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Get the Lead Out: Candle Wicks in the US

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According to the National Candle Association (NCA), most US-manufactured candle wicking is made of cotton or cotton-paper combinations. Nearly 90% of the candles made in the United States (i.e. members of the association) use wicks that contain no lead. Generally, the metal you find in a US-made candle wick is either zinc or tin, which are known to be safe alternatives to lead. With increasing competition in the candle industry, many makers are celebrating the fact that they use no lead in their wicks, when in reality those NCA members voluntarily agreed more than 25 years ago to end the use of lead wicks! Further, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of lead wicks in all candles sold or manufactured in the US in 2003.

The original idea behind using metal cored wicks was to provide more rigidity so that as a candle's wax pooled, the wick wouldn't slump over and drown out. Wick technology, as little as it's known, has improved dramatically in recent years. Usually a self-trimming cotton wick works just as effectively as any metal-cored wick. Today, metal cored wicks are used more frequently in smaller container-style candles, where a cooler burning wick is desired to prevent the container from developing heat fractures (cracking). Even so, if the container is appropriate for candles, the heat from a hotter burning cotton wick should pose no threat to the candle holder.

Sadly, some foreign imports still slip through, although rarely. If a consumer is still worried, there is an easy way to test whether or not a candle is using a lead core wick. Take out your candles and rub a piece of plain white paper on the tip of an un-burnt candle's wick. If you see a faint grey mark - like that of a pencil, it is using a lead core. If you bought that candle recently in the US, contact your local EPA division. If the candle was made before 2003, dispose of them properly to protect your familly. Understanding the composition of your candles can go a long way toward using them safely and effectively throughout your home.

Lisa Robbin is the Director of Product Development for the giving candle, the maker of Heavenly Gems resin-based clear candles. Lisa writes articles on all things candle related in an effort to educate consumers about making the most out of their candle purchases. You can email her directly at

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