Fire risk of bathroom candle
January 23, 2011 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Fire safety filter: My husband thinks that a lit candle left unattended on the back of our toilet in the bathroom is not a fire hazard, and I disagree. Please help us settle this argument with facts and figures.

We have a candle on top of the toilet that is lit for odor control purposes. There have been a couple instances where he has left a candle going and then left the house, and it has been only chance that I later discovered it and blew it out (before leaving the house myself in these cases). I think that he should make sure to not leave the candle lit, and he says that it isn't a fire hazard.

He doesn't know what could catch fire, since the candle is 3.5 feet off the floor on ceramic, with tiles for the next two feet above it, and no curtains or towels within a foot. Seems perfectly safe to him, and he says that if a candle were left to burn all day, we would come home to a pile of wax.

I don't think either of us understand fire science well enough to know what exactly could go wrong, and that it is wise to follow that best practice, "Never leave a burning candle unattended."

Please give me information as to whether or not he is, well, playing with fire, and whether I am being overly cautious.
posted by frecklefaerie to Home & Garden (76 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If nothing else, leaving the candle burning in an empty house is kind of a waste.

More candle to use later > "a pile of wax"
posted by narcotizingdysfunction at 8:32 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Regardless of probabilities, your husband is not in the right here. It is dangerous to leave a ROOM with a candle burning, let alone leave the house.

Call your local fire dept. for relevant statistics and anecdotes. I am sure that they will have a number of left-candle-burning fires to talk about.

You cannot afford to allow this to continue.
posted by Danf at 8:33 AM on January 23, 2011

It's an open flame. In your home. In a room full of flammable textiles, and probably cleaning chemicals too. Of course it's a fire hazard.
posted by COD at 8:35 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you're right, but a way to leave a candle burning while reducing the risk is a candle lantern. You could also abandon candles and go for homemade air freshener
posted by bluefrog at 8:35 AM on January 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

My wife works for the fire prevention society, and their rule is "never leave a candle unattended". She says it's a bad habit to get into, better to have a zero tolerance. What kind of candle is it? You can get little holders that are water-filled at a certain point so they put themselves out. What is your present holder made of? Do you have pets (or kids) that can knock things over btw? She says your husband may well be right, but if it turns out, just once that you are.... expensive fucking "toldya so".
posted by Iteki at 8:35 AM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

This is anecdata, but a friend of mine had a candle-in-glass dealie (bigger than a tealight, but not so big as a small jam jar) and when it got down to the last centimeter or so, it suddenly flared up FOUR FEET HIGH with an uncontrollable flame that was super, SUPER hot and almost caught her ceiling on fire. I was there, it was sudden, unexpected, and DAMN-ASS SCARY. She burned her hand badly trying to pitch the FLAMING GLASS into a sink to douse it. (This was a dorm room, dousing options were limited.) I guess we're lucky the glass didn't explode or something. She had scorch marks/soot on the wall/mirror behind the sink (came off the mirror, but not the wall), as well as the ceiling. If we hadn't been there, it certainly would have started a fire. (And this is why, kids, you should actually obey the rules that say "no candles in your mostly-wooden dorm built in the late 1800s.")

I not only don't leave candles lit unattended, but when they're burned down to an inch I figure they're done. (My guess it was the little metal disk that's often on the bottom of that sort of candle to hold the wick in place?) It scared the bejeezus out of me.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:36 AM on January 23, 2011 [13 favorites]

A Google search for "burning candle house fire" gets about a third of a million results, including many about houses burned down by candles. Yes, perhaps your set up is perfectly safe, but -- since there is no advantage to a burning candle in an unattended house and a rather significant disadvantage to the (even very unlikely) possibility of a house fire -- there seems little reason to not extinguish it. Another case where Pascal's Wager is good for many decisions besides its intended one....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:37 AM on January 23, 2011

No idea on the realistic likelihood of a fire being started given the nature of the room and candle's environmnet. But for the purposes you describe there should be no need to even leave the bathroom with the candle lighting, washing hands and then blowing out your purpose will be achieved because the 'smoke' created on blowing out the candle would neutralise most any of the odours you are trying to banish from the room, you don't need the candle to actually melt much to release any scent.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:38 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, according to people such as the NY Office of Fire Prevention and Control and the National Candle Association (how cute!), the first rule of candle safety is Always keep a burning candle within your sight. Extinguish all candles when you leave a room or before going to sleep.

According to this article, 11 percent of candle fires started in bathrooms, tho of course it doesn't specify if there was a combustible within reach.
They also say Don't burn a candle all the way down. Extinguish the flame if it comes too close to the holder or container. so that would also disqualify your case, since it will burn all the way down when abandoned.

Additionally, the CBS article states Maintain a two-foot circle of safety around a lighted candle. It shouldn't be near clothing, books, curtains, etc. A breeze from an open window or forced hot air from a heat duct can, for instance, sweep a curtain into the proximity of the flame, so your "no curtains or towels within a foot" would not be sufficient. Oh, and if you respond "but we don't leave the window open", then the Always burn candles in a well-ventilated room rule applies.

NB all the above data from googling "fire started by candle" and reading the first two links that came up.

[on preview - what everyone else said!]
posted by ClarissaWAM at 8:41 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Iteki- The candle in question is an ikea candle, about 10 inches high and 3 inches in diameter. It sits on a ceramic plate.

And yes! We have pets, in particular a clumsy oaf of a cat who does have a habit of knocking things down off tables. Husband thinks that even if the cat did knock it down, what could catch on fire on the bathroom floor?

He is an obstinate guy, and both of us are in the habit of questioning the status quo when it comes to things considered "common knowledge."
posted by frecklefaerie at 8:42 AM on January 23, 2011

I'm in the camp of never, ever, ever leave an unattended flame, even if it's just in the next room. I've done a lot of Red Cross disaster response work, and yes, apartment complexes have burned down from lit candles before. I've also taught kids fire prevention safety. Lit candles have a big red DON'T next to them.

However, my mom is in the camp of candles-smell-pretty, and likes to have them going all over the house.

The compromise is an electric candle warmer with a timer. It's a little low-heat hot plate that you stick glass jar candles on top of, and it melts the wax enough to release the fragrance with no (well, a greatly reduced) fire risk.
posted by phunniemee at 8:45 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Also note: I did google, but the results didn't give me enough of the sort of facts I was looking for.
posted by frecklefaerie at 8:47 AM on January 23, 2011

I used to be a bit lax with candles in the bathroom (but still would never leave the house, damn!), and then someone on my LJ friends' list had a friend die in a candle fire - he was napping, and god knows how it fell, but the whole house went up, and he couldn't get out in time. His stepdaughter wrote a really vivid account of what happened. Yeah, that's not something anyone else should have to go through.

Why does your husband think there's no way the candle could go up? I mean, where do you keep your toilet paper? towels?
posted by kpht at 8:53 AM on January 23, 2011

Maybe your husband needs data to solve this problem, but before going into the wormhole of potentially dismissed second-hand stories from strangers, I'd simply tell him that the risk of being wrong in this case pretty clearly outweighs the temporary high of being right, that you'd be happy to have an intellectual discussion about it, but that's separate from DON'T LEAVE THE HOUSE WITH A LIT CANDLE, and if he can't agree to it, you should probably toss the candle and get an air freshener instead.

Note: This is probably part of the reason I am not married.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:53 AM on January 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

Devil's advocate here: The 'fire prevention society' (as well as AskMe) must make these very general catch-all rules that may not apply in every case. They need to make guidelines that apply to everyone, including folks with fifteen long-hair cats, children throwing nerf balls everywhere, or people who keep their kerosene under the kitchen cabinet. Easier to make one guideline that is safe for all situations.

But this is not what the poster has asked for. S/he asks if it's a fire hazard. It might not be. I'd never leave a candle going unattended, but that might just be paranoia on my part. I mean, let's think about it. A normal dinner candle left unattended in the bottom of my bathtub right now; how long would it have to stay lit in order for some chaotic event to take place that results in that candle burning my house down while I'm away? My back-of-the-napkin estimate is 1,000 continuous candle-burning years.

That's not a fire hazard. OP's situation might not be a fire hazard, either, and rules-of-thumb by good intentioned safety organizations aren't designed to determine what is or is not a fire hazard.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 8:55 AM on January 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Do you have insurance? Would they pay if you left the house with a candle burning?
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:58 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: what could catch on fire on the bathroom floor?

The cat. Who would then run someplace that wasn't the bathroom floor and set that on fire. I am sort of joking but sort of not. If I had pets I would never leave an unattended candle anyplace.
posted by jessamyn at 8:58 AM on January 23, 2011 [31 favorites]

Could you compromise and agree that it's bad policy to leave it burning, but not a friggin disaster if it's forgotten on rare occasions? On one hand, a fire would be disastrous. On the other, the odds of a fire in the situation you've described seem pretty dang remote. Is zero risk better than a tiny risk? Of course. Is a tiny risk worth getting ZOMG about? No.
posted by jon1270 at 8:59 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cats and lit candles are a really, really bad match.

So to speak.

Seems like a very bad idea.
posted by freakazoid at 9:02 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

As a fire inspector for my County Fire Dept. I come across many cases, the latest from a gentleman that left a candle burning, his apartment caught fire when a picture frame fell from a wall broke and the picture landed on the candle. Freaky, but anything can happen with an open flame.
Use battery operated imitation candles or an air freshener, ( I don't even like the ones that plug into the outlets ).
posted by FLHunter3006 at 9:03 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Things that fall ... bounce.

Try dropping the unlit candle and show him how far it bounces, rolls and scoots across a tile floor.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:04 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I stopped using candles because my cat wanted to cuddle with them, to the point of scorching her own fur. She didn't care. It was warm.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:05 AM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I do not think that it is an acceptable risk, perhaps emotionally so (which is why I came here!). He wanted to have a "rational discussion" this morning about my stance on candles (don't leave them unattended). Friends/neighbors of ours had a house fire two months ago due to a candle left alone in a non-bathroom, and even that example isn't enough for him to think I'm not being some crazy person about this.

He is "not interested in metafilter's option" which is why I'm trying to argue facts with him, not emotion and anecdotes.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:06 AM on January 23, 2011

Better than a candle in this context: Just a Drop. Cheesy name, web site and ads, but it actually works very well, certainly better than air fresheners, matches or candles.
posted by maudlin at 9:06 AM on January 23, 2011

FWIW--I've had a glass candle holder explode before. I was at home, it was scary and yes, the candle was lit at the time. Damn scary.
posted by 6:1 at 9:07 AM on January 23, 2011

Wow, very cool that he knows that the cat will knock it straight onto the floor, and only it, none of the towels or anything, or catch fire itself. My experience of IKEA candles is that they are often unevenly made with an unpredictable burn, but I wouldn't leave a candle by itself as described even if it were hand-dipped by virgin monks. I've also heard of situations like Eyebrows McGee describes, where burning down into the holder creates a pocket of gas that ignites (my laymans understanding), a similar situation can happen if you have a bunch of tealights too close to eachother. The guideline here is to not have tealights closer to eachother than 7-10cm.

While I would personally differentiate between the status quo of common knowledge, and the guidelines and suggestions offered by every fire department and safety advisory about, tell him I applaud his skepticism. Seriously, fartsmells in a bathroom are not the end of the world.
posted by Iteki at 9:10 AM on January 23, 2011

If your husband is not willing to accept "it makes me deeply, deeply uncomfortable" as a reason to stop doing something that is essentially costless for him, you have a much bigger problem than fire hazard. Seriously, unless he has some particular emotional attachment to lit candles in empty houses, the fact that you are afraid should be enough. Ask him why it isn't.
posted by decathecting at 9:13 AM on January 23, 2011 [63 favorites]

What is his acceptable level of 'burning down the house' risk? If it's zero, all you have to do is find one counterexample that disproves, "The house cannot catch on fire from doing this". Perhaps an example where a cat knocks down a candle, it doesn't really matter.

If he wants to do a cost-benefit type risk analysis of the value (to him) of leaving a candle unattended and the value (to him) of not burning down the house, you need two things. First, he needs to enumerate the value in dollars per day of leaving candles unattended (not having to think about it, good smell, etc). Second, you need to figure out the cost to you in dollars and time of losing your house (insurance deductible, pain-in-the-ass time). You should probably also figure out the chance of injury / death and factor that in, perhaps from actuarial tables. In order to be really thorough you should include the cost of the candle, which I suspect will dominate all the other factors.

So - what does a rational discussion mean to him? If his stance is that some risk of house burning down is acceptable, it's going to be difficult to get all the data you need. If his stance is that zero risk is acceptable, and he asserts that this behavior is acceptable because it's zero risk, all you need to show is a plausible case that it is not zero risk. One example will do.
posted by true at 9:19 AM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Why would someone argue against an unattended open flame being a fire hazard?

I have seen a LOT of fires in my life, first hand. As a news photographer it is, sadly, a part of my job to document them.

If you are lucky the fire starts when you are not home. But, since no one was home the fire has probably spread pretty far before someone in the neighborhood noticed the smell of the toxic smoke coming from your house. The fire department will come, break down your front door, back door, and many windows. The firefighters will tear some holes in the floors, roof, and walls and suppress the fire with hundreds and hundreds of gallons of water. Really, an incredible amount of water. They are not stingy. They are also not stingy about tearing your home apart. Their goal is to rescue any residents, suppress the fire, and prevent it from spreading to nearby houses. Your pets may or may not survive, if the fire isn't too bad the firemen will probably be able to grab them. Or they may be found suffocated in a closet, or drowned in the basement.

You and your husband will show up to the scene and probably have a look of utter shock on your faces. You will ask about the pets, maybe try to go inside, cry a lot, and hug each other. The media might show up and will take video and shoot photos of you crying and hugging and a reporter will ask you what it's like. You will wonder where you are going to sleep, how you are going to find clothes, food, pay bills. Especially since you can't access any important documents you may need.

If it is not a total loss, then your home will be boarded up for 3-6 months and you most likely won't be able to retrieve anything out of it. The rebuilding process will take a couple more months but the smell of toxic smoke will linger for a long long time. Anything near the fire will probably have to be thrown out, anything that doesn't do well when covered in hundreds of gallons of water will also have to be thrown out. A lot of the furniture may already be on the outside of the house after the firefighters threw it out one of the windows while working. If the structural damage is too severe the house is condemned and will have to be torn down.

If you are unlucky, well thats worse. Trust me.
posted by WickedPissah at 9:21 AM on January 23, 2011 [34 favorites]

Put it this way: it takes less than a second to blow out the damn candle before you leave the house. How hard is it to blow out a candle versus trying to put your life back together after a fire destroys your house, your belongings, and your memories?

Or just switch to air freshener and save both parties the aggravation.
posted by pised at 9:25 AM on January 23, 2011

S/he asks if it's a fire hazard. It might not be.

It might not be. But neither the OP nor us are able to safely come to that conclusion, either because we don't know enough about the physics of fire, or the specific set up (where exactly are the towels, what's the base of the candle like etc). In that case surely the conclusion must be to take higher precautions than perhaps necessary.

If the OP had a specialist from the local fire department come to assess the set up and declare it perfectly safe, that would be a different thing. But what if the specialist said "well, there is a 1 in 1000 chance of a fire if the candle base is made of X and the temperature reaches Y" - would husband deem that an acceptable risk and keep leaving the candles burning? Or is 1 in 1000 risky enough to play it safe?

Anyway, considering there are pets in the picture as well here, the risk has gone up considerably, and leaving the candle unattended seems highly foolish.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 9:30 AM on January 23, 2011

Here are two news articles about house fires in the USA in the last two months, both caused by unattended candles. The first article has facts and figures:

And some statistics from 2005.

This sounds like an argument I used to have with someone I shared a house with. From experience, I'm sorry to say it's unlikely that your husband is going to be convinced by any amount of rational argument. In my case, the person concerned was putting me in life-threatening situations in order to establish his dominance over me, while reassuring himself about a complex belief system he had regarding accident risk and spiritual protection. This sounds like it's in the same ballpark, frankly.

What persuaded the guy in my case was not rational argument, but an inadvertent appeal to his belief system. Among other things, three gypsies on three separate occasions had told him he would die at the age of 93, and from this he extrapolated his own, and I guess by extension my, invulnerability. One day I told him I'd had dreams for years about dying in an accident brought on by the exact thing that was the subject of contention between us, and that in these dreams he had always been looking on and smiling as the accident replayed in an endless loop and I was killed over and over again. (This was true, not fiction.) I didn't tell him the story to change his mind, but to my surprise it shook him, in a way that no statistics or evidence or appeal to authority ever could. He changed his ways, on the excuse that he was doing it to humor me, and while complaining of my mental illness/irrationality/OCD-like craziness to anyone who would listen. You might have to grin and bear stuff like that.
posted by tel3path at 9:34 AM on January 23, 2011

This sounds like it is less about the necessity of having a candle always burning in your bathroom, and more about Who Is Right In This Situation.

Honestly, unless you're as invested in Who Is Right as he is, I would just say "I know that there is little chance of anything on the bathroom floor catching on fire, and maybe I'm just being unreasonable, but thinking about the open flame burning in our house stresses me out when I'm not at home, and for my peace of mind and sanity, let's get an air freshener." (although some of those are fire hazards also, so look into which one you get.)
posted by geegollygosh at 9:35 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow. Your husband sounds pretty stubborn to me. Seems like you should have a say in this considering it's your shared living space. Couldn't he blow out the candle to ease your mind, if for no other reason? It seems like a rigamarole for an issue that can be easily solved.

Also, "Metafilter's opinion" is in part based on facts and personal anecdotes. Yes, house fires DO happen when candles are left unattended. Goodness gracious. You are definitely not being over cautious.
posted by sucre at 9:39 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anecdotal: When I was growing up living in the middle of nowhere, the power would go out pretty frequently and we would use candles. I once went into the bathroom to find that the candle which had been left burning there had ignited the plastic hairbrush handle which had been left hanging 3 or 4 inches off of a ledge above the candle. If the hairbrush hadn't been sitting exactly that way on the shelf, then the candle wouldn't have been close enough to ignite anything-- but people set things different places without thinking and honestly who is realistically going to be thinking every day about whether or not they just hung up their towel a little closer to the candle than usual?
posted by geegollygosh at 9:41 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Got the wife to run some numbers. 6th most common cause of housefires here (risk averse, highly fire-educated european country).

It's beaten by re-ignigtion, arson, cooker left on, children playing with fire, cigarette-related, in that order.
posted by Iteki at 9:45 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

"I know the chances are very slim, but they do exist, and I get upset and worried wondering if there is an open, unattended flame burning in our house. If for no other reason for my peace of mind, even if you think it's irrational, I ask that you do this."

Honestly, I know that's not an "intellectual" argument, but if this is not enough for him to reconsider his behavior then wtf? It's a tiny thing for him to do, to keep you from being very nervous about dying in a fire or losing everything.
posted by hermitosis at 9:49 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, not sure how fire insurance works, but the insurance company will find out the results of the fire department investigation. Unattended candle might not be something they are willing to pay out on. But again, I don't know.
posted by WickedPissah at 9:52 AM on January 23, 2011

What isn't a fire hazard, if not an unattended candle?
posted by kmennie at 9:56 AM on January 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Any unattended candle is a fire hazard.
I once had the most spectacular flameage coming out of a simple tea-light because an over-sized moth tumbled in it, fueled it with a little extra fattiness, made it spitter and spatter with a little added juiciness, and then acted magnificent wick for the ultimate poshumous impact. You just don't want to live-test all the variants of this scenario while not around.

And, seconding Iteki, talking about the same country. During the winter, people die every day around here because they get trapped in burning houses, due to: see your question.
posted by Namlit at 9:59 AM on January 23, 2011

Best answer: How about a Mythbuster's opinion?

There is indeed a non-zero chance that the cat/candle/contents of the bathroom (mat, towel, toilet paper etc) combination could yield a fire. No rational person could argue otherwise. This is so obvious to me it doesn't really require statistics. Though they ONLY support this assertion.

Look at it this way: is the worst-case-scenario a totally unacceptable one? Is avoiding it simple? Then do it.

Tell him to blow out the fuckin' candle.
posted by asavage at 10:00 AM on January 23, 2011 [144 favorites]

I'm sorry, but this whole situation is kind of stupid. OF COURSE an unattended candle is a risk -- even if you are in the house somewhere. OF COURSE an open flame in an empty house is a bad idea. WHY is it so important for your husband to be right? WHY is he being SO DAMN STUBBORN about something like this? This isn't about "questioning the status quo" or trying not to be sheep.

Does he really not understand the concept of "better safe than sorry"? Because seriously, putting out the candle before leaving the house isn't really that much of a time investment. And it sure beats the alternative of potentially coming home to a pile of ashes.

This isn't really about the candle anymore. This is starting to sound like a power struggle. Seriously, your worrying about this issue should be enough for him to agree to take the *tiny* step of putting out the candle before he leaves the house. If it's important to you, he should take notice.

And for goodness sake, if he still won't agree to put out the candle, just throw the damn thing in the garbage and get a Glade plug-in. End of fire hazard, end of problem!

posted by joyeuxamelie at 10:09 AM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Ah, and:
He is "not interested in metafilter's option" which is why I'm trying to argue facts with him, not emotion and anecdotes

This discussion is about risk calculation, which is an anticipatory discipline, based on statistics and probabilities (as opposed to anecdotes), and patently devoid of emotion. A burned-down house, on the other hand, is "facts."
posted by Namlit at 10:10 AM on January 23, 2011

I was almost killed by a fire caused by an attended candle. My girlfriend an I fell asleep with a lit candle on a plate on a table. Somehow the plate got hot enough to light the table on fire, were woken up by her cats yowling and a nice roaring fire after it had spread to a wall. That's right, a plaster wall was somehow burning. There was maybe 5feet of dense black smoke in the room. If the cats hadn't freaked out I might have never woken up.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:20 AM on January 23, 2011

Look, freaking Adam Savage himself just gave your husband the right answer. What does he want, an engraved message from Heaven itself?

By the way, a husband who is not interested in his WIFE'S opinion on a matter is a husband who has other issues, none of which are in his own best interests. Just sayin'.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:21 AM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! This was enough fodder to make a coherent case. I can be dismissive in arguments when it gets to a point of because everyone knows that and I appreciate this influx of data I can point to and not be emotional. And yes, geegollygosh there is an element of righteousness involved, but the argument you invoked wasn't good enough the last time he and I talked about this, which got us to today.

Talking about Tommy's clumsiness seemed to have done the trick. He says he'll blow out the candle.
posted by frecklefaerie at 10:22 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

If the candle wick gets too long, having too much wick above the wax as can happen if melted wax is poured off or melts a channels through the rest of the wax and pours down the side, or if it burns down completely, it can flare. That's probably what happened to the person above who witnessed a candle flare 4 feet high.

Would your husband listen to the National Candle Association? If so, it might be worth emailing them and asking for a graphic explanation of how a candle flares and how high it can get.
posted by telophase at 10:28 AM on January 23, 2011

> Any unattended candle is a fire hazard.
Well, any (lit) unattended candle is fire, which it seems like you and several others in the thread are defining as being equal to "fire hazard". I'm not sure I buy it.

What about, for instance, an unattended, lit candle on a buoyant asbestos wafer in the middle of the ocean? That's silly, but it illustrates a weakness in these kinds of statements. I share with the OP's SO a penchant for occasional outbursts of assholish pedantry*, and this shit wouldn't fly with me, even on my most forgiving day.

The argument hinges on what a "fire hazard" is. I am in agreement with the many voices in this thread that say "Non-zero chance of fire? Easily remedied by extinguishing candle? Put the candle out, dummy." But that doesn't mean that that makes The Most Sense or anything... doesn't even mean it's correct. "Correct" is important to a pedant, which OP's SO almost assuredly is.

Another thing that nobody's talking about is that ATTENDED candles are "fire hazards" by the definition advanced by many people here. The act of lighting or extinguishing the candle is probably much more likely to burn down your house than some [specific] instances [that could easily be hand-picked] of leaving it unattended. Very few voices in this thread are advocating doing away with candles, altogether.

In closing. I agree with the OP, and I extinguish candles. We are not, in this thread, determining what is best to do with candles -- or: if we are, we are doing a shit job of it and it's an incoherent mess of half-informed opinion -- what we are doing is arming the OP for an argument with a (potential) hair-splitter or sophist. The handful of folks in this thread who've deduced that have done a good job in this regard.

* Mostly under-control and in-remission, thankfully (hopefully?).
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 10:35 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Fire is a fire hazard.
posted by dougrayrankin at 10:43 AM on January 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

Do you have a bathtub? Place the lit candle inside the nice empty, ceramic tub and you a good to go.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:08 AM on January 23, 2011

Years ago, my devil cat actually caught himself on fire by walking over a lit candle on a table. Luckily, I was in the same room, though not looking at him. I heard a screech, he leaped to the mantle (where he had never been able to jump to before) where he knocked down a huge mirror, and then ran straight for his safe place, which in this case was the bedroom closet.

You can imagine what a horrible fiasco this would have been if I hadn't been there to immediately grab a towel and run to smother the flames. Kitty was fine, just had some singed belly hair, no burns. (Vet checked him.)

The owner was NOT fine. I never left a candle burning where he could get to it again, even if I was in the house.
posted by HopperFan at 11:52 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have a bathtub? Place the lit candle inside the nice empty, ceramic tub and you a good to go.

Are shower curtains not flammable anymore?
posted by galadriel at 11:55 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have a bathtub? Place the lit candle inside the nice empty, ceramic tub and you a good to go.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:08 PM on January 23 [+] [!] No other comments.

who the hell has a nice ceramic tub? mine is some crappy kind of plastic coated fiberglass. I am sure it would burn with very little encouragement.
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:03 PM on January 23, 2011

He wanted to have a "rational discussion" this morning about my stance on candles (don't leave them unattended).

It SAYS on candles never to leave them unattended. Seriously, what is up with your husband? If a product has a label that says not to do something on it, that's a pretty good indication that doing that thing is foolhardy.

Call your local fire department on speakerphone. They will give your husband what-for.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:14 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have a candle on top of the toilet that is lit for odor control purposes.

Another tack to use might be that "odor control" shouldn't require 24/7 diligence -- there are incense, little bowls of matches, potpourri, opening a window -- plenty of other things that don't require a constant unlimited open flame.

You're just trying to keep the bathroom reasonably comfortable, not trying to keep demons out.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:38 PM on January 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

Just wanted to share another little bit of anecdata. Our neighbors left a lit candle in their bathroom and were gone for several hours. Before anyone else noticed the smoke, their entire apartment had caught fire. Luckily no lives were lost, but besides losing all their posessions and place to live, they were sued by the insurance company. Not sure how the lawsuit turned out, but it was an enormous, life-changing hassle for them and it all could've been prevented with a single puff of breath.
posted by spiny at 12:39 PM on January 23, 2011

My wife loves lighting candles and leaving the room. It's a habit of hers. My habit is to blow out a lit candle anywhere in the house. Yeah the risk of fire may not be obviously high, but at the very least you could get wax spilling where it is not wanted. Classic example - a candle in a pretty red a glass to catch the wax. The candle burnt down to almost nothing, but the flame was enough to heat up the glass and crack it, spilling hot wax all over our tv cabinet. Luckily none on the carpet. Fire danger was admittedly very low, but it does illustrate that you never really know exactly how a candle is going to melt/flame out...

Further anecdote: An acquaintance of mine wedged a candle into an upturned milk crate, along with some eucalyptus branches - he was a stoner and enjoyed the pretty flickering shadows of leaves in the candle light. Of course, he left the room, and busied himself elsewhere, and the branches and leaves caught fire, ultimately doing extensive damage to the entire share house, his and his flatmates possessions. No one was hurt thankfully.
posted by robotot at 12:59 PM on January 23, 2011

We have three cats that use one big litterbox in our bathroom, and we don't need to control the odor all day long. Maybe your husband is more sensitive to bathroom smells? A quick lit match and regular scooping is all we do to make the room less funky.
posted by vickyverky at 1:11 PM on January 23, 2011

You know what, I think your hubs is right. I think you should tell him that. And tell him that when you two are standing on the lawn assessing the smoking, wet wreck if your house that you want him to thank you for supporting him.

Also, you may want to increase your home insurance coverage. Perhaps a few extra dollars out of his pocket will change his mind.
posted by amanda at 1:18 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: folks, keep the fighty down and keep marriage advice to minimum please? thank you
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:33 PM on January 23, 2011

I would approach this from a risk management perspective.

The cost of putting out a candle is approximately zero. Negative actually, when you factor in the fact that you will have most of a candle left for later. The cost of leaving the candle lit and having nothing go wrong is one candle; the cost of leaving it lit and having something go very, very wrong is "some or all of everything you own."

So, you multiply the cost of 1 candle by the risk of nothing going wrong, which is close to one, and add to that the cost of 1 candle plus replacing everything you own, multiplied by some small but nonzero number. Remember to factor in the opportunity costs of replacing all of that stuff, heirloom value, all of your pets dying in a house fire, that sort of thing. That's on one side of the scale.

On the other side of the scale is the effort it takes to blow out a candle, leaving you with the negative cost of "most of a candle left".

You're adults, so it's your responsibility whichever one you choose, but personally I would put out the freaking candle already.
posted by mhoye at 2:06 PM on January 23, 2011

spiny makes a very good point here. If you did have a fire, and it came out that you had had an unattended lit candle, it is very likely that it would reduce your chances of successfully being recompensed by your insurer.

Your husband is being illogical. So many people who are nitpicky pedants think they're Mr. Spock when they're actually just being childish. Is it really worth it to him to make you worried and endanger your insurance coverage just to prove some point?
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:07 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's some useful information coming up late in the thread, but just in case people haven't noticed, the OP's husband has already agreed to blow out the candle.
posted by maudlin at 2:09 PM on January 23, 2011

You don't need to light a candle to make the washroom not stink- just light a match, wave it around until the flame doesn't flicker any more, then blow it out. (Then douse the tip before putting it in the trash.)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:36 PM on January 23, 2011

Best answer: I am a firefighter. Others have pointed out the various scenarios in which this could lead to a house fire, and asavage, who has even more experience with things catching on fire and exploding than I do, concurs that any nonzero possibility of this causing a conflagration is complete justification to blow out the silly little candle. If the "odor control" needs are so mighty that this candle needs to be burning night and day, perhaps a more robust solution is in order.

I can only contribute additional anecdote, that I have personally fought fires that started from candles sitting on what seemed to be non-combustible surfaces. Fire is a bitch. You just have no idea how ravenous and insane it is until you see it really lay into a house and start to eat it. Few things in our modern lives expose us to that kind of fire. News footage gives you the feeling you understand it, but until you see it leap across empty space between two houses, or roar up so violently that it dries your eyes up and makes you feel that bees are stinging your face, you don't grasp its mindless, consuming appetite.

WickedPissah's description of the aftermath is spot-on. I see people clutching each other, watching the water pour into the dark remains of their homes, losing hope that their loved pets are alive, and just barely understanding that all that they own in the whole world is the clothes in which they managed to escape and maybe the car parked out front. And they're thinking, my god, if I'd just blown out the candle/not put the fireplace ashes in a box/made sure my cigarette was out. It was such a small mistake. And now...

But I digress. If your husband wants data, this may have no weight, but I fight fires for a living and I'll tell you I never, ever leave a candle unattended in my own home.
posted by itstheclamsname at 5:34 PM on January 23, 2011 [10 favorites]

Okay, I know this discussion is basically done, but just in case it ever comes up again, here are the pertinent statistics pulled from the report tel3path linked (namely Home Candle Fires, Fire Analysis and Research Division, National Fire Protection Association, September 2007.)

Between 1999 and 2002, 4.5% of the 375,000 home fires in the US originated from candles. Not a big proportion, but a pretty respectable absolute number (16,700 fires.)

In 2,300 (14%) of those fires, the location of origin was the lavatory or bathroom, accounting for $22 million in direct property damages, 10 civilian deaths and 90 civilian injuries.

Although there is no breakdown by place, to answer the question of what could possibly catch fire in a tiled bathroom without fabric nearby: the first item ignited was cabinetry in 10%, interior wall covering in 6%, and structural member or framing in 1% of home candle fires. Those percentages might seem small, but consider that the leading initial ignition item, mattress/bedding, represented just 12% of fires - the ignition items for home candle fires are pretty diverse. (And the 6% of fires that started with interior wall coverings were responsible for 17% of civilian deaths.)

One in five home candle fires between 1999 and 2002 were associated with unattended or abandoned candles. And just to make the case that open flames are pretty but kinda dangerous - 59% of home candle fires had no associated human factor (i.e. ignition occurred in the presence of an able, sober, awake adult.)
posted by gingerest at 5:35 PM on January 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

He is "not interested in metafilter's option" which is why I'm trying to argue facts with him, not emotion and anecdotes.

He has dug in his feet on the completely unsupportable side of this line. I feel for you. This would be a dealbreaker for me (I caught a house on fire once by leaving a candle burning) but I understand if it does not approach that for you.

If this were in the blue, I might opt for "C*****, what an a******," but it's not so I won't. But if the candle were blown out upon people leaving the bathroom, or the house (at worst case), odor would still be controlled very well.
posted by Danf at 5:41 PM on January 23, 2011

Oh, curses!

Between 1999 and 2002, 4.5% of the 375,000 home fires in the US originated from candles. Not a big proportion, but a pretty respectable absolute number (16,700 fires.)

should read

Between 1999 and 2002, 4.5% of the annual average of 375,000 home fires in the US originated from candles. Not a big proportion, but a pretty respectable absolute number (16,700 fires a year.)

(The NFPA averaged over the four year period because there was a fairly steep increase in the proportion of home fires associated with candles starting around 1998 or thereabouts.) Sorry for the misrepresentation.
posted by gingerest at 5:43 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

frecklefaerie: "what could catch on fire on the bathroom floor?

Bathroom rug. Cabinets. Towels the cat also knocked down. Hairspray residue or cleaning chemical residue.

maudlin: "Better than a candle in this context: Just a Drop."

Also, Poo-Pourri.

Data point: My cousin's house burned down when I was a kid. (Cause was the refrigerator.) The stuff she was able to salvage - a grandfather clock, a hutch - reeked of smoke for years. They got used to it but when I walked in their house I could smell it.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:57 AM on January 24, 2011

Try this, "Hon, you may be right, but just do it for my peace of mind."
posted by thinkpiece at 9:37 AM on January 24, 2011

Sorry, I missed hermitosis, who said it better!
posted by thinkpiece at 9:51 AM on January 24, 2011

I read only far enough to get to the first comment suggesting that the cat could catch on fire, which prompted me to leave you with this data point: One time I was sitting in my living room with a lit candle on the coffee table and my roommate's cat jumped onto the coffee table, walked by it, and suddenly his tail was on fire. This does happen!
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:34 AM on January 24, 2011

Best answer: This happened to me while I was standing there watching it. I would never leave a candle unattended, ever.
posted by citywolf at 2:04 PM on January 24, 2011

It doesn't matter that a candle in the bathroom won't set the house on fire. A friend left a candle burning while she popped over to the neighbours' "just for a second" to borrow some flour. It managed to light something small and insignificant that filled the house with noxious smoke, ruining all their furniture and clothes.

Besides, burning a candle does nothing for bathroom odours, notwithstanding all the fart jokes.
posted by phliar at 6:13 PM on January 24, 2011

Y'all have inspired me to be more vigilant about candles.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:19 PM on January 25, 2011

Your husband has never seen a candle do something weird when burning down? I've had ones pop, shoot wax, drip weird and burn something underneath, etc. Why risk it, is the thing, when you don't have to...
posted by agregoli at 8:21 PM on January 31, 2011

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