How Air Fresheners May Be Making You Sick

Air Fresheners

Candles have been used for years as a main source of light and as a comforting sight for many a weary traveler looking for the glow in the windowsill to welcome them home.

We may have other ways to light our home in our day besides candles, but candles still symbolize comfort and warmth despite modern technology.  In my part of the world, days get darker much earlier in fall and winter, and any extra source of a glowing light is much appreciated and welcome.  Once fall arrives, I automatically want to pull out the candles and enjoy their burning glow.

Just like many other things in our world, many candles are made with unsafe chemicals that can cause illness and health problems.  You may not even realize that your allergies or constant sinus problems come from the yummy smelling candle sitting on your counter.

I personally experience headaches, stuffiness, and dizziness when I’m around candles or other air fresheners for too long.  The scents begin to not even smell good to me after a little while.  My body interprets them as more of an invading nuisance that I need to get away from.

Keep in mind that some people are more sensitive to chemicals than others, but I believe it affects us all negatively in some way.

How Air Fresheners May Be Making You Sick

Paraffin Wax

Most candles that you purchase are made with paraffin wax.  When burned, paraffin creates benzene and toluene.  Benzene is toxic to the organs and has a very high score of being a carcinogen.  Toluene is toxic to the organs.  Both of these chemicals score a 10 in their level of toxicity, which is the highest hazard score at EWG.  They are cancer-causing and very unsafe.

Paraffin wax also produces soot.  When inhaled, the soot reaches the lowest area of the lungs and can trigger asthma and respiratory problems.  Black soot can get in the carpets, on appliances, and you may notice a black layer on vents and air conditioning units.  The soot is then circulated throughout the home on a daily basis through these avenues.

When you burn candles made with this paraffin wax, you are emitting very unsafe chemicals in the home and causing an indoor air pollution that is many times worse than outdoor pollution.

Burning candle and smoke on a dark background.


Lead wicks were banned in the US in 2003, but is still in some candle wicks, especially those from China.  When lead wicks are burnt, they emit unsafe amounts of lead into the air.  Even if the wick isn’t completely lead, it may have a lead core.

Side effects of ongoing low-level exposure to lead: (Source)

  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Learning disabilities
  • Behavioural problems
  • Poor school performance
  • Poor coordination
  • Impaired growth

Artificial Fragrances

Artificial fragrances in products represent an undisclosed amount of chemicals that can cause allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress, and can be harmful to the reproductive system.

Other Toxins

Other chemicals released when burning candles: (Source)

  • Acetone
  • Trichlorofluoromethane
  • Carbon Disulfide
  • 2-Butanone
  • Trichloroethane
  • Trichloroethene
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • Tetrachloroethene
  • Chlorobenzene
  • Ethylbenzene
  • Styrene
  • Xylene
  • Phenol
  • Cresol
  • Cyclopentene

Side effects include:

  • Asthma
  • Lung problems
  • Heart problems
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Allergies
  • Sinus Infections

What about plug-ins and similar type products?

Though plug-ins are not a burning flame, they are still full of chemicals and fake fragrances that can cause similar health problems as candles do.

There are safer options

If you love candles and other air fresheners, you can still enjoy them.  Thankfully, there are safer options.  Use naturally-scented (with essential oils) candles made with beeswax or soy with cotton or wax wicks.

Safe candle options:

four burning candles on wood

Do you love burning candles?  Have you ever noticed any negative affects after being around them?  Do you think any of your health problems stem from indoor air pollution?

Linked to: Time Warp Wife    A Wise Woman Builds Her Home

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DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. This post is for educational purposes only. The information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links. In order for me to support this website, my research, and blogging activities, I occasionally may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement and/or links to products or services. However, I only recommend products or services I trust.


  1. says

    Once a user of all things scented, they now trigger massive migraines and vomiting for me, along with drippy eyes and shortness of breath. I suspect it is the chemicals. My home is now almost chemical free, but public places, even church, is sometimes a real challenge. I am so grateful for the essential oils.

    Thank you for helping others learn of the danger for themselves and the hardship it can be for those around them.

    • says

      Oh wow – those are some rough side effects, Sharon! I remember sitting in my tax preparer’s office this year and feeling so ill from all the plugins. I’ve never been in a place that was so invaded with fragrances like that – there had to be a plug-in in every outlet! lol I’m so thankful to have clean, non-toxic air in my home. 🙂
      Jill recently posted…How Air Fresheners May Be Making You SickMy Profile

    • Natalie says

      I recently had a two-and-a-half week migraine nausea vomiting episode and had no idea what was causing it until I came across articles like this and realized my new scented trash bags that I never used before and most certainly will not use again were making me so incredibly sick. That got me thinking and I used to burn candles all the time and was diagnosed with asthma about six months ago and on all sorts of medication and inhalers. I have not lit a candle in 2 months and my asthma symptoms are completely gone. I’ve already been one that uses scent and dye-free laundry products because of my sensitive skin but now I’m going to use unscented everything.

  2. Clara says

    Thank you for this! I’ve been sensitive to fake fragrances since I was a child. I get a headache, stuffy nose and dizzy, and occasionally I get nauseous from them. Yuck! The latest craze is adding odor blocking scent to trash bags… I have the hardest time finding durable trash bags (not cheaply cheap that get holes easily) that are completely unscented.

    And sitting in church is hard! I’ve had to move because of someone’s strong fragrance. Thank goodness for essential oils!

    • says

      The scented trash bags drive me crazy too. It’s very simple to add a drop of an essential oil in the trash bag for a refreshing and healthy scent!

  3. Tracy says

    I have been sensitive to smells ever since I can remember. It’s hard to be in public sometimes. I have also had to move from people in church.

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