I seriously don’t know what I would do without candles. They are my everything, helping to set the mood or transition between various phases as I move through the day.
There is rarely a day when I haven’t got a candle burning (sometimes multiple candles!) somewhere near me — whether to boost energy levels, soothe the senses, or even transport me to somewhere gorgeous halfway across the world (like Paris, with these candles!).
And when you are surrounded by what’s essentially fragranced burning wax almost all the time, these become obvious questions: Are candles safe? Is my favorite indulgence putting my family’s health at risk? Do I need to switch out my regulars for non-toxic candles? What is a natural candle? What, exactly, goes into a clean candle? And does such an object exist — or is it all just a marketing gimmick?
Each of these questions becomes even more important when considering that the candle industry is wildly unregulated. To the extent that candle makers don’t need to label what’s inside their products.
So, you could be potentially filling up your room with a whole lot of toxic chemicals that can be harmful to health — with effects ranging from headaches and respiratory issues to heart problems, reproductive defects, and even, in rare cases, cancer.
Kills the vibe, right?
Speaking with industry experts, ranging from candle makers to doctors and scientists who study the effects of air-borne toxins on health, it’s clear that the credentials of a clean candle boil down to three basic components: The candle wax, the wick, and the components of its fragrance.
Time, then, to study them one by one with reference to non-toxic candles.
The various types of wax in candles — and how to choose
Wax is one of the most essential components of a candle (duh!) and also the most controversial.
Which type of wax burns the cleanest? Is paraffin wax, which makes up the base of most candles, really toxic to human health? Does soy wax make for non-toxic candles? What about coconut wax candles? And does beeswax mean a clean candle?
Let’s break them down.
Paraffin wax candles
This, undisputedly, is the most controversial type of candle wax — ever!
And with good reason.
On the one hand, paraffin wax is cheap, readily available, and holds the scent very well — which makes it an extremely popular choice for most candle makers, including some of the most prestigious names in the industry.
However, paraffin wax is a petroleum-based product obtained from the gunk at the bottom of crude oil barrels.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s not like the dirty sludge is being poured straight into your candle jars.
These petroleum byproducts first undergo extensive refining to remove naturally occurring toxins, like benzene and toluene, which are classified as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These can be harmful to respiratory and reproductive health.
And herein lies the debate: Does the processing remove all the toxins? Or do paraffin candles continue to hold trace amounts of these VOCs that are then released into the air as ultra-fine soot when the wick is lit?
If yes, this soot is not only potentially carcinogenic, it can also enter the bloodstream or settle in our lungs, leading to health risk such as allergies, asthma, and bronchitis.
Ultimately, is a paraffin wax candle a clean candle?
The industry has yet to reach a definitive conclusion on the health impact of paraffin wax candles, and the answer lies in our personal comfort levels.
And remember: Just like any other component, occasional exposure differs significantly from long-term use. So, lighting the occasional paraffin candle is not likely to do you harm.
If, however, you light a candle almost daily (me!), it’s worthwhile to look at a safer alternative.
What the other options should definitely not include are gel candles.
While these may look pretty with their clear jars, colored gel beads, and unusual items embedded into the mixture, they are made from synthetic hydrocarbons that may release toxic chemicals — definitely not the hallmark of a clean candle.
This becomes even more likely when the gel candle doesn’t use a finely formulated fragrance oil. That’s because the gel doesn’t hold regular fragrance oil; instead, it needs a special formulation.
If the candle maker doesn’t get it right, pockets of oil can form in the candle, making it a fire hazard.
Another thing about the fire safety of gel candles? Sometimes the glass container may shatter as the gel expands during heating.
All in all, avoid gel candles whenever you can — especially if you favor non-toxic candles!
Soy wax candles
Soy wax comes from non-toxic hydrogenated soybean oil, which burns clean and produces very little soot.
It also has a lower melting point and burns slower than paraffin wax, which means soy candles last approximately 50% longer — and that’s a lot of dollars saved!
Natural soy wax is also widely available and economical, although it is slightly more expensive than paraffin wax.
The downside? Soy wax becomes very soft when hot, so long tapers in pillar candles may start bending.
It also has a weaker throw (the amount of fragrance a candle releases when burnt), which becomes a limiting factor for scented candles.
However, unless you can get a coconut wax candle, which has a stronger throw (see below), soy wax is currently the better choice for a clean burning candle that also smells lovely.
Beeswax — made from the caps of bee honeycombs — is the oldest known material used for candles. And one of the cleanest.
What makes beeswax the gold standard for non-toxic candles? Let me count the ways: It’s natural, burns super-clean, is non-allergenic and remains practically soot-free.
As a bonus, beeswax candles act as natural air purifiers since they release negative ions, which attach to positive ions (like dust and pollen) to help clear the indoor air quality in a room.
So, beeswax candles are not only clean candles; they are actually healthy candles.
However, pure beeswax has its own subtle aroma and doesn’t mix well with other fragrances. So, choose this one when you want to enjoy its natural honey scent rather than crossing lines with a floral or woodsy vibe.
Coconut wax candles
This brings us to coconut wax — the newest kid on the block that gives both a clean burn (no soot!) and has a great scent throw.
This vegetable wax is derived from coconut oil and makes for some of the most eco-friendly candles.
However, coconut wax is more expensive than the other options, so you will likely find it only in the armoire of high-end brands or small-batch, artisanal candle makers.
PS: It burns slower than other waxes for a longer-lasting candle, making it price-effective when considering cost-per-use!
Since there’s so much more effort (and cost!) that goes into making a natural wax candle, they are usually listed as “100% coconut wax,” “100% beeswax,” or “100% soy wax” up-front. Or you can check the manufacturer’s website to ensure you get a clean candle.
Unless stated otherwise, a “wax blend” is usually soy wax, coconut wax, or beeswax combined with paraffin wax to make them more economical or increase the scent throw.
These make them at par with paraffin wax candles — neither more eco-friendly nor more non-toxic.
How would you know the difference? Look for candles labeled “coconut and soya wax” or “soya wax and beeswax”… and other such combinations. Else, there is a strong chance of having paraffin wax in the mix.
Is there a non-toxic candle wick?
Candle wicks have become less contentious since the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned manufacturing and selling wicks with lead cores in the USA.
This came after a 30-year debate on clean candles, which concluded that these seemingly innocuous components could emit relatively large amounts of lead into the air when burnt — leading to indoor air pollution and lead poisoning.
They even exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) pollution standards for outdoor air.
However, lead core wicks may still be present in other countries, so always check for this when shopping overseas. They definitely cannot be part of a non-toxic candle!
What, then, should you look for in a clean candle wick? Cotton, wood, and hemp make for the healthiest candles.
Cotton wicks are the most popular choice for conventional candles as they are easy to produce and give off a tall flame with little effort. They are made with braided cotton fibers cured in wax to hold their shape.
While cotton wicks are usually non-toxic, sometimes they are combined with other materials, such as zinc wire or fiberglass, to give them more rigidity. This lessens their clean candle credentials, so look for 100% cotton wicks wherever possible.
Bonus point for an unbleached cotton wick to underline a clean candle.
Newer, more experimental candle makers are rediscovering hemp wicks dating back to ancient Egypt!
Produced by working hemp fibers into twine and then coating it in beeswax, these burn slower than cotton wicks, with a lower temperature flame and little to no smoke.
Result? A clean candle that will last longer and burn better.
Plus, since hemp is one of the most sustainable crops in the world (unlike cotton), these deserve a good look!
Wood wicks — thin strips of wood cut to fine measurements — are my favorites. However, they are harder to find and more difficult to light up.
However, what they make up for in ambiance with their distinct crackling sound makes it all worthwhile: a wood wick candle sounds like a mini-fireplace with real wooden logs!
Also, wooden wicks burn slower than their cotton counterparts, making for longer-lasting candles.
They also diffuse heat more evenly into the wax, which makes for a much stronger fragrance throw.
As for the non-toxic candle debate, while cotton also burns cleanly, wooden wicks have an edge: Since they don’t “mushroom,” there’s minimal carbon or soot buildup, making them a cleaner option.
The only caveat? Lighting up a wood wick candle can take a few tries since it’s harder for the flame to penetrate the material.
My tip? Ditch the matches for this one and use a stick lighter for a more effortless burn.
Fragrance: Natural or synthetic for non-toxic candles?
In the United States, the term “fragrance” can be legally used as a catch-all for all kinds of ingredients in perfumes, skincare, makeup… and candles.
This is part of a larger copyright law under the Food and Drug Administration, which protects manufacturers from disclosing their “trade secrets.”
However, sometimes, this may not make for the cleanest ingredients, as a single artificial fragrance can hide as many as 5,000 different chemicals, including esters and petrochemicals.
All of these release toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene when the candle is lit, causing air pollution that can trigger headaches, allergies, asthma attacks, respiratory tract infections, and even cancer. Some may even be endocrine disruptors, thereby disrupting our hormonal balance.
What’s the solution?
Pure essential oils… aka natural fragrance
It’s tempting to burn candles containing “natural fragrance” — pure essential oils.
However, it’s not that simple.
Most essential oils don’t bind well with wax, degrade quickly, and don’t have a great throw. A candle with essential oils may smell stronger when unlit, making for a misleading test sniff in the shop.
Plus, research shows that essential oils can also trigger allergic reactions — being plant-based never makes anything completely safe (poison ivy is also plant-based, just saying!), so do your homework based on your requirements!
For instance, my husband cannot handle candles with the essential oils of frankincense or lemon — they give him a coughing fit!
Finally, limiting a candle maker to only essential oils would take away many of the scented nuances of our favorite candles since several fragrance notes can only be produced synthetically.
Synthetic fragrance — in a clean candle?
At the other end of the spectrum are synthetic fragrances — which, for many, are the devil’s work in the search for clean candles.
However, the synthetic fragrance category doesn’t always deserve its bad reputation. Several synthetic fragrances are completely safe and non-toxic, even when burned in a candle. So, they definitely deserve a place in clean candles.
All you need for a non-toxic candle is to keep certain things in mind.
Firstly, steer clear of phthalates. This family of chemicals is linked to respiratory disorders, endocrine disruption, birth defects, and possibly even heart disease.
Some of the words to watch out for indicate the presence of phthalates: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP), and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP).
Next, look for cosmetic-grade synthetic fragrance oils, which have been rigorously tested and certified clean by a reputable organization such as the IFRA.
And finally, as with all things in life, transparency is key. So, opt for candlemakers willing to disclose the complete list of ingredients.
Are YOU the problem?
It may be tough to hear, but the problem may not always be with the candle. Sometimes, we are to blame for our poor candle-burning habits that can turn even the cleanest candle into a soot-maker (this post will show you how to remedy ALL of them!).
Are you trimming the wick?
For example, you may have the best unbleached cotton wick in the world, but if you don’t trim it regularly, be prepared for a lot of soot. Too large a wick (or one that’s mushroomed) causes the wax to overheat.
A good rule of thumb is to trim the wick to about ¼ inch before every burn. This will give you a clean candle burn.
Is the candle’s surface clean?
Ditto for debris. Any residual soot, dust, mold, lint, or other micro-particles suspended in wax get a life of their own when the candle is lit, creating even more soot — even in natural candles.
So, keep your candles clean and debris-free for the cleanest burn. It’s not unusual to see experts the top layer of their candles with a lint-free cloth and then topping them with a candle lid!
Is your room well-ventilated?
The National Candle Association also strongly advises burning candles in a well-ventilated area to avoid accumulating toxic chemicals.
I will only burn vegetable wax-based candles (soy wax or coconut wax) in a closed space, which is often the case with our bedroom.
Are you burning the candle for too long?
Burning a candle for too long is also counterproductive. Maximum burn times vary from candle to candle, so always read the manufacturers’ instructions; however, a good rule of thumb is at most four hours. Longer burn times degrade the wax and are more likely to produce soot.
Are you blowing out the candle?
Finally, notice that plume of smoke when you blow out a candle? That’s because you are doing it wrong. Blowing out a flame will always release soot. Instead, extinguish with a candle snuffer.
The best non-toxic candles
Where does that leave us?
Lack of transparency, conflicting evidence, and an absence of regulations means it’s a case of “consumer beware.”
So, to cut through the noise, we put together a list of our favorite non-toxic candles. These are all made with cotton or hemp wicks and are paraffin- and phthalate-free for a clean, non-toxic burn. And they smell great!
Hotel Lobby Candles
100% soy wax, cotton wicks, phthalate-free
Hotel Lobby Candles occupy a unique niche — the fragrance of memories we associate with specific places.
Like Paris Nuit (black musk, wood, rum, mahogany to bring home the seductive Parisian nightlife); or Miami (delicate florals, refreshing citrus, and a touch of mysterious musk); or even a Lodge (vanilla bean, bourbon, cedarwood, sandalwood, and snow lily to evoke a swanky mountainside retreat).
And I promise these non-toxic candles will outperform any others on the market, whether clean or conventional.
Boy Smells Candles
Proprietary all-natural coconut wax and beeswax blend, unbleached cotton wicks, phthalate-free
Don’t get fooled by the name — Boy Smells clean candles are genderless and have something for everyone.
For me, that’s Hinoki Fantôme, which is meditation in a jar with its blend of sacred woods and smoked resins. Think Japanese cypress, rich ambers, earthy spice, soft woodland moss, and a subtle touch of jasmine petals.
Le Labo Candles
100% soy wax, cotton wicks, phthalate-free
Most people gravitate towards La Labo’s most famous fragrance — Santal 26 — in candle form. And it is a pure rhapsody of smoky, leathery notes with amber, cocoa, vanilla, cedar, spices, and sandalwood (can you think of a more aristocratic combination?).
My personal favorite, though, is the spicy, woody Palo Santo 14, which combines the meditative (and rare) palo santo wood with the dark, resinous labdanum, incense, and patchouli — all laid over the comforting warmth of cedar wood.
Additional advantage: The fragrance of palo santo is supposed to clear the space of negativity and misfortune.
PS: Do you know why Le Labo creations always have a number in the name? It refers to the number of ingredients in the blend.
100% soy-wax, unbleached cotton wicks, synthetic fragrance–free, phthalate-free
This LA-based clean candle brand is known for its innovative take on classic notes like vanilla, coconut, mango, and lemons.
An example? My favorite, Dirty Lemon, plays cold-pressed lemon, Italian bergamot, and ylang-ylang against patchouli, pepper, and sandalwood for a fresh, feisty, uplifting vibe.
Coconut-soy wax blend, GOTS-certified organic cotton wick, phthalate-free
They look gorgeous, smell gorgeous, and are kind to our health and the environment.
Because, in the words of founder Carol Han Pyle, lighting a candle should be like “a cherished ritual, much like pouring a great glass of wine or drawing a bath at the end of a long day.
And that’s precisely the case with Suede Fringe, a non-toxic candle that’s a super-addictive, sun-kissed blend of warm suede, orris concrete, tonks, amber, violet leaf, cardamom, and sandalwood.
The glass jar, made in Italy by a heritage glass blowing atelier, the packaging made from 100% recycled shoeboxes, and the seaweed ink used for printing make for the perfect finishing touches!
100% coconut wax, cotton wicks, phthalate-free
Anchored by master perfumers, Keap uses safe synthetic fragrances for clean candles with some of the most luxurious scents and strongest throw in the market.
They also have a strong environmental commitment, with thoughtfully detailed components such as low-adhesive labels and compostable mushroom packaging.
Brooklyn Candle Studio
100% soy wax, cotton wicks, phthalate-free
One of the most iconic names in the world of non-toxic candles, Brooklyn Candle Studio, is known for its minimalist aesthetic and affordable luxury.
I literally have Santorini Escapist burning on the mantelpiece as I write this piece, its fruity-floral blend of Mediterranean fig, black currant, amber, and sandalwood creating a cozy cocoon around my headspace.
Costa Brazil Vela Jungle Candle
Coconut-soy wax blend, cotton wick, phthalate-free
Costa Brazil’s Vela Jungle candle is expensive, but the mammoth size (16.5 oz), luxuriously unique metal container, and INCREDIBLE fragrance make it worth every penny. Trust me.
The brand, which was built on the belief that “the spirit of beauty is inseparable from the health of the earth,” anchors all its products around ingredients sustainably sourced from the Amazon rainforest.
In this case, it’s sacred white and black Breu resin, cypress root, nutmeg essential oil, myrrh, Brazilian vetiver, and wild jungle flora for a calming, stress-relieving aroma that seems to touch the soul.
If you are looking for a unique and clean candle, you can’t go wrong with this one!
Bluecorn Beeswax 100% Pure Raw Beeswax Pillars
100% beeswax, cotton wick, no additional fragrance
If you want to enjoy a beeswax candle, go for one without any added fragrance because beeswax doesn’t hold scent very well.
Instead, enjoy the natural sweet, honeyed scent and the air-clearing properties of Bluecorn Beewax’s pillar candles. They are a treat all on their own!
FAQs: Non-toxic candles and adjacent areas
These are the most frequently asked questions about healthier candle options — including natural candles, lead-free candles, and cruelty free candles.
Which candles are not toxic?
Non-toxic candles are crafted to exclude harmful chemicals and materials. They typically contain natural waxes such as soy, beeswax, or coconut. Additionally, these candles employ lead-free wicks and utilize natural fragrances or essential oils, ensuring a clean and safe burn.
What are the best natural candles to burn?
The best natural candles are soy, beeswax, or coconut wax. They burn cleanly and are environmentally friendly. Brands that focus on sustainability and natural ingredients are preferred.
Are coconut wax candles safe?
Yes, coconut wax candles are safe. They are a natural, renewable resource that burns cleanly and slowly, making them an excellent choice for non-toxic candles.
Can scented candles be organic?
Yes, scented candles can be organic if they use organic essential oils for fragrance and are made with organic waxes like soy or beeswax.
What is the cleanest candle wax to burn?
Beeswax and soy wax are considered the cleanest waxes to burn. They produce less soot and toxins than paraffin wax and are renewable resources.
What wax to avoid in candles?
Avoid paraffin wax in candles, as it is a byproduct of petroleum refining and can release harmful toxins and soot when burned.
Are soy candles safe?
Yes, soy candles are generally non-toxic as they are made from natural, biodegradable materials and burn cleaner than paraffin wax candles.
Why are lead-free wicks important in candles?
Lead-free wicks are crucial as lead wicks release harmful toxins when burned, posing health risks. Lead-free wicks ensure a safer, cleaner burn.
What are the benefits of using beeswax candles?
Beeswax candles are natural, hypoallergenic, emit negative ions to purify the air, and burn slower and cleaner than other waxes.
Can candles be cruelty-free?
Yes, cruelty-free candles do not involve animal testing or animal-derived ingredients. Look for vegan or cruelty-free labels.
What should I look for in a natural candle?
Look for candles made with natural waxes like soy, beeswax, or coconut wax, natural fragrances or essential oils, and a lead-free wick.
How can I verify the purity of a natural candle?
Check for certifications like USDA Organic, or look for clear ingredient lists and transparency from the manufacturer.