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  4. Indoor Air Pollution Sources: Candles and Fireplaces
  • Cozy Culprits Examined: Candles and Fireplaces

    Even though you can’t see it, these household staples can negatively impact your air quality.

    If your downtime ritual involves reading by a crackling fire or relaxing in a bubble bath surrounded by candles, take note: Fireplaces and candles can wreak havoc on your home’s indoor air quality. Here’s a look at these indoor air pollution sources, as well as some alternatives to try.

    • What you should know about candles

      Beyond providing ambience, certain types of candles can add toxic pollutants to your indoor air. The biggest offenders? Paraffin wax candles, which are derived from petroleum and release some of the same carcinogenic chemicals as diesel fuel: benzene, toluene, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde*.

      Candles also release soot—it’s what gives the flame its bright white and yellow color. Soot stains walls and furniture, and it can contaminate your home’s ventilation system. Scented candles are even worse, as the synthetic fragrance they contain creates more soot than unscented varieties. Soy- or beeswax-based candles burn cleaner and release fewer harmful chemicals than paraffin varieties.

      Candle alternatives to try

      • Candle warmers require no flame and emit the same pleasant scent without the soot, smoke or chemicals.
      • Filtrete™ Whole House Air Fresheners attach to your HVAC air filter and deliver fragrance to multiple rooms through your home’s air vents.
      • Essential oil diffusers can fill your space with natural fragrance.

      What you should know about indoor wood-burning fireplaces

      The smell of a wood fire might be nostalgic and pleasant, but breathing wood smoke can be as harmful as smoking**. Similar to tobacco smoke, wood smoke contains hundreds of toxic pollutants including carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)***. Another threat from wood smoke is the fine particles it contains, which can negatively impact your indoor air quality. These particles are so small that even well-sealed windows and doors don’t stop them from re-entering your home from the chimney. During winter—when fireplace use is most common—wood smoke is even more of a problem, as the cold, stagnant air prevents the smoke from rising and dispersing.

      About 2.5 million American households (2.1 percent) use wood as their main heat source****. If avoiding the fireplace isn’t a realistic option for your household, consider using a room air purifier and installing a HEPA filter that captures smoke particles, such as a Filtrete™ True HEPA Filter, and try to implement these wood-burning best practices from the EPA.

      Fireplace alternative to try

      You may naturally select cleaning products “flavored” by your favorite fragrances, but along with that citrus or pine scent, you could also breathe in synthetic and harmful chemicals. Instead, opt for items labeled fragrance-free or naturally scented. If you’re having a hard time ditching your beloved scents, try infusing homemade cleaning products with a couple drops of 100 percent pure therapeutic-grade essential oils. 


      *Children’s Environmental Health Network

      **Washington State Department of Ecology (PDF, 318 KB)

      ***Environmental Protection Agency

      ****U.S. Energy Information Administration