Used in just about every room of the house, candles are not just a source of lighting, but also a way to infuse warmth and atmosphere into your surroundings. Some candles are made from materials that will give off more than just a pleasant fragrance in your home, though. Candles that are made from synthetic ingredients, such as paraffin derived from petroleum, can release chemicals into your indoor air while melting. Candle wicks can be a problem, too, if they contain lead and heavy metals. Candle wicks made from 100 percent cotton are ideal because they do not contain toxic materials.

Artificial Fragrances

Candles are often burned to impart a fragrance, but if the fragrance comes from artificial ingredients, it simply adds to the problems of bad indoor air. An “artificial fragrance” is not just one chemical used to scent a product. As discussed earlier in this book, artificial fragrance is a generic term that is used to identify the presence of up to 3,194 chemicals that have been blended together to make a scent.

Natural Alternatives

Remove any artificially scented candles, including jar candles or gel candles that are stored throughout your home. These include candles on display, as well as candles that might be stored away in a cabinet somewhere. If you are not sure if a candle is artificially scented, assume it is, since the majority of candles available for mass purchase use artificial fragrances. If you have been using artificially fragranced candles, open the windows in your home and really air the place out for at least several hours, if not for a few days.

Beeswax has been used for thousands of years and can be used in lip balms, furniture polishes, soaps, and waterproofing finishes. Beeswax candles burn brighter, longer, and cleaner than any other type of candle. The natural scent of beeswax is created when bees create beeswax honeycombs after pollinating fragrant flowers.

When buying candles, look for ones made from soy wax, beeswax, or palm wax. These all-natural waxes are gentler on your health. Make sure the wick is made of 100 percent cotton, or that the product states that it is lead-free. Look for a product made with only 100 percent essential oil fragrance.


  • Avoid purchasing furniture made from pressed woods, unless made with formaldehyde-free resins. Pressed woods are the major source of exposure to formaldehyde in a person's home. Formaldehyde, a common indoor air pollutant, can cause a variety of health problems ranging from fatigue to cancer.

  • Dispose of foam cushions and furniture that are starting to break apart and deteriorate. Foam cushions can release toxic chemical fire retardants into your indoor air, which are then inhaled.

  • Choose low or no VOC options of paint. Reduce your exposure to many indoor air contaminants by choosing paints that do not contain as many of the health offenders.

  • Do not use CFL bulbs in light fixtures that could easily be knocked over. Because mercury is found in a CFL bulb, you want to ensure that the bulb will not accidentally break.

  • Do not use stain repellents, and decline the option when purchasing furniture. Stain repellents contain the same types of chemicals as some fire retardants and can build up in your body's tissues.

  • Air out your home for several weeks after painting with any type of paint. Even low and no VOC paints can still contain small amounts of pollutants, so bringing fresh air indoors can reduce your indoor air pollution.

  • If a CFL bulb breaks, follow the proper procedures to clean the mercury spill. Leave the room after breakage to reduce your exposure to inhaling mercury, a neurotoxin, and contain the toxic material with special care.

  • Wash your curtains regularly. Dust, dust mites, and allergens can build up in the fabric.

  • Dispose of any mini blinds manufactured before 1997. Older mini blinds have been found to contain lead in the plastic.

  • Only burn candles made from natural waxes and essential oils with a lead-free wick. Candles made of synthetic ingredients release chemicals into your indoor air, while lead-based wicks allow the toxic metal to be inhaled.

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