"Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth." - Walt Whitman
Our generation is very conscious about what we put in our bodies. Many of us are willing to pay for whatever might make us feel healthier or energetic. Whether it's the new raw diet, super foods, probiotics, herbal formulas, daily supplements, internal cleansers or purification programs, "we've just got to try it." Marketers know this and focus their advertising on these items.
Probably more than any nation, US shoppers are 'health conscious' -- some might even say 'food' obsessed. To most of us the old adage 'we are what we eat' makes perfect sense. However, we must go beyond digestion and also become 'health conscious' regarding what we inhale, smell, hear, put on our bodies, or touch.
Our Skin Is the Largest Organ of Our Body
Adults carry some 8 pounds and 22 square feet of fleshy covering. A recent study with women showed that every year they absorb almost 5 pounds of chemicals through their skin in the cosmetics, bath, and body products they use. Biochemists like Richard Bence warn that the "chemicals found in everyday household beauty products could be doing untold damage." It is estimated that more than 13 million workers in the United States are potentially exposed to toxic chemicals. Pesticides and organic solvents like hexane and many chemicals commonly used in the workplace might result in systemic toxicity if they penetrate through our skin. If we don't overload our liver with too many toxins, it's going to do a pretty good job of detoxifying what's in the drinking water and food we eat. Since our skin doesn't have its own filter we need to protect it.
Our Nose Smells
We can distinguish literally thousands of odors and fragrances, and somehow remember them for the rest of our lives. Our nose draws odors and fragrances to itself by inhalation. At the roof of the nose, just below the eyes, lies a closely bunched set of specialized nerve endings called smell receptors. These olfactory nerves protrude downward into the nose canal. The tips of these nerves have tiny hairs, called cilia, extending from them. A mucous membrane covers the surface of the nerves and serves to dissolve molecules that carry scent, thus making the odor accessible to the nerves, triggering electrical nerve transmission to the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is lined on both sides with a special tissue consisting of approximately ten million nerve cells covered with a thin layer of mucous. These nerve cells are replaced every twenty eight days. Fragrant molecules travel to the brain through the breathing process - having the ability to affect the brain immediately through the olfactory system. This is the only place on the body where the central nervous system is directly exposed to the environment. Our other nerves or senses must travel through the sensory path of neurons and spinal cord before reaching the brain.
Stress level, heart rate, respiratory and digestive systems are all influenced by our sense of smell. Smells may trigger the release of endorphins and encephalin -- our neurochemical analgesics and tranquilizers. Indeed, 80% of the brain is called the "old cortex" whose major function in the primitive and modern world is to perceive odors in order for us to forage for food, find an appropriate mate and stay out of trouble by avoiding enemies who smell different and could injure us. Recent studies show that infants and mothers can identify each other on the basis of smell alone.
Stress level, heart rate, respiratory, and digestive systems are all influenced by what we smell. Scent triggers our emotions affecting the autonomic system that controls nerves leading to our body's glands and organs. We all have a unique reaction to particular smells, because we've all had a personal history of exposure to aromas with associated emotional connections. The reason that smell evokes such powerful memories, emotions, and immediate fight or flight responses is that our olfactory sense is linked directly with the brain's limbic system, one of the most primitive parts of the central nervous system. Our memory of scent is longer lasting and more accurate than our sight or reasoning memory. The sense of smell is the least understood and perhaps the least appreciated of all our senses, and in the future may become a key to unlocking many of our body-mind's most sensual mysteries. Some believe that the 'sixth sense' that often keeps us out of trouble may have a lot to do with smell.
We Can Use Our 'Aroma Sensibility' to Determine What to Eliminate in Our Environments
We all differ in terms of what stress factors we can tolerate. The chemicals in the products we use, BPA plastics, stale indoor air, are all stressors on our body. We can't control what's outside our home, but inside, we can identify the stressors we come in contact with on a daily basis, and then reduce, eliminate or avoid them, thereby lowering the total bodily burden of toxins on ourselves and families.
The percent of the population that's chemically sensitive is increasing. If you want to identify stress factors in your indoor air quality, you can probably do something about it yourself. To find a certified environmental inspector, check the Indoor Air Quality Association site, visit the American Society of Home Inspectors, or look online for an environmental consultant in your area. Better still, investigate your home with a common sense evaluation.
To show you how to get started, let me guide you on a smell adventure throughout our living spaces. Our goal is to identify the physical stressors in your home. Unfortunately, for most the first sign of an indoor air quality problem is usually a health issue with a household member. If someone is experiencing headaches, body aches, lethargy or other symptoms while at home that seem to get better once they leave the house, it's time to get the air quality checked. It's also important to keep tabs on your home's air health if any household member has a compromised respiratory system or spends a large majority of his time inside the home, because these people are more affected by the home's air quality. The quality of our home's indoor air is especially critical for babies and small children, not only because their bodies are smaller and their respiratory systems are less developed, but also because they have a higher respiratory rate.
The Indoor Air We Breathe
Guarding against pollution of indoor air is a good place to start. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ranked poor air quality among the leading environmental dangers, reporting links to many common health problems. There is a demonstrated link between the toxins in common household items such as carpeting, cabinets, furniture, bedding and cleaning products and health problems ranging from asthma and headaches to fatigue and cancer.
Tight houses are great for efficiency. They keep heated and cooled air inside, where we want it. But they also trap in the bad stuff. Children are more vulnerable because of their size and because many of their organ systems are still developing. Like our non-human family members they spend a lot of time on the floor where particles settle. They also tend to put things in their mouth leading to direct oral exposure to pollutants. "Indoor pollutants cause a range of health issues such as asthma attacks, and nausea", says Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy and advocacy at the American Lung Association.
The most dangerous toxins are carbon monoxide, radon and secondhand smoke. "Carbon monoxide can cause premature death, radon causes lung cancer, and secondhand smoke causes heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks and premature death," she says. Houses more than twenty years old may harbor lead-based paint and asbestos. Lead is particularly dangerous for children. Over exposure can lead to convulsions, coma and death. One of the concerns in old buildings is lead-based solder in the pipes. Asbestos, which can lead to lung cancer, can be found in older homes with deteriorating or disturbed pipe insulation; fire-retardant acoustical material; and floor tiles. If we plan to make repairs that might disturb asbestos have it done by a professional.
Ten Top Cures for a Toxic Home
- Make sure your home has adequate ventilation -- especially when using gas appliances and fireplaces. Open windows as much as possible. Vent appliances to the outside and check them regularly. Run exhaust fans in the kitchen when cooking and in the bathroom when showering.
- Remove shoes at the door to avoid bringing outdoor pollutants inside.
- Consider keeping heavy pollutant sources such as smoking and pets outside.
- Avoid burning kerosene, wood, oil or petroleum based products. Consider alternative heat sources like heat exchangers, infrared wall panels, solar water heated floors, or geothermal systems.
- Replace your central air and heating filters monthly. Clean the vents and make sure they're not blocked by furniture.
- Vacuum carpets, rugs and upholstery often to remove dust, pet dander and other pollutants. The right vacuum works hand-in-hand with filters to improve our home's indoor air quality. The American Lung Association (ALA) recommends vacuums with high-efficiency filters, such as micro filter or HEPA, that also have good suction and sealed construction. My neighbor has been selling and repairing vacuums for 50 years and he recommends buying something that has a filter bag, because all the modern canisters leak.
- Eliminate as many moisture sources as possible by using dehumidifiers and exhaust fans to reduce risk of mold and mildew. Mold can grow in 24 hours and most homes have lots of materials like sheetrock, baseboards, and poorly caulked tile that really encourage that growth. A leaky window, an improperly vented bathroom or even a pipe with faulty insulation can cause the notorious fungus to thrive in your home. Mold often shows itself in obvious ways like discolorations, spots of spores or even as bubbles in wallpaper or drywall. If someone in your home begins to feel sick while inside the house and better when not there, mold will probably be one of the first things to look for as a culprit. If you spot a mold problem, don't reach for the bleach. The EPA recommends using regular detergent for basic remediation. Always put on gloves and a mask when cleaning mold. It's best to call in professional specialists for carpet and rug cleaning or fire and water restoration if there is a lot of mold.
- Caulk and foam around windows and doors to prevent dust, pollens, and molds from entering your home.
- Consider rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpet. Rugs are easier to clean, and many natural fiber options are available. Wash throw rugs and doormats frequently. Replace carpet with wood or natural tile floors.
- Monitor your home to improve indoor air quality. Look for signs of pollutants: unusual odors, stuffy air, and lack of air movement, dirty or faulty central air or heating units. Test for radon. This naturally occurring, invisible and odorless radioactive gas is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. Get a test kit at your hardware store or at www.nsc.org. Get a carbon monoxide monitor if you have a combustion appliance, including a gas water heater, gas stove or wood stove, or an attached garage.
Let's Continue by Sniffing Out Other Problems
Now let's take a tour of the home room-by-room. I encourage you to rely primarily on your nose that knows what's good for you. We will start with where we spend the most time and have the most contact with in our environments.
Buried in the Bedroom
You spend most of your time at home in your bedroom, on the biggest piece of furniture your bed, and wrapped up in your sheets. These could be the biggest source of health problems. Most mattresses are manufactured with chemicals such as volatile organic compounds (VOC), chemicals in not only furniture but also products such as paint, cleaning supplies and adhesives that can trigger allergies, and formaldehyde, a chemical linked to health effects that range from coughing and skin irritation to cancer. Until 2005, mattresses were also coated with chemical flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which the Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org, has linked to serious health issues, including learning impairments. "The chemicals in mattresses will [off-gas] for years," says Button. According to Button, organic mattresses, which are manufactured without chemicals, are the safest option. But, with prices that are often double those of conventional mattresses, organic alternatives might not be affordable.
To detoxify a new conventional mattress, remove the plastic and leave the mattress outside for at least 24 hours to give the chemicals time to off-gas into the air. It's also common for sheets, blankets and pillows to be manufactured with various chemicals. Organic alternatives such as cotton, hemp and bamboo are available. The most important thing to avoid when shopping for sheets is a wrinkle-free finish: The sheets might look crisp but "the finish is made with formaldehyde [and] no matter how many times we wash them, it'll never completely come out of the fibers." I buy organic sheets, wash them in fragrance free natural laundry detergent, fluff dry and hang them on the clothes line to finish.
Dust mites also thrive in the bedroom and can turn a restful slumber into an all-night sneeze-fest. Washing sheets, blankets and pillows in hot water helps kill the microscopic mites but treating the mattress is more difficult. Also try setting the mattress outside in the hot sun because the heat kills dust mites. In mystery novels we've all likely read about someone getting snuffed out with a pillow, but still most of us cling onto our favorite pillow like it was our original teddy bear, when we should be recycling it.
Hiding in the Closest
When it comes to organic clothing, cotton isn't the only fabric out there: It's possible to find organic hemp, silk, rayon, and soy clothing. As with other organic products, clothing is required to meet strict USDA standards in order to be certified organic. It's really important to think about the clothing we wear because the fibers are right next to our skin. It takes up to one-third of a pound of chemicals to grow enough cotton for a single t-shirt, according to the Sustainable Cotton Project, www.sustainablecotton.org. I wear rayon and silk shirts, and have gone to the expense of buying organic underwear and tee shirts, sheets and pillow cases.
The Kitchen Is the Heart of the Home
The average household contains about 62 toxic chemicals! Most likely the main source of the worst are sitting under your kitchen sink. Triclosan is in antibacterial dish and hand soaps and contains an aggressive agent that can promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Most households contain oven, sink and counter cleansers that you can live healthier without. Oven cleaners and drain openers often contain lye (sodium hydroxide) that is extremely corrosive. If it touches your skin or gets in your eyes, it can cause severe burns. Inhaling sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat that lasts for days. And here's something we don't usually think about--there's a drip or drain pan under your refrigerator, filled with water and all sorts of gunk, with a fan that blows right out into the kitchen.
Lurking in Laundry
You may buy scented laundry soap and fabric softeners, toxic spot removers, and chlorine or non-chlorine (hydrogen peroxide or oxalic acid) bleaches. Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (quats) are found in fabric softeners. It's another type of antimicrobial, and thus poses the same problem as triclosan by helping breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It's also a skin irritant; one 10 year study of contact dermatitis found it to be one of the leading causes. There's evidence that even healthy people who are exposed to quats on a regular basis develop asthma as a result. A 10 year study in Canada demonstrated that the scent that lingers on our bodies is the fragranced laundry soap we use on our sheets, clothing, and toweling.
In the Living Room
The formaldehyde used to manufacture carpeting and laminate flooring can have significant health effects. That 'new home smell' is really the smell of toxic chemicals being released into the air. Carpet and upholstery shampoos and spot cleansers contain a nasty neurotoxin. Organic products or flooring made from natural materials such as hardwood, bamboo, or wool carpeting are less toxic options. Reclaimed flooring, available through architectural salvage stores, is a lower cost option. If the carpet has been in the house for ten years, the chemicals have already off-gassed. Renting a steam cleaner and cleaning the carpets with hot water and essential oils (skip the cleaner that comes with the machines) will help get most of the chemicals out of the carpet. Use the steam cleaner until the water runs clear.
Furniture is another source of indoor environmental toxins. Anything made from pressed woods, including sofas, coffee tables and bookcases, contains formaldehyde. Purchasing secondhand furniture that has already off-gassed and shopping for organic alternatives are both ways to reduce toxin exposure. Looking for unfinished wood furniture and taking a do-it-yourself approach gives us the chance to apply the stains or paints we feel are the healthiest. Likewise buying used furniture can be cost saving and maybe even healthier. When it comes to adding colors to the wall, skip conventional paints in favor of zero-VOC products. It's possible to find zero-VOC paint in a range of colors and prices.
Scouring the Bathroom
Most ammonia-based window cleaner contain a little antifreeze. Although the EPA sets a standard on 2-butoxyethanol for workplace safety, no law requires 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product's label. According to the EPA's Web site, in addition to causing sore throats when inhaled, at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. If you're using glass cleaner at home in a confined area, like an unventilated bathroom, you can actually end up getting 2-butoxyethanol in the air at levels that are higher than workplace safety standards. Manufacturers of cleaning products aren't required to list ingredients on the labels. Even products labeled "natural" can be deceiving. However, most cleaning products that bear the USDA Organic seal do contain full ingredient listings making them the safest choice. Vinegar, baking soda, borax and castile soap clean just as well as conventional cleaners without all of the toxic chemicals.
Becoming Aware of the Most Dangerous Toxins We Bring into Our Personal Environments
Since many homes have different indoor pollutant sources present, each indoor environment is likely to have a unique problem set of pollutants. I'll just briefly describe a half dozen of the worst offenders not mentioned above. For further reference, I highly recommend studying the www.plasticalbatross.org website.
Traces of this toxin, the same chemical used to embalm the deceased, pervade almost every room of the typical home. Formaldehyde is also often an ingredient in everyday products such as cosmetics, faux wood furniture and conventional cleaning supplies. "The difficult aspect of indoor air pollution is that many of the chemicals that volatilize from these products are very reactive," says Lisa Cleckner, Ph.D., assistant director of operations at the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems. "In the presence of light, heat and particles, these gases can combine to form other pollutants that are more hazardous than the original compounds." Even at low levels, formaldehyde can cause eye, nose, and throat and skin irritation; at its most malignant levels, it can cause severe allergic asthma, infertility and lymphoma, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
To avoid formaldehyde, switch to all-natural beauty products and cosmetics. At a minimum, check that compressed wood fibers don't use a formaldehyde based chemical as a binding agent; better yet, choose natural, reclaimed wood for interior surfaces and furnishings. Buy solid wood used furniture and real leather chairs and couches.
PVC is omnipresent and dangerous. Water bottles, nylon backpacks, pipes, insulation and vinyl tiles generally contain PVC, as well as almost anything waterproofed, such as baby changing mats and mattress covers. PVC usually contains plasticizers called phthalates, which are released over time; it also can chemically combine with other organic materials to produce toxic dioxin byproducts. According to Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), PVC byproducts and vapors are endocrine disruptors that can mimic or block hormones in the body. In addition, the EPA has linked PVC to serious respiratory problems, immune suppression and cancer. Look for PVC-free plastics. When shopping for waterproofed items, choose those with coatings made from polyurethane or polyester.
Another concern with household products is synthetic fragrances, and they are everywhere even in toilet and tissue paper. Because of proprietary laws, companies don't have to disclose what's in their scents, so you won't find phthalates on a label. If you see the word "fragrance" on a label, there's a good chance phthalates are present. A 2007 report by the NRDC notes that 12 out of 14 common brands of household air fresheners and room sprays contain phthalates, which people regularly inhale primarily because these chemicals prolong the time that products maintain their fragrance. In studies conducted by the World Health Organization, researchers concluded that consistent exposure to phthalates could increase the risks for endocrine, reproductive and developmental problems. Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had correspondingly reduced sperm counts, according to a 2003 study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health. Although exposure to phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, it can also happen through skin contact.
More folks seem to be reporting allergies to the chemicals that create the aromas. In one California study, 80% of the respondents reported sensitivity to some synthetic fragrance. And while they may seem minor, these hidden pollutants can add up, particularly in sensitive populations like small children. Whether any of these substances are in high enough concentrations to create health problems has never been clinically studied. I put boxes of baking soda in cabinets to absorb odors and scent interiors with all-natural spray oils or potpourri. I only use fragrance free everything (detergents, bath and body products, mouthwash, and cleansers). Then as needed, I add therapeutic grade undiluted essential oils to my skin or to diffuse in my environments.
According to the American Lung Association, most conventional cleaning products include some chlorine, with large concentrations in bleach. Inhalation of chlorine can irritate the respiratory system; prolonged exposure can lead to lung disease and asthma. Purchase chlorine-free cleaning products, especially chlorine-free bleach. Or make inexpensive solutions of white, distilled vinegar mixed with a little lemon for scent. For a multipurpose, multi-surface cleaner, try baking soda as a scrubbing powder. In my hot tub I use a natural enzyme based, non-toxic, hypoallergenic sanitizer called Waters Choice™.
Volatile Organic Compounds
VOCs are emitted as harmful gases by a wide array of products including paints, lacquers and paint strippers; cleaning supplies; pesticides; carpets and furnishings; office copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper; plus graphics and craft materials that include glues and adhesives, permanent markers and photographic solutions. The EPA calculates that, "concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher [up to ten times] indoors than outdoors." The majority of synthetic air fresheners are found to also emit significant amounts of terpene, a volatile organic compound (VOC) that can react with naturally occurring ozone to create formaldehyde. Look for VOC-free products and consider using organic clay paint, which has the added benefit of acting as an absorber of toxic gases.
Because the candle and fragrance industries are unregulated, they represent a potential risk for uninformed consumers. Many candle makers use chemically derived and petrochemical additives such as these:
- Solvents including alkenes, alkynes, ketones, nitriles, and imines. Soy beans are soaked in the toxic solvent hexane to become soy wax.
- Polymers to improve synthetic fragrance oil retention, mold release and increase side wall hardness.
- UV inhibitors to reduce color fading.
- Petrolatum or petroleum jelly, which is chemically modified paraffin used to enhance fragrance and color. Paraffin is the sludge left after diesel fuel is refined. I shiver to think that when I was a kid I took Vapor Rub, which is 99% petrolatum, and put it in my nose when I had a cold. Food grade paraffin is an oxymoron.
- Aniline dyes, which are commonly used to color candles. Aniline is toxic by inhalation of the vapor, absorption through the skin or swallowing. It causes headache, drowsiness, cyanosis, and mental confusion, and, in severe cases, can cause convulsions. Prolonged exposure to the vapor or slight skin exposure over a period of time affects the nervous system and the blood, causing tiredness, loss of appetite, headache, and dizziness.
In Europe REACH deals with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and restriction of CHemical substances. They improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical substances.
At Aloha Bay Candle Company, we use REACH compliant dyes that are non-hazardous and non-carcinogenic. They contain none of the twenty-six listed aryl amines prohibited by the German safety group. They contain no aromatic solvents like toluene, xylem, benzene, ethyl benzene, naphtha and naphthalene. They are in a vegetable and mineral base with no petroleum solvents and have excellent solubility in all waxes. Their shade, consistency, stability and strengths are just as intense, crisp, clear and bright as our original candle dyes. In fact we are able to use much less dye. A master candle maker does not have to use any synthetics to design clean burning palm or beeswax candles.
Causes of Candle Soot
At Aloha Bay, we advertise our clean burning candles with confidence. A well-made candle should create virtually no smoke when burning properly. However, if the wick becomes too long, or an air current disturbs the flame's teardrop shape or the neck of the candle jar restricts the air flow around the wick or excessive colorant or fragrance clogs the wick, small amounts of unburned carbon particles (soot) will escape from the flame as a visible wisp of smoke. Any type of candle wax will soot if the flame is disturbed or the opening of the jar is too narrow to allow sufficient air circulation.
Also referred to as ghosting, carbon tracking or carbon tracing, "dirty house syndrome" is caused when there is incomplete combustion of the fuel. The fuel to the candle flame is the liquid wax which is being drawn up through the wick. Once the flame of the candle has started drawing the liquid candle wax up the wick, it needs to stay at a steady rate. When the candle flame is disturbed by becoming clogged it flickers and coughs up smoke. Also a draft will change the size of the flame and when too much fuel is presented to the flame, it is not all burned. The excess fuel is put off in the form of black smoke. This soot is distributed by air currents, and the airborne soot particles eventually collide with other particles. As the soot particles grow in size they are eventually forced by gravity to settle on tables, drapes, and other surfaces throughout the home. Due to the lack of air exchange and depending on the attractive forces including temperature, humidity and static charges, burning even a single candle in a tight, well-insulated space can cause some black ghosting or darkening.
Soot is also attracted to cooler surfaces. This contributes to the darkening of wall surfaces over studs and air conditioning supply vents. These particles are also attracted to electrically charged surfaces such as some injection-molded plastic items including medicine cabinets, internal surfaces of freezers, plastic vertical blinds and computers. Once the soot particles are deposited onto surfaces, they tend to remain attached and are unlikely to be inhaled by occupants. No evaluation on the effects of soot ingestion (swallowing) or inhalation has been clinically studied. Soot can be sponged off most surfaces with warm soapy water. For hard plastic surfaces, rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol is effective at removing soot deposits.
Simple Home Tests for Candle Soot
If the flame of the candle is flickering it means that there is probably not enough air circulating around the wick. As the wick gets choked, it periodically coughs up unburned carbon particles. If there is a ring of soot on the inside of a jar candle, some soot is likely to also be escaping into the room. If you're not sure but suspect soot, try placing the candle close to a mirror or near a flat white wall surface to capture the soot on the surface. In our lab we staple white plastic plates behind a candle. Light the candle (but do not leave it unattended) and see if there is any black ghosting.
Tips for Preventing Candle Soot
The greatest exposure to soot produced by candles is expected during candle burning, so increasing ventilation by opening windows will reduce occupant exposure. Blowing out a candle can produce a bit of smoke, which then collects on the candle container or the area around the candle. For less smoke, use a candle snuffer or press the wick into the melted wax with the flat of a knife blade (an ordinary kitchen knife works fine) to extinguish the flame. Just be sure to straighten the wick again before the wax cools. To avoid soot, always trim the wick to ¼ inch before every use and be sure to place candles away from drafts, vents or air currents. If a candle continually flickers or smokes, it is not burning properly and should be extinguished. Allow the candle to cool, trim the wick, make sure the area is draft free and then re-light.
How Harmful Is Candle Soot?
The minuscule amount of soot produced by a candle (with the wick trimmed and removed from any drafts) is the natural byproduct of incomplete combustion and is likely not a health concern. Since candle soot is composed primarily of elemental carbon particles, it is similar to the soot given off by kitchen toasters and cooking oils. These everyday household sources of soot are not considered a health concern. A fire place or wood stove puts out soot. Indoor soot is not significantly chemically different from the soot formed by the burning of diesel fuel, coal, gasoline, etc. While some studies have looked at the health risks associated with microscopic soot generated from diesel exhaust and factory emissions, no research has been done relative to residential exposure due to candles. Like most forms of air pollution the quantity inhaled is important.
A frequent response to a previous article I wrote for the Organic Consumers Association about soy candles was, "I'll never burn a candle in my home again!" Others commented that beeswax candles are the most natural and give off healthy negative ions whereas really all candles give off the same amount of negative ions.
Any claims that a particular type of wax burns cleaner is simply false advertising. If we search on the web we will read dozens of marketing claims that palm wax candles, or soy candles, or beeswax candles, or "food grade" paraffin candles, burn better and longer than other waxes. All types of candle wax can be made to burn clean and have about the same burn times.
A candle maker is traditionally known as a chandler. There are a handful of American candle makers who have studied candle making with master chandlers throughout Europe. In contacting a few world class chandlers, wax blenders, and wick manufacturers, what they all agreed is that, "What makes the perfect burning candle is a chandler who uses the finest natural and sustainable ingredients in an artful design of perfect proportion and beauty." It's all a matter of engineering a wide enough jar opening to get sufficient air to the wick, braiding the right size wick for each candle type and adjusting the fragrance load and colors so they don't clog the wick. A hand poured candle tends to trap less air in the wax making a denser longer burning candle.
Last year my company, Aloha Bay, sold over a million candles just at national natural food stores. I remember as a boy seeing candles burning in the church and feeling the hypnotic sense of getting lost in the flame. To me a lit candle is a classic spiritual and religious image reminding me of the eternal flame of the prayers of those who light these candles, all with their personal petitions to God, hoping that those flames reach up to the heavens and propel our prayers to the Divine.
Candles become the externalized fire that represents the internal inner flame of our immutable spirit. Everyone who lights a candle has an intention in mind whether to heal a loved one or simply provide ambiance or fragrance in their personal spaces. From ancient to present times candles are widely used in the practice of prayer, inspiration, meditation, invocation and ritual. Webster's dictionary definition of votive is "dedicated or performed in fulfillment of a vow." Candle burning is an ancient practice in both the conventional religious sense and in esoteric spiritual practices. In my home I burn fragrance free palm taper candles during the dinner meal. For special holiday meals I burn pure beeswax candles. It's just a family tradition. In my meditation hall I light a white Rainforest Alliance certified tea light as I sit. During the holidays I burn my favorite holiday scents in my fireplace. To scent my rooms I use our Himalayan salt aroma lamp with therapeutic grade 100% pure essential oils of organic orange, lavender, and sage.
Creating Sacred Space
I believe all of us need a place in our homes to drop out. Personally, if I don't take some contemplative time to sit for a few minutes before I go off to work my day seems to get problematic. And when I come home, I take off my shoes, go into my 'sacred space' light a candle and just relax. Such a 'relaxing room' is a quiet area where you let the world melt away. Whether it's in a bedroom, sitting room, nook by a window, or a converted closet or storage space, the right atmosphere will help you connect with what you hold 'sacred.'
Over time, this will become an empowered space where you are free to explore who you and what you truly want and need without other distractions. It can be your blank canvas to elicit any mood or help to accomplish any goal. Followers of Feng Shui, the 3,000 year old Chinese design philosophy, believe that what we place in our surroundings, what colors we choose, and how we arrange the items deeply affect our sense of well-being. According to Feng Shui principles, you strive to achieve balance with nature and the energy, or qi (pronounced "chee"), within and around everything. Therefore a significant purpose of sacred space is to keep the qi of nature working for, not against, us.
When you are in harmony with nature, you can more easily remove challenges and emotional obstructions. The first step to creating a relaxing room is to banish distractions. Clutter creates depression, confusion, and fear. Before adding anything you must clean the room. Once the room is well-organized and clutter-free, bring in elements that echo nature and are personally meaningful to you. Placing symbols of nature in a space can create an opening for positive energy. Nature carries life force that will create harmony inside your environment. You can try using natural sounds from a CD like rain, waterfalls, rivers, or the ocean, but I prefer a small fountain with its flowing water to create a pleasing sound and encourage energy circulation. If the room has no window, or if the window offers an undesirable view, place a photo or painting of a landscape or seascape on the wall.
Plants breathe life into a home, offering oxygen to counteract carbon dioxide. In Feng Shui, plants are believed to rid the room of stagnancy and create harmony and flow. Here is a list of plants to help purify your indoor air. Fresh flowers uplift the spirit. Sunlight brightens your mood, eases your mind, and allows you to feel comfortable enough to relax, so open the drapes. You can add mirrors to side walls to reflect light, but don't hang them opposite windows because they will push energy back outside. If you don't have access to natural light in your relaxation room, choose full-spectrum or natural lights. I use a Himalayan salt aroma lamp that gives off a warm light but also allows me to diffuse my favorite essential oils.
With the objects you bring into the space, carefully choose harmonizing colors for the walls, floors and ceilings. A great book is Living Color by Master Lin Yun. In addition to our home meditation and prayer hall where we can just sit quietly and worship, we have created a spa area with an outside hot tub, and converted our garage into an exercise and yoga space. At dinner meals we always light a couple of taper candles and treat our meal as sacred occasion where we don't talk business, get into arguments, stress each other.
We Have an Inherent Need and Right to Ask Questions
To tease out the truth about the products we use, we just have to ask enough questions. For example, if a company claims that they are using all natural vegetable wax or non-GMO soy wax, ask them for a 'current' copy of the certification. Also ask them why it is not posted on their website and/or why they don't have the certification logo on their labels and packaging. If the company claims 'all natural scent blends' or 'beeswax with soy blends' ask them what percentage of pure essential oils or beeswax is used. You can also ask what countries they source their raw materials from. When we demand to know who and where a manufacturer's raw materials come from, only then can we decide whether we want to support them. We don't have to inhale or put on our skin any products that are not as safe as the foods we choose to eat.
You Have the Power to Change the World
What we spend our hard-earned money on determines what manufacturers produce and from whom they source their raw materials. We hope and believe we're nearing a tipping point. As more and more people seek healthier, more balanced lives, they seem to prefer making purchases from companies that share their values, Altogether as a nation, we are becoming more aware of what intelligent and sustainable choices will improve the health of our friends and family and what consequences our buying choices have for future generations and our planet.