if you’re the type of person who generally buys and burns a lot of candles, then you might be surprised to hear about how common paraffin wax candles are not only made from petroleum (which is a fossil fuel), but they can be toxic and produce a huge amount of indoor air pollution.
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There are now more sustainable and non toxic candles that are made of natural sources – like soy wax or beeswax. Of course these aren’t 100% perfect either, as with any kind of consumerism, as there are always going to be downsides to each kind of ingredient, but I’ll touch on that later on.
Why buying an eco friendly candle is important
When buying candles, there are a lot of different things you need to consider, from the type of wax available to what the different candle shapes are. Not only will knowing all these different aspects help you get the best value for money but it’ll also be healthier for you too.
There are lots of different candle waxes to choose from these days, the most common being paraffin, soy, and beeswax. You can also get a few other types of waxes, often that come as mixes (as they might not be able to set at room temperature on their own) including coconut wax and rapeseed wax, some also include stearin which can be derived from animal or vegetable fat.
It’s also a good idea to make sure that the wick of the candle made from a natural material like cotton, wood, or hemp. Wicks used to be made with lead and metals which produce harmful and toxic fumes when burnt – so sticking to natural wicks is the safest and most eco option!
Why should you avoid paraffin wax candles
As I mentioned above, when burning candles made of paraffin wax with artificial scents, they release benzene and toluene into the air – both of these chemical compounds are known carcinogens. Paraffin is actually a waste product from petroleum (a fossil fuel) and has to be bleached when turning into wax.
Scented candles can also sometimes have wicks that contain heavy metals such as lead, and so burning these releases levels of airborne heavy metals into the air – which you will inhale too!
Pros and cons to soy wax candles
Soy wax candles are becoming one of the more common candle wax types – on par with paraffin, and it considered a natural wax as it’s made of soy beans. As with any product, there can be pros and cons in the making and manufactoring when it comes to soy wax, as well as when you burn it.
- Soy wax is known to be non-toxic and burns cleaner – which means that it doesn’t (or is much less likely to) burn black soot like paraffin wax does, which can stain walls or their containers.
- Since it’s made from soy beans the wax is also considered a vegetable wax or oil
- Soy wax candles burn a lot slower and longer than paraffin wax, so they’re most cost efficient that way.
- As it’s made from plants, the candles are also vegan – some candles can be a mix of waxes so make sure you check.
- On the downside, soy-based candles can shrink if their conditions are warm enough, which can lead to uneven burnings.
- Due to being a plant-based wax, soy crops do not have the best impact on the environment – due to deforestation to make room to plants, soil erosion, and changing the biodiversity of the area. I would also like to point out though that all this impact from the plants are not just due to the industry for soy wax alone, but mainly for producing animal feed as they mainly eat soy-based products.
- They’re more expensive than paraffin candles – but are becoming more widely available.
Pros and cons to beeswax candles
Beeswax candles have been around since the 1500’s and are completely natural since they come from bees! Although of course they don’t come without their issues, they have plenty of advantages and are a much better alternative to paraffin candles! If you’re a honey lover then you should definitely look into them as they hold some of the natural scent too.
- Are clean burning, so they don’t produce (or very little) black soot when burnt.
- A natural product from honeybees, so completely biodegradable and compostable.
- Have a natural sweet smell, similar to honey.
- Many people say that beeswax filters the air and neutralises odours, keeping air cleaner!
- Have a long burning time due to their higher melting point, which also means that the flame tends to be brighter.
- Are more expensive than soy and paraffin candles – due to being a natural product and high quality, the candles tend to be more costly.
- Not as easy to find – if you want a 100% beeswax candle then it might be better to look for an independent seller or a local beekeeper.
- The wax isn’t vegan. Although the bees naturally produce beeswax and most likely don’t need as much as they produce, harvesting the beeswax can cause bees stress and harm.
What are the different types of candle shapes and how long do they burn
Candles come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, so knowing which kind is and what they’re typically used for can help you decide what candle to buy. When buying candles, they often say how long the candle will burn for – thin candles with a single wick and thick candles with multiple wicks will burn at different rates, as well as what wax they’re made from.
- Tea lights: As expected, tea lights don’t hold a lot of wax so they won’t burn for very long. Most often you’ll find them made of paraffin wax and will last for around 4 hours, soy wax one are also available and usually burn for around 6 hours.
- Taper candles: Typically what you would see in dinner settings. These are tall and thin, are usually unscented as well as burning relatively quickly – between 4 and 10 hours depending on the size and wax.
- Pillar candles: These are generally tall and thick candles, usually with between 1 and 3 wicks. Most commonly found made of either paraffin or beeswax (though you can still get soy wax ones) and are freestanding, which means that they don’t come in a jar. If you’re worried about the wax dripping, look out for beeswax pillar candles, as the higher melting point leads to less dripping. These can last anywhere between 35 and 95 hours, depending on the wax and number of wicks.
- Votive candles: I always see these as “tester” candles, as they practically just smaller versions of pillar candles – and they also don’t come in jars. These little candles are great if you don’t want to spend a ton of money and want to try out a brand or specific scent before investing in larger pillar or jar versions. They usually tend to burn for 15-17 hours, and I would recommend keeping it in a small container while it burns – a ramekin or old salsa jar works well.
- Jar candles: You can find these in a range of sizes including 3.5oz / 100ml and 8oz / 220ml (and sometimes bigger!). Although called “jar” candles, they can come in both metal tins or glass jars – some with or without lids, which are great for reusing for votives or if you want to make your own candles! They can burn for around 25 – 50 hours depending on the size, and are great for living rooms or bedrooms.
- Rolled candles: As you might of guessed, these are made of wax rolled up with a wick in the centre, and you’ll mainly find them made of beeswax. These can come in different styles – like tapers and pillars, so can be used for different occasions and their burn time depends on the size, which can generally be between 5 and 15 hours.
How to get the most out of your candle
If you don’t know all the tricks to caring for your candle, then no better time to start than now!
When getting a new candle, make sure you burn it until all of the top layer of wax has melted – this way you’ll prevent tunnelling and get an even burn whenever you next light the candle. Depending on the size of your candle, I’d recommend burning it for around 3 hours to get the whole top layer molten. If you don’t do this, your candle will start to tunnel with every burn after and a lot of wax will stick to the sides unmelted.
Another good habit to keep when having candles is to keep the wick trimmed. Before relighting your candle, you want to make sure that the wick is around 1/4 inch tall, and it’s recommended to do this after burning – at most four hours. Without trimming the candle wick the flame can get larger and hotter, which also means that it’s more likely to bloom at the end of the wick and soot can fall back into the wax.
You can get specific candle wick trimmers that are angled so they fit into any candle jar, which might be a good investment if you often buy candles!
Make sure when you get to the end of your candle not to burn it for when there’s about 5-10mm of wax left. Although it can be tempting to burn your candle all the way to the bottom, but by leaving a little bit of wax at the bottom you’re less likely to damage or crack the jars due to getting too hot. You can always save this wax later and reuse it in a new candle!
Ways to reuse old candle containers
The most common style of scented candles are jarred ones, and chances are you probably have a few hanging around your house. You can usually recycle the jars are recycling centres (make sure you check your area first) but you could also keep the jar for future use!
Make sure once you’re finished with your candle that you remove every piece of wax and clean the jar thoroughly in hot soapy water. Some jars may not be food safe, so keep this in mind – you could always contact the brand if you’re unsure!
Here’s some ideas for repurposing your old candle containers:
- Bathroom storage
- Plant pots or propagation pots
- Food storage
- Drinking cups
- Homemade lip balm containers
- Containers for home made candles
If you’re interested in how to make your own candles, check out my guide on how to recycle old candles into new ones.
Brands to try when you next buy a new candle
UpCircle – Along with selling beauty products made from repurposed plant ingredients, UpCircle also make a small range of hand poured soy wax candles. Infused with either repurposed coffee grounds or chai spices, these candles are completely plastic free as well as being vegan since they’re made with 100% soy wax. They come in 180ml glass jars, which burns for around 35 hours.
Pott Candles – If you’re looking for a zero waste option when it comes to candles, you should check out Pott Candles. This brand makes hand thrown pots that are designed to be reused with their refill candles. Instead of buying a new jar or tin with each new candle, you simply just buy the wax which fits inside the pots.
They come in three different sizes – Petite which burns for 20 hours, Standard which burns for 60 hours, and Grand which burns for 70 hour and has four wicks. Their candles are made with a mix of rapeseed and coconut wax, meaning they’re also 100% vegan.
The Recycled Candle Company – If you couldn’t guess from the name, the Recycled Candle Company makes candles from recycled wax! They use old candles that are either sent or donated to them to make into new candles full of life. These luxury candles come in a small range of different scents, as well as coming in four different style: pillar, octagon, heart, and a large 3 wick candle.
What’s more, when you’re done with your candle – or any other candle for that matter, you can send it back to them to get recycled again to make new candles!
Witchwood Candles – This small business based in Brighton is definitely a must to check out. All their candles are 100% plant based and vegan as they’re made from natural soy wax, as well as their packaging being plastic free. They do a huge range of different scents which you can get either as 100ml or 200ml candle, or as a set of 6 tea lights.
Run With Wolves – Another great shout for a zero waste candle are ones from Run With Wolves. The candles have an earthy aesthetic scent range, including Wild Earth, Amber Forest, and Midnight Storm. You can get them in three different sizes: 60ml which burns for 20 hours, 180ml which burns for 45 hours, and 500ml which burns for 120 hours.
All their candles are made with natural soy wax and they’re completely plastic free – including their packaging! You can either keep the glass jars to recycle or reuse at home, or you can also send them back for a refill!
The Pure Candle Company – These hand poured candles are made of 100% soy wax, which means that they’re completely vegan and cruelty free too. They have about a dozen different scents to choose from and you can get them either as tea lights, a 36g candle which burns for 10 hours, or a 150g candle which burns for 30 hours.
Notes Candle – This American brand makes refillable candles, which is great for cutting down waste if you live in the US! Notes candles sell an initial starter kit which comes with a glass jar and silicone insert, along with a pack of wax beads and a wick – which you can purchase with one or two scents. They currently have 9 different scents to chose from that are made from a mix of natural waxes including soy, rice bran and beeswax.
Notes isn’t vegan as it uses beeswax, but they are still cruelty free – this is still a much better alternative than paraffin wax! The wax bags are 60% compostable, as they are made with mix of wood pulp and cellulose, and the inner film of the bag has an additive which means it take around 5 – 10 years to oxo-degrade. They currently only ship within the United States.
P. F. Candle Co – The P.F. Candle Co is an LA based candle company that makes 100% soy wax candles that are also vegan and cruelty free. They do a wide range of scents, including seasonal ones like Spiced Pumpkin and Apple Picking, most of the candles come in glass jars but some come in metal tins too, all of which can be reused.
You can get these candles in both the US and Europe as they have warehouses in Amsterdam and Los Angeles.
Hopefully this guide helps you out next time you’re looking to buy a new candle! What’s your favourite sustainable candle brand?
Looking for more sustainable ideas? Check out my other posts!
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