Are Your Candles Toxic? A Closer Look at Paraffin Wax

DSC_0583toxic
I’ve been talking about candles quite a bit recently, focusing on the good and only briefly touching on the bad. But it was precisely because of learning about the bad that I felt motivated to research and seek out the good. (Are you following me?)
If you are anything like me, a closer look at the average “regular” candle will serve you better than another one of my beeswax candle obsession prattling posts. So, here we go!

A Closer Look at Paraffin Wax – AKA, Literal Toxic Waste

Candles are made from many different products, but predominantly paraffin wax is the most common candle material in the United States. They are also the cheapest, so if you are picking up your candles from a Dollar Store, Walmart, Target or other mega-chain store, chances are you are buying paraffin wax candles.
Paraffin wax was originally called petroleum wax when it was discovered in 1830 as a petroleum by-product created from the sludge waste found at the bottom of the barrel when crude oil is refined into gasoline. Its use was restricted for about two decades after it’s discovery, due to it’s toxic nature when burned.
However, in the 1850s, chemists learned how to efficiently separate the naturally occurring waxy substance from petroleum and “refine it” into what they now called paraffin – at that point declaring it safe to burn and be used as candles.

Is Paraffin Wax As Non-Toxic As It Was Declared To Be In 1850?

In a word: No. In two words: Hell no. Let’s take a thorough look at the process of creating paraffin wax for candles:
Paraffin candles begin at the bottom of an oil barrel as the last possible petroleum by-product. Even asphalt is extracted before paraffin in the refining process. After crude oil has been refined to make gasoline, the barrel is coated in a highly toxic grayish-black sludge that has been rejected by the oil and gas industry. This is our “Petroleum Wax” from 1830. Now comes the “refining process” that makes it “non-toxic” and “safe”. (I hope my quotes, unquotes were sufficiently condescending..)

Step 1:

The petroleum wax is gathered up and bleached with industrial strength bleach, changing the color of the black sludge to a stark white. As we learned when talking about toxin-free diapers in an earlier blog post (click here to read), bleaching – even with a household laundry bleach – creates toxic dioxins in noticeable amounts. Your household bleach, even at full strength, is only at 10%. To make paraffin wax, the bleach is at 100%.
Based on animal studies, dioxins from bleach are believed to have the ability to cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified dioxins as a “likely human carcinogen.”

Step 2:

Once the sludge is thoroughly bleached and dioxin-laden, acrolyn, a known carcinogenic chemical, is then added to form the white sludge into solid white blocks.  Although the National Candle Association claims this substance is harmless, once burned, acrolyn releases carcinogenic toxins such as benzene and toluene into the air.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Long term exposure to benzene [long term defined as roughly one year] causes bone marrow to stop producing enough red blood cells and damages the immune system by changing blood levels of antibodies and causing the loss of white blood cells.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency:
Toluene directly effects the central nervous system. Toluene toxicity in both humans and animals for acute and chronic exposures is manifested by central nervous system dysfunction and narcosis, which have been frequently observed in humans acutely exposed to low or moderate levels of toluene by inhalation. Symptoms include fatigue, sleepiness, headaches, and nausea.

Step 3:

Other chemicals are then added to the solid white blocks, which help to make the paraffin burn a little longer and look a little prettier. The toxic chemicals added at this point vary on the producer of the paraffin, but common chemicals present in the paraffin mixture (and released through burning) at this point include: Acetone, Trichlorofluoromethane, Carbon Disulfide, 2-Butanone, Trichloroethane, Carbon Tetrachloride, Tetrachloroethene, Chlorobenzene, Ethylbenzene, Styrene, Xylene, Phenol, Cresol and Cyclopentene.
This blog post is already long (and getting longer!) so if you care to read the laundry list of toxic side effects of those chemicals (and every single one of them is toxic!), check out the EPA or CDC websites and enter them in the substance search box.

Step 4:

Paraffin blocks are then sold to companies that may add various other chemicals to texturize the wax, artificial dyes for color and / or synthetic fragrances to create those impossible scents like “laundry room” or “tropic paradise” or “love potion” or whatever.
And this last step is the worst. Scented candles are particularly toxic. Paraffin wax is made up of saturated hydrocarbons that are solid at room temperature and most fragrance oils are unsaturated hydrocarbons and are liquid at room temperature. The lower the carbon to hydrogen ratio, the less soot is produced by the flame. Therefore, waxes that have more fragrances in them produce more soot – and release more of the dangerous toxins while burning.

Finished Product:

So! Now we have our paraffin candle! Contrary to the verdict that was issued when Zachary Taylor was President of the United States, and Queen Victoria was on the throne in England, the end result of “refined petroleum wax” is STILL a very toxic product.

Paraffin and Indoor Air Pollution

Regardless of what chemical additives may or may not be in your paraffin candles based on the variations in Step 3 and 4 of the refining process, every single paraffin wax candle contains at LEAST seven documented toxins – two of which are carcinogenic – when they burn.
When you burn a paraffin wax candle, it is a FACT that you are filling your home with toxic chemicals and contributing to indoor air pollution. The soot and fumes released by paraffin wax are similar to those released from a diesel engine and can be as dangerous as secondhand cigarette smoke.
While this is harmful for anyone, it is especially unhealthy for those suffering from allergies or serious respiratory issues like asthma.
When soot is airborne, it is subject to inhalation. Paraffin soot particles are so fine (as small as 100 nanometers) that they are able to penetrate the deepest areas of the lungs – the lower respiratory tract and alveoli – which can cause long-term damage.
In 2012, for the first time, researchers studied in detail how candle soot gets stuck in the lungs. The results show that more than half of all inhaled soot particles remain in the body. MORE THAN HALF!! The findings were published in the Journal of Aerosol Science, and the findings are especially dire when linked to other studies on the inhalation of particulate matter such as diesel soot.
Soot that gets stuck in the lungs have been widely studied in humans and animals and the effects include asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, respiratory diseases, and premature death. The World Health Organization estimates that:
“…fine particulate air pollution from soot causes about 3% of mortality from cardiopulmonary disease, about 5% of mortality from cancer of the trachea, bronchus, and lung, and about 1% of mortality from acute respiratory infections in children under 5 years old, worldwide.”

DSC_0692

Better Candle Wax Options

Okay, I can’t leave off on this blog post without showing you the light (er, candle?) at the end of the soot stained paraffin wax tunnel. There are two safe candle burning options – one is soy wax and the other is beeswax.
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.

Are YOUR candles toxic? Interested in making the switch to soy or beeswax? Share below!

Also, be sure to stop by and enter to win some 100% Pure Beeswax Candles from Mohawk Valley Trading Company! Raffle ends February 26, 2014!

THUMB

(Can’t wait to win? Mohawk Valley Trading Company is offering my readers a 20% discount on all 100% beeswax candles  from now till 2/26/14 with the Promo Code “Domestic Geek Girl”! Tweet your Mohawk Valley beeswax candle pictures to _domestic_geek_ to get a retweet and share the love!)

Gingi Freeman on sabfacebookGingi Freeman on sabinstagramGingi Freeman on sabpinterestGingi Freeman on sabtwitter
Gingi Freeman
Gingi Freeman
at
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

20 thoughts on “Are Your Candles Toxic? A Closer Look at Paraffin Wax

  • 25 February, 2014 at 2:23 am
    Permalink

    I was about three paragraphs in before I realized it said “candles” not “candies”. I think that means I want a snack

  • 25 February, 2014 at 5:24 am
    Permalink

    That’s crazy, cuz I typoed “candies” like 80 trillion and a half times while writing this in a “haven’t-had-my-coffee-yet” haze…

    • 26 February, 2014 at 3:13 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks for stopping by! Yeah, I don’t know why I never looked this stuff up sooner! It took me having a baby myself to get serious about indoor air quality!

    • 26 February, 2014 at 3:09 pm
      Permalink

      Right?!

  • 27 February, 2014 at 12:48 am
    Permalink

    That is horrible! I am just learning about all the horrible things in paraffin and I don’t trust soy either. GMO’s freak me out. Pretty sure I don’t want to breath in smoke from a GMO either.

    • 27 February, 2014 at 3:08 pm
      Permalink

      Yeah, I need to look into the details of soy wax a little more. From what I understand they are non-toxic. But it’s always been a non-issue for me, since I prefer beeswax, lol..

  • 4 March, 2014 at 2:36 am
    Permalink

    I haven’t used parrafin candles for a long time. I usually use soy because they seem to be the easiest to find (I especially love handmade candles from places like etsy.com!) I did not know about the additional benefits of beeswax. So cool!

    • 4 March, 2014 at 3:46 pm
      Permalink

      If you end up giving beeswax a try, let me know what you think!

  • 5 March, 2014 at 2:45 am
    Permalink

    That is a lot of good information…. makes me glad we quit using candles years ago (because of our cats and their obsession with fire). No way I would go back after reading all that….. if I ever do get another candle it will definitely be beeswax.

    • 5 March, 2014 at 4:41 pm
      Permalink

      LOL!! We had a cat that was obsessed with fire too!! He would stare and stare and stare and creep closer until his whiskers would start melting!! Miss that furball.. he died of a brain tumor a few years back. Was our first “furry baby”.

  • 5 February, 2015 at 12:59 am
    Permalink

    Gingi, so glad I found this older post while perusing your blog. This is one of my pet topics! I’ve been telling people for years that their scented paraffin candles are just pretty little sticks (or columns) of neurotoxic petrochemicals. People without allergies or asthma who don’t *notice* any immediate effects think that means they are not being harmed. But, as the research you’ve gathered clearly indicates, they are. I’ve bought only beeswax candles for the past 20 years.

    • 5 February, 2015 at 3:18 am
      Permalink

      I’m soooooo happy to hear your positive thoughts on this topic!! Not too long ago, someone actually sent me a very nasty letter, going off on me for my “paraffin wax paranoia”.. lol! It was so random! Anyway, I’m so glad you are a beeswax person, so am I! It’s all I burn in my house! <3

  • 27 July, 2015 at 8:41 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks for sharing. I have candles at home. My project is to coat my jacket with wax so I don’t get drenched on my bike ride. I’m not burning the wax. Just melting it with a heat gun. Should I be concerned about wax on my jacket? I could use beeswax.

  • 28 August, 2015 at 9:08 pm
    Permalink

    I have heard folks say that “food grade paraffin” for candle making is not toxic. What is your take on that?

  • 4 November, 2015 at 4:30 pm
    Permalink

    Thank you for this amazing post and it is wonderful to hear everyone’s comments.

    Unfortunately, the candle industry is not regulated and most “soy” candles are either blended with petrol based paraffin or synthetically produced fragrances. Why take an all natural soy wax, promote it like it’s 100% “natural” and mix it in with toxic perfumes to make it artificially smell like pumpkin spice or clean linen? Because it’s CHEAP.

    Lighting a candle is special and creates a mood for the user to delight in. We are thinking about all the products we are consuming in our bodies, putting on our skin and breathing in when cleaning….it’s time for everyone to become educated on what they are breathing in from candles as well.

    Paraffin wax is a petroleum by-product created when crude oil is refined into gasoline. It is a white, odorless solid that is formed into 10 lb. slabs. You will never know if it’s a paraffin blend because of color or texture. It must state 100% soy wax.

    Today, they are approximately 95-100% synthetic (man-made) fragrances.” Using crude oil or turpentine oil as the base material, synthetics are usually derived from chemical reactions. There is no such thing as “natural fragrance” unless it states 100% pure essential oils.

    Look for the following four things in a candle.

     1. An “authentic” candle manufacturer that it is passionate about producing a clean product vs. a cheap product that just has expensive packaging.

    2. Non GMO Soy Wax.  Make sure it does say “blend”!  It could be blended with paraffin (crude oil).

    3. Cotton Wick.  45% of all imported candles are from China and some could contain lead.

    4. 100% pure essential oils.  Make sure it doesn’t say blend or all natural fragrance because there is no such thing.  The only natural fragrance is 100% pure essential oils from plants and flowers.

    Thank you! Stay authentic! 🙂

  • 27 February, 2016 at 2:49 pm
    Permalink

    I want to use an electric skillet to melt Gulf paraffin wax for batik but then after cleaning, I want to use it for cooking food. Will this be safe?
    Thanks

  • 28 February, 2016 at 11:19 pm
    Permalink

    Scented candles have always been a part of my life and it wasn’t until 2014
    when I was diagnosed with cancer that I began re-evaluating my lifestyle
    choices, my eating habits and my environment.

    After discovering a large majority of mass marketed candles contain harmful
    chemicals and additives in their products, I was unwilling to simply walk
    away from using scented candles. Instead, I set out to design the perfect
    medium in order to create a highly fragrant, clean burning, pure and natural
    product that was safe for my family, my pets and the environment.

    My pets were an integral part of my healing process and after nearly 18
    months of research, I created a proprietary blend of 100% certified organic
    wax . We sourced the highest quality essential and fragrant oils that are
    phthalate free, creating captivating scents of wax melts designed in the
    shape of a paw. Why the paw? To pay tribute to our furry friends who help us
    through life’s difficult times. We also donate a portion of our profits to
    animal shelters.

    I don’t know whether the frequent use of scented candles had any influence
    on my health prior to my diagnosis, but I do know that I will NEVER again
    use any scented candle/wax melt that isn’t 100% organic and natural. My
    health and that of my family and pets is far too precious to take the risk.

    Please check out the Paw Melts website and let me know what you think =>
    http://www.pawmelts.com/

    Sarah

Comments are closed.

HEY THERE! Are YOU a Domestic Geek?

Subscribe to Domestic Geek Girl's Weekly Newsletter and don't miss a post!! Receive weekly blog post summaries *** Be the first to know about giveaways *** Enjoy exclusive offers, discounts, specials and MORE!