Do Coconut Wax Candles Clean The Air?

Coconut wax candles are made from the oils extracted from coconut. Unlike paraffin wax which is a petroleum byproduct, coconut wax is a natural material that comes from sustainable sources. Coconut wax candles have gained popularity in recent years as an eco-friendly alternative to paraffin candles. Many manufacturers of coconut wax candles claim these candles have air purifying benefits and are better for indoor air quality compared to regular candles.

Proponents of coconut wax candles say they burn cleaner than paraffin candles, releasing less soot into the air. Some also claim that coconut wax candles generate negative ions that can help purify the surrounding air. However, these purported benefits are disputed and not conclusively proven by scientific research.

How Candles Work

When a candle burns, a chemical reaction called combustion occurs. The candle wax acts as the fuel source. According to the Candle Science website, “The heat of the flame vaporizes the liquid wax (turns it into a hot gas), and starts to break down the hydrocarbons into molecules of hydrogen and carbon. These very hot, very small molecules react with the oxygen in the air, releasing heat and light energy.”

As the wax melts, it is pulled up the wick via capillary action. The heat of the flame then vaporizes the liquid wax into a hot gas that reacts with oxygen in the air to produce water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other compounds. This exothermic reaction (a reaction that releases energy) sustains the flame as long as there is wax to burn and oxygen available.

The particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from a burning candle come from incomplete combustion of the wax molecules. These byproducts get emitted into indoor air while the candle burns. According to HowStuffWorks, “The sooty black smoke indicates that incomplete combustion is occurring. Unburned carbon particles are floating off into the air.” Controlling the burn rate and having an appropriate wick size can help minimize emissions.

Coconut Wax vs Paraffin

Coconut wax and paraffin wax have very different properties and combustion byproducts when burned in candles. Paraffin wax is a petroleum-based product made from crude oil refining. It contains potentially harmful hydrocarbons like benzene and toluene that can be emitted into the air when burned [1]. Paraffin wax also produces more soot than natural waxes.

In contrast, coconut wax is made from the oils of coconut husks and is considered a clean-burning, renewable and sustainable wax. Coconut wax contains no petroleum byproducts and emits less smoke and soot when burned compared to paraffin. It’s made of medium-chain triglycerides which produce water vapor and carbon dioxide as the primary byproducts when burned. Overall, coconut wax has a more eco-friendly production process and cleaner combustion compared to paraffin wax [2].

Do Candles Generate Negative Ions?

a myth that burning candles generate negative ions to purify air

There is a common myth that burning candles, especially beeswax candles, generate negative ions which can purify indoor air. The claim is that as the candle burns, it releases negative ions which attach to dust, pollen, and other particles in the air, causing them to clump together and fall out of the air. This is said to clean and refresh the air in a room.[1]

However, there is no scientific evidence to support that candles emit significant amounts of negative ions.[2][3] While candles may generate some negative ions, the amount is negligible compared to dedicated air ionizers. Furthermore, the smoke and particulates released from burning a candle likely offset any potential benefits from negative ions. So while it’s a nice idea that candles can clean the air, current research does not back this claim. More study is needed to determine if candles produce enough negative ions to impact indoor air quality in any meaningful way.

Candle Emissions and Indoor Air Quality

Studies have analyzed the impact of candle burning on indoor air quality. A 2022 study found exposure to particles from burning candles can be linked to cardiovascular and respiratory events. The ultrafine particles emitted from candle burning can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Another EPA study showed burning candles with lead-core wicks can result in high concentrations of lead particles.

The emission levels and impact depend on the candle material and quality. Paraffin wax candles tend to emit more soot and scented chemicals compared to soy, beeswax, or coconut wax candles. High quality natural wax candles with cotton wicks produce less soot and burn cleaner. However, all candle burning generates ultrafine particulates that can accumulate in indoor air. Proper ventilation is recommended when burning candles to mitigate impacts on air quality.

HEPA Air Purifiers vs Candles

HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are designed to capture extremely small particles that can be hazardous to health. According to Sans, HEPA filters remove at least 99.97% of particles down to 0.3 microns in size and 99.95% of particles as tiny as 0.1 microns1. In comparison, candles do not actually remove pollutants from the air. While some essential oils in candles may have cleansing properties, the act of burning a candle generates new ultrafine particles. An air purifier with a true HEPA filter is far more effective at removing pollutants and improving air quality than lighting a scented candle.

HEPA air purifiers continuously clean all the air in a room. Candles only scent the air in their immediate vicinity. To effectively purify the air, an air purifier needs to cycle all the air in a room through its filter several times per hour. No candle can match that cleaning ability. Air purifiers also have the advantage of removing allergens like dust, dander, and mold that candles don’t address.

In summary, HEPA air purifiers are vastly superior to candles when it comes to actually removing pollutants and improving indoor air quality. Candles may temporarily mask odors or emit pleasant fragrances, but they do not physically eliminate contaminants from the air.

Other Natural Air Purifying Options

In addition to candles, there are several other natural ways to help purify the air in your home. Here are some of the most effective options:

Plants are one of the best natural air purifiers. Certain plants are particularly good at removing toxins and improving indoor air quality. Top air purifying plants include: Golden Pothos, Peace Lily, Boston Fern, Snake Plant, Spider Plant, and Aloe Vera.

Proper ventilation can also help refresh indoor air. Opening windows regularly, using fans, and running kitchen/bathroom exhaust fans can all help circulate stale air out of the home.

Essential oil diffusers are another option. The natural oils release air purifying particles as they diffuse. Some top options are lemon, pine, peppermint, and tea tree oil.

Finally, air purifiers and filters can remove allergens, dust, mold spores, and odors. HEPA air purifiers are particularly effective at trapping tiny particles. Be sure to change filters regularly.

Safety Considerations

While candles can provide ambiance and pleasant scents, they also come with some safety risks that are important to keep in mind. Some key safety considerations with candles include:

Fire hazards – Candles have an open flame, which means they can easily ignite nearby combustible materials if knocked over or left unattended. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), candles cause an estimated 7,000 house fires each year in the U.S. source. To prevent candle fires, keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and always extinguish candles before leaving a room. Avoid burning candles near drafts which can cause rapid, uneven burning. Also take care not to burn candles for more than 4 hours at a time, trim wicks to 1⁄4 inch before lighting, and always use candle holders specifically designed for the candle.

Lead in wicks – Some candle wicks contain lead cores which release lead particles into the air when burned. Lead exposure can accumulate over time and cause health problems. Make sure to check candle wick labeling and only purchase candles confirmed not to contain lead. Lead-free wicks are typically made from cotton, paper, or wood.

Allergies and airway irritation – Candle smoke contains fine particles that can worsen allergy and asthma symptoms in some individuals. Scented candles also frequently contain synthetic fragrances that some people are sensitive to. Those with respiratory issues may want to avoid prolonged exposure to burning candles.

Recommendations

While all candles will emit some chemicals, certain types pose more health risks than others and should be avoided. Here are some tips for safer candle usage:

  • Choose candles made of natural soy, beeswax, or coconut wax instead of paraffin wax. These burn cleaner (National Geographic).
  • Avoid candles with synthetic fragrances, which can irritate lungs. Opt for fragrance-free if possible (Aire Serv).
  • Be mindful of ventilation and avoid burning candles for prolonged periods in small, enclosed spaces.
  • Trim wicks to 1⁄4 inch before lighting to prevent excessive smoke.
  • Use candles sparingly – limit usage to 1-2 hours at a time.

While candles alone cannot sufficiently purify indoor air, following these tips will minimize risks. For better air cleaning, use HEPA air purifiers or consider natural options like houseplants.

Conclusion

In summary, there is limited evidence that burning a coconut wax candle can significantly improve indoor air quality by itself. While they may emit fewer toxins than paraffin candles, coconut wax candles still produce some concerning compounds when burned. Any air cleaning benefits from negative ions or aromatherapy are small scale and localized.

For broader air purification, HEPA air filters remain the gold standard. But coconut wax candles could complement other efforts to improve indoor air quality. Burning them occasionally with proper ventilation may help reduce odors, allergens, and some air pollutants. However, it’s important to follow safety precautions and not rely solely on candles for cleaning the air.

In the end, more research is still needed to fully understand the impacts of burning candles on indoor air quality. But there are some promising indications that natural coconut wax candles used judiciously could provide mild air freshening and cleansing benefits.

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