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Burning candles in the home has made a comeback in recent years. Many people burn candles for decorative purposes or for the sense of relaxation and serenity they provide. However, candle aficionados should be aware of the hazards associated with the practice.


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Candles involve fire, of course, and fires that burn out of control can cause death, injury and property loss. In 2002, candles caused 18,000 home fires reported to public fire authorities, resulting in 130 deaths and 1,350 injuries. The resulting property damage totaled $333 million. Two out of five fires started by candles originated in the bedroom; these fires, in turn, caused nearly one-third of the deaths.

The candle’s flame also produces several indoor air pollutants. Soot is the chief pollutant, followed by chemicals used to produce pleasant aromas in scented candles. Lead can be found in the wicks of candles (look for metal in or near the wick), even though U.S. manufacturers have been prohibited from using lead in this way. When burned, a lead-laced wick produces lead oxide particles that can be inhaled and deposited in the lungs, where they then find their way into the bloodstream.

Given the risks, the following tips should help keep you both safe and healthy:

  • Limit how long candles burn: This will limit air pollution and help prevent mishaps — including fires — that can occur when candles topple or when candleholders overheat and even shatter, in the case of glass votive holders. Make it a habit to burn candles for no more than 30 minutes at a time.

  • Keep flammables away: Drapes, paper, books, cloth, bedding and other materials that can easily catch fire should be kept at least one foot (30 centimeters) away from any burning candle. In the bedroom, place the candle on a dresser or other surface, not on the bed or on the nightstand next to it.

  • Don’t leave burning candles unattended: Put out the candles if you leave a room where they’re burning or if you may fall asleep. Never burn candles while sleeping.

  • Once lit, leave the candle in place: In case of power failure, use a flashlight instead of a candle to navigate your home. A dropped or jarred candle can quickly ignite combustible materials nearby. Blow out a burning candle if it needs to be moved, and then re-light it once it’s been relocated.

  • Be certain of your candleholder: It should be sturdy, resistant to tipping and made of a material that cannot burn.

  • Discard candle stubs: Start a new candle once a taper candle has burned down to within two inches (about five centimeters) of the candleholder. For votives, replace the candle once it’s shorter than half an inch (one and a quarter centimeters).

  • Trim the wick before lighting it: A one-quarter inch (six millimeters) wick will light faster, and the candle will burn better.



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Candles:  Created on June 4th, 2009.  Last Modified on December 18th, 2009


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