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 pollutants, as well as some alternatives to try.
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.1
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.
The smell of a wood fire might be nostalgic and pleasant, but breathing wood smoke can be as harmful as smoking.2 Similar to tobacco smoke, wood smoke contains hundreds of toxic pollutants including carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).3
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%) use wood as their main heat source.4 If avoiding the fireplace isn’t a realistic option for your household, consider using a Filtrete™ Air Purifier with a True HEPA Filter that captures smoke particles. Also, try to implement these wood-burning best practices from the EPA.
If it’s warmth you’re after, consider an electric space heater—just be sure to turn it off when you leave the room, and keep flammable materials at least 3 feet from the machine. Woodsy-smelling essential oils can help fill your home with cozy smells, too. Plus, reed and steam diffusers don’t release smoke like candles do.
If you do use your fireplace, make sure your HVAC filter is up to date. You’ll be mitigating sources of indoor air pollution and have one less thing to worry about.
2. https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/documents/91br023.pdf (PDF, 318.19 KB)