Q: I love the soft glow of candles, but how do I know I'm not just smogging up my nest?
A: Ahh, those soothing wax sticks. Light up a few around a room, take a couple of deep breaths and let a day's worth of stress melt away while saving a little on electricity, right? Well, not when they are emitting nasty pollutants like acetone, benzene, soot and lead. Indeed, most candles are made of paraffin, a toxic waste product of the petroleum industry. You can tell if your candle is creating indoor air pollution by checking for dark, oily deposits around electrical outlets, appliances and even your nostrils. If things start looking a little grey to you, you're probably experiencing something called black soot deposition, otherwise known as "fogging" or "ghosting".
As yummy as they can be, highly scented candles are often a culprit. And that includes aromatic candles that are billed as "aromatherapy." (The Canadian Federation of Aromatherapy says a quality candle containing high-grade aromatherapy oils will give off scent for only a few moments.)
Keeping wicks trimmed (yes, there's a reason why candle labels tell us to do this!) and away from drafts actually helps reduce soot emissions, too.
Even if a black cloud hasn't descended upon your pad just yet, there's still a good chance your favourite candles are made with dangerously high levels of lead, especially if they were purchased from the dollar store or made in China or Taiwan. The toxic compound is placed in paper or cotton wicks because it's thought to make candles burn more slowly and evenly. A recent study found that one leaded candle-burning session a week can send enough lead into your home's atmosphere to raise a child's blood lead count above federally accepted levels and increase chances of behavioural and learning problems. Eek!
Canada has yet to institute a ban on lead candles, but Health Canada says one is in the works. In the meantime, consider chucking any candles that puff black soot when you snuff them, and note that tea lights, pillar candles and ones that create wax puddles are more likely to contain lead.
Luckily, there are plenty of eco- and health-conscious alternatives. Long-lasting beeswax actually cleans the air by releasing calming negative ions that cling to dust, making particles heavy so they fall. But be sure to buy 100 per cent beeswax - there are lots of watered-downed versions on the market. At the Big Carrot on the Danforth, a package of 10 tea lights is $11.99, and Grassroots offers tapers ($8.95) that burn for up to 24 hours and large drip candles ($68) that burn up to 1,000 hours. The best prices are at Christopher's Hive (Queen West in Parkdale), where a 10-inch taper goes for $2.50.
Then there are veggie-based wax sticks, like Vegewax (available at Grassroots, Big Carrot, Whole Foods on Avenue Road and the Omega Centre on Yorkville) that go for 99 cents for tea lights and $21.99 for a 3-by-9-inch pillar. They burn clean, long and bright, and their manufacturers say that dollar-per-hour, they're actually cheaper than paraffin. Other veggie-based options include soy candles available at Whole Foods ($2.99 for a votive) and Noah's on Bloor ($21.99 for a large stick).
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