The Truth About Scented Candles

For many people, home decor wouldn't be complete without scented candles. From pumpkin spice and orange vanilla to tuberose and honeysuckle, scents fill our homes year round from candles, room sprays, plug-ins, incense sticks, and other formulations.  However, while they might make your home seem fresher, they may also be adding health risks from:

  • Paraffin wax
  • Lead-core wicks
  • Synthetic fragrance

Most candles are made of paraffin wax (a petroleum waste product that is chemically bleached), which creates highly toxic benzene and toluene (both are known carcinogens) when burned. In fact, the petro-soot released from paraffin candles are the same as those found in diesel fuel fumes and can be as dangerous at second-hand smoke. In 2001, the EPA concluded that burning paraffin candles emit harmful toxins and increase health risks with multiple exposures.

Candle wicks can also be a source of toxins. In the US, candle wicks are supposed to be made of cotton or paper, but lead-core wicks can still be found, especially in products manufactured in China or Taiwan. A candle with a lead-core wick releases five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children and exceeds EPA pollution standards for outdoor air. You don’t even need to light the candle to be exposed to chemicals, simple evaporation from an uncovered candle can release pollutants into the air and touching a candle can cause absorption of chemicals through the skin. 

The synthetic fragrances that create candle scents usually contain phthalates. As candles burn, phthalates are released into the air where they may be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Once they enter the bloodstream, they can aggravate allergic and asthma symptoms and alter hormone levels.

In addition, if you are burning candles to cover up an unpleasant odor, you may be masking a real problem, such as mold or mildew, that can impact your health. If there is a scent in your home that you find unpleasant, track down the source of the odor so you can remedy the problem and not just cover it up!

Learn more about all the things in your home that could be impacting your indoor air quality and your health — get your Hayward Score today.  After completing the questionnaire, you'll get your score and a detailed report that will give you actionable steps to make your home healthier for you and your family!