Can candles really be toxic? Here are four questions to ask yourself when shopping for clean candles, plus five of the safest candles to burn in your home!

A candle in a white vessel sitting next to dried lavender on top of a wood slice.

One of the big issues with trying to find non toxic candles is that the word “toxic” itself is a very strong word. What exactly does it mean for a candle to be “toxic” or “non toxic” for that matter? That being said there’s no question that not all candles are created equal in terms of what they’re made of – and what they release into your home when burned. 

Keep reading to learn more about what to look for when choosing candles for your home – and what to avoid. Or, skip ahead for five of my recommendations for clean candles, featuring the sustainable candle brand Siblings. Siblings combines their recipe for beautiful-smelling toxin free candles with the fun of DIY. 

Siblings’ blend of coconut wax, soy and beeswax comes in a compostable package that you microwave and then pour into any vessel you desire. You can reuse jars, mugs or old candle holders again and again, which is a fun and sustainable option.

Learn more about Siblings below! You can also read my post on how to make your own candles from scratch.

A big thank you to Siblings for sponsoring this post. Please know that I strive to only feature companies and brands that value sustainability as much as I do. Note that Of Houses and Trees also contains affiliate links, meaning if you click on a link and make a purchase a small percentage of the sale goes to yours truly. Thank you for your support!

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Can Candles Really Be “Toxic”?

The main issue with knowing whether certain candles are harmful to your health is that the candle industry is mostly unregulated. Meaning, what manufacturers put in candles vary widely and because there’s no “ingredients” info like on food labels, we often don’t know what’s even in a candle. 

A few common – and less desirable ingredients – include paraffin wax (petroleum based), VOCs (impacts indoor air quality), and unknown colour and fragrance sources (which may be carcinogenic). A good rule to follow, in my opinion, is that if you have no idea what’s in a candle – it’s probably not something you want in your home.

A candle in a white vessel sitting next to dried lavender on top of a wood slice.

Clean Candles 101

Now that we’re starting to recognize what kinds of ingredients we DON’T want in our candles, let’s talk a bit about what we DO want. Here are four questions you can ask yourself when candle shopping to help you feel confident you’re making a healthy – and sustainable – choice.

What is the fragrance source?

Fragrance is probably one of the hottest topics when it comes to candles. (Pun intended!) Fragrance can often be the biggest culprit when it comes to releasing chemicals into your home, chemicals you then breathe in. That being said, not all “artificial” fragrances are bad and not all “natural” fragrances are good. 

A white package sitting next to a grey container surrounded by dried lavender.
One popular clean candle fragrance source is essential oils, which are most often extracted from plants through distillation using steam or water.

What’s most important is that you know what type of fragrance is in a candle and that you’re aware of how you personally  react to it. If a candle doesn’t list its fragrance source – that’s always a no for me. And while I prefer 100% natural fragrance such as essential oils, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with a synthetic fragrance as long as it’s certified non-toxic. Also, I know some people actually can’t use essential oils because of allergies, so if there are certain essential oils you’re sensitive to, avoid them or choose an unscented clean candle instead.

What type of wax is it made from?

Just as with candle fragrance, candle wax is a much debated topic. Many candles are made from paraffin wax, which is petroleum derived. And while the jury is still out on whether burning a paraffin-based candle is unhealthy, we do know that the world needs to move away from its petroleum dependencies and thus a natural wax is an all-around better choice in my mind.

A pile of candle wax sitting on a tree slice with a white package and some dried lavender in the background.
Coconut is a great wax option for non paraffin candles because it burns longer – meaning it lasts longer. Make sure you check that the wax is 100% natural so you aren’t inadvertently getting one that still contains paraffin.

A few popular naturally-derived wax types are coconut, soy and beeswax. That being said, because there are few regulations in the realm of candles, a candle can be labelled as “coconut-based” or “beeswax” even if it only contains a fraction of those ingredients and is largely – you guessed it – petroleum-based. This is why it’s so important to buy candles from brands that are 100% transparent when it comes to their product ingredients.

What is the wick made from?

And the third material in the trio of candle components is the wick itself. I mean, it’s the part you’re lighting after all. Yet, people tend to focus more on fragrance and wax type, without realizing that candle wicks used to be made from lead. Yup, lead! Thankfully, lead wicks were banned in the US in 2003, but once again – not all candle manufacturers are clear about what their wicks are made of.

Candle wax, a cotton wick a wooden stick and a package of matches laying next to dried lavender.
Much like with wax, stick with candle wicks that are made from natural sources such as cotton or hemp.

One popular candle wick material is polyester, which is another petroleum-based material. Thankfully, another common wick material is 100% cotton, a better choice than polyester, but you can also find wicks made from hemp, wood and even paper.

What do I know about the company that made it?

This question is one I ask about all companies I buy from – not just candles, but everything. Does it take a little extra time to do some research about a brand before buying one of their products? Yes, a bit. But I always feel that if I’m giving them my hard earned money – they should deserve it by being better than the majority of other brands out there. By better I mean more sustainable, more ethical and more transparent. 

Melted candle wax in a white jar with a wick held in place by a wooden stick sitting next to dried lavender.
If you’re thinking of buying a candle (or an anything), head to the company website and look for information about the materials they use, where their products are made, what packaging they use, whether they participate in any sustainability initiatives and so on.

Truly sustainable brands are not shy about telling you why they’re sustainable. If you’re trying to find info about a candle brand and their site has absolutely no info about ingredients or packaging, or uses very generic greenwashing terms that aren’t backed up… well then just back up right off their website and find a better option.

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4 of the Best-Smelling Safe Scented Candles Around

Now for the fun part! (Not that learning all about candle ingredients isn’t fun.) Below are a few of my picks for some of the best-smelling safe scented candles from the sustainable candle brand Siblings.

Probably my favourite thing about Siblings is that – because you assemble the candle yourself – you have a better feel for what went into it. You see the wax. You see the wick. You can pour the wax right into your own container, or buy one of their Forever Vessels, which are handmade by US-based ceramic artisans. It’s a fun way to get a hint of that DIY spirit while also supporting a company that is trying to do better.

Now all you have to do is choose a scent!

For the nature-lover

A bronze candle holder and a white package on a background of lavender flowers.
If you love lavender as much as a do (that is to say – a lot), then I highly recommend this calming, grounding scent of Clove, Lavender and Cedarwood.

For the travel-lover

A blue candle holder and a blue and pink package on a background of an ocean view.
Created in collaboration with English-Italian artist Chiara Perano, the La Dolce Vita candle smells of salt water and lemon groves, and will whisk you away to the Mediterranean.

For the flower-lover

A white candle holder and a white package on a background of white roses.
Siblings’ best-selling scent Bergamot, White Rose and Oakmoss has the sweetness of a rose garden, balanced by bright citrus and earthy oakmoss.

For the cannabis-lover

A bronze candle holder and a white package on a background of purple cannabis leaves.
It’s nothing but good vibes with the Mint, Cannabis and Sage scent. If you prefer savoury scents to sweet, then this meditative candle blend is for you.

For the mystery-lover

A grey package on a white background with label "mystery scent."
Make choosing a candle-scent an adventure with this top-secret blend. Part flowery, part earthy – all mystery. (If you have specific scent allergies, make sure to choose a blend that isn’t so mysterious!)

Which candle to buy may seem like a small choice in the scheme of life, but it’s the small choices that count when created a healthier, more sustainable home. While I don’t think you need to run around throwing every questionable candle you own in the garbage, hopefully this post helped you learn a bit more about what goes into a candle – and the questions you can ask yourself the next time you go to buy one.

Do you have a favourite clean candle brand? Or maybe you’ve experimented with making your own candles? Either way, let me know in the comments below!



A candle in a white vessel sitting on top of a wood slice next to dried lavender with text can candles really be toxic.

Posted on October 7, 2023

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Can Candles Really Be Toxic? A Helpful Guide to Clean Candles

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