The Ultimate Guide to Eco-Friendly and Toxic-Free Candles
As we started realizing that candle burning might not be a very sustainable business, we took it upon ourselves to investigate how bad it really is and what the better choices are. Here's what we found out.
Living in the northernmost parts of the world, as we do, every day is now shorter and darker than the one before (a total downer, as always). This means, that in the five to six months to come, we’ll be burning something that can only be described as an insane amount of candles. And as much as we love the sight of that flickering light and the sophisticated fragrance from our favorite scented candles, we can’t help but wonder: How will all that candle wax, colors and perfumes—dissolved into the air we breathe—affect us? What’s the prize for great ambiance?
When it comes to conventional candles, like the typical taper candles and tea lights, most are made from either stearin (animal or vegetable fats) or paraffin (petroleum waste), and the latter is actually really bad for both the environment and us. As paraffin burns, it creates toxic benzene and toluene chemicals, both of which are known carcinogens. Apparently, breathing them in is as bad for your health as second-hand smoke.
Many candles also contain artificial dyes and fragrances, which can release harmful chemicals. Together, all these toxic particles—not forgetting soot—that are released into the air in our homes has proven to cause awful things like lung issues, cardiac problems, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and allergies. Considering our own health as well as the health of this plant, we’re obligated to make better choices.
So, what we’ve figured out is this: You want organic and eco-friendly candles with cotton or wood wicks made from natural, vegetable ingredients like coconut wax, rapeseed wax, beeswax or soy wax. If they’re scented, many advocate essential oils, but depending on how they’re made and how you react to them, we can’t say it’s always the most eco-friendly or healthy option. Choose stearin for taper candles and tea lights—preferably the vegetable kind if you can find it. Be suspicious of candles manufactured with synthetic fragrances, toxic dyes, GMOs, pesticides, paraffin or parabens, and avoid ones made from unspecified blends, as they may contain synthetic ingredients or paraffin.
We know, it’s a lot. To make it easier we’ve made an explanatory list of words and ingredients to look for.
Natural and organic
It’s usually the best and most sustainable choice. However, even natural ingredients needs to be responsibly produced. If the candle contain wax made from palm oil or soy, it’s extra important to know it comes from eco-friendly and sustainable harvesting. Palm oil should for example always be RSPO certified*.
This is supposedly the purest, most eco-friendly and luxurious wax used today (hence more expensive). It burns slowly and cleanly, and throws scent very well. Is there anything coconuts can’t do?
It’s natural, renewable and biodegradable, and it burns slower and cooler, which helps to better distribute fragrance. Choose rapeseed wax from Europe (especially if you live there for shorter transports) where it’s illegal to grow GMO crops.
As beeswax isn’t vegan, it’s unfortunately not for everyone. However, it’s a natural, biodegradable wax that burns slowly, and it naturally cleans the air by neutralizing toxins. It’s smokeless and sootless, and absolutely best in its natural, uncolored and honey scented form. The colors differ between different waxes depending what the bees have lived on.
Even though it’s a natural, renewable and biodegradable wax that burns slowly and cleanly, it’s not the most sustainable one. There are many concerns regarding the massive soybean industry, like deforestation and the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Be careful to avoid soy/paraffin blends as well as GMOs (which are still allowed in e.g. USA).
This is a tricky one, as it’s very often made from both animal and vegetable fats, which doesn’t make it vegan. Nevertheless, stearin is always to prefer before paraffin. Make sure the candles are eco-friendly or Swan-branded, and choose refill tea lights instead of the ones that come in aluminum cups if possible.
In opposition to synthetic fragrances, essential oils are natural extracts made from plants and flowers. In their concentrated form they’re very powerful and should be handled with great care. Essential oils are often used for their therapeutic and nourishing qualities.
Cotton or wooden wicks
The wick should be lead and metal free and made from natural and clean-burning things like cotton, hemp or wood. Cut the wick before lightening the candle for a cleaner burn, and always keep candles away from drafts to prevent them from producing soot.
* See Astrid’s comment below for additional info on palm oil.
Check out these toxic-free and natural scented candles for inspiration.
1. Edition 01 – Winter, Goop, 65h.
Made with soy wax and essential oils.
2. Rosemary Lime, Low Key, 40h
Organic candle made from a blend of coconut, carnauba, RSPO-certified palm oil and European beeswax. It’s scented with eco-certified essential oils and has an organic cotton wick.
3. Black Oak, L:a Bruket, 45h+
Made from organic soy wax and organic essential oils.
4. Birch & Juniper, Kårby Organics, 60h.
Made from an all-organic blend of coconut wax, beeswax, carnauba and palm oil (from eco certified, small-scale farms in South America).
5. Patchouli and Cedar Wood, Yvelis, 45h
Made from rapeseed and essentials oils with a cotton wick.
6. Bergamot & Cinnamon, Calming Scented Candle, Renee Voltaire, 35h
Made from soy wax and organic essential oils.
Pic at the top: Beeswax candles.
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