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Proper Green: The Wicked Wick

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Candlelight adds romance to any occasion and festivity to all kinds of celebrations, but make sure you’re not making merry with hidden toxins! Proper Green offers advice on how to make the right decisions when it comes to candles.
Dear Proper Green,

How can I tell which candles of my "aging" candle collection were made pre 2003 and may therefore have lead/toxic wicks?

- Elysse



Dear Elysse,

Thanks for bringing up this timely question, after all 'tis the season for candlelit holiday celebrations. In 2003, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the manufacture and sale of lead-cored wicks and candles with lead-cored wicks. The commission found that these items release higher levels of lead emissions into the environment than accepted by the EPA, and "present a lead poisoning hazard to young children".

If you want to check candles that predate 2003 for lead — or any imported candles, as they may also contain lead wicks — cut the wick, and look out for a metal thread running through the center of it. You may have to really dig into the wick to find this, and even if you do find metal, there's no way to tell if it's lead other than through lab tests. When in doubt, don't burn that wick!

This doesn't mean you'll have to toss all of your candles. You can salvage the wax from your old candles by following the same steps you would to make candles from old wax, just make sure you cut out the old wick first. Check out this guide to making new candles from old wax.

For new candle purchases, check the label first. Keep your health and the environment in mind with these rules of thumb:

Wicks

  • Avoid lead-cored wicks like the plague, they're toxic.
  • Go with 100% cotton wicks or ones made from natural fibers.

Wax

  • Keep away from paraffin wax-based candles. It can cause a sooty mess and it's a by-product of petroleum which is non-renewable.
  • Look for candles made of beeswax, palm oil or soy which will get you burning more cleanly.


What other eco-friendly candle tips do you have? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
About Proper Green

Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and the environment are still evolving) to providing easy ways to make your every day more sustainable, Proper Green aims to help smooth the way with answers to questions that are important to you!

Do you have a question for Proper Green? Send inquiries to propergreen@recyclebank.com. Please note: Questions may be edited for clarity and length.


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Proper Green
Proper Green

Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and... more