Do You Breathe In Candle Wax?

Candles create a cozy ambiance and pleasant fragrance, making them a popular household item. But have you ever wondered if those lovely aromas come at a cost? Specifically: do we breathe in the wax from burning candles, and what are the health implications?

This article will examine how candles burn, what’s in that curling smoke, and whether inhaling those substances poses any safety concerns. We’ll also provide helpful tips on burning candles more wisely for those who want to enjoy them with greater peace of mind.

How Candles Burn

When a candle burns, the flame heats the nearby air and starts to rise. As this warm air moves up, cooler air and oxygen rush in at the bottom of the flame to sustain the combustion reaction. The heat of the flame melts the solid wax near the wick into liquid form (, n.d.).

The candle wick acts as a conveyor belt to bring the melted wax up via capillary action. As the liquid wax reaches the flame, the heat vaporizes it into a gas. This wax vapor is what actually burns in a flame. The vapors mix with oxygen in the air to produce water vapor and carbon dioxide. The wax does not turn into smoke since smoke contains unburned particles, while the candle wax fully combusts (HowStuffWorks, 2021).

Candle Smoke Components

The main chemical compounds produced when candles burn include:

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde, acetone, and benzene (Source)
  • Fine particulate matter like soot (Source)
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • Scent chemicals like synthetic fragrances and phthalates (Source)

The most concerning compounds for inhalation are VOCs like benzene, which is a known carcinogen. Fine particulate matter and PAHs can also irritate the lungs and worsen respiratory conditions like asthma. There is limited research on phthalates from candles, but some types like DEHP are suspected endocrine disruptors.

Health Effects

Inhaling candle smoke can have various short and long-term health effects. When candles burn, they release small particles, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other chemicals into the air [1]. These substances can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.

Short-term exposure to candle smoke may cause coughing, wheezing, dizziness, and headaches. Candle smoke can worsen asthma and allergy symptoms in sensitive individuals [2]. Scented candles often contain synthetic fragrances that some people are allergic to.

Long-term exposure to candle smoke has been linked to increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses. However, more research is needed to establish a clear causal relationship. The soot deposited in the lungs from burning candles could potentially cause inflammation and DNA damage over time [3].

In general, occasional candle use in a well-ventilated space is unlikely to cause major health issues. But those with respiratory conditions should be cautious and limit exposure to candle smoke.

Amount Inhaled

When a candle burns, it produces smoke that contains tiny particles as well as gases like carbon dioxide and water vapor.Studies have found that an average candle produces about 0.02 ounces of soot per hour when burning, though the amount can vary based on factors like wax type, wick size, room ventilation, etc. (Source).

person blowing out a candle

In terms of inhalation, research indicates that inhalation exposure to candle emissions is generally low, even with prolonged use. One study measured the indoor air concentration of chemicals like benzene and toluene emitted from burning candles and estimated that a person would inhale around 0.2-6 mg of candle soot over the course of burning one candle for 5 hours (Source). The amount inhaled can be higher in small, unventilated rooms.

So while candle smoke is inhaled during use, the overall quantity is small compared to other indoor and outdoor air pollution sources. Using candles in moderation in well-ventilated areas can minimize exposure.

Risk Factors

Certain factors can increase the risk of negative health effects from inhaling candle smoke. One major factor is poor ventilation. Burning candles in an enclosed space with little air flow allows the smoke to accumulate to higher concentrations (Al Khathlan, 2023). Proper ventilation, such as an open window or fan, can help dilute and displace the smoke. Another risk factor is burning candles for longer durations. The longer a candle burns, the more smoke is released into the air (Cleveland Clinic, 2022). Limiting burn time can reduce exposure. Additionally, scented candles, especially those with synthetic fragrances, produce more potentially hazardous VOCs than unscented candles (Chang, 2023). Choosing unscented or candles made from natural ingredients can help mitigate risk.

Safety Tips

There are several things you can do to reduce your intake of candle smoke and minimize any potential health risks:

Trim your wicks to 1⁄4 inch before lighting to reduce smoke. Long wicks create more soot and release more scent chemicals into the air (1).

Make sure there is adequate airflow in the room when burning candles. Open windows, use fans, or put candles near air vents so smoke does not accumulate (2).

Consider soy, vegetable, or beeswax candles as potential alternatives. Some studies show they burn cleaner than paraffin wax candles (3).

Use candles sparingly and avoid burning multiple at once. Limit burning to 1-2 hours at a time (4).

Keep candles away from sleeping areas or anywhere smoke may become stagnant.

Use battery-operated flameless candles as an alternative. These eliminate smoke and scent emissions altogether.

Consider essential oil diffusers as an alternative fragrance source. Diffusers do not have open flames or burning emissions.

Special Cases

Certain sensitive groups face higher risks from inhaling candle smoke. Asthma sufferers can experience worsened symptoms and asthma attacks from inhaling the fine particles in candle smoke. The particulate matter can trigger inflammation and constrict airways Al Khathlan, 2023. Infants and small children are also at higher risk as their lungs are still developing. The American Lung Association advises keeping candles away from a baby’s room and not burning them for more than 1-2 hours at a time in homes with small children American Lung Association, 2023. Pets can also be affected by inhaling candle fumes which irritate their respiratory tract. Owners are advised to monitor pets closely when burning candles and watch for coughing, wheezing or respiratory distress.

The Verdict

Based on the available research, inhaling candle smoke does carry some health risks, but these risks appear relatively low for most people when candles are used properly. One study showed that paraffin wax candles did not cause harmful effects when used as directed. However, inhaling any kind of smoke frequently can irritate lungs and potentially increase cancer risk. The amount of candle smoke inhaled plays a major role.

For most people burning a candle occasionally, the level of candle smoke inhaled is very small and unlikely to cause harm. However, those who burn multiple candles daily or have respiratory issues may be at higher risk. Proper ventilation can greatly reduce risk. Overall, occasional candle usage appears reasonably safe, but avoiding excessive exposure and using safer candle alternatives when possible is recommended.


To recap, candles release smoke that contains some potentially harmful substances like VOCs and soot when burned. However, under normal conditions, the amount of these substances inhaled from candle usage is very small and not likely to cause health issues in most people. Those particularly sensitive to respiratory irritation may experience some minor effects. The risk can be further reduced by using safer candle options, avoiding excessive or improper burning, and ensuring proper home ventilation. Overall, candles pose a relatively low risk to health if used properly and in moderation. The safest approach is to be mindful of any symptoms you experience and make adjustments to your usage as needed.

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