Meet the Monster that's Killing your Indoor Air Quality

Are candles bad for you? Yup. How bad? Real bad.

It breathes fire. It throws smoke up into the sky above. It is the monster that is ravaging your indoor air quality. It is . . . the candle. No, seriously.

Why are candles bad for you?

Candles are part of a roll call of unassuming objects that, if used improperly, can do serious damage to your home’s air quality. Common wax materials and wicks can emit relatively nasty air pollutants when burned.

Are scented candles bad for you?

Hate to break it to you, but scented candles can be even worse, and both varieties unload decent quantities of soot into your in-home atmosphere. Don’t worry though. You don’t have to give up the ambiance of candlelight—at least, not just yet. There is still hope for the future of your candlelit dinners.

Why is paraffin wax bad and what to do about it?

Your everyday candle is typically made of something called paraffin wax. Why is paraffin wax bad? Because it’s made from petroleum, which will throw all sorts of nasty garbage into the air if you light it on fire. This is quite inconvenient, as lighting it on fire is kind of the whole point of a candle after all. Some examples of this “nasty garbage” include acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Even if you have no idea what those things are, you can probably assume from their lengthy chemistry sounding names that you don’t want them floating around in your house. And you would be correct in that assumption. These compounds can lead to respiratory issues, asthma, and other conditions that you definitely don’t want.

"Additionally, burning a candle wick yields a smoke soot that floats into your air and may take days to settle out of the air. Smoke particles settle at a rate of 2” per day when in areas with no air flow. Homes have an abundance of airflow thanks to their HVAC and people and pets moving. MERV 13 (our Health Shield filters) are built to capture particles the size of smoke particles. All other filters will allow smoke particles to flow right on through and land on your HVAC equipment and enter back into your loving environment. Have you ever seen a vent on the wall that has black soot hanging outside of it? Chances are there has been smoke in the house."- Second Nature COO Kevin Barry

Paraffin wax-free candles that aren’t as bad for you

So, are paraffin candles bad? Yes. But luckily, there are some worry-free alternatives. Getting rid of the paraffin is step one. While paraffin is the wax of choice for most candle makers, there are also other types of candle wax. Beeswax candles hold a higher price tag, but this safer and more natural material is well worth the extra dollar or two. These things don’t pollute your air with unpronounceable molecules and come with the added bonus of a natural honey scent.

Another option is soy. Soy candles don’t have the naturally occurring scent that Beeswax does, but it’s lower burning temperature allows the candle to last as much as 1.5x longer than your standard paraffin wax candle. Soy also burns just as clean as its beeswax competitor, making both types great alternatives to paraffin.

Make candles safer with a little thing called an air filter

So, are candles bad for you? Paraffin wax ones, for sure, are. But choosing alternative wax candles minimizes health risks. You can also make your candles a bit safer with the magic of air filters.

Beeswax and soy varieties unload significantly less of the nasty black soot into your home that paraffin is known for (even though all candles will produce some). Regularly changing your air filters will allow them to do their job of keeping that candle refuse out of your home’s air.

So don’t be afraid to light up some candles (as long as your filters have high MERV ratings–13 or above). That romantic candlelit ambiance is still possible, as is that creepy haunted house vibe if that’s what you’re into. You do you. All we want is for you to do it in the cleanest and safest air possible.

Not sure what size air filter to get? Learn about air filter sizes and how they work to remove candle soot from your home.

Alec Lower

Content Writer

Alec is a third-year member of the team at Second Nature. He brings expert knowledge of a myriad of home air filtration topics including HVAC filters, filtration efficiency, and indoor air quality.