Candle Soot: An Air Quality Issue

Many are finding to their horror that some aromatherapy candles are producing a very tenacious black soot.

Unfortunately, an emerging air quality problem is soot from candles. The major culprits are scented and aromatherapy candles. Experts report that computers have been ruined, and in some instances there is so much soot generated from burning candles that it is causing severe damage to many homes and furnishings, and homeowners are mistakenly suing their builders, furnace and H/VAC companies for improper installation of the systems.

Unfortunately, soot from candles can also be toxic. Breathing soot is not recommended at all. The soot particles can travel deep into the lungs. Those with asthma, lung or heart disease are particularly vulnerable. To make matters worse, many scented and aromatherapy candles are made with paraffin and synthetic fragrance oils. Paraffin is a petroleum product – a byproduct of oil refining – and most fragrance oils used for candle making are petroleum-based synthetics. The soot from these materials can contain carcinogens, neurotoxins and reproductive toxins. Testing and air chamber analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency has found the following compounds in a random group of over 30 candles tested.

  • Acetone
  • Benzene
  • Trichlorofluoromethane
  • Carbon disulfide
  • 2- Butanone
  • 1, 1, 1-Trichloroethane
  • Carbon tetrachloride
  • Carbon Black (soot) Particulate Matter <2.5 microns
  • Trichloroethene
  • Tetrachloroethene
  • Toluene
  • Chlorobenzene
  • Ethylbenzene
  • Styrene
  • Xylene
  • Phenol
  • Cresol
  • Cyclopentene
  • Lead
  • Lead (Inorganic Airborne Contaminant)

Besides these chemicals, Kaiss K. Al-Ahmady, Ph.D., P.E., of Indoor Air Solutions, Inc. of Tampa Florida, found in testing of over 20 candles, that 30 percent of the metal wire wicks used in some candles can contained lead.

The reason scented and aromatherapy candles are the usual culprits is because the fragrance oils are unsaturated hydrocarbons and they soften the wax so that it doesn’t burn cleanly. Container candles are even worse since the oxygen necessary for a clean burn doesn’t reach the flame properly.

Buy instead unscented candles made without petroleum, with wire-free wicks. Diffusers are a safer way to practice aromatherapy, and they are available in most health food stores.

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Lora Jones
Lora Jones1 years ago

Scent-Sations, Inc. makes Mia Bella Candle's and they are a natural palm wax formulation and are 90% soot free. The wicks are 100% cotton and the metal portion is lead free. Takes care of that problem for you!

Nimue Pendragon
Nimue Pendragon3 years ago


Maija Shelley
Maija S3 years ago

I should have known my google search would bring me here! The last couple of days our electricity has been off 50% of the time due to ice and snow. I've closed myself into my bedroom and used candles to heat and cook. I've been able to keep my room around 20C/72F with the little tricks I've been using. I've had hot tea, porridge, and stew (from scratch!). However, I noticed this morning that my toilet seat was covered with black soot. (I also kept a couple of candles burning in there). Then I noticed that my nostrils were black! "Freaked out" might be an understatement! Come to discover it is because of the candles! Yes, I had many burning. Yes, they were cheap. Yes, many of them are scented. Holy smokes! *ahem* I suppose I'd better see if I can find a source of bees wax that doesn't cost and arm and a leg to buy... an arm, okay maybe. Time to start making healthy candles.
(here I thought I was doing something so great)

Karrie S.
Karrie S.4 years ago

I just discovered this as well. My company makes scented wax that is nontoxic and is melted in a warmer. WONDERFUL and Safe for my family and pets. I have removed all plug ins (glade due to fire hazards, frebreeze the resuidue relesed) and now all candles because of what i found! if you want to find out more! PLUS, the best part it is warmed by a light bulb NOT burned by a flame so it never gets to the point of burning anyone!

Aruna Swain
Aruna Swain4 years ago

I did not know all this....Thanks!!

Heather B.
Past Member 5 years ago

Scary; thanks for letting us know, Annie.

Marie Rhoades
Marie Rhoades6 years ago

I learned about the hazards of paraffin candles back in the year 2001. I couldn't find any scented candles that I enjoyed so started making my own from 100% soy wax.

My husband and I founded Sally Lee Candle Co. in January 2009 and sell organic soy wax candles, no zinc or lead in the wicks and most of our fragrance oils are soy based instead of petroleum based. I can't imagine what the toxic fumes from paraffin candles are doing to people's lungs over time...probably covering them with soot just like walls.

Marie Rhoades - Founder/Managing Director
Sally Lee Candle Co.

Shirley S.
Shirley S.7 years ago

I discovered the problem with soot from petroleum candles years ago. It took me ages to remove it from the walls, appliances, etc. I have been using diffusers as I thought all candles produced soot. Thanks to Annie's article, I can now use pure beeswax candles. I love the warm glow from candles and it's great to learn that they can also be beneficial. Thanks Annie.

Laura Delplace
Laura Delplace7 years ago

Is there a way to tell if an older candle contains parrafin???

James Dunn
James Dunn7 years ago

Who would breathe candle soot even if they didn't know better?