People have been burning candles in their homes for centuries without worrying about their health implications. Recently more people have begun to think about indoor air quality, which is natural since people are spending more time indoors than they ever have before. Should people worry about candle burning though? Are candles toxic, and can burning them give you cancer, cause asthma, or create other health issues for you?

Are Candles Toxic?

Recently stories have appeared on the news, and have been circulating the internet about candles being bad for your health. These stories may leave you feeling like burning candles in your home is giving you cancer, like you're slowly killing yourself, and as if you should stop using all candles immediately. 

Some Candles Release Toxins

First, it's important to note that even if you're burning paraffin wax candles in your home regularly, you probably aren't going to get sick or die anytime soon. Parrafin wax candles are made from petroleum products, and they're the candles most experts are talking about when they say candles can be harmful or toxic. 

While paraffin wax candles release all sorts of nasty compounds into the air when you burn them (toluene, benzene, phthalates, formaldehyde, acrolein, acetaldehyde, and ultrafine particles) they are released in such low quantities. That being said, they still are releasing these chemicals. 

Burning the Right Candles Can Help

If you are concerned about adding these harmful substances into your home's air, even in tiny amounts, you can remedy the issue by burning healthier and more natural candles. Candles made from beeswax and other natural substances don't release the same toxins when burnt that paraffin wax candles do. 


Do Candles Cause Cancer?

We'll start by saying that most candles are unlikely to lead to cancer, but that doesn't mean there is no risk to think about. For candle users who frequently burn paraffin-based candles in unventilated spaces, the candles may increase their risk of developing urothelial cancer according to information gathered by the National Library of Medicine . This is only a true risk for any candles with wax that's been colored by toluene or toluene derivatives, or benzidine. Unfortunately, many paraffin candles fall into this category. 

While you can probably burn paraffin candles with the windows open without fear of developing cancer, it's still concerning to know that these candles give off cancer-causing compounds when burnt. 

Natural Candles Do Not Cause Cancer

You could use scented paraffin candles carefully without too much fear, but the safer alternative is to choose a natural candle wax instead. Natural waxes, like beeswax, don't release toluene or benzene and have no links to cancer. 


Can Candles Impact Indoor Air Quality?

Many people are becoming more conscious of their home's indoor air quality. According to the EPA indoor air pollution is often between 2 and 5 times higher than outdoor pollution levels, and that's because of pets, stoves, fireplaces, cleaning products, certain building materials, paints, and other contaminants. Breathing in this low-quality air can cause issues with asthma, can increase allergies, and may lead to long-term breathing issues in some people. But are candles adding to this problem in any sort of significant way? 

Candles Do Impact Air Quality

No matter what sort of candles you burn in your home, you are likely hurting the air quality at least a bit by burning them. There is a slight exception for beeswax candles because they have a cool unique property that offers some benefits that may outweigh their slight risks. That's because even natural candles release soot and particles at least occasionally when burnt. If you want the purest air possible, you should use candles with a window open or run an air purifier with a HEPA filter, but the type of candle you select matters too. 

Choose Candles Carefully For Superior Air Quality

While most candles harm air quality in some way, paraffin candles release harsh compounds like toluene and benzene into your air along with the more natural particles. A natural candle such as soy releases fewer particles into the air, and when paired with a proper wick releases almost no particles. Beeswax candles are even better and are found to release few unhelpful particles while also releasing negative ions into the air that can help clear it of dust mites, smoke, pollen, and other substances. You still must choose natural candles with care to be sure they are paraffin-free and that they have a clean burn without soot or smoke. Only pure natural candles with properly sized wicks perform this way, which is why finding a high-quality supplier is essential. 


Candles and Pet Health

Many households have cats, dogs, or other pets. Since any creatures living under your roof are also breathing in the same air as you, it's only natural to be concerned about their lung health as well. This is why so many pet owners question whether candles are bad for their pets, or if there are certain scents they should avoid. 

Certain Candles May Affect Your Dog

We'll start off by easing your anxiety by saying that generally, candles are not harmful to dogs. You can rest easy knowing you can continue to burn candles even if you have one or more dogs in your home. 

However, you should be mindful of the scents you release into your home. There are certain scents that are harsh for dogs and can cause breathing difficulty, coughing, sneezing, and other issues. Strong scents such as peppermint, cinnamon, eucalyptus, tea tree, and citrus can all cause problems. It's best to rely on softer more natural fragrances for the wellbeing of your dog.  

Cats Are Sensitive to Select Candle Scents

The first bit of advice any professional will give you about cats and candles is that your feline is likely to knock over a burning candle and burn your house down. This is practical advice, and you should avoid leaving burning candles unattended in a home with cats. There are some actual health concerns for your cat as well though. The main concern is that many natural compounds, which means many essential oils and fragrances are either toxic or distressful to cats. Most of the following scents should be avoided around cats. 

  • Cinnamon
  • Sweet birch
  • Tea tree
  • Ylang ylang
  • Pennyroyal
  • Citrus
  • Pine
  • Peppermint

Be careful to avoid these scents and focus on burning natural candles with less strong scents and your cat will appreciate extra effort and care. 


How to Choose Candles That Burn Well

Any health concerns connected to candles are based on the compounds released while the candle burns. While there are fewer unhealthy compounds released from natural wax candles, it's still wise to choose candles that burn as evenly as possible. An even-burning candle lasts longer, produces more heat, releases little smoke, and is more pleasant and healthy to use overall. While it's unlikely that you'll be able to choose an even-burning candle just by looking at it, it's important to understand what to watch for while burning your candles. If you know what an even burn looks like, you'll know when you have high-quality candles and when you should consider finding a new supplier. 

How To Identify an Even Burning Candle

Watching a candle burn can be therapeutic, and it's also the only way you'll know if you have a high-quality product. When using a new type of candle you should check on it periodically to ensure it's burning evenly and not producing soot. 

Watch for a Thin and Even Pool of Wax

Your candle should have an even and thin pool of liquid wax at its surface after it has burnt for between three and four hours. You should notice a pool of wax that's ¼ of an inch or less, and that fully reaches the edges of the candle, or nearly reaches the edge with a tiny bit of wax remaining. 

If you have a deep pool of wax the candle's wick is too large and if the pool of wax isn't close to the candle's edges the wick is too small. Avoid candles that do not have a wide and shallow pool of wax while burning. 

There Should Be No Visible Smoke

Some candles release little wisps of black smoke as they burn. These aren't burning well and are creating harmful soot that's going to lower your home's air quality. Soot is caused by an uneven burn and is often the result of a clogged wick, a too-small wick, or other candle issues. If you notice a candle producing smoke, stop it immediately because it isn't burning properly. You can try trimming the wick to see if that helps, but if the issue persists you have a poorly made candle and should look elsewhere for future candles. 



It's natural to worry about your health, and with indoor air quality becoming an increasing concern for many people it makes sense to worry about candle use. Overall, you likely don't have anything to worry about if you're burning candles at home, especially if you're burning natural candles. If you are still concerned, try to get high-quality natural candles, routinely open your windows to let in fresh air, and consider investing in an air purifier with HEPA filtration to help remove contaminants from your air at home to improve the air quality. 

On the journal

My Reflection on 2023

Happy New Year from the Van Horns (the family behind Ambrosian Candle Co.)! As we reflect on 2023, the word that comes to mind is “reality,” as I think about...

Join the Hive

Sign up today to recive promotions and sales notifications.