How to make a healthy, candlelit home this winter

When it’s winter and the cold, dark nights are drawing in, our first thought may be to light some candles to create a warm and cosy mood. After all, who doesn’t want their room smelling like fresh pine or spicy gingerbread during the winter.

It’s estimated that seven out of ten households use candles (1), with over half of homes burning them up to three times a week. We all know how important it is to use candles carefully to reduce the risk of fire. However, it’s also essential to ensure that your candles don’t pollute your home either. In this article, we’ll look at why some candles can cause issues, and the steps you can take to boost the air quality in your home.

How candles can be unhealthy

The majority of candles, especially cheaper ones, are made of paraffin wax, which is a by-product of petroleum. Paraffin wax has been found to release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, acetone, and toluene into the air. To put it into perspective, VOCs are also found in diesel fuel emissions, household paints, and dry cleaning chemicals. VOCs can contribute to allergies and asthma, as well as other health conditions. Some scented candles also use synthetic fragrances and dyes that release VOCs.

So does this mean we should stop using candles entirely? While paraffin candles do release VOCs into the air, there is debate over whether they release enough of the compounds to cause health problems.

A 2014 study (2) showed that candles don’t release enough chemicals to cause serious health issues. So while a paraffin candle may cause a runny nose, sneezing, or watery eyes, it’s highly unlikely to make you seriously ill. So… no need to snuff those candles out just yet! Plus, the good news is that candles are a lot safer today than they were in the past.

For example, manufacturers used to add leaded wicks to their candles, which are now banned globally (3). The key is choosing the right candle and taking measures to increase air quality levels in your home. After all, even if you don’t use candles, air pollution is an issue that affects all of us.

How to keep your candles safe

Here are some of the ways you can keep lighting those candles without worrying about the effect on air quality.

1. Choose an alternative to paraffin

While paraffin candles can release chemicals into the air, other candle materials can be better for the home. Candles made from soy wax, beeswax, rapeseed wax, or coconut wax, contain higher-quality ingredients.

Scientific studies (4) have shown that they release fewer chemicals than their paraffin counterparts. These candles are a little more expensive; but as they burn more slowly, they last longer. Some candles are made from palm wax; however many people avoid palm oil as it contributes to deforestation. Take care to read the label when choosing a candle. Some candles contain a blend of paraffin and natural ingredients, which takes you all the way back to square one! Look for candles that are made of ‘100 per cent natural wax’.

2. Stick to unscented candles

While an unscented candle won’t make your room smell fragrant, it will release fewer chemicals into the air. Unscented candles are also better if you suffer from allergies. Alternatively, go with a natural candle. Natural candles tend to use fragrances made from essential oils, rather than chemically made ones.

3. Light your candles in a well-ventilated room

When you light your candles, make sure the room is well-ventilated. Once you’ve put the candle out, ventilate thoroughly by opening the doors and windows. This will make sure the smoke clears the room.

4. Keep your candle away from draughty areas

Lighting your candle in a draughty space can increase the amount of smoke it generates. If you see the flame flickering too much, move your candle to another part of the room.

5. Stick to one or two candles

The more candles you burn at a time, the more smoke is generated. While having several candles on the go can look lovely and provide lots of shimmering light, it’s best just to use one or two. Quality over quantity each and every time!

6. Trim the wick

Keeping the wick of your candle short reduces the amount of soot and smoke created. Not only this, but trimming the wick can make your candle burn brighter and last longer too! Try and keep your candle wick under 10mm. You can trim it using a small pair of scissors or alternatively, a wick trimmer.

7. Don’t blow your candle out

Many of us treat candles like we do on a birthday cake, blowing them out hard! However, blowing a candle out like that can leave soot and wax on the wick of your candle, meaning more smoke the next time you light it. Instead, use a candle snuffer or wick dipper to extinguish your candle safely.

8. Alternatives to candles

Not a fan of candles? There are lots of easy ways you can bring ambience to your home. If you’re looking for an alternative to candles, it’s essential to think about the benefits you want your option to bring to your room. For example, let’s say you use candles to make your room smell pleasant. A room spray, reed diffuser, electric wax warmer, or plugin air freshener can fill your home with a high-quality scent without worrying about polluting the air.

Here’s a top tip for estate agents to sell houses; put two caps of vanilla extract in a cup and heat in the oven. In twenty minutes, your home will smell just like freshly baked cookies! If you use candles to provide light and ambience, an electric candle is a great option. These ‘candles’ look similar to the real thing, and even offer an authentic flickering effect. Some even come with remote controls so you can turn them on without leaving your comfy sofa!

How to boost the air quality in your home

Regardless of whether you use candles or not, it’s important to make sure the air quality in your home is as good as possible. According to Clean Air Day, indoor air pollution can be 3.5 (5) times worse than outdoor air pollution! Modern-day homes don’t offer much ventilation; while this is great for keeping homes toasty and warm, it means air can’t flow in and out as it should. The great news is that there are lots of easy things you can do to boost the fresh air flowing into your home, and reduce pollutants.

Here are our top tips:

Open the windows and doors

This may be the last thing you want to do when it’s cold and miserable outside, but opening your doors and windows, even for just five minutes, can keep the air circulating. Keeping the air flowing in winter can also reduce humidity in your home, which is a contributing factor to dampness and mould.

Introduce plants to your home

House plants don’t just look lovely and add a pop of green to the room, but they can also help clean the air in your home too. A study by the University of Birmingham and the Royal Horticultural Society (6) showed that plants can reduce nitrogen dioxide in a room by as much as 20 per cent. The peace lily and spider plant look fantastic and are easy to look after too!

Vacuum regularly

Nobody likes doing chores around the home, but running the vacuum cleaner around your house can pick up dust and pollutants in your carpets. If you have wood or laminate flooring, use a damp cloth to collect any dust and debris.

Buy an air purifier

An air purifier will remove contaminants from your home and clean the air. If you choose to get an air purifier, buy one that is the right size and fit for your room and complements your needs. For example, do you have allergies, or own pets? This will help you choose the purifier that’s perfect for you.

In summary: choose the perfect candle to keep your home healthy

Candles are a lovely way to provide a warm and welcoming experience in any room of your home, from the living room to the bedroom. However, it’s essential to be mindful of what they contain. Read the labels of your candles carefully before you buy to see what the ingredients are. Alternatively, consider an alternative method of providing light and fragrance. And of course, if you opt for the candles, never leave one unattended.

At the Zehnder Group, we’re dedicated to providing ventilation and clean air solutions that keep homes healthy and safe.

References: (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6)


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