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The Two Household Items I Love Most—My Candles and Air Purifier—Hate Each Other

Ali Finney

Ali FinneyJanuary 3, 2020

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Like the Montagues and the Capulets or the Hatfields and the McCoys, the relationship between my two favorite household objects—my air purifier and my candles—can be described as tense at best. Every strike of the match sends my air purifier reeling from air pollution indoors and every day without the companion of scent feels like a missed opportunity to utilize one of my most memory-making and mood-boosting senses. For the greater part of the past few years, I’ve lived in the middle of this home-turf tug of war, this house divided, where the air…is thick.

For those of you who have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about (so, probably all of you), I’ll back up. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that, despite the fact that we’re constantly speaking about the pollution happening outdoors, indoor air quality is often five times more polluted than what’s found outside (even in NYC…which is saying something). While there are many, many contributing factors to poor indoor air pollution from the fact that couches that are coated in flame-retardant toxic chemicals to the fact that gas stoves can send carbon monoxide and formaldehyde into the air, candles happen to also be guilty in contributing to weakened air quality. 

While I don’t have a scientific lab to measure this in my own home, I do have eyes. So when Dyson placed a sensor on the front of the machine to visually indicate when air quality was poor, I started paying closer attention to the causes. The hope from Dyson was that people would recognize the behaviors that contributed habitual air contaminates and change them. In my house, the biggest contributor aside from the stove when I cooked something, were my candles. When candles burn, they release benzene and toluene into the air, which the air purifier detects, traps, and neutralizes in the air.

While optimizing my air quality is undoubtedly important (we know that poor air quality is linked to disease), scent is linked to the areas of the brain that are responsible for memory and mood.  And in the past few years, I’ve found that scent deepens and strengthens my emotions. To me, nothing signals winter like a Diptique Feu de Boise ($65), nothing makes me imagine steaming cup of warm tea like Cire Trudon Abd El Kader ($105). Without fragrance burning in my home, I feel like I’m only meeting a moment about 80 percent of the way, but by lighting a wick and breathing in an aroma, I’m able to really experience moments (even common, boring ones) in a way that makes them feel more complete.

So, when I stopped lighting them, despite optimizing one part of my wellness practice, I was missing out on another. At its foundation, wellness is about creating an environment that allows us to live our healthiest, happiest lives. But that second bit is important too: While we can engineer a halo of health to live within each and every day, if we’re not experiencing joy, if we’re consistently opting out of things that make us happy, then we’re not fully embodying a life well-lived. And while my candles and my air purifier most recently taught me this lesson, it’s not one that I haven’t learned before in the realms of food, fitness, beauty, and beyond.

As we knock down the door of a new decade, I’m striking a match to let a sparkly scent of Otherland Silk Pajamas ($36) carry me into the new year knowing that for a moment my air quality might not be what I want it to be. But as is true with life, sometimes wellness—true, blissed-out, bad-but-so-so-good wellness—is a compromise worth making.

Don’t know which side of the fence you’ll fall on yet? No worries! Here are 8 air purifiers that will help keep the air quality in your home optimal and here’s how to make your candles burning bright for much, much longer than you otherwise would be able to.

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