The importance of which waxes and wicks to use.
I used to love making candles when I was a child! Therefore, when coming up with new ideas for products to make for the farm, candles came to mind. I try to keep all the products I make either dog or farm related, and made using natural ingredients, so the best way to tie in candles seemed to be to use beeswax for making them.
We even considered raising our own bees on the farm at one point. We decided against that for a few reasons – I’m scared of bees (my sister is allergic), harvesting beeswax and honey looks like a lot of work, and beehives could potentially attract bears. The latter would put our flock at more risk so seemed the best reason of all not to do it.
I had hoped to even source my beeswax locally, but most people who raise their own bees make their own candles. I’ll continue to try but I ultimately found the pellets I can buy online the easiest to deal with. I still try to choose good companies, and price can come into play as well. Beeswax is not the most inexpensive wax, and that had to be another factor in my decision.
What different waxes are available and what are their pros and cons?
Paraffin: I quickly ruled out paraffin wax. While paraffin wax is the most common and least expensive wax, it is said to release VOC’s (volatile organic compounds – chemicals!) into the air when burned. While it holds color and scent the best of any waxes, it is a by-product of the oil industry. I always prefer to support small businesses or farms over big business like oil companies!
Soy: Soy wax is natural and clean burning; it’s a vegetable wax derived from the oil of soybeans. It burns cleaner than paraffin, produces less soot, and has a longer burn time. I sell soy wax candles at the shop, made by other local crafters. It doesn’t pollute the air. My only issue with soy for myself is that most soybeans are GMO, and the industry is associated with deforestation and pesticide/fertilizer use.
Soy seems to be the most popular wax for crafters to use, as seen in the photos below of candles we carry in the shop, made locally in Vermont and New Hampshire.
However, the RMS Candles and Blazing Candle Co. candles we sell here at the shop are made with sustainable soy wax. Because they are healthy to burn, I am comfortable with selling them (and burning them at home), even though for my own craft purposes I wanted to go with the healthiest alternative:
Beeswax: It not only burns clean, it can purify the air as well, even removing some of the VOC’s by releasing negative ions into the air (similar to what happens with burning sage and herbs, which I wrote about here). Beeswax is the oldest known candle wax, dating back to the ancient Egyptians.
It is the healthiest wax: smokeless and sootless, and it is sourced naturally from bees. Beeswax is harvested from hives along with honey.
The challenges of beeswax for candles is that it burns very hot, and it does not hold scent well. The upside is that it has a faint honey smell by itself. What I do to help this is to add coconut oil to my candles. That brings down the melting point so that burning slows down and the scents get more staying power.
My beeswax candles are not strongly scented, however. I find today’s paraffin candles to be cloying when they burn, and I find that even if I wanted to, I can’t burn them anymore; the strong smells are overwhelming for me. I use only essential and natural oils for my candles, and the same goes for the soy candles I sell. Their scents are stronger than my beeswax, but they are not cloying.
Other wax options: New to the candle making game are coconut and rapeseed waxes. Coconut wax is said to be the most eco-friendly, but also the most expensive. Rapeseed is a flowering plant in the mustard/cabbage family. It is sustainable, renewable, and greener than other waxes, throws scent well, and burns slowly. It’s something I’d consider looking into more in the future.
Many companies also use blends of some of all these waxes, so it pays to read the labels if you want to avoid any paraffin wax.
I had to quickly learn a lot about candle wicks when I started my candle making. Beeswax is especially fussy about which wicks will work well with it. Too large of a wick can make it burn too hot, too small a wick can cause the candle to “tunnel” – only burn down through the center. Container candles need to have the correct size wick, according to their size, in order to burn properly. That was the biggest challenge in getting my candles right!
I started out using cotton wicks, since that is a natural material. However, when I was having trouble finding a size I needed, I decided to make a change. I like to buy my wicks “waxed and tabbed” to make things easier. You can also purchase wick on rolls, but then you’d need to wax it before using to slow down the burn. The metal tabs on the bottom make getting your wick centered SO much easier. I couldn’t get the size in cotton that I needed unless I bought a roll.
I started to look at hemp wicks instead, which seemed like another great natural choice. I was able to find a waxed and tabbed organic hemp wick in the sizes I needed. I was pleased to find out that these wicks burned better and longer in my candles! They are also a bit more rigid so easier to keep straight.
When researching for this post I also found out that hemp is an eco-friendlier material than cotton. It requires less water and less time to grow and can be grown anywhere in the USA. Each plant yields far more fiber than a cotton plant, and they are far more naturally pest resistant. I’m glad I settled on the hemp wicks, and I did not see a significant cost difference.
Wood wicks – These are popular as well, since they are another natural material, and many people enjoy the crackling sound they make as they burn. I only decided against these since they were a bit more expensive, and I was going to have to start from scratch figuring out sizes. I’d still consider them in the future, since they seem like they would be easiest to work with when trying to keep wicks straight and centered when I’m pouring the wax in. The Blazing Candle Co. candles we sell in the shop have wood wicks.
It’s better for you and it’s better for your pets to burn more natural materials. However, always keep candles out of your pets’ reach, even when not burning. Some of the essential oils in them could be toxic to them, even if you are using the ones with safer wax.
Do you burn candles in your home, and have you ever considered the environmental impact of them – to your own home environment? Let us know in the comments below!