There are many reasons why people light candles in their homes, but oftentimes they claim it helps to purify and clean the air. Is there any scientific evidence to back up this common claim, or is it nothing more than an urban myth? Let’s take a look!
There is very little evidence pointing to the idea that candles significantly clean the air. Candles made from beeswax and other natural waxes can remove harmful toxins from the air by releasing negative air ions. However, candles are much better at masking odors than actually purifying the air.
It can sometimes be confusing to know just how much burning candles helps or harms your home’s air quality. So let’s take a more in-depth look at the evidence pointing towards and against candles being able to clean the air around them.
There is a lot of helpful information to cover, so let’s just get right into it!
Do Candles Clean the Air in a Room?
People burn and use candles for a variety of purposes. Their beautiful scents and relaxing qualities make them popular in many households.
Candles also have a very strong association with many religious texts. They often signify illuminance, purification, and cleansing. This strong association with cleanliness and purification likely brought about the idea that candles can clean the air around them.
There is a small amount of truth to a candle’s air cleaning abilities, but it’s a little more complicated than many people might assume.
Cleaning the Air By Burning a Candle
While there hasn’t been much research on the subject, beeswax candles and other candles made from natural waxes can release negative air ions into the air. These negative air ions attack many toxins in the air and essentially clean the air around the candle.
Candles can clean the air to some degree, but it is on a very small scale. The amount of particulate that candles can clean with their released negative air ions is minimal and almost insignificant.
Studies such as this one published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information have looked at the many positive and cleaning abilities that negative air ions possess. Negative air ions are natural elements that can remove particulate matter and toxins from the air.
Overall, candles clean the air a very slight amount because of the negative air ions they produce. Candles aren’t nearly as powerful or effective at cleaning the air as an artificial air purifying machine or other natural methods.
The air-cleaning abilities that candles have are more of a side ability that contributes a little bit to a room’s air quality but won’t make much of a noticeable difference.
However, there is a little more to consider because there are some downsides to candles that can counteract their cleaning and cleansing abilities. I’ll go more in-depth into the downsides of burning candles later on in this article, so keep reading!
Masking Odors By Lighting a Candle
While it’s not the same as actually cleaning the air, candles are excellent at masking odors which can often achieve the desired effect. Masking an unpleasant smell with a candle isn’t the same as cleaning the air because the particulate or toxins are still present but are just less noticeable and not as easy to smell.
Candles can have varying amounts of fragrance oil or essential oils, so their scent’s strength will differ from one candle to the next. To get rid of a powerful unwanted smell, you may need to light many scented candles in a room.
Another thing to keep in mind is masking an unwanted smell using a scented candle doesn’t actually solve the root of the problem. To get rid of the smell long-term, you must remove the source of the unpleasant smell.
You could consider masking a scent with a candle to be cleaning the air. Odor molecules attach themselves to oxygen molecules, which candles then consume as fuel to keep their wicks lit. So you’re technically getting rid of odor-covered oxygen molecules when you burn a candle.
Overall, using a candle to get rid of a smell is effective, on a small scale, if the candle has a strong enough pleasant scent to overpower the unwanted one.
Read more about Best Odor Eliminating Candles and Best Candle for Kitchen Odors.
The Downsides to Burning Candles In Your Home
As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few downsides to burning candles in your home, which can cancel out the small amount of air-purifying they do.
It’s a sad reality, but many of the waxes and materials candles are made of release toxins into the air when burned.
There isn’t any strong research suggesting that the toxins and compounds produced by burning candles are enough to cause any harm to humans. However, candles often produce more burnt-off toxins faster than they can clean the air, so you’re often left with dirtier air after burning a candle than before you started.
How much volatile organic compounds and toxins your candle produces when burnt depends mainly on the type of wick, wax, and fragrance used to make it. In the following section, I’ll briefly go over what you should look for and avoid in a candle in order to have the cleanest air possible in your home.
How to Make Your Candle Produce Fewer Toxins and Have Cleaner Air
Just lighting your candle and leaving it to burn should, in theory, be the best thing you can do in order for it to clean the air using negative air ions, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
As I mentioned before, most candles release small amounts of toxins and organic compounds when burnt. The burned-off particulates and matter are just enough to counteract any good that the negative ions produced by the candles are doing.
However, there are some steps that you can take to cut down on the number of toxins your candle produces and therefore make your candle’s air cleaning abilities more effective.
Things to Avoid In Order For Your Candle to Produce Fewer Toxins
The number of toxins, particulate, and volatile organic compounds that your candle produces is primarily dictated by what was used to make your candle.
Below is a list of a few materials and things you should try to avoid so your candle can burn as cleanly as possible and be the most effective at cleaning the air around it:
- Avoid paraffin wax candles and other petroleum-based wax
- Avoid drafty rooms with airflow that could make your candle burn unevenly or faster
- Avoid cored wicks if possible and make sure your wick is the correct size
- Avoid commercial candle making scents and fragrance oils if at all possible
Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid all of these things, but try your best to get a candle with as few of the above materials as possible.
In my opinion, the best-case scenario would be a beeswax candle scented with natural essential oils and a cotton non-cored wick. And, of course, the wick would be trimmed appropriately (about 1/4 inch tall), and the candle would be in a well-ventilated but non-drafty room.
Do Candles Clean the Air or Make It Worse? Final Thoughts
Whether a candle cleans the air or makes the air quality worse is highly dependent on what the candle is made of and many other factors.
The vast majority of candles are pretty neutral when it comes to either cleaning or degrading air quality. They clean the air slightly by releasing negative air ions, but they also produce a small amount of toxin into the air, which counteracts their cleaning.
There are steps and materials that you can avoid to cut down on the toxins your candle produces. So, with a little time and research, it is possible to get a candle that makes very few volatile organic compounds or toxins and actually cleans the air around it.