Sure, green-hued candles are nice. But green candles—as in, environmentally friendly pillars and tea lights adding ambience to your home—are even nicer. And that’s what I’m talking about in today’s Green Around the House Challenge.
What’s wrong with standard candles? Plenty. Let’s start with paraffin, the most common candle ingredient. It’s a petroleum byproduct—in other words, even if you ride your bike to the store to buy those pretty candles to burn, you’re relying on fossil fuels.
And if your candles are scented, you’re also putting your health at risk. That’s because many scented candles contain synthetic fragrances. (Specifically, they contain chemicals such as phthalates, which have been shown to disrupt hormones.)
Another dangerous culprit in these seemingly benign products: the wicks. Not all wicks are bad, but some candlewicks contain lead and release soot and toxins into the air when they’re burned. (And, as Umbra points out, like anything that burns, candles give off particles and vapors that can irritate your respiratory system.) In the United States, candle manufacturers voluntarily stopped using lead wicks for this very reason. But if your candles weren’t made in the United States, they may still have lead in the wicks. (Click Umbra’s name above to learn how you can test your wicks to see if they include lead.)
So what’s a candle-lover to do? Never fear, because you don’t have to forsake your candle habit altogether. As is the case with much of what we’re including in our Green Around the House Challenge, you just have to shop smarter:
Buy natural candles. Beeswax candles are naturally fragrant, nontoxic, soot-free, and allergen-free (just make sure you’re buying candles made from 100 percent beeswax). And, as long as the bee population doesn’t diminish anymore, beeswax is a renewable resource. Soy is another candle option that’s biodegradable, vegan, soot-free, and long-lasting. Or look for clean-burning wax made from palm oil (palm oil comes from coconuts, so no living plants are destroyed in the making of the oil).
Watch out for synthetic scents. Your best bet is to purchase unscented candles. But I’m a realist and I know that part of the allure of candles is the wonderful scent they give off (even when they’re not burning—the soy candles sitting in the sconces on my dining room wall emit a wonderful aroma every time I walk by them). So if you can’t do without yummy smells, at least opt for those light sticks that get their scents from essential oils.
Avoid lead-containing wicks. Enough said.
Recycle. Yep, you read that right. Although they may be made from paraffin, recycled candles are an environmentally friendly option because you’re reusing candle wax that was already produced rather than buying new. So make your own or buy recycled. Some candle-makers—like my friend Cara who sells her Mary Marie line of candles at Etsy—even use old glass jars, mugs, and the like for containing their candles. Now that’s eco-friendly!
The Home Know-It-All