'The Burning Issue' Part 1 (Wax)

 We were drawn to write the burning issue for a number of reasons:

  1. The number of candle manufacturers who don’t know what they are doing when it comes to natural waxes.
  2. The increasing amount of cheap imports from various parts of the world with low quality fragrance and wax.
  3. How dangerous a badly made candle can be. 

We would say that 40% of our business comes from leading brands who are dissatisfied with their existing supplier.  The standard line we get approached with normally starts with “our candles are not performing well” and “it’s one of our biggest sellers.”

So that brings us to ‘The Burning Issue’, which we will break down into three parts, starting with the main ingredient of a candle where it all begins and where it will all ends.

So let’s talk about wax….natural wax, paraffin wax, bees wax, palm wax.

The list goes on, but the key is whether a candle can truly claim the label natural or be a product of contrived manufacturing from non-natural sources. Before talking any further about this we think it is important to look at the primary sources between Soy/Natural wax versus v Paraffin/Mineral wax. We will examine the pros and cons of both Soy & Paraffin wax candles.

Paraffin wax – this is the most common wax to create candles with today. If you purchase a candle that isn't marked as soy, natural, beeswax or any other special blend of wax, chances are that you have purchased a candle that is made from a paraffin blend of wax.

Here’s a brief history:

  • Made by removing the waxy substance from crude oil
  • Discovered in 1850
  • A natural product derived from the components of decayed animal and plant material
  • Most popular kind of wax used in candle making
  • Easy to use
  • Non-toxic, colourless, clean-burning fuel
  • Has a clearly defined large crystal structure and a melt point usually between 120-160 degrees
  • Tends to be hard and brittle

Paraffin wax is a heavy hydrocarbon that comes from crude oil. Paraffin waxes are produced by refining or separating the waxes out of crude mineral oils. Obtained from the ground, crude oil is a compositionally varied product, consisting of a mixture of hydrocarbons. Another name for crude oil is fossil fuel.

Crude oil is transported to refineries where it is manufactured into finished products by a complex process. One of the many products derived from refining is lubricating oil. It is from the lube oil refining process that petroleum waxes are derived. There are three general categories of petroleum wax that are obtained from lube oil refining. They include paraffin, microcrystalline and petrolatum (that’s what you have in your lip balm).

Paraffin waxes are derived from the light lubricating oil distillates. Paraffin waxes contain predominantly straight-chain hydrocarbons with an average chain length of 20 to 30 carbon atoms.

Soy wax is the new wax on the candle making scene, despite being around since the early 90’s and was developed as an alternative to petroleum and the expensive beeswax.

You may have heard stories recently about the benefits of soy wax, or about how paraffin wax is unhealthy or not good for you. In this article we will examine the myths and rumours and give you the straight facts on both soy and paraffin wax candles and allow you to see what the truth and fuss is all about. 

Soy wax is a vegetable wax made from the oil of soybeans. After harvesting, the beans are cleaned, cracked, de-hulled, and rolled into flakes. The oil is then extracted from the flakes and hydrogenated. The hydrogenation process converts some of the fatty acids in the oil from unsaturated to saturated.

This process dramatically alters the melting point of the oil, making it a solid at room temperature.The leftover bean husks are commonly used as animal feed. The U.S. grows the vast majority of the world's soybeans, primarily in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana. 

So now that you know how both Soy and Paraffin candles are made, let's take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of both types. 

There are a lot of myths surrounding Soy candles. Most of these are designed to sell Soy candles better, and have very little truth in them. A great example is the great "no soot" myth.  Brands that sell Soy candles love to say that there is absolutely no soot produced with a soy candle. However, there is no truth and all hype to that claim. All organic compounds when burned will emit some carbon (soot) due to incomplete combustion.

Sooting is primarily a factor of wick length and disturbance of the flame's steady teardrop shape. There is no such thing as a soot-free candle. 

Further, while soy wax is all-natural and will not produce the thick black soot that you see on some paraffin containers, it does produce soot. An important fact to remember is that not all soot is black. Soot can be a "white soot" that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Soy wax will produce little black soot - unless the candle is improperly wicked, made, or burnt, but it may produce white soot. 

 

 

Before you get scared of soot, let us tell you, that soot is in fact not harmful to you. Candle soot is composed primarily of elemental carbon particles, and is similar to the soot given off by kitchen toasters and cooking oils. These everyday household sources of soot are not considered a health concern, and are chemically different from the soot formed by the burning of diesel fuel, coal, gasoline, etc. So the myth of "soot free soy candles" is not only inaccurate, but simply an effort by some brands to scare the general public into buying their candles. 

With that in mind, there are some benefits to purchasing soy wax candles. While petroleum based paraffin wax is a limited resource, soy wax is a renewable resource that is limited only by how many soybeans that can be produced. It is also beneficial to farmers who sell soybean crops, as well as lasting almost twice as long as paraffin wax candle.  However, soy wax is naturally a "soft" wax. While container candles, tea lights, and small tarts may be made entirely of soy, it is extremely difficult to make good pillar candles and votives out of 100% pure soy wax. Additives are used to make them better, but in most cases, paraffin wax is still a much better solution for those types of candles.

In the end, both paraffin wax and soy wax are both good choices for candle wax. Neither is more "environmentally friendly" than the other, as there has never been enough scientific evidence that paraffin wax is harmful to your health in any way at all. It is a personal choice of which type you prefer to use, and both types hold scent and dye just as well. However, we at Stennah & Hope do prefer to lean to the more natural side of the divide. The only benefit that there is in all reality, is that container candles using soy wax do burn longer. And it does benefit the farmers of the Mid-Western United States. However, most other claims regarding soy wax are false and/or misleading. 

At Stennah and Hope we help our clients to not only produce a quality bespoke product, but feel it is really important that they understand the source of the materials they will be using and how this aligns with their overall brand and marketing strategy – ensuring authenticity in the final delivered product is one of our key objectives.  In Part 2 we will be talking about fragrance: synthetic, natural or even organic and how your choice can make the difference between success and failure in landing your product in the market.

Stennah & Hope the boutique candle maker.

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