Is it safe to use scented candles at home?

May 18, 2023 | 03:00 pm PT
Will my health be affected if I often burn scented candles to deodorize my rooms? (Binh Minh, 32, Quang Ninh)


Scented candles give off a pleasant aroma when burned. This smell has a calming effect and can relax your mind and eliminate any bad odors. Despite its popularity and various benefits, it is advised not to use them too often. The impact on your health might differ depending on the burned chemicals released into the air.

In the case of cheap candles made from paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum, volatile organic compounds that are similar to those of diesel engine exhaust are released into the air when burned.

These compounds include acetone, benzene, toluene, etc., and can cause headaches; eye, nose, and throat irritation; nausea; and shortness of breath. They might even cause lung problems and cancerous DNA mutations if a large amount is inhaled.

Scented candle fragrances usually contain phthalates, which are released into the air when burned. However, this substance can trigger respiratory secretion, and exacerbate allergies and asthma.

Such candles also release soot into the air, a form of particulate matter that causes air pollution in your home. In high concentrations, these small particles will accumulate inside the lungs, causing respiratory issues.

Expensive candles made of natural wax such as beeswax, soy wax, palm wax, coconut wax, and stearin (made from vegetable or animal oils) release less toxic chemicals than paraffin wax candles. However, they still release soot when burned, so are harmful to your health if not used properly.

Burned candles release a lot of soot, causing health problems if not used properly. Picture: Freepik

People who are easily allergic, or have chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease should not use scented candles because they might worsen symptoms.

It’s best to not use scented candles too often, especially in closed environments such as bedrooms, bathrooms, and air-conditioned rooms to avoid concentrations of toxic fumes, causing shortness of breath. If you like the smell, buying natural wax candles and burning them in a well-ventilated room for 12-20 minutes daily is better.

Be aware that the candle wick should be about 1cm tall, a longer wick will create a larger flame, releasing more toxic fumes. Keeping the candle wick trimmed can limit the amount of soot. Avoid putting candles near highly-flammable items such as bedding, clothes, paper, etc.

If you want to extinguish the flame, use specialized tools or blow out the candles outside of your house to avoid soot and smoke polluting your home.

You should stop using scented candles when you have irritation such as runny nose and sneezing. There are better ways to deodorize your home that can also save you time and money in house cleaning, such as opening windows and keeping air-purifying plants such as ferns, dracaena, chrysanthemums, etc.

Dr Nguyen Van Ngan

Respiratory Department, Tam Anh Hospital, Hanoi

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