Are Scented Candle Fumes Toxic to Cats?

The Appeal of Scented Candles

Who of us haven’t indulged in the pleasure of scented candles in the home? They can infuse a room with delicious fragrance, or add a romantic ambiance to a meal and of course make bath time more relaxing and luxurious.  Sales of scented candles have soared in recent years as they have come to represent the ultimate expression of ‘me’ time.

As such, scented candles are a favorite indulgence of many households, but did you know that their fumes are as toxic as cigarettes? Burning low quality commercial candles in your home can cause serious illness to you, your family and your pets.


The Dangers

The problem is that most commercial candles are made of paraffin which comes from petroleum, and therefore it’s neither sustainable nor environmentally-friendly. Paraffin is the final residue left from refining crude oil. It’s made from the sludge in the bottom of a barrel of oil which is then bleached by adding dioxin and other poisonous chemicals and then texturized with a chemical called acrolyn. And afterwards, stearic acid, a byproduct of the meatpacking slaughterhouses, is added as a hardener.

Adding insult to injury, many paraffin candle manufacturers also add animal fats to give their candles a more textured or rustic look.

Would you burn animal fat in your home?

Most of us would answer an emphatic “No!” or “Yuck!” to that question, but like something straight out of a horror movie, you might react in horror to realize that you probably are burning animal fat in your home when you burn paraffin candles.

Tamar from I HAVE CAT says…

“I was shocked to learn that not only is burning candles bad for your health and that of your pets, but that they often contain animal fat! This is particularly disturbing to me given I’m a vegetarian.”

Paraffin wax has become the leading wax for use in cosmetics, food and candle manufacturing because it’s cheap and readily available.

Paraffin candles cannot be scented with natural essential oils because the petrochemical rich wax will break them down. This has forced the candle industry to create petroleum-based fragrances that are more compatible. When these fragrances are added to the mix, a lot more soot and chemicals are released. This creates a further negative effect on our health. The toxins released by some of these petroleum-based scents can be even worse than the wax itself!


The Health Risks

When you burn paraffin candles, you might as well be inhaling diesel fumes. Studies by air quality engineers at The Florida Department of Health found that the fine particulate matter collected from candle emissions was similar to that of diesel engine exhaust. Soot, in high levels, can be seen rising from the offending candle. But, even a visually clean burning candle could still emit significant quantities of other chemicals into the air.

The American Lung Association has warned that burning paraffin candles can emit toxins (in measurable amounts) into your home’s air. Testing by the EPA has confirmed that those candles, and the smoke and soot they give off, contain several dangerous chemicals in significant quantities.

The toxins released into the air from a burning candle affect everyone in the household, including your pets. The effects on your pets are magnified because they are smaller and can’t process the toxins as quickly. Not to mention the fact that pets are usually more sensitive to smell than we are, so that festive, light gingerbread scent we’re enjoying is likely overwhelming to your cat.

Close-up Angry Black Cat with Yellow Eyes on White

No one knows for sure if paraffin candles cause cancer, but there are at least 4 cancer-causing chemicals associated with paraffin candles.

The EPA lists these chemicals on their website:

1) Benzene (EPA classification as Group A, known human carcinogen)
2) Carbon Tetrachloride (EPA classification as Group B2 probable human carcinogen)
3) Trichloroethane (EPA classification as Group C, possible human carcinogen)
4) Toluene (EPA classification as Group B2 probable human carcinogen)

It might shock you to learn that after burning just a few paraffin candles in your home, the overall effect on the quality of the air in your home could be worse than the air in major cities like Los Angeles!

Did you also know that emissions in the home are estimated to stick around for up to 10 hours after extinguishing a candle?


Not only is your health affected, but the health of your children and pets as well.

This is a serious problem considering that air borne soot can penetrate the deepest areas of the lungs and the lower respiratory tract. People who burn paraffin candles may be exposing themselves to inflammatory agents and carcinogens which may lead to increased risk of cancer, neurological disease and acute aggravation of existing respiratory diseases such as asthma.

Another study by Dutch scientists, where they measured the air particles in churches that burned candles for up to nine hours at a time, found 10 times as many damaging free radicals (molecules that can cause cancer) in the air inside the churches as they did in the air beside a highway.

Alternatives – A Breath of Fresh Air

All is not lost. There are plenty of safe options.  For example, Sandie Lee from PawedIn says…

“If you want a welcoming scent in your home, try simmering cloves and cinnamon sticks in a small pot of water. It’s all natural and no harm will come to Kitty…just be sure to keep on eye on the water level so it doesn’t completely boil away.”

If you prefer candles, the increasing popularity of organic wax candles presents us with a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative. Look for candles made from bee’s wax, coconut wax or even soy wax (preferably organic).

Sure, they’ll be a bit more expensive, but they’ll burn clean and generally burn much longer than paraffin based candles. Plus they’ll be safe for your health and the environment.


Some of the surprising benefits of bee’s wax or coconut wax candles include:

  • Burn with no toxins, carcinogens or choking soot
  • Burn up to 50% longer than paraffin candles
  • Cruelty-free, contain no animal fats
  • Non-toxic, biodegradable, derived from a renewable resource
  • Better for the environment
  • Use no nasty chemicals to release fragrance


We hope this helped you make ‘scents’ of the need to choose carefully before burning just any candle or melt in your home!

Carol from Tabby James says…

“I’ve refrained from using scented candles in the past because my cats cough from them. I’m glad there’s now an alternative”

Additional Resources:

Woman’s Day:  New Study Finds Scented Candles and Air Fresheners Pose Dangerous Health Risks
Wellness Mama: Why I Don’t Use Scented Candles


  1. Judy March 1, 2016
  2. Amber January 7, 2017
  3. Paula fogle January 28, 2017
  4. Bernadette January 28, 2018
  5. Sarah January 28, 2018
  6. Dorris Langston February 8, 2018
  7. Rhonda Stacey November 6, 2018
  8. KAREN J WESCOTT March 11, 2019
  9. Flmedic April 14, 2019
  10. Kristen December 27, 2019
  11. Kim February 2, 2020
  12. Patricia Clements February 6, 2021
  13. jmuhj November 25, 2021
  14. Kat Muster November 25, 2021
  15. Stacey February 13, 2022
  16. Jan Taylor March 9, 2022

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