Despite what internet DIYers will tell you, real candle-making is not about melting some crayons and pouring the wax into a cute container, or purchasing a cheap kit at the local craft store. There is WAY more involved than most people think, and even when you think you know it all, you’ll discover there is MORE to learn!
In general, you can tell a lot about a person by the way they dress, the things they spend money on, and the foods they eat… right? You might be able to guess what kind of work they do, whether or not they have kids, or how motivated in life they are. In the same regard, you can tell a lot about a company or maker by the type of ingredients/components they choose to use in their products.
Aside from defining my mission, the first decision I had to make at the beginning of this endeavor was what ingredients I wanted to use. Do I use paraffin or soy wax? Do I use dye to make our candles colored? Do I use essential oils? What kind of wicks do I choose?
Little did I know that there weren’t just two different kinds of wax to choose from like I had initially thought, or that pure essential oils actually can’t be used in candles. And I’d never have guessed that choosing something as simple as a wick would take several weeks of testing and lots of trial & error.
Almost on a daily basis I get asked questions like, why aren’t your candles colored? Why do your candles have two wicks, why not just one? Why not three? What’s the difference between your candles and the popular brands?
So here I’ve rounded up seven little-known facts about candles to help answer some of these questions!
- The wax controversy
Although not as widely known as it should be, certain waxes can be hazardous to your health. Paraffin wax, for example, is a petroleum waste product that emits carcinogens into the air when burned. For those that may not know, paraffin wax is the most commonly used wax for candles made in the US.
According to the American Chemical Society, natural waxes such as soy and beeswax are a much healthier alternative as they “do not release potentially harmful amounts of indoor air pollutants while retaining all of the warmth, ambience and fragrance of paraffin candles”. Whether or not the information on paraffin wax candles is still accurate these days, I choose to use soy and coconut waxes for the undisputable clean-burning, all-natural properties. Furthermore, the soy and coconut waxes I source are separate (not a blend), and pure (containing no additives or other waxes). I personally spend several hours every quarter researching candles, waxes, additives, fragrances, etc., looking for new studies and information involving health concerns or benefits surrounding these components.
- Natural Isn’t Always Natural
Just like in the food industry, the term “natural” doesn’t mean a whole lot in the candle world. It may not be the intention of certain makers to be deceiving, but rather just a lack of research or knowledge. A good example; when we chose our soy and coconut waxes to begin making candles, we chose the best brands of the highest quality, based on the most recommended, and the best reviews. Our plan was to use these “all-natural” waxes to create products that were 100% clean without the use of additives, dyes, or stabilizers. Well little did we know that the waxes we chose already had additives in it. And MOST of the waxes available by candle suppliers already contained additives. Do they state this in the description? No, not always. This is why most candles made in the US contain additives - even if they aren’t listed as one of the ingredients by the candle maker/company. When a maker goes out of their way to produce a product that incorporates specific health benefits (such as additive-free!), they will list them.
- Speaking of Additives
So what exactly are these “additives” I keep talking about and why are they significant?
If you’re buying candles that don’t specifically state that they are additive free, they probably aren’t. The most common candle additives used today are synthetically and chemically produced, and are mainly found in the plastics industry.
Stearic Acid. A saturated fatty acid used as a hardener. Although used in a variety of bath & body, craft, and household products, the industrial uses for this compound include adhesives & sealants, fuels, fillers, and other surfactants.
Vybar. A trademarked polymer used as a hardener and to increase scent throw. Vybar is made from synthesized hyperbranched polymers.
Bipol X. Another polymer used to prevent the leaching of fragrance oils from the wax by absorbing the fragrance and keeping the candle dry.
UV Inhibitors. Used to prevent the fading of (colored) waxes. These are usually made from Benzophenone or Benzotriazole, both of which are stated to be toxic if ingested or inhaled.
Dyes/Pigments. Chemically engineered colors used solely for appearance.
Paraffin Wax - yep, this wax (described above) is added to MANY other waxes to help harden to smooth the texture.
If it’s possible to make candles without these compounds, wouldn’t you prefer they not be added?
Choosing a wick is like choosing make-up foundation for your skin. It must be the right shade and texture to do it's job well. In addition to MANY different sizes (widths), wicks can also come in different materials with different cores, different lengths, coated or uncoated, cut or uncut. Although there are guides designed to help candlemakers determine which wicks to use (because it is INSANELY overwhelming and no one would even know where to start), it’s ALL dependent on the size/material of your container, the type of wax you are using, and how much fragrance, dye, and other additives you might use. These things ALL affect the way your candle burns, and even the slightest change can disrupt your end product. This is why candle makers can spend months or even years testing their candles before they get it just right, and once they do, they stick to it! So now when you see candles that have one wick or three, a wood wick, or a hemp wick, you’ll know there’s a reason!
The biggest unknown factor in candle making (particularly scented candles made with natural waxes), is that there is a cure time! After pouring your candles and letting them set, you have to allow a minimum of 2 weeks for your fragrance to bind to the wax. This phase is IMPERATIVE if you want a candle with good scent throw! Sometimes, the longer they cure, the stronger the throw.
- Fire Hazards
One of the biggest trends right now among DIY candle makers is adding “fluff” to their candles. Dried botanicals, crystals, food items like sprinkles or coffee beans. These are serious fire hazards, and there is a reason you don’t see big-time candle companies doing this: our liability insurance policies won’t cover it!!! That's enough for me to pass on this trend.
- The Process
The physical process of candle making can be quite daunting at first, especially in the testing phase. Anyone new or unfamiliar to candle making probably doesn’t know that there are specific temperatures at which to add fragrance, colors, additives, etc. to your wax, and specific temperatures to pour the wax into the containers. These temperatures vary depending on the type of wax and containers you have, and can be slightly altered to produce different outcomes.
There are literally hundreds of variations and things to consider when making candles, some of which can produce amazing results, and some can have the potential to burn down a house. You just have to take the time to research and educate yourself.
So now that you all know the dirty details of candle making, is it anything like you thought?!