If you’re like me, you probably want your home to stay free of nasty odors and instead smell fresh and inviting. You may be into potpourri or room sprays, or maybe a scented candle that sets the ambiance while smelling absolutely lovely. But have you ever thought about why those candles smell so good in the first place? Or what they are made out of?
Like most mainstream household items on the market, candles can be filled with toxic chemicals that could pose a threat to your family and even your pets. Luckily for us, there are some great alternatives on the market and if you’re really feeling creative, you can even take an afternoon with your kids to make your own! So keep reading to find out why some candles are toxic, where to find better alternatives and how to make non-toxic candles right in your home.
Dangers of Scented Candles
I’ve talked about the dangers of conventional fragrance before, but I can’t emphasize them enough. Fragrances are made from petrochemicals, including phthalates, benzenes, and even formaldehyde. These are known to cause cancer, birth defects, disrupt hormone and neurological function, as well as some less dangerous side effects like allergies (1). When you burn a conventional candle, you and your family are breathing in hundreds of toxic chemicals- which go straight to your lungs and manifest in other organs. If this isn’t a reason to use non-toxic candles I don’t know what is.
Anytime you see the word “fragrance”, beware, there is a large chance that is chock full of these chemicals. And although America has no regulations against them, China, Europe, Canada and even South Korea has banned chemicals like phthalates from their products.
Particulates and VOCs
Anything that burns, even food on your stove, will release particulate matter into the air and then travel into your lungs. Besides the soot from candle smoke that you’re inhaling, when burning fragrance you also release volatile organic compounds into the air, otherwise known as the petrochemicals they are made from (2). So now instead of just smelling a toxic substance, it can actually get down into your lungs.
Candle wicks used to be made from lead, which helped them stand up. And although that has now been banned it has still been found in some brands. All of these are very dangerous for children and pets, so do your whole family a favor and use non-toxic candles instead. Make sure the wick is made from organic cotton and doesn’t have a little wire inside!
The last danger of conventional candles has to do with what their wax is made out of. Most candles you’ll see at stores are made out of paraffin which is a derivative of petroleum. That means that when you burn paraffin you’re getting the same toxins that are being released from diesel gas. There is no way you want to be burning diesel in your home!
Okay, I know this all sounds pretty dire, but it is possible to burn candles in your home when you choose a little more carefully. Candles made out of soy or beeswax that use essential oils to scent them are not only non-toxic but also provide health and wellness benefits.
Benefits of Essential Oil Candles
Aromatherapy is the use of plant extracts like essential oils to promote well-being through smelling them. Smell is very powerful and works on the brain’s limbic system to promote calm, excitement or even bring up memories. When you use scent intentionally it can offer many benefits.
Essential oils are popular because people are realizing the benefits of aromatherapy and looking for alternatives to traditional fragrances. They can be used in diffusers, on the skin or in this case, in candles. Here are some of my favorite reasons to use aromatherapy candles.
We’re all carrying around a little more stress than we’d like to be. Whether it’s financial worries, family demands, or just the day to day grind of working and running a household, we all need a little help slowing down to relax and unwind.
Some great essential oils for stress relief are lavender, ylang ylang, geranium, bergamot, and rose. They are all sweet floral scents that make for a great aroma for your home. Burn a non-toxic candle with these when you get home from work or when relaxing in the bath.
Just like stress, many of us are just flat out tired too. And if you reach for caffeine every time you’re a little low energy you’ll only end up burning out your adrenal system, which can disrupt your hormones and circadian rhythms.
So next time you’re feeling a little fatigued try some aromatherapy. Some great essential oil fragrances for increasing energy are orange, lemongrass, peppermint, or rosemary. Burning a non-toxic candle with any of these essential oils will help give you a boost and oils like peppermint can even bring oxygen to the brain to improve your mental clarity and focus.
If you want to know more, we’ve got a whole article on the best essential oils for energy and how to use them.
Do you have a hard time slowing down your brain to drift into sleep? Maybe you’ve got a million things going on, or you’re a little revved up from watching TV, but one great way to improve sleep is to turn off all the electronics and lights in your room, and light a non-toxic candle instead. Add in a little aromatherapy and you’re set for bed.
Some great essential oil fragrances for improved sleep quality are lavender, vetiver, vanilla, jasmine, or roman chamomile. You can probably find some combination of these in a non-toxic candle for promoting sleep, or you can try making your own blend and candles. Check out our sleep guide to give you some other great tips!
Best Brands of Essential Oil Candles
While making your own non-toxic candles can be a fun project, I know a lot of you just don’t have the time. Luckily there are some fantastic brands out there that use only quality ingredients. Again, always look for a natural wax free from paraffin, cotton or even wooden wick and no “fragrance” -only essential oils.
DIY Candle Recipes with Essential Oils
But if you’re up for the DIY thing, making your own non-toxic candles at home is fun and easy.
“How do I make an essential oil candle?” You may be asking. All you will really need is some wax, a wick, and essential oils.
The kind of waxes that are best for making essential oil candles are soy wax and beeswax. The beeswax is a little more expensive but it burns more slowly, and the soy wax is cheaper but you will burn through it fast.
In a homemade essential oil candle, you should use an organic cotton wick. Remember that if there is any wire in the wick it could be off-gassing lead.
And for your essential oils, choose from any of the ones listed above but keep in mind that it will probably require a lot to get a good scent, so you might not want to go with your most expensive oil, especially for your first time making a non-toxic candle.
Here is one of my favorite non-toxic candle recipes.
Sleepy Time Candle
- Four-ounce glass jar
- Cotton wick
- 2 cups of soy flakes or beeswax pellets
- 100 drops of lavender (1 tsp)
- 100 drops of vanilla (1 tsp)
- Put the wax in a glass pyrex inside a pot of gently boiling water and melt it down.
- Take the pyrex off the heat and allow it to cool a bit. Use a kitchen thermometer to measure the temperature and when it gets below 180 degrees you can stir in the essential oils.
- Put the wick in the center of your glass container and pour the wax over and around it. Hold the wick to keep it centered and then as it begins to harden you can let go. Once the candle is fully hardened you can light it! Burn this one in your room without other lights or electronics on as you’re winding down for bed. It’s even better while sipping on a cup of chamomile tea.
Making your own non-toxic candles is such an easy project, and you can mix and match essential oils to find the exact scent you want. You can create a candle to help you unwind and one to light in the morning for energy. Using 100-200 drops of essential oil will help you get a good strong scent, but if you want to use less that’s fine too! Or if you have a really strong smelling oil, like vetiver then try less to start with and add more as needed.
I hope I’ve given you a good idea of why burning conventional candles with fragrance is not ideal for you and your family. Luckily there are other options out there, whether you decide to buy from an ethical company or make your own non-toxic candles at home.
I’m curious about your experience. Do you have any non-toxic candle brands that you can’t live without? Or a recipe you’d like to share? I always love to hear from you, so leave a comment below and tell me your experience using non-toxic candles with essential oils!
- Rodale, Maria (2017). “Five Must-Knows on the Dangers of Synthetic Fragrance.” Retrieved from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/five-mustknows-on-the-dan_b_4737654
- Barrette, Assya (2018). “Are Candles Bad for You? From Scented to Unscented.” Retrieved from: https://molekule.com/blog/are-candles-bad-for-you-from-scented-to-unscented/