Scented Candles May Fill Your Home with Lead and Soot

Aromatherapy candles are meant to relax, but they can be full of toxic pollutants

| March-April 1999

The health-conscious homeowner who would never dream of allowing cigarette smoke inside the house might burn aromatherapy candles, thinking they promote a healthy, relaxing atmosphere. But candles can emit acetone, benzene, lead, soot, and other pollutants.

Cathy Flanders of Plano, Texas, found out the hard way: “Things started looking gray to me. There was a dark film around electrical outlets, the refrigerator, and the air conditioning vents, and on plastic materials such as computer screens.”

Ron Bailey, vice president of Bailey Engineering Corporation, was hired to investigate the Flanders home. Testing revealed that aromatic candles were releasing significant quantities of volatile organic compounds, and that the core wicks were made of lead.

The Flanders, who filed suit against the retailer, aren't alone. Other cases of what is known as black soot deposition have been darkening homes and dormitories across the country. “We've had at least two people who talked about waking up with a black ring around their nostrils,” says Bailey. “One was sleeping with a surgical mask because she had noticed the problem and didn't know where it was coming from.”

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), such reports are increasing. Dan Cautley, an NAHB Research Center engineer, says that candles and other indoor combustible materials, including incense, potpourri, and oil lamps, are the prime suspects.

“Since seven out of ten homes burn candles on a regular basis, according to a study done by Smith and Kline, this issue is extremely far-reaching and has the potential for affecting millions of homes,” states an NAHB bulletin.