When I wrote about Earth Hour, I mentioned turning out the lights and using candles for an hour. I have to confess that I took it as given that burning candles must be better. But how good is it to be using candles? All I could have really tell you before writing this post is that a candle is made up of a wax and a wick. I didn’t know where the wax came from, what the wick was made of, and what sort of emissions burning a candle can give off, if any.

So I did some research online, and looked at some candles for sale, and it appears that most candles are made from paraffin wax. They can also be made from more natural materials such as beeswax, soy, other plant waxes and tallow.

Throughout history, all over the world, candles were traditionally made from tallow (animal fat) and wicks made from natural materials such as rushes. But since the 1850s candles have been generally made from paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum, coal or shale. During my research I found conflicting views as to whether burning candles emit many emissions and whether they are harmful. After doing some reading*, I think my view is that because when I burn candles I don’t tend to burn many at once or for very long, their impact shouldn’t be very high. I think it depends how much you use them and what they are made from.

But whether or not they contribute much to your emissions, I still think it’s disturbing that this is what candles are made from. To be honest, I’ve never actually bought myself a candle but I have been given many as gifts. But I would still like to know: what about alternatives?

100% beeswax or soy candles (check whether the soy is GM if that’s something that bothers you) seem to be best, or those made from natural vegetable wax. They are natural (check what the wick is made from too) and are unlikely to cause allergies or emit hazardous chemicals the way paraffin candles do. A good rule of thumb is to check what the candle and wick are made from and whether any synthetic fragrances are contained in them. I found this article, ‘Are Soy and Natural Candles Really Natural?’, really useful for how you work out if a candle really is all natural or not.

I can’t believe I’d never thought to investigate this before. It just shows how far I still have to go on my journey to go green! What do you think? Do you burn candles often? Or maybe you make your own? Do you think paraffin candles can have an impact on your health?

*If you want to read more about this, you could start with articles such as Candles Are Ten Times Worse for the Environment Than Bulbs or Particle Emissions From Candles Are No Health Hazard, both of which I came across during my own research.


8 thoughts on “Candles

  1. I love supporting local honey sellers by buying their beeswax candles at their stalls at the farmers market – and they’re beautiful!

  2. I love burning candles! They sooth my soul. The tricky part for me about what type of candle to burn is that the big brand, best smelling candles ( the ones that make your whole house smell like just baked cinnamon rolls for example)are generally made fro paraffin and lots of artificial scents. It is a hard thing to give up. I expect to pay sometimes as much as five dollars more for a good sized beeswax, soy, or other plant based candle. If I have the money it is worth it. Sometimes I cave in and by a paraffin candle anyway. This fall I started making my own soy candles as a craft project and it has been great fun burning the candles I have made myself. However, even with scent added, my candle creations do not make my house smell like a baking heaven or tropical paradise. I may just have to learn how to actually back cinnamon rolls or take a vacation to a tropical island.

    • Thank you for commenting! It’s a shame that you can’t get the candles you’re after unless they’re made of paraffin. In this case as in many others, artificial sadly trumps natural!

      I’m really impressed you took the step to making your own candles – what is it like? Is it fairly straightforward?

      Yes, maybe the answer is to go for alternative scent sources – I would love to learn how to bake cinnamon rolls too! 🙂

  3. I wrote a blog post ( that included some thoughts on candles – I was considering passing on a Pheylonian beeswax candle that I had been gifted from a friend in Toronto (almost all of my candles were gifts) and so I read up on their website so I could tell the person I was giving it to what it was all about. What I read there turned me off the idea of paraffin candles entirely, and made me want to burn my beeswax candle, at least from time to time. I want to be careful what I breathe in. I haven’t had it lit since winter ended, but the smell of pure beeswax was delightful and just thinking about it makes me want to burn the candle for a few minutes right now. I had considered buying tealight/votive beeswax candles from the same company (online) for emergencies (even though power cuts are very rare in this area) or maybe for holiday ambience. Beeswax also burns longer and more efficiently.
    For scent purposes I prefer incense, which was also part of that blog post. And once again, now that I’m thinking of it, I feel like I should freshen up the house with a little incense. I use Japanese incense, which smells less like a pot smoking teenager’s bedroom than some of the more common Indian incenses. 🙂

    • Thank you for the link to your blog post – I really enjoyed it (and I have the same issue with notebooks; I have so many of them!) I am also going through the process of sorting through my ‘stuff’.
      Good to hear that you agree about the worries of burning paraffin candles. Having never used a pure beeswax candle, I’m interested to hear how lovely yours smells. I’ve also never really tried incense – but that is a great idea to freshen up the house. I really very rarely burn the candles I do have and I feel a little unsure what I should do with them, since I’m almost 100% sure they are not natural. Your ideas are really great though. And thank you for spending the time to write these comments, it is great to hear from a fellow greenie 🙂

      • I often pass on things like that at work – we have a “free table” which makes it easier to find a home for things that we’re done with. Or I ask people on facebook – there’s usually a friend who loves candles or notebooks or whatever. Some things don’t really lend themselves to being donated to the thrift shop.
        It was interesting to see how many of the topics you wrote about are topics I’ve written or thought about. I don’t normally identify myself a a greenie – I have competing desires to be frugal, minimalist, and simple, all of which complement and conflict. But in the end they are all aspects of being responsible and not overdoing anything, which all fits in with being green. (there are times though when I don’t know which value is the most important!)

      • That’s the thing – I thought of myself as a greenie at first but I realise that being minimalist is a really key part of it. It’s great to know of the overlap, as I think a lot of minimalists are helping the environment without knowing it 🙂

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