For many people, there’s nothing more relaxing in the evening than lighting a candle. The soothing scent and the flickering light create an excellent ambiance and help you wind down. But can you (and should you) sleep with a candle lit?
No, you shouldn’t fall asleep with candles still burning. Despite the temptation, this practice is not safe for many reasons. The candle could get knocked over, it could light soft furnishings, or the surface the candle is on could even catch fire.
And these are just a few of the risks. Let’s take a closer look at why sleeping with a lit candle is unsafe–and what you can do instead to create that cozy ambiance.
What Happens if You Leave a Candle Burning Overnight?
It’s easy to think that you’re a responsible candle user and that nothing bad will happen to you. However, it’s critical to understand the risks of burning candles–not just overnight, but in general.
Risk of Fire
The first and most obvious risk inherent in candle use is the possibility of starting a fire. After all, a candle is an open flame. Even small open flames can accidentally spark a big fire.
The risk increases if you leave a candle near something flammable. Bedding, clothes, curtains, or lampshades are just a few household items prone to catching fire. If a fire starts while you’re awake, you would most likely notice it quickly. But if you’re asleep, there’s a real possibility of not waking up until the fire is out of control.
And fires do happen. We can look to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for some eye-opening data on candle-related fires. According to the NFPA, between 2015 and 2019, there were 7400 fires caused by the unattended burning of candles. These fires resulted in about ninety deaths annually, 670 injuries, and $291 million in property damage.
It’s easy to avoid becoming a part of this entirely avoidable statistic by only lighting candles when you can supervise them–not when you’ll be unconscious.
Risk of the Candle Getting Knocked Over
This risk is especially great for anyone who lives with pets or small children. Your cat doesn’t understand the danger of the unattended candle you thought was out of reach. And a small child may shake a table you thought was stable and inadvertently knock the candle over.
You should also be wary if you live in a region with frequent earthquakes. Natural disasters can occur at any time, especially during the night, and a good tremor is all it takes to tumble a candle. Sure, this scenario may seem unlikely. But it could happen, and the risk is not worth the reward.
Risk of the Glass Breaking
Because glass is a durable material that stands up well to heat, it’s popular for holding candles. You can find plenty of freestanding candles and contained versions placed in a glass.
Although glass is generally safe, it can shatter if it gets too hot. With normal use, you shouldn’t have to worry about this scenario unfolding. But if you leave your candle lit past the recommended time, the glass can shatter.
Glass breaking creates an injury risk. The glass may explode and send shards flying everywhere. It’s all too easy to cut yourself while cleaning up the endless amounts of tiny slivers–which seem to resist even the best cleanup efforts.
Risk of Burning the Surface Underneath
A candle can also get so hot that it burns the surface it’s sitting on. Plastic or fabric-colored surfaces are most likely to be damaged by hot candles. And while a burned counter isn’t dangerous, who wants an unsightly charred ring in their kitchen? (Or their bedroom or living room…)
Risk of Soot
If you’ve ever burned a candle for too long, you may have experienced this risk firsthand. Burning candles for too long allows carbon to build up on the wick. Too much carbon leads to the disfiguration of the wick (called “mushrooming”) and a distorted flame, and voila! Your nice scented candle is now giving off gross soot and smoke.
If you leave a candle lit overnight, you may very well wake up to find ugly black spots on your curtains and walls. But aside from this unsightly problem, soot and smoke can be dangerous for your health if you inhale them. They’re a form of air pollution that causes damage to the lungs, especially if you have asthma.
Risk of Exposure to Toxins
Despite their prevalence in homes, some candles contain toxins. Fragrant candles are some of the worst offenders, as they may contain toxic chemicals to achieve that artificial smell. They also tend to act as triggers in people with allergies.
Additionally, you’ll want to limit your exposure to candles made from paraffin wax. Paraffin is a petroleum byproduct that releases carcinogenic soot as it burns. Burning these candles for a short period is probably okay, but why bother lengthening your exposure?
How to Safely Burn a Candle
Despite the inherent risks, it’s entirely possible to enjoy candles safely. In general, a little common sense goes a long way when burning candles.
Most accidents can be avoided by always monitoring an open flame and never leaving a candle unattended. Additionally, you should observe the following candle-burning best practices.
- Make sure to properly ventilate the space by opening a window or leaving the door open.
- Maintain a safe distance between the candle and all flammable materials or objects.
- Only burn candles on stable surfaces.
- Never burn a candle for longer than the recommended time.
- Keep candles out of drafty or breezy rooms to prevent the flame from spreading to nearby objects.
- Keep candles out of reach of pets and children, and supervise them while using the candle.
You should also take care to trim the wick after every use. A wick that is too long or mushroomed can create any number of problems. It’s best to keep it at about ¼ long and take care to ensure that the flame is not taller than an inch. These two factors keep the candle burning and the max welting at an optimal speed.
Finally, once the candle cools, it’s best to put the lid back on (if it has one). Because they sit on shelves and tables, it’s not uncommon for candles to have lots of dust or debris on their surfaces. When dust gets on the wick, the candle will burn irregularly.
Safer Candle Alternatives
After reading about all the dangers improper candle use poses, you might be wondering if there is a safer alternative. Luckily, there are plenty of options to help you create a cozy ambiance and relax–without the worry of your house burning down.
Here are some of the best ones.
If you like the candle look but prefer to avoid open flames, a flameless candle is an excellent option. Flameless candles are often much cheaper than regular candles, which can be absurdly expensive. But most importantly, they are infinitely safer since they are battery-powered.
Flameless candles are also available in endless options. You can find tealight versions, tapered candles, and remote-operated ones. Most look highly realistic, as the light bulbs are flamed-shaped. You can even find options that have a similar flame movement as a real candle, or scented versions if that’s what you love about burning a candle.
Himalayan Salt Lamps
Himalayan salt lamps have exploded in popularity in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. They are fantastic for creating a relaxing environment without any of the dangers inherent in candles. The warm pink glow adds a bit of light to a space in the evening but not so much that your sleep is disrupted.
The basic structure of a Himalayan salt lamp has little variation, though you can choose the size and tone that’s right for you. There are also plenty of claims about the supposed benefits of these lights. People say that they improve air quality, boost your mood, and help you fall asleep. However, studies have yet to back up these claims.
What is clear is that they look nice, they create a soothing ambiance, and they help limit light exposure at night. If you want to say goodbye to your candles, a Himalayan salt lamp makes a perfect safe swap.
Some people opt for fairy lights instead of candles. Although they lack scent benefits, fairy lights can give a room a very special feel. There are also plenty of options to match any room or style (just search Pinterest for some inspiration!).
You may choose to hang them on your bed frame, door, in glass holders like mason jars, or on curtains in the windows. Fairy lights also come with many features that make them super user-friendly, such as:
- A timer
- Light warmth settings
- Dimming capabilities
- Battery operated or plug-in
For many people, the appeal of a candle is more about scent. Certain smells indeed help facilitate sleep. But the problem is that once you’re asleep, you are no longer actively smelling the candle.
If you want to try aromatherapy for sleep, it’s best to use an oil diffuser instead. An oil diffuser is much better suited for this purpose. Many are equipped with various settings, allowing you to choose from intermittent misting over several hours or a few hours of continuous misting. They’re safe to use when you’re asleep and many come with LEDs for subtle nighttime lighting.
Not to mention there are a whole host of scents to choose from. You’re sure to find one that creates the ambiance you need for sleep. Some oil diffusers can even help humidify the space and help people with breathing issues.
If you’re looking for a truly low-maintenance candle alternative, reed diffusers are excellent. They may lack the flickering light of a candle or the reach of an oil diffuser, but they will give your bedroom a pleasant scent in the evening.
And they couldn’t be easier to use. You don’t have to plug them in or think about batteries. Just place the sticks in the oil container, and enjoy your fragrance of choice.
If you prefer not to invest in a diffuser, a bottle of room spray is a convenient way to spritz your favorite essential oil at night. Sure, this choice is probably the least fun, but it’s a safe and effective way to get your aromatherapy fix.
Is It Safe to Burn a Candle in a Glass Jar?
Yes–with some caveats.
It’s safe unless you fall asleep or leave the candle burning unattended. The proper setup is also a critical safety feature. You should make sure that the candle is well attached to the bottom of the jar to prevent it from falling over.
What’s the best way to attach it to the bottom of the jar? Melt the bottom of the candle wax a bit and then press it into the jar. Hold the candle in position until it’s dry.
Additionally, the wick should be at least an inch below the jar’s lid when lit, and you should never put a lid on the jar. When there’s only about half an inch of wax left, it’s time to extinguish the flame.
Do Candles Burn Themselves Out?
Some candles do.
If your candle is in a glass jar or some other container, it will most likely burn itself out. These candles have a metal clasp at the end of the wick for this purpose. However, freestanding candles are a different story. Most don’t have these metal clasps, which means you’ll need to pay attention to extinguishing them.
Some people who wonder “Can I leave a candle lit overnight?” do so because they have a candle with a metal clasp. But it’s never a good idea to leave it lit overnight for the reasons listed above, and you should always exercise caution with candles. Even if you have seen a particular brand extinguish on its own, it’s best to assume that it won’t.
How Long Can I Leave a Candle Burning?
The maximum recommendation is four hours. However, you should always check the manufacturer’s recommendations and follow those if they’re different. When in doubt (like if the candle has no more wax left), it’s best to blow it out.
Interestingly enough, there is also a minimum recommendation for burning a new candle. Once lit, you need to leave it for at least an hour. Otherwise, the candle won’t melt the wax completely across its surface, resulting in something called damaged wax memory.
Damaged wax memory is when the wick becomes too short to fully melt the wax on the surface. Instead, only the area directly around the wick burns and melts. This phenomenon is called candle tunneling, as you end up with a tunnel in the middle of your candle. It’s difficult to fix and can ruin your candle, so pay attention to the burn pattern when you light a new candle.
How to Safely Extinguish Candles
This point may seem silly, but many people don’t know that there is a proper way to extinguish candles.
If you regularly burn candles, it’s a good idea to invest in a candle snuffer. Here’s how to use one.
- Put the candle snuffer over the wick with the bell shape pointing down.
- Leave it there until the flame is extinguished (a few seconds).
- Move away from the candle to avoid inhaling smoke.
And sure, you might be wondering, “Can’t I just blow the candle out?” You certainly can, but keep the following safety tips in mind.
- Maintain a safe distance from the flame of a few inches.
- Use just enough force to extinguish the flame without knocking the candle over or spreading the wax.
- Once the flame is gone, move away from the candle to avoid breathing in smoke.
Do Candles Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
The dangers of carbon monoxide are all too real, and the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning from candles does exist.
However, it’s highly unlikely that you would get sick if you take the proper precautions. The most important thing to remember is ventilation. Never burn a candle in an unventilated room for longer than the recommended length of time.
Last Thoughts on Falling Asleep With Candle Lit
Now you know the answer to the question “Can I sleep with a candle lit?” is a resounding no.
Though the practice may seem harmless, you’re taking an unnecessary risk. Even if you think it’s fine, you may be putting the lives of your loved ones in danger–and maybe even your neighbor’s. It’s best to think of the people around you when deciding whether to sleep with a lit candle.
Even when you’re awake, you have to be responsible. Never leave a burning candle unattended, and always supervise pets and children. Vigilance is key to ensuring safe candle use for you and all those around you.