Candles are such a part of our lives that you can probably search your house and find half a dozen of them. But have you ever asked yourself if a candle can be harmful to human health in any way?
The simple and pointed answer is yes, candles do produce carbon monoxide. But don’t let this scare you out of lighting up your favorite scented candle the next time you feel the urge. The amount of carbon monoxide that you get exposed to from a candle burning is not enough to cause carbon monoxide poisoning unless you’re going about using a candle very, very wrong.
This article will give you the knowledge and confidence you need to know that your local candle store isn’t actually out to get you. You can light up those scented candles without concern.
- What is a Candle Made out of?
- How Does a Candle Burn?
- Does Burning Candles Produce Carbon Monoxide?
- How Much Carbon Monoxide do Candles Produce?
- Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms
- Can Candle Smoke Kill You?
- Is it Safe to Burn Candles in Enclosed Spaces?
- Safe Candle Burning Tips
- Other Household Items that Can Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- How to Protect Against Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
What is a Candle Made out of?
Before we go into anything else, it’s important to know what exactly a candle is. Yes, it smells pretty and sits on a desk, but exactly what’s happening makes it so that candles are so safe and standard in our lives?
A wick is the part of the candle that allows the melted wax vapors to transfer upward and can be made out of a variety of different materials, such as:
Wax is the fuel for the flame of a candle. As with the wick, candle wax can be made from a variety of things, namely:
Paraffin candles and soy candles are two of the most common types of candles—it’s safe to say they’re fairly common-form. These are the types that you will see sold under brands like Yankee candle.
Yankee candles regularly are specifically made of soy. A paraffin candle is cheaper to produce, therefore, it will be found in lower-end stores.
How Does a Candle Burn?
You know what a candle needs to make it burn, so now, let’s move on to what happens once the wick is lit! A candle burns in three separate stages, all of which are part of the combustion process.
The stage of a candle burning in which the candle has plenty of fuel and burns cleanly, or without visible sooting or smoldering, is the standard state of a candle while being burnt.
In this state, there are fewer air pollutants like carbon monoxide being emitted from the wick.
Sooting happens when airflow disrupts the flame or the wick changes position. During sooting, you will be able to see black carbon particles being emitted. These particles are fine but can, if frequent enough, stain the area around the candle black.
Thankfully, there are easy ways to avoid candle sooting! If your candle is positioned so that there won’t be any air disturbance, then air can’t disrupt the flame. This means making sure that it isn’t by any open windows, air conditioners, or heavily foot trafficked areas, is crucial.
The sooting that comes from the wick can be negated by making sure that you trim your wick. Wicks should be trimmed to approximately an eighth of an inch above the wax.
If you’ve ever extinguished a candle, you know that just after the flame disappears there will be a stream of white smoke emitted upward from it. This white smoke is called smoldering.
Smoldering produces the most particular matter, even more so than sooting. It is possible to minimize how much smoldering your candle does by changing the method you’re using to blow out or extinguish your candles.
Does Burning Candles Produce Carbon Monoxide?
Yes, burning candles does produce carbon monoxide. But don’t be afraid—they very rarely produce enough carbon monoxide to cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
In order to ease your mind, we’ll talk about all the ways a candle can be dangerous. Short of setting something on fire, there really isn’t much to worry about.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a form of gas. While it is true that it can be dangerous if you inhale too much of it, candles aren’t even the thing in your house you’ll find to emit the most carbon monoxide.
You are exposed to it at higher levels when you walk down the street and are passed by cars in transit, or if you use gas furnaces to heat your home. There is almost no way a candle can produce enough carbon monoxide in order to ever pose any threat to you, although you are correct to assume that carbon monoxide can be dangerous.
Why is Carbon Monoxide Dangerous to Humans?
Carbon monoxide is particularly dangerous because when breathed in, it replaces the oxygen in our lungs that we need to breathe. Every time you take a breath, you’re breathing in oxygen that your bloodstream will carry around your body.
Hemoglobin, a protein that lives inside of you, bonds to the oxygen and is transported around your body to the cells that need it. When you take in a breath that’s more carbon monoxide than oxygen, the hemoglobin begins to bond to the carbon monoxide instead. Your cells are starved of the oxygen and the proteins that they need, which triggers a negative ripple effect in your body and begins to cause carbon monoxide poisoning, which we’ll discuss later.
Just because candles won’t expose you to carbon monoxide in dangerous amounts doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take it seriously. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause serious health issues.
These are very harmful chemicals often known as silent killers, and this is all due to the fact that exposure to them in an area with poor ventilation can be potentially dangerous.
Even when not suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, it can be unsafe for people that suffer from asthma attacks or other health issues. This is also especially important for those who are plagued by health problems ranging from cardiac issues to age-related issues.
You should never expose yourself to carbon monoxide for prolonged periods of time, if you can at all avoid it.
How Much Carbon Monoxide do Candles Produce?
One candle will produce an extremely negligible amount of carbon monoxide. This is why it’s not so risky for you to light a candle—or several—here and there.
What’s perhaps more important is that you limit doing so in an enclosed space and make sure to blow out any candles before you head to bed for the night.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms
When too much carbon monoxide accumulates in your bloodstream, you begin to suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning. It is extremely important to go to a local hospital or medical facility as soon as you begin to suspect you may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. This is because the illness can bring serious health issues when left untreated.
Certain groups of people are particularly at risk. If you or your loved ones may be on this list, it’s probably safer to just limit your candle usage to roomy, spacious parts of your house.
- Unborn babies
- Young children
- Senior citizens
- Individuals with chronic heart disease
Symptoms of poisoning
- Shortness of breath
- Blurry vision
- Loss of consciousness
We cannot stress this enough—if any of the above symptoms apply to you and you may have encountered carbon monoxide in an enclosed space, please make sure to see a doctor right away.
Be it one or multiple candles, it’s highly unlikely that a candle was the cause of these symptoms. However, they are dangerous symptoms, so for the sake of human health, we recommend heading to the emergency room if something seems majorly wrong.
Potential long-term serious health concerns
- Tissue death
- Brain damage
- Life-threatening cardiac complications
- Fetal death/miscarriage
- Respiratory tract infections
- Allergy symptoms
- Other symptoms
Can Candle Smoke Kill You?
Under general, well-informed usage, candle smoke cannot kill you. While it is enough to be measured, it is a non-lethal amount of carbon monoxide.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to play it safe with your candles. Falling asleep in candlelight sounds romantic, but it could potentially lead to a house fire. Much like everything in life, the rule of ‘everything in moderation’ applies here—burn candles all you want, but make sure you’re handling them properly.
Is it Safe to Burn Candles in Enclosed Spaces?
Yes, it is safe to burn candles in an enclosed space as long as the space is properly ventilated. Because the candle will emit carbon monoxide, you want to ensure that the room has regular airflow.
While the candle releases chemicals that are dangerous, there is will chance that the candle fumes harm you as long as you burn them wisely!
Safe Candle Burning Tips
In order to burn candles with a clean conscience toward your health and no concerns about carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide, just follow the safety steps listed below.
- Never leave a burning candle unattended.
- Never burn a candle in a poorly ventilated room.
- Use quality candles made with smoother burning wax.
- Place the candle where air disturbance is limited.
- Trim the wick to 1/8 inch to avoid smoldering.
Other Household Items that Can Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
If you own any of these, you’re far more likely to breathe in carbon monoxide from them as opposed to the amount emitted when you light candles. Be mindful and perhaps invest in a smoke detector if you have any of the below:
- Gas stovetop
- A fireplace
- A gas furnace
- A charcoal grill
- A gas heater
- A wood-burning stove
- A gas water heater
- Gas ranges
- Space heater
- Small engines
- Unventilated garages
How to Protect Against Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
There are a few protective measures you can take to guard yourself and your loved ones against exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning. Let’s take a closer look.
Carbon Monoxide Detector
Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector. Because carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, there is no way to be certain you’re suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning until you’re already feeling very poorly or have seen a doctor.
A battery-operated CO detector can report to you what the level of carbon monoxide is in your home and if that level is nearing a dangerous amount. It can be a real lifesaver.
By this point in the article, you already know how important ventilation is because it has come up frequently. However, its importance can’t be overstated!
If you’re burning a candle or even a candle set, where do you want to do it? In a ventilated room! If you’re in a space where the air can circulate and travel, then the oxygen in the room won’t be replaced by carbon monoxide. In turn, you won’t be breathing carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.
This is how you prevent carbon monoxide poisoning—simply keep your room airy whenever you can. Open a window or stick a fan in the room! Your lungs will thank you.
Scented candles are a blessing to us all. There’s really nothing like curling up at the end of the day with a good book and your favorite scent wafting around the room, the flicker of a candle flame keeping you company as you read.
And while it’s important to know what carbon monoxide is and how a candle produces it, it’s also important to have the rationale to understand that just because a candle can produce carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, you have the ability to control the environment and keep yourself safe.
Ventilate well, have a carbon monoxide detector in your home, and enjoy that Yankee candle shopping spree!