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Smarter: Are Candles Bad for Your Health?

Consumer Reports 2/2/2023 Pang-Chieh Ho
© Provided by Consumer Reports

By Pang-Chieh Ho

This week I’m looking into whether the honeyed orange-scented candle I received for Christmas might be harmful to my health. Also on the nose-related agenda: How to fix your nighttime sleeping problems, and do neti pots actually work?


‘Burning Questions’

I find candles to be divisive. Either you’re very into them or you’re very not.

I have friends who love candles and find them to be soothing. And they certainly seem to be popular with the general public. When we asked Instagram users in a poll whether they light candles at home, 70 percent said yes.

However, for every candle lover there are also people who are wary of them. I get nauseous from certain candles. And my partner is similar. He gets migraines and has never bought a candle in his life.

So are candles harmful to your health? 

The short answer is mostly no, says Brian W. Christman, MD, a professor in allergy, pulmonary, and critical care medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and spokesperson for the American Lung Association.

A 2014 study found that under normal conditions, using scented candles doesn’t pose known health risks to people. While small amounts of potentially harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde and toluene, were detected, those levels were well below the standards of safe exposure determined by the World Health Organization, Brian says, citing the study.

It should be noted that the study’s funding has ties to the fragrance industry, though Brian says the study seems to have been well controlled and its findings straightforward.

That’s not to say that candles are entirely risk-free. Long-term studies on the health effects of candle use are limited, says Amanda Dilger, MD, an ear, nose, and throat doctor at Mass Eye and Ear at Mass General Brigham, a Boston-based nonprofit hospital and physician network.

Candles can worsen indoor air quality with the release of pollutants, including black carbon, formaldehyde, particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and nitrous oxide. Children and people with heart and lung conditions might want to be more careful with candles because they’re at higher risk of being affected by indoor air pollution, Amanda says.

Does the choice of candle make a difference? In other words, are some candles safer than others?

Paraffin-based candles have been found to release a number of toxins, including benzene and toluene, while research has shown that soy wax candles burn slower and produce less soot, Amanda says. However, it’s worth noting that more studies are needed to better understand the potential health effects of different types of candles.

For the time being, you’re probably better off avoiding paraffin candles just from an environmental perspective, because they’re made from petroleum, Amanda says. Instead, consider opting for candles made from materials that are more biodegradable and less fossil-fuel-based, such as soy, coconut, and beeswax, Brian says. 

Scented candles contain fragrances that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during combustion. VOCs have been associated with allergies and asthma, so if you’re prone to those conditions or have symptoms such as eye irritation or sneezing during candle use, it may be best to forego the scented ones, Amanda says.

What’s the best or safest way to burn candles?

Make sure your space is well ventilated, and avoid drafty areas, Amanda says. 

Also, trim wicks to a quarter-inch and remove debris from the wax pool to minimize soot released into the air.

When you’re purchasing candles, you should also find ones that are stable and won’t tip over easily, Brian says. On average, 20 home candle fires are reported each day, according to the National Fire Protection Association, so it’s good to be safe.

And to state the totally obvious, always, always blow out your candles before you go to sleep or leave your home.

Bonus link: Are gas stoves a health risk?

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Photo: Andrea Migliarini/Getty Images

True or false: A neti pot can help clear out your sinuses.

(The answer is at the end of the newsletter.)


Few things in life emit as irritating a sound as a smoke alarm that won’t stop going off because it’s malfunctioning.

If you’re absolutely sure that it’s a false alarm, here are a few tips on how to reset it.

1. Try pressing and holding the reset button first. I know, duh, but you have to cover the basics.

2. If that doesn’t work, take the alarm down and remove the batteries. And if your smoke alarm has a lithium battery that you can’t take out, try silencing it in a blanket, under a cushion, or in your freezer until it stops.

3. For hardwired smoke alarms, if one smoke alarm sounds, they’ll all sound. So try the reset button on each alarm first. Flipping the circuit breaker off and on might also help.

Finally, if these solutions fail, disconnect the smoke alarms and remove their backup batteries one by one. There’s a small connector at the back of each alarm that can be unclipped to let you safely remove it from the network.

And here are the best smoke and carbon monoxide detectors of 2023, according to our test results.


🥛 5 Steps to an Organized Refrigerator

Should you put milk on the fridge door? What about storing veggies and fruit in the same drawer? Here’s what our experts say.

💪 Best Equipment for a Home Gym

It can be something as simple as a $20 yoga mat or more high-end equipment like a treadmill rated highly by us.

💤 Fix Nighttime Breathing Problems

You might have sleep apnea without realizing it. And if you have trouble sleeping, here are 10 products that help us get a good night’s sleep.

🍳 Best Induction Ranges of 2023

Induction burners are three times more efficient than gas stoves.


What you should know about supplements like melatonin that are used to help you sleep.


It’s true. The neti pot, which flows a saline or saltwater solution through your nostrils, can clear out your sinuses and help with problems including allergies, nonallergic irritation of the nose, colds, and sinus inflammation and infections.

You should keep in mind, though, that a neti pot is a treatment and not a cure. If you’re suffering through a cold, it’s not going to cure your cold. And if you have untreated allergies, it’s still best to consult a primary care doctor, an ear, nose, and throat specialist, or an allergist for a more targeted treatment.

And while a neti pot can be effective, there are cases when you probably shouldn’t use it. Read more about the situations where a neti pot is not recommended.

Thanks for reading Smarter! If you want more tips that will make you a little bit smarter, sign up to have the newsletter delivered straight to your inbox every week.

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2023, Consumer Reports, Inc.

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