What Are the Dangers of Paraffin Wax?

Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Leonid Mamchenkov

Paraffin candles have been used for decades to decorate homes, celebrate birthdays and fulfil religious ceremonies. Recent studies suggest that more attention should be given to the safety of burning paraffin, since it is produced from petroleum, the same substance that is used to create diesel.

While studies are by no means conclusive at this point, there is a growing concern about the impact that burning paraffin candles can have on ecology, as well as health.


The first candles were believed to have been created by the Romans and were made out of animal fat, or tallow. Aside from cow, sheep and pig tallow, candles have also been made from berries and insects. The Chinese were credited with manufacturing candles from rice paper and the wax of a native insect.

The invention of paraffin has been a benefit to several religious communities that do not use pork lard, a traditional source of tallow in some countries.


Concern has been mounting about the effect of soot, the byproduct of burning paraffin, on the indoor environment. The American Lung Association notes on its website that if paraffin candles are used frequently enough it can create fine particle pollution. The soot can leave residues on walls and ceilings and can be difficult to remove. Some proponents of vegetable-based candles suggest that continuing to burn petroleum-based candles can create problems for the global environment as well.


Burning the occasional candle has not been shown to be hazardous to health, but burning a paraffin candle in a small enclosed area, such as a bathroom, or burning several for long periods of time may create toxins in the air that can be harmful to breathe.

The American Lung Association of Minnesota states that various chemicals are released into the air when paraffin is burnt, and that these fumes can be hazardous if inhaled. Insufficient research has been published to determine the level that is safe to inhale.

Fire Danger

Paraffin candles tend to burn hotter than beeswax or soy candles, and can therefore pose a greater risk of fire. A number of brand-name paraffin candles have been recalled over the years due to the height and size of the flame, which is has been considered by the U.S. Consumer Product Commission to be a danger, especially when children may be present.


Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Ross Berteig

There is no lack of resources on the internet attesting to the danger of paraffin candles. Most of the sources, however, are written by proponents of vegetable-based candles, and it is difficult to find impartial analysis on this subject. Not enough data exists to definitively state that paraffin candles are carcinogenic or can cause lung disease over a long-term period.

Nevertheless, the increased scrutiny that is now attributed to petroleum-based emissions suggests that consumers should use paraffin candles carefully and intermittently until further research has been done to rule out the possibility of increased health and environment risks from using paraffin candles.