Scented candles fill the air of homes with dust and spores, warn researchers

Some homeowners fix the problem of an odd-smelling house by lighting a scented candle. But be warned: Doing so could put the house’s inhabitants at risk of inhaling dust and fungal spores. That’s what researchers from San Diego State University found over the course of their study, which took an investigative look at the factors that contribute to indoor pollution. “Our primary goal was to figure out what’s happening in houses that leads to higher air particle levels and, in turn, to unhealthy environments for kids,” stated study co-author John Bellettiere.

For their study, the researchers installed a pair of air particle monitors in the homes of 300 families living in San Diego. Each family had at least one smoker and at least one child aged 14 or younger. The air particle monitors were then placed in the area of the house closest to where smoking occurred and the child’s bedroom. For three months, the monitors scanned for particles between 0.5 to 2.5 micrometers in size — just enough to enter human lungs. These particles included dust, combustion by-products from cooking and candle burning, and fungal spores. Moreover, there were two instances where the researchers interviewed the families to ask what activities were taking place throughout the house at various times.

By the end of the study, the researchers determined that cigarette smoking and marijuana smoking were the biggest contributors to indoor air pollution, while e-cigarettes had no effect. Homes with indoor cigarette smokers had particle levels nearly double that of the homes of non-smokers, reported the In particular, cigarette smoking was noted for containing particles of nicotine and combustion byproducts, which were known to be dangerous to people’s health and especially the health of children.

Cooking with oil added to the amount of air particles in homes, regardless of whether the food was burned or not. Homes where a lot of vacuuming, sweeping, and dusting were done had also been found to be full of more air particles, likely because these activities stirred up dormant air particles around the homes. (Related: Household dust contains toxic chemicals that can cause infertility and cancer.)

Burning candles and incense, meanwhile, increased the presence of air particles by a large margin. This may be due to the fact that most candles are made from paraffin wax, a petroleum waste product that released benzene and toluene — both carcinogens — when burned. Furthermore, a number of scented candles came with wicks that contained heavy metals like lead, noted, which in turn can cause these heavy metals to become airborne once the candles have been lit. This isn’t even taking into account the possibility of artificial dyes and scents being added to candles — artificial dyes and scents that can release even more chemicals into the air.

“The aim of our research is, ultimately, to find effective ways to promote smoke-free homes and also to find good strategies, in general, for reducing exposure to household pollution. The findings from our work will allow for better education and feedback to families,” said Neil E. Klepeis, a study co-author. “Our research team is continuing to develop novel monitoring devices and approaches that consumers can use to understand their air quality, and to explore ways that work for them and their families to reduce unhealthy pollutant exposures, especially for kids.”

In the meantime, beeswax candles have been touted as a good alternative to most scented candles. By neutralizing air contaminants, the candles effectively render these contaminants harmless and thereby reduce indoor air pollution.

Go to to read more stories about what else around you is and isn’t good for your health.

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