Candles in the home can serve many purposes – mood lighting, adding a pleasant aroma, cutting back on electricity, or creating a small but mighty source of warmth. But when it comes to an open flame, maintaining safe candle burning practices is crucial for your safety and health. (Source)
As you start to wind down for the evening, you have probably noticed that your candle(s) has been lit and flickering peacefully without a single incident. You may want to carry on this ambiance as you head to bed; after all, it’s comforting, relaxing, and the light is just enough to sleep with, while not keeping you awake.
So, how bad would it be if you fell asleep (intentionally or unintentionally) as it still burns – is it safe to sleep with a candle lit? The answer is an emphatic No; it is not safe to sleep while a candle is still lit. The risk of it being knocked over, the glass breaking, and secondary ignition/flashover make it a dangerous decision to sleep with a candle while still lit.
What Are the Risks of Sleeping with A Candle Lit?
For the most part, everyone wants to believe that danger is minimal until something terrible happens to them or to someone they know. Candles are no different. Whether it’s your very first candle, or you consider yourself an avid candle lighter and lover, it’s essential to know what can happen to candles in general, not just while you’re asleep.
There Is A Chance of Secondary Ignition or Candle Flashover
Secondary ignition happens when debris falls into the candle wax and catches on fire. This type of debris can include (but is not limited to) leaves from a nearby plant, throwing a used or unused match into the flame, or even merely dust and lint particles. You may have seen this happen from time to time, but when you are asleep, you have no way of knowing whether the particle was an unfortunate fly or something more flammable. (Source)
Candle flashover happens when the melted wax catches flame from the burning wick. When this happens, the candle goes from a pleasant flutter of light to a small blaze of fire within seconds. If you were awake, you would likely take safety precautions to extinguish the fire. However, when you are asleep, this isn’t possible and can lead to the flames spreading onto nearby objects.
The Glass Can Break
A popular material as a candle holder for both free-standing and contained candles is glass. While glass isn’t exactly flammable, it will shatter once it gets too hot. You may have seen warnings against leaving a candle lit for more than roughly four hours. Often this is one way for the company to ensure that there is no liability for a glass enclosure that breaks from the heat and causes further damage.
You should also keep in mind that glass breaking doesn’t just mean that you have to replace the candle or holder. If the glass explodes from heat, the shards can fly in all directions, causing injury.
The Wax Can Leak
If the glass happens to shatter, one of the consequences is dripping melted wax. Even though it isn’t likely to cause a fire once it spills out and dries, the wax can burn or stain the surface that it leaks onto. Once it cools down and hardens, wax can be difficult to get out of certain fabrics, such as a rug or carpet.
The Glass Can Burn the Surface Underneath
Even if the glass doesn’t break, if the candle is sitting on a surface that burns easily, such as plastic or fabric, you could end up with a charred ring on your counter, shelf, or coaster. Burn marks themselves are not dangerous, but they go to show the possible hazard of an unattended flame.
If you are awake when the candle runs out, you can extinguish the fire before the bottom of the glass gets too hot. But leaving the candle to put itself out is a risky game.
It Can Easily Be Knocked Over
Do you have pets or live where earthquakes are frequent? These things might not seem so dangerous while you’re awake when you can solve the issue quickly, but what happens when your kitten goes off for a night-time prowl and jumps onto the table that you thought was safe enough? Pets in the home who are allowed to roam freely should always be watched when a fire is present. Like small children, they don’t know the threat of an open flame until it’s too late.
Similarly, natural disasters, such as an earthquake, can happen in the middle of the night, rattling your shelves just enough to shake the candle off, but not wake you up. Though it may seem like an unlikely occurrence, it happens more often than you think and is an expensive price to pay for a little bit of ambiance.
The Candle Can Be Toxic
One issue that we don’t often think about is what exactly we are inhaling as a candle burns. Some candles, such as scented candles and those made of paraffin, release chemicals, soot, or lead into the air causing indoor air pollution. What does air pollution affect? Mainly your respiratory system, so those with asthma, for example, should be extremely careful. If your room is unventilated, the risk is even higher.
Also, unventilated rooms combined with candles burning for longer than the recommended length of time can produce a higher chance of carbon monoxide poisoning. Even though statistically the chances are small, the possibility is still there. (Source)
Nearby Objects Can Catch Fire
Someone in your life has probably warned you at some point not to let a candle sit too close to anything. Curtains, flowers in a vase, lampshades, and clothing are just a few of the things that always seem to be drawn like a moth to…well, to the flame. Even if you do your absolute best to keep your candle away from everything flammable, while you are asleep is the perfect time for Murphy’s Law to do the impossible and cause the flame to come into contact with an object that you would never have thought possible.
Why Would Someone Sleep with A Candle Lit?
If you are wondering whether you can sleep with a lit candle, before you light that match, you should take a moment to evaluate the reasons behind wanting to do so. This will help you put a different perspective on it.
The two main reasons why people want to keep their candle lit while they sleep are:
- Candles are visually relaxing
- The pleasant scent
For some, this may lead them to believe that they will have a calming, relaxing night of sleep. The sparkle of a lit candle can be soothing and bring a sense of calm to a room. It would make sense, then, that allowing it to stay lit when you want to settle in for the night can lead to a peaceful sleep.
However, if you’re using candles as a way to bring in ambiance, it’s important to note that once you have fallen asleep, you can no longer see the calming flame, nor smell its scent. Even if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night, the idea is to go straight back to sleep, not gaze at the dancing flame.
Alternative Candle Options
You may be starting to think that leaving a candle lit while you sleep isn’t worth the risk of danger for a few moments of mood lighting or smelling lavender before you drift off. But don’t worry – here some other options to help you get the desired effects without the worry of burning the house down.
Battery Operated Candles/Lights
Flameless candles and other battery-operated lights have come a long way over the years. These days you have many different styles and designs to fit the décor of any room. Some candles are made to be incredibly realistic with fake fluttering flames, while other light options come in various colors, brightness/dimness, or with a timer.
The best part about a battery-operated light is that if you happen to forget about it, the worst thing that will happen is the battery will die and need to be replaced. And replacing batteries is obviously much cheaper than replacing burned items in your home. I recently picked a couple of packs of battery-operated candles from Amazon, and have been really happy with the resulting ambiance. They were inexpensive and look cool at night in my bedroom. Check them out on Amazon – Enpornk Flameless Candles.
The salt lamp has grown in popularity lately and for a good reason. If you’re looking for a lamp that is bright enough to give a little mood to the room, but won’t feel like the sun is glaring in when you happen to wake up at 3 a.m., a salt lamp is the way to go. They come in multiple sizes and each salt rock has its own hue that it shines through the space.
Additionally, Himalayan salt lamps are known to have various benefits, including cleaning the air, helping with allergies, promoting sleep, and elevating your mood.
As far as danger goes, the risk is minimal. Salt lamps are intended to be left on for long periods and the thick shell of salt keeps the bulb inside safe. Like with all lights, though, it is essential to practice safe habits when it comes to power outlets and the electrical cord that is used to plug the salt lamp in.
I highly recommend a Large Authentic Himalayan Rock Salt Lamp (link to Amazon) as the best salt lamp I’ve found online or in stores. There are a lot of fake salt lamps that don’t provide any of the health benefits toted by official salt lamp distributors. I have personally found that the one I recommend works the best, not only as decor, but for things like reducing anxiety and helping me get to sleep faster.
Perhaps the intent behind sleeping with a candle lit is for the soothing scent that helps you sleep. A better solution, in this instance, would be an essential oil diffuser. The benefits far outweigh the candle because not only does it smell as though you’re relaxing in a spa, the essential oils can aid those with breathing difficulties (like sufferers of asthma) while humidifying the room.
I personally use an InnoGear Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser (link to Amazon) as my go to oil diffuser for my bedroom. It’s high capacity so it won’t quickly run out before I’ve dosed off to sleep. And paired with the right essential oils (I use Relaxing Essential Oils Set from Amazon as well) it works great at replacing the scent of a candle without having to worry about it burning your house down!
Liquid Air Freshener
If you want the scent, but would like to steer clear of anything that needs to be turned on or off each day, liquid air fresheners for the room are a no-hassle, minimal risk option. Scented plug-ins and reed diffusers are an excellent option for oil-based fragrances that disperse and evaporate into the air, and only need to be changed periodically.
An added benefit for plug-ins such as Air Wick is that the aroma is continuously released, rather than the short span of a candle, which always seems to be unnoticeable as soon as you blow it out.
Other Considerations: Emergency Candles
You now understand the risks and alternate options for using a candle recreationally. But what if the candle is being used for emergency reasons? Say the power has gone out in your area, or you feel you need to use the candle as a way to feel safe and comforted.
As far as emergency candles in a power outage, these types of candles should never be left burning when not attended. They often have a maximum lifespan that you don’t want to waste while you’re asleep. Additionally, if you are using them in an emergency, the chances are that you might not be located in the safest place for an open flame in general. Candles during emergencies should always be watched.
Perhaps you’d like to keep a candle lit for personal comfort or safety. A cabin in the woods comes to mind. For situations like this, something like a heavy-duty flashlight or battery-operated camping lantern is a much better option.
How Many Hours Can You Let A Candle Burn?
Typically, the recommended length of time to burn a candle is about four hours. It’s best to read the manufacturer’s warning on your candles and when in doubt, extinguish them after four hours.
Do Candles Burn Out On Their Own?
Most candles in jars or other containers will burn themselves out once they reach the end of the wick thanks to a metal clasp. Freestanding candles generally do not have these closures at the end of the wick, so they are not intended to self-extinguish.
Even if you are familiar with the brand or have seen previous candles burn out, you should not trust that every candle will put itself out.
What Are Safe Ways to Burn A Candle?
Any time that you decide to light a candle in the home, it’s a good idea to follow a few safety precautions. You can easily enjoy the presence of a candle while minimizing the risk.
- Ensure that the candle is on a stable surface
- Keep the candle a safe distance away from all flammable objects and materials
- Always burn a candle in a ventilated room
- Follow the recommended length of time for burning your candle
- Trim the wick to minimize soot emission and to prevent the wick from popping
- Keep candles out of drafts or breezes to avoid the flames from catching on nearby objects
Remember that an open flame should always be monitored and never left alone.
Final Thoughts on Sleeping with A Candle
As a responsible candle lighter, it is also critical to consider those around you. Do you live with others in the house or in an apartment? Do you live in an area that is highly susceptible to wildfires?
When deciding to sleep with a candle lit, remember that others may be affected as well. You may consider it a chance worth taking; however your pets, neighbors, children, and others who haven’t been given a choice might not agree.