Fire is undoubtedly one of humanity's most important discoveries. For a long time, it was challenging for our ancestors to tame this natural force and make it usable for our purposes. However, it has dramatically eased our lives in many ways. It provided us with cooked food, warmth, and, perhaps most importantly, light independent of the sun, moon, and stars.
The candle was a milestone in our use of light. Torches burned quickly and were thus limited as primitive sources of light. Scientific findings show that this problem was clear to our earliest ancestors. Even the Cro-Magnon people used stone vessels in which a wick burned in liquid fat or oil – and this was about 40,000 years ago.
Over the millennia, little has changed in the fundamental structure of our candles, but the raw materials have changed a lot. The Romans used pitch, and in the Middle Ages, other animal products like beeswax joined tallow and oil. The typical white wax only appeared in 1725 with the invention of the stearin candle. And since the industrial revolution, a new material has established itself as the undisputed leader.
The keyword is: paraffin.
What is Paraffin?
Anyone who enjoys a cozy evening by candlelight has likely heard of paraffin. Since its discovery almost 200 years ago, paraffin has taken many forms in our daily lives. Even though many traditional uses, such as oil lamps and paraffin stoves, have gone out of fashion, the material is still very popular.
In addition to candle making, the probably second-most-known application of paraffin is the production of crayons, which are still mostly made from paraffin wax.
It is also a component of many cosmetics like lotions, creams, and lipsticks. Paraffin wax hand baths and paraffin wax cosmetics can be found in most drugstores, even in this country. In medicine, it primarily serves as a binder in the production of ointments but is also used as an antidote for specific forms of poisoning.
Although it may initially seem surprising, paraffin is also found in some foods. Since it preserves well, it is used as a coating for the rinds of certain cheeses, such as Edam or Gouda, and protects the cheese from drying out. Paraffin can also be found in confectionery. Here, it prevents products with sugar glaze from sticking together, which would otherwise adhere at room temperature.
Paraffin Wax for Candles
Nowadays, approximately 75 to 90% of all candles produced worldwide are made from paraffin wax. The main reason for this is, as often, the price. Depending on the manufacturing process, paraffin wax candles can be only half or even a third as expensive as those made from alternative materials.
Burning time and behavior are hardly or not at all affected when using alternative wax types if processed correctly. However, paraffin wax often has lower density than other wax types. In other words, if you place two candles with the same weight and burning time side by side, the paraffin candle is usually less compact and therefore visually larger, but it burns just as long.
Is Paraffin Wax Toxic? – Debunking the Myth
The toxicity of paraffin is a myth that has been associated with the material for a long time. However, there is little truth to it.
Naturally, you should not attempt to eat your scented candles, but if you do, potential poisoning symptoms are more likely the result of color and fragrance compounds in the candle and have nothing to do with paraffin itself.
In theory, paraffin wax is even edible, but it provides the body with no nutrients.
Here lies a kernel of truth in the question of the potential danger of paraffin – at least for animals. If small animals mistakenly ingest paraffin, thinking it's their food source, the material triggers a feeling of fullness, just as after any other meal. Normally, this is a good sign that the body has received enough food and wants to dedicate its time and energy to digestion for a while.
However, the main reason for the harmlessness of paraffin to the body is that the substance is not absorbed in any form. It is not digested and, as mentioned, provides no nutrients to the body. Thus, the body can be tricked into thinking it's full, even though no actual nourishment has been provided.
As a result, an animal that is not aware of these mechanisms could potentially starve while waiting for the paraffin to be completely eliminated and the sensation of hunger to return.
Although this issue is likely irrelevant for humans, the question of potential allergies remains. Certain gases produced during the paraffin manufacturing process can lead to allergies or respiratory irritations in very specific cases, but this is very rare and can also be avoided through regular ventilation and normal handling of candles.
So, there is no health reason to avoid using paraffin wax candles.
Palm, Rapeseed & Beeswax?
Now, we've already mentioned alternative materials to paraffin. But what are these materials, and why are they used?
Natural alternatives include well-known classics like beeswax, but more and more plant-based products are also gaining attention.
Palm oil (in the form of so-called stearin waxes) is currently the most widely used alternative to paraffin, but it comes with the same environmental problems as in the food industry – primarily the massive deforestation of rainforests for plantation expansion. Rapeseed oil is also considered an alternative to paraffin. However, its application is still relatively sporadic.
All of these substitutes have in common that they burn with slightly dimmed light, thus further enhancing the soothing atmosphere of candlelight.
Atmosphere from an (Outlet) Plug?
In addition to other waxes from plants and more, there's also another alternative to traditional paraffin today: the electric candle. Who hasn't seen those small plastic bulbs with semi-transparent wax-like appearance?
The idea behind electric candles is simple. You can turn the light on and off with the flip of a switch and don't need to worry about smoke, fire, or dripping wax. But can electric candlelight truly compare to traditional wick candles? At the very least, for several years, many models allow you to simulate the flicker of a candle flame. However, the typical atmosphere of candlelight, such as the dancing of the flame, is inevitably lost with this artificial approach.
Moreover, contrary to many claims, most electric candles are not an environmentally friendly alternative. While the candles themselves naturally last longer and don't need to be replaced regularly like wax candles, the artificial candlelight of most models quickly goes out without batteries. Batteries, however, are not environmentally friendly and consume valuable non-renewable resources like zinc, iron, aluminum, and silver in their production, which is often environmentally problematic. The disposal of batteries as hazardous waste shows that we can't currently speak of environmentally friendly alternatives or sustainability, even though we can recycle many of the raw materials with proper handling, albeit with the use of additional costly and sometimes environmentally unfriendly processes.
Soy wax is one of the new star products for sustainable candle and more production.
As the name suggests, soy wax is derived solely from soybeans instead of fossil fuels. To create it, soybean oil is initially extracted from the beans. Subsequently, the oil is transformed into wax through a process similar to the production of margarine, involving high pressure and temperatures of up to 300°C.
Soy wax is primarily used in candle production. To this end, the solidified wax is often broken down into small soy wax flakes. The resulting candle burns just as long, and in some cases, even longer than paraffin. The reason for this lies in the aforementioned higher density of soy wax. Due to this density, scented candles burn at a lower temperature than other candles, which not only enhances longevity but also results in a notably subdued light. This light further enhances the calming atmosphere of scented candles and more.
Not only that, but the use of soy wax is also said to improve the quality of fragrances. Additionally, during the melting process, essential oils are released, similar to bath additives, which have a calming effect on the body.
Soy wax candles are often claimed to burn without producing soot. As appealing as this notion is, it's unfortunately not entirely accurate. Soot is an unavoidable byproduct when organic materials burn, and this holds true for soy wax, just as it does for paraffin and other alternative materials.
However, not all soot is the same. While burning regular candles typically generates black soot, candles made from soy wax primarily produce white soot. This type of soot is hardly visible to the naked eye, giving the visual impression that the candle burns without producing soot. The unattractive black soot that often occurs with regular candles is largely absent when burning soy candles, as soy wax does not contain synthetic additives like those present in paraffin production.
At first glance, soy wax still offers clear advantages over traditional paraffin. Soybeans can be grown and are therefore renewable more rapidly than petroleum, which takes a long time to form under specific geological conditions.
Unfortunately, soy wax is often associated with the negative reputation of plantation agriculture. While it's true that large areas of rainforest are cleared each year to make way for new soybean fields, a full 80% of the yields from these processes are solely used for agriculture, specifically as animal feed. For the production of soy wax candles, a fraction of the used farmland is sufficient and can be managed sustainably.
The remaining 20% of the total soybean yields are also used for other environmentally friendly applications.
Soybean oil can be used to produce biodiesel, similar to many other plant oils, and reduces vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 41% compared to petroleum-based fuels. The air pollution resulting from the combustion of soybean oil is even lower than that of fuels from other non-fossil sources like ethanol or corn.
Furthermore, soybean oil is also used in the production of environmentally friendly printing inks. In the United States, approximately half of all newspapers and even 75% of daily newspapers are printed using soy-based inks.
Soy Wax from Europe?
Even though the majority of the world's consumed soybeans today are exported from equatorial countries like Brazil, the plant originated in Southeast Asia. According to records, the bean has been used as a food source since as early as 7000 BC in northern China and at least since 5000 BC in Japan. Even back then, soybeans and millet, not rice, were the staple foods of the local population.
The first evidence of European knowledge about the plant comes from the records of Engelbert Kaempfer from 1691/92, created during the physician and botanist's journey to Japan.
The oldest known breeding programs for soybeans in Europe can be traced back to botanical gardens in Holland and France, where the plant was demonstrably cultivated as early as 1739.
Despite this, soybeans never managed to establish themselves as a significant part of European agriculture.
In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland combined, around 300,000 tons of soybeans are harvested annually. In comparison, the top 3 producers in the global market are Argentina with about 55 million tons, the United States with about 100 million tons, and Brazil with about 115 million tons.
The reason for the cautious approach to soy in European countries is primarily due to the presence of alternatives. Soy, primarily used as a protein source, is mainly employed as animal feed in this region. However, other plants like rapeseed (canola) are preferred for this purpose at the moment. In Germany, rapeseed is mainly used for producing rapeseed oil and biodiesel, resulting in rapeseed meal as a suitable animal feed.
Another aspect is the rising domestic demand for genetically free animal feed. Soy from the USA is often genetically modified, while the rapeseed grown in Europe is already subject to stricter regulations and meets the requirements for genetically free foods, as applies to products like dairy.
So, What's Better?
Paraffin or soy wax, which alternative is better for our candles?
As is often the case, there is no simple answer. Paraffin wax candles burn brighter, but soy wax candles create a more atmospheric and long-lasting experience. Paraffin is a widely available and easily accessible resource, while soy grows quickly and can be sustainably cultivated.
For us, both materials have their appeal, and we enjoy both traditional paraffin wax candles and our new soy-based alternatives.
Therefore, our recommendation is:
Give it a try and make your own decision.
Just Take a Sniff
For those who want to experience soy wax for themselves, we have good news at American Heritage. Many of our most popular scented candles from Kringle Candle are now available in a new version as soy tumblers, and our newly arrived summer scents are also available as soy candles in Medium and Large sizes.
- Agave Pastel Scented Candle by Kringle Candle
- Blackberry Buttercream Scented Candle by Kringle Candle
- Desert Oud Scented Candle by Kringle Candle
- Donut Worry Scented Candle by Kringle Candle
- Gingerlily & Palm Scented Candle by Kringle Candle
- Sea Salt & Tonka Scented Candle by Kringle Candle
- Sicilian Orange Scented Candle by Kringle Candle
We also offer a wide range of exotic scents from Stonewall Home in Maine, also poured from soy wax. This diverse collection of extraordinary aromas includes scents such as "Driftwood," "Fresh Cucumber," "Rainy Days," "Fresh Linen," and many more.
So why not give them a try and take a sniff.