Are your favorite candles putting off toxic fumes?

What you need to know about burning candles indoors.
What you need to know about burning candles indoors.

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There’s nothing more reminiscent of the holidays than opening the front door to the scent of cinnamon, gingerbread, and pumpkin spice wafting through the air. The warm glow of candles is a welcome sight once autumn arrives. However, some scary headlines warn of unwanted gifts: Toxic chemicals burning from those candles on the countertop.

With indoor air quality at the top of mind for many these days, you may be looking for a cleaner option made with fewer ingredients to burn indoors, like a non-toxic candle. We spoke to a product safety expert to get the scoop on what you need to know about burning candles indoors to keep your family safe, as well as several non-toxic candle alternatives to try. Here's what you need to know about non-toxic candles.

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What to know about burning in candles indoors

There’s no avoiding the fact that all candles emit smoke and soot. When ignited, candles release carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other volatile organic compounds. There is a lot of conflicting information out there but the bottom line is to carefully note the materials that make up the candle.

An often-quoted study from 2002 finds that paraffin wax candles emit more formaldehyde compared to soy wax candles. Paraffin is derived from petroleum, while beeswax and soy are natural options. It turns out some of the most popular candle brands on the market, from pricey celebrity favorites to mall staples, use paraffin wax, or a combination of materials.

Reading the label carefully can make all the difference. You may be surprised to find out just how many candles that companies advertise as soy or beeswax are actually a blend, leading you to question the safety of burning scented candles at home.

Several peer-reviewed studies found that burning scented candles for limited amounts of time (about four hours or less) is safe. However, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says to avoid them altogether if you’re sensitive to fragrances or candle smoke. Running an air purifier can help clean the air, too.

When buying candles this holiday season, also take note of the material that makes up the wick. Many candles have cotton wicks, but some have tin or zinc mixed in to keep them upright. No matter the composition, you can rest easy knowing that lead wicks have been banned in the United States since 2003.

One last note of caution: While they look pretty, the National Candle Association is sounding the alarm about the dangers of increasingly popular candles with dried flowers, wood and leaves embedded in the wax.

One study found they can catch fire and cause the entire candle to become engulfed. That’s one safety hazard you don’t want to invite to your home this holiday season.

How to burn a candle

Believe it or not, there is a right way and a wrong way to burn a candle. The CPSC notes that proper use of candles determines levels of emissions. The first step? Reading the labels for proper candle use and burning guidelines.

“Typical short-term use of candles, when carefully attended, is not expected to cause problems for most consumers. Some consumers are sensitive to candle smoke and may choose to avoid exposure to candles,” said CPSC spokesperson Nikki Fleming.

The National Candle Association recommends that before you even get out the lighter, trim the wick to ¼-inch and place the candle in an area that is not drafty. The association suggests burning candles for fewer than four hours to avoid excess smoke and soot.

“If consumers observe excessive smoke production, notice soot collecting on nearby items, or observe frequent flickering of the flame, consumers should safely extinguish the candle,” said Fleming. “Once cool, consumers can try trimming the wick or move the candle to a less drafty place to improve the burning performance.”

This might be obvious, but it has to be said: Never leave a candle unattended. Make sure it’s out of reach of pets, children, or any flammable materials (such as curtains).

Five non-toxic candles you can shop now

With so many mixed messages about the safety of paraffin candles, a “better safe than sorry” attitude is sometimes the best approach for anyone who’s concerned. That means choosing candles that are composed of 100% soy, 100% beeswax, or any other natural ingredient, such as palm, as well as cotton wicks only.

Here are some of our favorite non-toxic candles.

1. Calayan Wax Tumbler in Apples + Maple Bourbon Candle

Winter may be coming, but Fall stays alive with this candle.
Winter may be coming, but Fall stays alive with this candle.

Nothing like the smell of apple and maple to remind you of fall. This 100% soy candle from Calayan Wax Co. also has a cause. The company donates 5% of revenue to help fight human trafficking and to assist survivors.

$27 at Amazon

2. Nature’s Apothecary Pumpkin Vanilla Chai Candle

The Fall feeling is not complete without the smell of fresh pumpkin.
The Fall feeling is not complete without the smell of fresh pumpkin.

This 100% beeswax candle from a family-owned business in Missoula, Montana, gives off fall vibes with its pumpkin vanilla chai scent. These candles are hand-poured in the United States.

$20 at Amazon

3. Boy Smells Gardener Scented Candle

Another seasonal candle that will remind you that warmer weather will be on its way.
Another seasonal candle that will remind you that warmer weather will be on its way.

High-end favorite candle company, Boy Smells, will remind you of springtime when it’s snowy outside. This beeswax and coconut wax blend candle is one of many fragrant options from the Asian-owned company.

$36 at Nordstrom

4. Floral Street Lady Emma Scented Candle

A smell that will make you come up with the best "Roses are red" poem.
A smell that will make you come up with the best "Roses are red" poem.

If roses are your favorite, check out this luxury option from British company, Floral Street. This Lady Emma candle is composed of soy and rapeseed wax. While this particular scent is a Nordstrom exclusive, there are more to pick from at Sephora, as well.

$46 at Nordstrom

5. Ever Spring Lavender and Bergamot Candle

An affordable smell to take your mind off the holiday craze.
An affordable smell to take your mind off the holiday craze.

There’s nothing like the calming scent of lavender to ease holiday stress. This 100% soy candle uses essential oils as the basis of its fragrances. As a bonus, this candle won’t break the bank.

$6 at Target

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This article originally appeared on Reviewed: Non-toxic candles: What to know about burning candles indoors