The Advent Candles: Coziness with dangerous pollutants and increased risk of infection

The Advent Candles: Coziness with dangerous pollutants and increased risk of infection

Advent is candle time. Like hardly any other decorative element, candles provide an atmospheric light in the dark season and are an essential part of the Christmas atmosphere. However, the coziness that is created comes with its consequences, because the burning candle, or rather the burning wax, releases harmful pollutants as well as fine dust. This decreases the indoor air quality considerably. Even more so when decoratives intended to create a warm atmosphere, such as the Advent wreath and Christmas pyramid are lit up in closed rooms. With the following extrapolation, we want to shed light on how indoor air quality is affected during Advent if countermeasures are not taken.
Candles release pollutants

Candles release pollutants

Candles not only consume precious oxygen while burning, they also pollute the ambient air with harmful substances. Candles from retailers usually consist of materials like paraffin, stearin or beeswax. When burned, the oil-based substances paraffin (made from petroleum) and stearin (made from palm oil or animal fats) release several harmful substances into the air. These include nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, fine dust and candle soot and thus various pollutants that can lead to negative health effects when inhaled over a long period of time.
The nitrogen concentration in the ambient air rises with every lit candle

The nitrogen concentration in the ambient air rises with every lit candle

Advent is at its peak season for candle use. Traditionally, a new candle on the Advent wreath is lit on each Sunday. With the fourth Advent at the latest, at least four candles are burning in the living room. Often even more candles are lit, because other Christmas decorations also contain candles. For example, the traditional Christmas pyramid, which, depending on its size, requires four, eight or even more candles to operate. Many Christmas fans also put great emphasis on real candles rather than LED lights for the Christmas tree. How many candles are used ultimately differs from person to person. Regardless, with so many candles, it does not only warm up the closed living room but it also increases the nitrogen oxide value.
Indoor air quality on an Advent afternoon: Quick check

Indoor air quality on an Advent afternoon: Quick check

A 2005 study by researchers from Hong Kong examined the nitric oxide emissions of candles and found that a common paraffin candle produces a concentration of 280 micrograms (mg) of nitric oxide within eight hours of burning. Based on that number, the Advent crown with four candles lit on Advent sunday afternoon (burning in a closed room for 4 hours on an Advent afternoon) produces around 560 mg of nitrogen oxide. The concentration of pollutants in the living room increases easily with each additional candle and with every hour the candles are burning. Just eight more candles from other Christmas decorations add up to another 1,120 mg over the period of just four hours. Through decoration with an advent wreath and other candle decoration you easily end up with 1,680 mg of nitric oxide in your ambient air. For a living room with a size of 20 square meters and a ceiling height of about 3 meters (60 m3) this adds up to a concentration of 28 mg/m3. Incidentally, the permitted UK limit value for nitrogen oxides is 40 mg/m3.
Candles and fireplaces pollute the ambient air with lots of fine dust and increase the risk of infection

Candles and fireplaces pollute the ambient air with lots of fine dust and increase the risk of infection

In addition to the nitrogen oxide problem, burning candles also contributes to increased fine dust pollution inside the house or apartment. A burning flame emits up to 800,000 tiny particles (PM0.1). When inhaled, this fine dust ends up deep in the human lung where it stays.. The emission becomes even more aggressive when the candle flames catches draught and begins to flicker. Under these circumstances, candles can release up to 30 times more particles into the ambient air. That would be a total of 24 million fine dust particles with just one candle and 96 million particles with four lit candles on the advent wreath. This can turn your living room into a harmful fine dust hotspot.
Another major pollutant producer in the living room are open fireplaces. The fire emits significantly more soot and particles than candles. This is particularly dangerous for people with chronic respiratory diseases. But also fit people can risk their health, if they regularly or permanently expose themselves to this strain.
Fine dust also has other effects. Scientists assume that a high proportion of fine dust in the room air promotes the transmission of microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria. Microorganisms use the fine dust particles as a vehicle to move through the air. With the coronavirus bearing in mind, a cozy living room decorated with Christmas decorations can become a place of high risk of infection.

Tips for a cozy Advent season with high quality air

Our quick check shows how dangerous Christmas decorations during Advent can become. Bearing this in mind, the concentrations mentioned only occur if the room remains closed and is not ventilated at all. Below are a few tips to ensure a good airflow during the Christmas season.

Ensure adequate ventilation

Candles do not only increase the level of pollution, they also consume a lot of oxygen. Ventilation not only serves to increase the air exchange rate, but also provides us with the fresh oxygen we need to breathe.

Use beeswax candles

When burning, beeswax produces significantly fewer pollutants than wax made from paraffin or stearin. The beeswax comes from the honeycomb of honey bees and is ideal for candles. Beeswax candles are more expensive than paraffin candles and so became less common then the cheaper version out of lower quality materials. However, it is worth buying beeswax candles because they burn longer and are less harmful to our health.

LED lights instead of candles

Real candles should be replaced with electric candles, and not just for the sake of air quality. The electrical alternatives also help to ensure fire safety.

Avoid draughts

If a candle catches wind, the flame will dance particularly beautifully, but that has its consequences. A turbulent candle flame soots particularly heavily and thus emits significantly more fine dust particles than under windless conditions.

Shorten the wick

A long wick can also cause a candle to soot a lot. Therefore, the wick should be trimmed as much as possible before each lighting.

Do not use scented candles

Scented candles such as with the aroma of cinnamon or vanilla, are particularly popular during the Advent season. In terms of air quality, scented candles are not recommended. Alternative fragrance sources without harmful substances are cinnamon sticks or dried herbs.

Purifying the ambient air

As we have learned, burning candles produces a large amount of particles. This can be removed from the air with a professional air purifier that contains appropriate HEPA filters***.

Candles are part of the Advent season, but should be carefully considered

Christmas time is probably not complete without candles. However, it is important that consumers are informed about the sources of danger and pollution caused by the use of candles. In particular, candles from cheap production may cause a massive contribution to the deterioration of air quality. The tips mentioned for a cozy Advent season with good air to breathe can help to improve your quality of life.

Sources: Andersen, Omelekhina, Rasmussen, Bennekov, Skov, Køcks, Wang, Strandberg, Mattsson, Bilde, Glasius, Pagels, Wierzbicka: “Emissions of soot, PAHs, ultrafine particles, NOx, and other health relevant compounds from stressed burning of candles in indoor air” in Indoor Air, Volume 31, Issue 6, 2.033-2.048. CC BY 4.0, Farhangrazi, Sancini, Hunter, Moghimi: “Airborne Particulate Matter and SARS-CoV-2 Partnership: Virus Hitchhiking, Stabilization and Immune Cell Targeting - A Hypothesis” in Frontiers in Immunology, 2020. Correctiv, Lunge Zürich, SWR Marktcheck

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