Are Your Candles Toxic? A Closer Look at Lead Candle Wicks

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A lot of times, when I’m writing out a blog post, or researching a topic, I include WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION and then have to stash it away for another blog post. Well, this is “that other blog post”.
And yes. Yes. I am talking about candles again. (I can’t help myseeeeelf!!)
So, we have discussed at length in a previous article that burning several paraffin wax candles exceeds the EPA’s standards for chemical exposure and poses an increased risk for cancer because of the acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, toluene, benzene and acrolein levels emitted with each burn. All those chemicals – along with many others – are not healthy or good for our bodies and most especially our lungs, where the microscopic soot lodges and stays. (Click here to read more about toxins in paraffin wax candles.)
But another potential element that poses a significant risk to your indoor air quality – and the health of every person and animal living in that air – is lead contaminated wicks.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency:
Candles with lead wicks have the potential to generate indoor airborne lead concentrations of health concern. It is also possible for consumers to unknowingly purchase candles containing lead wick cores and repeatedly expose themselves to harmful amounts of lead through regular candle-burning.

Why Is There Lead In My Candle Wick?!

A candle wick is traditionally made of braided cotton or paper. A candle wick works by capillary action, conveying (“wicking”) the fuel to the flame. When the liquid fuel – the melted candle wax – reaches the flame, it then vaporizes and combusts. The candle wick influences how the candle burns.
Cheap candle manufacturers insert a fine wire (often cheap lead-based wire) that runs through the cotton wick. The purpose of the wire is to make the wick rigid for easy assembly line construction of the candles. If cheap quality cotton wicking is used, (which is usually the case in cheap assembly line candles) then the lead wire also helps to convey heat downward so the candle stays lit.
A University of Michigan study in late 1999 found that roughly 30% of candles in the United States still release lead into the air, in amounts higher than is considered safe by the EPA. But according to the EPA, the number of contaminated wicks may be even higher.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency Research and Development speculated in a January 2001 article titled, “Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution: Market Analysis and Literature Review,” that upwards of 40% percent of candles have wicks with lead in them!
These numbers are mostly speculation and fancy guesswork due to the loose and unregulated nature of candle making in the United States. While lead wicks are not strictly regulated in the USA, most stateside manufacturers assure us they have agreed to not use lead in the wicks of their candles. Notice the “most”. They still CAN. They, just, maybe might not.. maybe.
The real concern is that close to half of all candles sold on store shelves are imported from China and Hong Kong, where there most assuredly ARE no rules and regulations for candle manufacturers. Remember, one of the key elements of candles with lead wicks is “cheap assembly line shortcuts”? Sooo, yeah. You can see why China and Hong Kong candles are a source of concern. Especially so when you realize that candles being imported from overseas are NOT subject to any standards or regulations regarding toxic substances in the wicks.

Health Risks of Burning Candles with Lead Wicks

We all know that when it comes to consumption and inhalation lead equals bad, yeah? It’s pretty much common knowledge nowadays that nomming on some lead-based paint results in some serious central nervous system damage.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, exposure to high amounts of lead has been linked to hormone disruption, mental retardation, learning disabilities, and even death, while even low levels result in neurobehavioral changes, depression, irritability, aggressiveness, difficulty concentrating and lethargy.
So just how much of a threat is lead exposure from candle wicks containing lead? From Lead Action News:
When candles with lead in the wick are burnt they emit between 500 –1000 micrograms of lead per hour. Over one year, ½ to 1 micrograms of lead per cubic metre of air is regarded as the maximum level a child or adult should be exposed to. Long term use of these candles would contaminate carpets and soft furnishings in the house with fine particles of lead. In the short-term, high exposure risks are via inhalation. Dust wipes after several months of burning lead core wick candles in a room in Texas contained 40 mg per square foot, many times the acceptable level for a room to be regarded as safe for young children. These candles are not safe to burn!!!
Young children and unborn babies are particularly at risk from lead wick candles. As stated above, even small quantities of lead are capable of causing I.Q. loss, learning difficulties and behavior problems. Pregnant women need to be especially wary of their lead exposure as the placenta offers no barrier to lead and it can result in miscarriage and damage to the unborn babies developing brain and nervous system.
So serious is this whole lead exposure issue, that candles with lead in the wick could conceivably cause death when more than 3 candles are burnt in a small poorly ventilated room for more than 6 hours per day on an ongoing basis.

How do I tell if the wicks in my candles have lead?

Candles which potentially have a lead wick core can only really be confirmed by laboratory testing, but any wick with a metal core is extremely likely to contain some lead so it’s best to avoid these entirely. You can tell if there is a metal core inside the fabric sheath of the wick by looking for a dark line in the white wick or by poking through the outer sheath with a needle to reveal the metal. The metal is very fine so you’ll have to look closely. It’s harder to find the metal once the wick has already been burnt.
Of course, the easiest and safest way to know that your candles don’t contain lead wicks is to buy candles that advertise they are lead-free! Many if not all 100% beeswax candles (the safest and healthiest to burn) contain 100% cotton wicks, being superior quality and already having an emphasis on health.
The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that the average home’s indoor air quality is already 3 times  more polluted than outdoor air quality and a 2000 study found that there is already an increase in lead concentrations in indoor air. So the last thing you need in your home is a lead wicked paraffin candle burning toxins directly into you and your children and pets lungs!
One of the first and easiest things you can do to clean up your indoor air is switch to soy or beeswax candles. I, personally, opt for beeswax because not only is it non-toxic and completely safe, but it actually acts as an air purifier and alleviates allergies and asthma (both of which I suffer from).
Additionally, when beeswax burns it produces negative ions that help to clean the air. The negative ions when inhaled also work on the trachea to stimulate mucous production, and help your body cleanse itself of lodged particles – like paraffin wax soot!
So when reaching for a candle, instead of burning something toxic, or something neutral  like soy wax, I prefer to burn something beneficial, like beeswax! You can learn more about beeswax as an air purifier by clicking here. 

Do YOUR candles have lead wicks? Planning on ensuring they DON’T? Share below!

WNTERTOWIN

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Gingi Freeman
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Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls.

Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at gingifreeman@gmail.com or via the contact form on her website at www.domesticgeekgirl.com

Gingi Freeman

Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls. Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at gingifreeman@gmail.com or via the contact form on her website at www.domesticgeekgirl.com

5 thoughts on “Are Your Candles Toxic? A Closer Look at Lead Candle Wicks

  • 14 March, 2014 at 3:49 pm
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    Thank you for this information

    Reply
    • 17 March, 2014 at 4:47 pm
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      No problem!

      Reply
  • 15 March, 2014 at 10:36 am
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    Normally when something is bad I yell, “burn it!” However that solution doesn’t work in terms of toxic candles

    Reply
    • 17 March, 2014 at 3:42 pm
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      No. No. Don’t burn the lead. Is bad for you.

      Reply

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