Spring Clean Your Air: 5 Tips to Reduce Allergens & Hidden Health Hazards in Your Home Part 1

Springtime with its fresh blooms and high pollen counts, is typically the time when the allergy-prone suffer most. Most of us dismiss our sneezing, wheezing, drippy noses and goopy eyes as the inevitable result of this sequence of events and pop a few antihistamines or cold tablets to manage the symptoms without a second thought. But what if the cause of your allergy misery was the result of something else?

The simple truth is, there are numerous hidden health threats in your home that can cause allergies and other health problems year-round. If you suffer from chronic allergies, there are ways to reduce or eliminate your exposure to these hazards if you know where to look for them.

Here are two of the five hidden (and not-so-hidden) hazards in your home that may be contributing to your misery and what you can do to eliminate them:

    1. Common Household Cleaning and Laundry Products to Die For

      Many of the everyday house hold cleaning products we use are loaded with ammonia, bleach, and a host of dangerous chemicals that can burn your lungs, eyes, nose, and skin –if not used with great caution. Most laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and even dishwashing liquid are made with synthetic fragrances containing phthalates — chemicals used by industry to soften plastics that have been shown to be endocrine disruptors.All those noxious smells can be extremely irritating and harmful especially when you come in frequent or constant contact with them. The good news is there are a growing selection of plant-based, chlorine-, ammonia- and phosphate-free detergents and multi-purpose cleaners to choose from. Or you can make your own safe, highly effective and “green” cleaning products from ingredients like baking soda, washing soda, borax, white vinegar, castile soap, and essential oils.

 

  1. Synthetic Air Fresheners & Scented Candles with Leaded Wicks

    According to one Consumer Product Safety Commission study, as many as 40% of candles on the market still contained lead wires inside their wicks. A candle with a lead-core wick has been shown to release five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for childrenand exceeds EPA pollution standards for outdoor air.It’s now believed that frequent candle burning –especially synthetically scented candles– is a major source of soot and toxic exposure because the chemicals (i.e. phthalates) used in “fragrance” oils tend to soften the wax, increasing the need to add metals to the wicks to stiffen them. Though candle soot is primarily composed of elemental carbon, it can include phthalates, lead, and other toxic ingredients such as benzene and tuolene.

    Scented aerosol sprays, gels, and plug-in air fresheners contain harmful chemicals linked to breathing difficulties, developmental problems in babies, and cancer in laboratory animals.

    Using essential oils in a diffuser or in a water-based aromatherapy spray is a perfectly safe and healthy way to scent your home. And certain essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary and lavender, can assist with sinus congestion associated with allergies, reduce stress, and enhance wellbeing. Always use candles made from 100% vegetable (soy) wax or beeswax with coreless cotton wicks, and scented with essential oils only.

Keeping the Air Clean: Are Your Candles Doing More Harm Than Good?

Before the advent of electricity, candles were used primarily for illumination. Light served as a symbol of the good and the beautiful  –especially in times of emotional and spiritual darkness– and the way in which human beings relate to light is emotional, almost sensual.

Today, candles are used mainly for their aesthetic value and scent, to set a soft, warm, or romantic ambiance, and for emergency lighting during electrical power failures.  Scented candles are often used as a vehicle for aromatherapy.

No matter how you slice it, candles are BIG business. Here are some interesting and “illuminating” statistics:

  • Candles are used in 7 out of 10 U.S. households.
  • A majority of consumers burn candles 1-3 times per week with half of these consumers burning 1-2 candles at a time
  • In 2006, the U.S. market for candles was estimated at $2.3 billion
  • 96% of all candles purchased are bought by women

The prevalence of candles in our homes is evident. The real question is how much do you know about the type of candles you’re buying and their potential impact on the quality of indoor air in your home?

Lead Wicks Can Lead to Trouble

According to a study conducted about 8 years ago by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 40% of candles on the market still contained lead wires inside their wicks. This is a startling statistic in light of the fact that the U.S. candle manufacturing industry voluntarily agreed to cease production of lead-containing candles in 1974, once it was shown that burning lead-wick candles resulted in increased lead concentration in indoor air.

A candle with a lead-core wick has been shown to release five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children and exceeds EPA pollution standards for outdoor air.

Lead, along with other metals like Zinc, is used to stiffen the wicks of candles so they remain straight when the surrounding wax begins to melt. The metal prevents the wick from falling over and extinguishing itself as soon as the wax no longer supports it.  Although Zinc is considered to be far less toxic than lead, very little is known about the long-term effects of breathing zinc in the form of dust or fumes released from burning it.

The Soot That’s All Around

Another problem inherent in burning candles with lead wicks (especially those made with paraffin wax -a petroleum by-product) is a phenomenon called Black Soot Deposition. It’s now believed that frequent candle-burning is one of the sources of black soot in the home. The amount of soot produced can vary greatly from candle to candle. One type of candle can produce as much as 100 times more soot than another type. The type of soot may also vary. Though primarily composed of elemental carbon, candle soot may include phthalates, lead, and other toxic ingredients such as benzene and tuolene.

When soot is airborne, it can be inhaled. The particles can potentially penetrate the deepest areas of the lungs and the lower respiratory tract causing respiratory problems and aggravating existing asthma, lung, or heart conditions.

If left unchecked, soot from regular burning of paraffin candles can also cause significant damage to the inside of your house, your computers, electrical appliances, and ductwork.

Synthetically scented candles are believed to be a major source of soot because the chemicals used in “fragrance” oils tend to soften the wax, increasing the need to add metals to the wicks to stiffen them. They are also likely the main source of phthalates in soot.

The Good News …

The good news is there are ways to enjoy burning candles without routinely exposing yourself to harmful toxins. Here’s how you can avoid the problem:

1. Ensure any new candles you buy don’t have lead in the wicks. Look for “lead-free” or “coreless clean-burning” labels on them.  If you’re not sure, you can perform a simple test by rubbing the tip of the wick on a piece of paper. If it leaves a gray mark like a pencil, the wick contains lead

2. Buy candles made with 100% Beeswax or 100% Vegetable Wax. Because these waxes are more expensive, a lot of manufacturers tend to blend them with paraffin. Avoid blended wax candles. Look for labels indicating they are 100% pure

3. To reduce soot no matter what kind of candles you burn, keep wicks trimmed and don’t burn candles near a draft

4. For aromatherapy candles, buy candles scented with only pure essential oils. Soy candles are best for this purpose as they are clean, slow-burning, and long-lasting with superior scent throw (dispersion). Soy candles in containers can also be melted if placed on an electric warming plate. This eliminates the soot generating combustion that comes from directly burning wicks and enables sufficient release of the aromas.