Candles were once used to generate light both indoors and out, but are now used primarily for decorative lighting and scenting of homes. They are sometimes used for heat and emergency lighting. Most candles are comprised of paraffin wax with an embedded wick, but may also be made of beeswax, soy and other plant waxes, tallow beef fat, or gel. For scented candles which emit pleasant odors during use, fragrance oils are added to the liquid wax during manufacturing. Dyes and other pigments are often added to create fashionably colored candles and sometimes decorative items such as flower petals, plants, seashells, or glitter are added to create visual interest. A typical candle will produce 13 lumens of visible light with 40 watts of heat, whereas a 40 watt light bulb will create 500 lumens of light.
Candles are dangerous even when properly used by the consumer. Some defects and hazards of candles are:
- Soot emission, causing health risks
- Skin burns from liquid wax
- Breakage of glass candle holders due to overheating, causing skin cuts and burns
- Lead based wicks in imported candles or those manufactured in the U.S. prior to 1970s and as recently as 2003 for candle-making kits.
Candles are inherently dangerous to operate due to the presence of an open flame during standard use. Responsibility during use is expected of the consumer when lighting candles, specifically to ensure candles are not left unattended or without adult supervision. In addition to the responsibility of the consumer, the manufacturer must ensure their products are safe. Some examples of defective candle manufacturing and product failure are:
- In 1999, 20,500 candles were recalled by one manufacturer due to the candles’ faulty tendency to burn with a very high flame. Eight homes were damaged prior to the recall.
- In 2001, 38,000 of another manufacturer’s candles were recalled for high flames.
- In 1999, 3,000 candles sold at a major bulk item retailer were found defective due to occurrences of the candles’ glass container breaking during standard operation, risking injury to consumers.
- In 2004, 92,000 candle holders were recalled by a manufacturer after nine reports of the resin candle holder igniting.
- In 2002, Island Soap & Candle Works of Honolulu recalled 29,000 candles after reports of the candles reigniting after being fully extinguished.
Some examples of candles recalled in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission due to documented injury, household property damage, and death through standard use by consumers are:
- In 2001, 2.8 million Xanadu brand candles sold as White Barn Candle Company and Bath and Body Works were recalled due to high flame burning. Seven incidents of injuries were reported.
- In 2007, Old Williamsburgh Candle Company recalled 3.7 million candles after determination that the wicks were moving during operation toward the side of the Mason jar style container, thus heating the glass candle vessel and causing breakage and burn risk. Eleven consumers reported candle breakage from this cause and one laceration injury occurred prior to the recall.
From 1999 to 2003, 74,800 home fires were caused by candle use. As a result of those fires, 740 deaths, 7,230 injuries and $1.581 billion in property damage was caused. In 1999, candles were the cause of 3.3 percent of all residential fire deaths. In 2001, candle-related deaths spiked to 7.8 percent of all residential fire fatalities, but returned to 5.7 percent of deaths in 2002, and 7.3 percent in 2003. In comparison, matches only resulted in an average annual percentage of 1.6 percent of deaths.
The National Fire Protection Association attributes almost 10 percent of civilian fire injuries and 6 percent of annual fire deaths to candles. Between July 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003, 1,165 fire department calls were executed because of candle related injuries. It’s estimated that there were still about 2,247 injuries not called into the fire department that same year.
According to the Office of Compliance, 12.7 million defective candles were a part of 118 manufacturer recalls for fire safety-related reasons between 1993 and 2006. Fifty-five of those recalls were due to igniting candle holders and the remainder was divided between secondary ignition and high flame height.
In 2000, 12,950 emergency room visits occurred in the U.S. due to candle-related injuries and 3.7 percent of those were hospitalized with 108 reported deaths. Physicians treated 26,960 patients in general clinical settings at a cost of $496 million. Candle-related deaths cost the U.S. $540 million in 2000.
It is recommended that candles are used by adults or under adult supervision. Seventy percent of American homes have candles and utilize them for decoration, aesthetics, ornamentation, ambiance, aromatherapy, relaxation, meditation, religion/spiritual, and fragrance dissemination purposes, with increased use during holidays and in colder winter months.
The National Candle Association estimates that the candle industry in the U.S. results in over $2 billion of annual sales. Imports amount to approximately $435 million, primarily from Pacific Rim countries.