Where does a candle go when it burns, anyway? Is it wholesome to be inhaling melted candle particles? How involved ought to I be?

— Abigail B., Washington, D.C.

When candles burn, most of their matter goes into the air.

The gentle and warmth from a candle comes from the wax burning. When you gentle the wick, the flame causes a few of the wax to soften, movement up the wick and evaporate, after which the wax vapor burns. The wick, which is product of cotton, additionally burns, though it’s the wax that contributes many of the warmth. The puddles you generally see across the base are from wax that spilled and dripped down with out burning.

Wax is product of hydrogen and carbon. When a candle burns, the hydrogen and carbon from the wax mix with the oxygen within the air to turn into carbon dioxide and water vapor. Most of the matter within the candle finally ends up as these two gases.

Carbon dioxide and water aren’t precisely protected — an excessive amount of of both might be extraordinarily harmful, as anybody who’s been on a submarine can let you know — however at low ranges they’re regular components of the air. The quantity of every fuel produced by a candle is small — similar to the quantity that may be breathed out by one other particular person within the room.

If candles burned fully, each molecule from the wax would find yourself combining with oxygen to turn into CO₂ or water vapor, however candles don’t burn completely. Around the sides of the flame, clumps of carbon molecules — perhaps 0.1 p.c of the mass of the candle — are flung away earlier than they end burning, type of like bits of meals sprayed out by a kitchen mixer. These particles contribute to smoke and soot.

Aneta Wierzbicka, a scientist at Lund University in Sweden who research indoor air air pollution, has performed a variety of experiments to measure particle emissions from candle flames. “Candles, in homes without tobacco smoking, are among the most powerful indoor sources of particles, followed by cooking,” she instructed me.

She mentioned that fixed publicity to those tiny particles can result in cardiovascular and respiratory ailments. For individuals who burn candles often, the fireplace hazards are in all probability a greater concern than the air air pollution. But she mentioned that if folks burn a lot of candles on a every day foundation, it’s price taking steps to reduce publicity to airborne particles. She suggests ensuring the room is well-ventilated, and utilizing clear, white candles with out too many components or elements, since every part within the candle leads to the air. (She additionally mentions that digital candles have gotten fairly good just lately — at first look, a few of them may even idiot a candle skilled!)

As a candle burns, the CO₂ and water vapor it produces will cool and blend into the air within the room, turning into indistinguishable from another molecule of CO₂ or water. Over the subsequent few hours, because the air in your room is exchanged with the air open air, the molecules out of your candle will escape the room and start to disperse into the ambiance. After about a yr, atoms out of your candle may have unfold fully across the globe.

For the subsequent few years, each time somebody takes a breath of air, they’ll be inhaling a few carbon atoms from the wax and a few oxygen atoms from the air in your room.

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