Before the advent of electricity, candles were used primarily for illumination. Light served as a symbol of the good and the beautiful, especially in times of emotional and spiritual darkness. Today, candles are used mainly for their aesthetic value and scent to set a soft, warm, or romantic ambiance and for emergency lighting during electrical power failures. 

The question is, how much do you know about the type of candles you’re burning and their potential impact on the quality of the air in your home? Keep in mind that up until ten years ago, almost half the candles on the market still contained lead wires inside their wicks. Because the industry is not regulated, it’s hard to know how many still do. 

A candle with a lead-core wick has been shown to release five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children and exceeds EPA pollution standards for outdoor air. Lead along with other metals like zinc are used to stiffen the wicks of candles so they remain straight when the surrounding wax begins to melt. 

Another problem inherent in frequently burning candles with wicks that contain metal (especially those made with paraffin wax, a petroleum by-product), is they create excess soot that can cause respiratory problems or aggravate existing asthma, lung, and heart conditions. This type of soot can also cause significant damage to the inside of your home, your computers, electrical appliances, and ductwork.

The good news is there are ways to enjoy burning candles without routinely exposing yourself to harmful toxins. Here’s how:

Ensure any candles you buy aren’t made with lead-containing wicks. Look for “lead-free” or “coreless clean-burning” on candle labels. If you’re not sure, you can perform a simple test by rubbing the tip of the wick on a piece of paper. If it leaves a gray mark like a pencil, the wick contains lead.

Buy candles made with 100% beeswax or 100% vegetable wax (or soy) and avoid blended wax candles. Because these natural waxes are more expensive, a lot of manufacturers tend to blend them with paraffin. 

To reduce soot no matter what kind of candles you burn, keep wicks trimmed and don’t burn candles near a draft.

For aromatherapy or scented candles, buy candles made with only pure essential oils. Synthetic fragrances often contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates that bind to the soot you breathe in. Soy candles are best for this purpose as they are clean, slow-burning, and long-lasting with superior scent dispersion.

By Donya Fahmy