Candle Safety Basics: Common Risks

Use common sense and caution when selecting and burning candles in your home to avoid toxic fumes and to reduce the risk of fire.

Candles play a key role in many types of home decorating. From bath time luxury to dinnertime romance, lighted candles of all colors, sizes, and scents help to enliven a dull environment and bring it to life.

But there are hidden dangers associated with candle use. For example, new research shows that some candles are made with a lead-based wick, which, when burned, emits lead into the air. When inhaled in this manner, lead can cause respiratory problems or may even be absorbed into the bloodstream where it can affect the nervous systems of the young and those with impaired immune systems.

Another common problem linked to candle burning is the risk of a house fire. Some people light candles for atmosphere, then leave them burning in one room while they do something else in another part of the house, or even go to sleep. The untended candle may tip or a stray breeze or playful pet can knock it over, causing a fire to break out.

If you enjoy using candles, here are a few safety tips to keep in mind:

1. Check the composition of any candles you receive as gifts or are thinking of buying. Find out what the wicks are made of. Cotton string is the best material, but anything made of lead or other potentially toxic substances should not be burned, although you can safely set them out for decorative purposes as long as they remain unlit.

2. Be sure that guests who visit are not sensitive to candle fumes. Some people with fragrance allergies may experience a tight throat or mild choking sensation when in the presence of a lighted candle. Ask your guests ahead of time to find out if anyone prefers not having the candles lighted.

3. Set lit candles in a secure base, preferably a wide dish to catch melted wax that may carry a tiny spark that could ignite if it touches a flammable surface. Avoid areas near open windows or fans, which may blow the candle over or throw a spark to a nearby object.

4. Supervise lit candles at all times. Never leave a lighted candle alone in a room, even for a few minutes. Check the wick to estimate the remaining burn time, and even while in the same room, don't become so occupied with a television show or your book that you forget to glance at the candle from time to time.

5. Don't let young children or pets play near lighted candles. They might accidentally knock it over or be tempted to investigate the bright flame, and thus get burned. Be sure the flame is completely extinguished before leaving the room after blowing it out. Jar candles with lids are helpful for this purpose, since replacing the lid will automatically snuff a candle's flame due to the lack of oxygen.

Candles make lovely decorator items when used safely. Don't take chances in leaving them unattended, because even attractive things must be supervised to be fully enjoyed.

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