Even though there are dozens of candle alternatives available, there’s a strong sense of nostalgia attached to traditional candles, and they offer a romanticism that is very hard to beat. However, they’re also a fire hazard and a lot of people prefer to not be around the smoke each candle emits when they burn. Additionally, the smoke emitted from traditional candles can be harmful, and this is why there are no other candle alternatives like beeswax.
If you’re trying to phase out using candles completely from your home, this is for you. We’re going to outline several energy-efficient candle alternatives that you can add to your home below. This includes options that work for light or scent.
Even though most traditional candles give off a lovely look and scent, you want to be careful because they can be harmful to your health. Candles by P C / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
What Traditional Candles are Made From
The candle history is booming, and they sell a massive amount of candles each year. The industry is worth billions of dollars each year. This means that there is a huge amount of paraffin produced every year. Paraffin wax features petroleum as the main component, and it’s not sustainable or healthy. Additionally, you have to think about how burning petroleum products in your home isn’t healthy to breathe in.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency set up a thorough study that outlined how much air pollution burning candles released. They found that the candles emit small amounts of chemicals, including acrolein, formaldehyde, and naphthalene. The quality of the paraffin used will dictate how much chemicals they release. In some instances, the levels went above what is safe or acceptable.
Top Candle Alternatives to Paraffin
If you’re not a fan of paraffin but you still want to use traditional candles, you can try some different makeups or compositions to get your candle fix. These alternatives include but are not limited to:
As you may have guessed by the name, beeswax comes from bees. So, the manufacturers didn’t have to extract petroleum from the earth to create these candles. Additionally, beeswax doesn’t release any toxic gas or chemicals when it burns. The only downside with this candle alternative is that it’s not possible to guarantee that the bees involved in creating them were cared for in an ethical way.
Essential oils cover the need for the scent candles give off at any time of the year. These oils are natural, and they come in a huge range of scents. The only downfall of this choice is that many companies sell very low-quality oils that come with a range of questionable additives. It can be challenging to weed out the bad oils from the good. However, you can easily do a little research on your own and figure out which oils are better than others and what the benefits of using them are.
Plant Based Wax
Most people think that plant-based wax is the best out of all three choices. It’s vegan, non-toxic, and when it diffuses, it smells great. Additionally, plant-based waxes are renewable resources. This makes them decently sustainable to harvest and grow.
Traditional Candle Dangers
The amount of toxic fumes your candles emit when they burn will depend largely on what materials go into making the candles. Schrodinger’s Candle by Clint Budd / CC BY 2.0
However, a few of the dangers associated with using regular candles include:
Traditional candles can release a host of toxic chemicals that are known carcinogens, including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s). Some of these things are either suspected or known human carcinogens.
Many mass-produced candles have strong synthetic dyes or fragrances that release dangerous VOCs when you burn them.
Lead Core Wicks
As the name suggests, cored wicks have a material tucked into the core to keep your wick upright and straight when you burn it. The most common materials to have in the core of the wick include paper, cotton, tin, or zinc. However, years ago, the most common material was lead, especially in imported candles.
The EPA stated that burning incense or candles can introduce particulate matter into the indoor air. Burning candles that contain this old style wick with lead can increase the indoor air concentration of lead above recommended levels. These wicks have been banned in the United States since 2003 due to health concerns.
At the core, this material is a petroleum byproduct that companies use to form almost all mass-produced candles. If you burn these candles in mass quantities for hours at a time in an enclosed space, they emit toxic chemicals like benzene and toluene. If you light these candles in an area that has poor ventilation, it can cause health issues and make any existing respiratory problems worse, like asthma.
Among the host of ingredients that make up candle fragrances, phthalates are some of the most concerning. This product has links to endocrine disruption, including lower sperm counts in males. They are also capable of causing damage to the female reproductive system, and they’re the cause for several different reproductive impairments and birth defects.
21 Candle Alternatives to Light up Your Space
If you’re trying to swap out your traditional candles for candle alternatives, but you still want options that smell nice or light up the space, you can choose from a range of battery or electric powered choices that are fantastic ways to spruce up your decor. We’re going to touch on the top candle alternatives below.
1. Air Freshener Spray
Most air freshener sprays come in aerosol bottles, and they’re normally a very budget-friendly choice to spray around your room. The scent won’t last very long, but you can cover a bigger area with a smaller spray. Most commercial air freshener sprays do usually have a lot of chemicals that can be harmful if you use them in closed spaces, so either get organic and safe versions or don’t use them in smaller rooms.
2. Cheese Wax
When you’re trying to slice cheese to eat, this wax can be a real nuisance. However, along with working to keep the cheese fresh until you eat it, it also works wonderfully as an emergency candle alternative. Any waxed cheese will work for this use if you cut the wax off before molding it into a cylindrical shape and inserting the wick. The more wax you scrape up, the longer your candle alternative will last. Even smaller waxed cheeses work in this case. You can make several small candles over a big one. You will need to put them on a flame-resistant base.
Anyone who has kids at home will most likely have boxes and boxes of crayons as well, and you can easily use them in an emergency situation as a candle alternative. You can melt them down and mold them into a candle shape. You can also burn them on their own without worrying about melting them down. What’s great about using this option is that you don’t have to go hunting for a wick. They might not be the first thing that you think of, but a crayon works as a self-contained candle and all you do is light it.
The paper wrapped on each crayon functions like an external wick, and the waxy crayon will burn nicely. You will want to melt the bottom of the candle lightly so that it will stick to a fire-safe surface and stay upright as it burns. Cut the wax crayon off at the top of the wrapper so you have the stick of wax enclosed in the paper. Once you get your match lit, hold it over the crayon and wait for the wrapper to light. It should burn for 15 minutes or so. You can make an effective fire starter or a bigger candle alternative by wrapping more than one crayon together with foil.
Crayons make a nice emergency light source as they are wax-based and they can burn for up to 15 minutes. Crayons by CharlotteKinzie / CC BY-ND 2.0
4. DIY Essential Oil Room Spray
If you have a container of your favorite essential oil, you can create a nice essential oil spray to spritz around the room. Get an eight-ounce spray bottle and add 10 to 40 drops of the essential oil with two tablespoons of rubbing alcohol. Allow your mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes. The amount of oil you add will determine how strong the scent is, so adjust it according to your preferences. After five or so minutes, shake the bottle and add six tablespoons of water. Spray it around the room as you see it.
5. Electric Candles
Electric or flameless candles mimic the look of real candles, and some come with a flickering light to make it look more like a real candle flame is there. They are safe to use around pets and kids because they have no flame or heat. They can also be battery powered or plug in, and this allows them to last for a long time. You’ll find them in a broad range of sizes, colors, and shapes, and this makes it easy to add to any room. They’re also nice to use outdoors during candle-light dinners or camping since the wind won’t blow them out.
6. Essential Oil Diffuser
Most essential oil diffusers are electric, and they feature a small compartment for you to add your favorite essential oil. Once you switch it on, the oil gets broken down and released as steam from an outlet located on the top of the machine. These essential oil diffusers can be on the more expensive side, but they can also work like humidifiers that are fantastic for aromatherapy uses. They’re a much less smokey version of traditional incense.
7. Fairy Lights
Fairy lights work wonderfully for mood lighting. They can be battery or electric, and they can come with many small LED lights on one line. They won’t emit a lot of light, but they’re nice as decor because they’re easy to install and are budget-friendly. However, you’ll need to replace them frequently as they get worn out quickly.
8. Fresh Flowers
Most flowers have natural, pleasant smells that a lot of people like. You can keep them in vases in a room to bring a touch of nature inside. They usually don’t come with a strong smell,and they can help filter toxins out. Flowers can also be expensive, but if you have your own garden full of fresh flowers, this can be a very budget-friendly option.
Incense is another nice way to make your room smell more fragrant. They smell great and the scent can easily help you unwind after a long day. Since you still have to light the incense for them to work, you want to keep them away from flammable objects and out of the reach of any pets or kids running around. The cinders are very small, but they’re big enough to cause a problem.
10. Lava Lamp
If you’re after a more retro look, this candle alternative is the perfect choice. They come in a range of stunning color combinations and they have a mesmerizing look. They were very popular throughout the 70s, but they’re making a comeback in boho-themed homes. The wax chunks inside of the lava lamp float around in a thicker liquid, and this works to create flickering lights and shadows just like you’d get with real candles.
Even though they were popular decades ago, lava lamps are making a big comeback in retro-inspired decor. Lava by Andrew Gustar / CC BY-ND 2.0
11. LED Lights
String lights with the bright lights can be used inside and paired with other things to create a pretty decor piece. No matter if this means putting the behind a sheer curtain, in a colorful vase or in a wine bottle, they give you a very unique look that brightens up your room.
In the instances when you use vases or bottles, the strings of lights get entwined inside to create a whimsical look in your home. To make them wire-free, you can pick out battery-operated candle alternatives that you can stuff inside a vase or bottle. Many people choose to put them behind the monitor, computer desk, or even in their car now. They’re an extremely popular option today.
12. Lip Balm
Most lip balm features are made of natural oils like coconut or jojoba oil or in petroleum jelly, and this makes it a fantastic candle alternative. It’s easier to turn a lip balm in a small prefilled tin into a candle. To use them, all you have to do is add a wick into the center, light it, and you’ve got a tiny candle. But, if your lip balm comes in a plastic tube, you can roll it all of the way out and form it into any fire-proof container you pick out. Once you add a wick, it’s ready to go.
13. Oil or Wax Warmer
Oil or wax warmers are very similar to tea lights, but they come with a battery-operated or electric bulb instead of a candle. The essential oil or scented wax then goes into a bowl on top of the setup in this candle alternative, and the heat from the bulb will heat up the oil or wax. You can also find wax warmers or oil warmers with heating plates instead of a bulb, and they don’t offer the lighting element.
Did you know that if you have oranges in your kitchen, you can easily turn them into a candle alternative when the power goes out? This is a fairly popular hack that involves a little oil and an orange. All you have to do is get a knife and slice the orange in half to remove the center pith and the top portion of the peel allows you to create an instant candle alternative that you have to pour a small amount of oil in. If you use a bigger orange, you’ll get a lot more burning time. However, clementines work just as well for this project and they’re much easier to peel. The light you’ll get is much dimmer, like what you would get with a tea candle, but you can easily add more oil to extend your burning time.
15. Petroleum Jelly
Petroleum jelly is a very popular type of fire starter in a survival situation. This candle alternative is one that you should put in a glass container over a plastic one. What you have to do is scoop it out and put it into a different container before you use it. Once you do, add a wick into it, light it,and you’ve got a candle. Another thing you can do is dip a cotton ball into the jelly. Once you do, fold it up in foil, cut a small x into the foil, and pull a small bit of cotton through the x you made. When you light it, it can burn for up to 30 minutes.
16. Plug-in Air Freshener
If you don’t like aerosol sprays, using an automatic air freshener is the next candle alternative you can try for fragrance. You can keep it plugged in throughout the day to continuously spritz the scented oil throughout the house using a timer. These are nice for bathrooms or bigger rooms in the house.
Most potpourri is a mix of herbs, dried flower petals, and spices that work to spread a nice scent throughout the room. You can get mix variants of this candle alternative or make your own if you don’t want to buy it. You can customize it to the scent you prefer, based on what you put in it. All you have to do is add your chosen items into a bowl, put it on your coffee table, and it’ll start filling your room with scent in no time.
Potpourri is a fantastic way for you to create your own room-filling scents that can linger for hours, especially if you simmer the ingredients. Potpourri by Peter Miller / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
18. Reed Diffuser
Most reed diffusers come with a glass bottle that you fill with a carrier oil and a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Then, you stick the reeds or sticks into the bottle. The oil will slowly seep through the reeds, and once it reaches the top portion, the scent will spread into your room. Reed diffusers are inexpensive, natural, and they don’t need any fancy equipment to work. If it’s a scent you want with your candle alternative, this is one thing to try in your home.
19. Slow Cooker Potpourri
To get a fresher smell, you can make potpourri that releases a scent for several hours at a time. Get a crock pot or a slow cooker and add your favorite ingredients with two or three cups of water and bring this to a boil. Put the lid on but leave it on in a way that lets the scent escape to fill your space with a great smell. Add more water as necessary, and make sure it doesn’t boil dry. A few nice ingredient combinations include cinnamon and orange rinds, apple and cinnamon, or nutmeg and cranberries. It is nice to do before a gathering or party.
20. String Lights
String lights are very similar to the fairy lights we outlined earlier, but they tend to be much brighter. They’re bright enough to use as a proper light source while adding a romantic feel to the room. They’re also much more durable than the strings of fairy lights, and they have proper light bulbs instead of tiny ones.
You can use this candle alternative to brighten up your outdoor space without creating a fire hazard. String lights are an excellent way to decorate your home for the holiday season like New Years or Christmas, and you’ll typically see them strung up on the exterior of homes along gambrel or mansard roofs as you drive by houses in the neighborhood.
21. Table Lamp
Table lamps have been popular candle alternatives for years for a good reason. This come with an electric bulb in the center of the design that you’ll have to replace from time to time, but this should only be once a year or so, depending on how much you use it. It makes it a very economical and long-lasting choice.
This candle alternative is an excellent way to brighten up one of the corners in your room, and you can use them to enhance your room’s decor. They come in a big range of designs and sizes, and you can swap the shades on the lamps for a new pattern, color, or design to get a new look.
Simple Tips for Safer Candles and Fragrances
There are several things you can do to make your candles or fragrances safer to have and use in the house over the traditional ones. A few quick tips are:
- Find candle alternatives that are made with 100% pure essential oils instead of a blanket fragrance with questionable ingredients. Avoid any essential oils that you’re sensitive or allergic to.
- Find candles with 100% cotton wicks
- Skip picking out the colored candles. The pigments used to color the candles can be toxic to people and the local environment.
- Unscented candles may not have any mystery chemicals in them, but they usually have paraffin. Try to get 100% coconut, soy, or beeswax-based candles. You don’t want to get mixtures because many companies add paraffin to reduce the costs.
- Use other methods to keep the house smelling nice. You can create DIY essential oil sprays or simmer pots of spices, herbs, and fruit.
We’ve outlined 21 candle alternatives for you to consider over traditional candles in your home to reduce the amounts of VOCs and chemicals emitted when you burn them. You can mix and match options to get pleasant fragrances and flickering light throughout your home.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.