the dark side of candles: soot

Whether to brighten, heat, or simply add ambiance — there's nothing like the glow of a candle to enhance a room. Aside from the obvious (fire), are there any other safety concerns to contend with when lighting up a wick at home? Surprisingly, yes.

soot: a not-so-hidden danger

Before there was electricity, there were candles. And yet, we can't seem to leave candles in the past. According to the National Candle Association, 7 out of 10 homes today in the U.S. use candles. No longer needing a candle to read at night, we light candles in our homes for ambience and decoration.

But there's a caveat to candle-burning: soot. Soot, which can be mistaken for mold or dirt, can cause irreparable damage and cost homeowners sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. Homeowners insurance may or may not cover damage resulting from this black substance.

Soot, chiefly made up of carbon, can coat your walls, television screens, and computer monitors, as well as your carpet, furniture, blinds, and drapes. It can even infest your ventilation system's ductwork. Of course, candles aren't the only culprit when it comes to soot buildup in your home. Other sources include fireplaces, furnaces, and space heaters.

the dos

  • Seek higher quality candles. While candles made from soy or beeswax reputedly burn cleaner, this isn't always the case. Look for candles that are made with minimal impurities.
  • Read the instructions for any unique maintenance tips.
  • Get in the habit of trimming wicks to ¼ inch to reduce the release of soot.
  • Make sure your candle burns low and even for a cleaner burn.
  • Use a snuffer to extinguish the flame, which will reduce the emission of black smoke.
  • Open windows regularly to ventilate your home and avoid a mold or soot problem.
  • Choose unscented candles. The fragrance or aromatherapy oils used in scented ones create more soot. Diffusers are more effective when you want to scent your home.

the don’ts

  • Use candles that feel soft and greasy. These tend to burn more smoke.
  • Burn candles near a draft. It might seem counterintuitive, but wind can disturb the flame and consequently create more soot.
  • Place candles in narrow-mouth containers. They restrict the airflow of a burning candle, leading to more soot emissions.
  • Leave candles unattended (though we're betting your parents taught you that one long ago).

While soot is always a threat when you use candles, knowing what kinds to buy and how to burn them will do a lot to help you keep your home safe and soot-free.

Is mold covered by homeowners insurance?
Soot's unsightly cousin, mold, can cause major damage to your abode. Find out when mold and water damage are covered by your policy.

How to prevent house fires
Get tips to reduce your risk of a blaze, whether it's started by candles, cooking appliances, or other household items.

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