Last month I published an article about cleaning your indoor air, covering some of the common pollutants, and focussing on the benefits of indoor plants. I touched on a few other ways to clean the air too though, one of which was ionisation, through burning beeswax candles among other options.
So how does ionisation work? Does it work?
Ionisation is the process of negatively (or positively) charging atoms or molecules in the air, so that they are then attracted to oppositely charged particles.
The theory is that positively charged pollutants are attracted to the negatively charged ions, which eventually become too heavy to remain in the air and settle to the ground (or other surface) as dust. There is some evidence that ionisation does help air quality, and indeed it was reported to have completely eliminated airborne infections of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria acinetobacter in an intensive care ward in the UK.
Note though, that ionising does not mean the toxins have left your house, just your air. This is where vacuuming regularly using a HEPA filter is essential.
So can you really clean the air with Beeswax candles?
If you read my recent article on candles, you know that paraffin candles are a source of indoor pollution, emitting benzene, toluene and ketones (and sometimes lead and mercury as well!). So obviously, don’t burn them in your home without good ventilation!
What I didn’t tell you in that article is how burning beeswax candles may actually remove pollutants from the air. The burning beeswax is said to create negative ions in the air, which bond with the positively charged pollutants, causing them to be sucked back into the candle or to fall to the ground (see note above about vacuuming regularly!).
Does it work? Well, I could not find any studies demonstrating this effect, but there is certainly anecdotal evidence that burning beeswax candles can reduce allergies. For example, Lauren, from empowered sustenance, reports two stories of people who used beeswax candles to help reduce allergies. In one case a mother stocking up on candles explained that her son had terrible asthma that was always worse at night. “The other day,” she told Lauren, “I burned one of these candles in his room two hours before he went to bed. He had no asthma symptoms at all! Now we do this routine every night.”
Is this because of the negative ions supposedly released? I can’t say.
If you decide to try this out for yourself, be careful when you buy beeswax candles to make sure they are labelled 100% pure beeswax. In a footnote to her chapter in my book Less Toxic Living, Cate Burton notes that at least one Australian candle maker has products labelled as ‘beeswax’ which are in fact only 20% beeswax.
In the United States, to be labelled ‘pure’ a product must only contain 51% of the relevant ingredient. So “pure beeswax candles” may in fact be 49% toxic paraffin!
In Australia you can buy 100% pure beeswax candles from Queen B, which have the added advantage of being made from Australian beeswax (which doesn’t contain the pesticide residue from protecting the bees from the varroa mite). You can also buy a selection of 100% beeswax candles on Fishpond with free shipping Australia wide.
Outside Australia you can find 100% pure beeswax candles here.
Avoiding buying candles which are scented, as these will be adding their own toxins back into the air.
Other air ionisers
Himalayan salt lamps are said to have a similar effect to beeswax candles, however I have been unable to find any evidence to support this claim. They are certainly beautiful and may have beneficial health effects, but experts appear baffled by the ionisation claims. If you have access to research that backs up the claims about salt lamps, please do share in the comments.
So what about electric ionisers? While there have been cases in which particular air ionisers have been found to be ineffective, the principle of ionisation does appear to be sound, as long as you then keep the dust that forms under control, and be sure to use a HEPA filter when vacuuming, so your vacuuming cleaner is not just throwing all that nasty dust back into the air. Likewise, wet dust and rinse thoroughly, or use something like the Norwex microfiber dusting mitt, which attracts and holds the dust with an electrostatic charge.
I was also pretty excited to get a Norwex wet and dry mop just before Christmas (I know, it may be a little sad how excited I was by a new cleaning product), the dry part of which works in a similar way to the dusting mitt, so I may just have a review of that coming up.
However, as the EPA notes, source control – avoiding the sources of your indoor pollutants – and ventilation, should both come before air cleaning. So make sure to open doors and windows to let the air circulate, if nothing else!
Over to you: What do you do to keep your indoor air clean? Have you tried ionisation in any form?
This post will, as usual, be shared over at Essentially Jess. As soon as I get to it…