health risks to the consumer.”
Now that we’ve established that none of your candles pose a significant risk to your life, let’s take a closer look at the different scents commonly used in candles and whether or not they release any toxins into the air.
Read more about Fragrance Oil vs Essential Oil, Which is Better for Candle Making.
Fragrance oils are one of the most common ways candles are scented. Both commercially produced and homemade candles often use fragrance oils as a scenting agent due to its low cost, strong smell, and availability.
Fragrance oils are known NOT to be made out of exceptionally wholesome and organic ingredients.
When you light a candle that is scented using fragrance oils, the candle often releases tiny amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These compounds can cause many things, including making you feel dizzy or fatigued, and in some cases, more extreme side effects and outcomes such as an increased cancer risk can occur.
Fragrance oils are made up of various chemicals, and when you burn your candle, they can release VOCs such as formaldehyde and petroleum distillates into the air.
Anything you can do to cut down on coming into contact with VOCs is a good thing, so try to avoid candles scented using fragrance oils if possible. If you must burn a candle with fragrance oils in it, make sure you light it in a large, well-ventilated room.
Commercial Candle Making Scents
Much like fragrance oils, commercially produced candle making scents often release many VOCs, which are not ideal to breathe in at all.
While the 2014 study quoted above clearly states that the particles released from candles are not enough to significantly affect air quality and cause a health concern, it’s best to cut down as much chemical intake as possible.
Chemicals such as formaldehyde and petroleum distillates, which are commonly found in fragrances and commercial candle scents, are not good to breathe no matter what. So, if you have the option, always choose one of the more natural candle scents, which well go into more below.
On the list of scenting agents for candles, essential oils are near the top for the most healthy and best option out there.
Because essential oils are organically based and not created out of synthetic chemicals in a lab, like many fragrance oils and commercial candle making scents are, they release very few particles that could be considered dangerous.
It is best to treat essential oil scented candles like any other smoke creating thing near you: don’t get too close to it, and the larger and more well-ventilated a room is, the better.
Essential oils don’t release risky VOCs such as formaldehyde, but it is still best to treat your candles with caution and don’t spend too much time solely breathing in their scent.
Natural Scents (Spices, Herbs, etc.)
While their scent is noticeably less pungent and longlasting than the alternatives, entirely natural scents such as spices and herbs are fantastic in candles.
Like with the essential oils, natural scents usually do not release any risky VOCs that you need to worry about and avoid. You’re pretty safe burning natural scented candles in your home without the fear of trace amounts of formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals.
However, it is essential to note that breathing too much smoke in, whether from a candle with a natural scent or not, is never a good thing. Ensure the place where you are lighting your candles is well ventilated and large enough to disperse all the smoke created.
Other Potential Health Risks Related to Scented Candles
Now that we’ve discussed the various candle scenting options used in modern candles today and whether they are safe to breathe or not, it’s essential to now go over some of the other ingredients used in many candles.
You might be surprised that the scent used to make a candle smell a particular way, while sometimes toxic, is quite a small concern when you consider what wax was used to create your candle. Alright, enough chit-chat, let’s get right into it!
As I teased above, what wax was used to create your candle can have some pretty severe implications on what sort of particles it releases when burned.
Paraffin wax, a common candle wax used to make both commercial and homemade candles, actually releases a surprisingly large amount of chemicals when burned. Many types of Paraffin wax exist, but many candles are made out of the petroleum-basted kind, which is far from ideal for breathing in.
According to a study done at South Carolina State University in 2009, “the paraffin candles we tested released unwanted chemicals into the air.” If you are regularly burning a paraffin wax-based candle in your house, the long-term effects of coming into contact with the VOCs released could lead to severe health problems and even an increased risk of cancer.
Using vegetable-based wax or beeswax (nearly anything not petroleum-based!) is your best option when it comes time for you to get a new candle. Almost all candle waxes release some level of particles, but paraffin wax is just one of the worse offenders.
Read more about What Is the Healthiest Candle to Burn?
In 2003, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead cored wicks from being sold and used in candles. But while we don’t necessarily need to worry about lead in our wicks anymore, it is still essential to look at what your wick is made of to avoid unwanted toxins.
Cored wicks, which are simply cotton wicks with a metal core for more stability and strength, are seemingly a perfect solution to the infamous droopy wick that annoys many candle owners. However, they usually contain trace amounts of lead in them even today and release small amounts of heavy metals into the air.
By no means are candles going to harm you quickly if you breathe them in, but if you have candles made of the less desirable ingredients, they can cause health problems over time. The best option is to avoid fragrance oils, commercial candle making scents, paraffin wax, and cored wicks and go for more organic-based candles.
With more organic-based candles that don’t release as many VOCs and toxins into the air, you can enjoy the odor dampening and refreshing smell of your candle without having to worry about dangerous particles being released.