The Dangers Of Burning Paraffin Candles

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If you burn paraffin candles, you might as well be inhaling diesel fumes. “The fine particulate matter collected from candle emissions was similar to that of diesel engine exhaust in particle size, morphology, elemental carbon content, and absorbed chemical constituents” says David Krause. Krause is an air quality engineer and former employee of the Florida Department of Health. He also adds, “These similarities point to a similar potential for adverse health effects.”

Supporting the Oil Industry

Paraffin is the final residue left from refining crude oil. It has become the leading wax for use in cosmetics, food and candle manufacturing because it’s cheap and readily available. And the oil industries make a healthy profit from its use.

Paraffin wax is a non-renewable resource. Once all the crude oil is gone, we will not have any more. Paraffin burns more quickly and hotter than most waxes creating more concern for fire hazards than necessary. Because it is oil-based, paraffin wax spills do not cleanup easily.

Health Concerns

The main concerns cropping up from research deal with high levels of indoor pollutants, particularly soot and lead. This is a major problem considering that air borne soot can penetrate the deepest areas of the lungs and the lower respiratory tract.

Paraffin candle burners may be exposing themselves to inflammatory agents, carcinogens and teratogens. These may lead to increased risk of cancer, neurological and behavioural deficits and acute aggravation of existing respiratory diseases such as asthma.

Emissions in the home are estimated to stick around for up to 10 hours after extinguishing a candle.


Soot from paraffin candles can cover your walls and has resulted in millions of dollars worth of insurance claims in North America. The results from tests with scented paraffin candles seem to be even more dismal.

Paraffin candles cannot be scented with natural essential oils because the petrochemical rich wax will break them down. This has lead the candle industry to create petroleum-based fragrances that are more compatible. When these fragrances are added to the mix, a lot more soot and chemicals are released.

Soot, in high levels, can be seen rising from the offending candle. But, even a visually clean burning candle could still emit significant quantities of lead.


In 1974, the US candle manufacturing industry voluntarily ceased the production of candles with lead wicks. However, with the lack of an official ban, they are still found on store shelves. On average, 30% of candles contain lead. Burning lead wick candles can result in airborne concentrations of lead above EPA recommended thresholds.

Metal core wicks are used to decrease production time – they stand up on their own while the candle is poured. Zinc wicks are a better choice, but still emit undesirable chemicals. Even burning candles in metal containers can increase the amount of airborne pollutants.

More Chemicals

The main focus of this article is on the hazards of soot and lead. I thought I should include this list of chemicals normally found in paraffin candles:

Acrolein, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde exceeding EPA safety thresholds, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, didecyl phthalate, toluene, styrene, benzene, styrene, toluene, ethyl benzene, naphthalene, benzaldehyde, benzene,ethanol, and 2-butanone (methyl ethyl ketone) and acetone.

With the craze for gel candles you can add in mineral oil, terpene-type chemicals, modified hydrocarbons & viscosity increasing chemicals.

Alternatives – A Breath of Fresh Air

All is not lost. The increasing popularity of vegetable wax candles presents us with a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative. Look for candles made from soy wax [], palm wax and so on. Insist on a wick made from cotton or other natural source fibres.

Most important – never let them fool you with claims of a “natural” candle scented with butter pecan. Butter pecan and a multitude of other creative non-plant scents are chemicals, as are the more expensive scents from nature such as rose. Rose essence (a chemical fragrance) is about $7/oz, rose essential oil (the real thing) is about $200/oz. So, your not likely to get a rose candle scented with the real thing for under $30 (and that’s a small one). When in doubt – ask.


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