What Are Candles Made Of?
All candles are made of wax — but not all candle waxes are created equal. Even though candles may look very similar, different waxes have different properties, including burn time, fragrance strength, and soot emissions. If you’re wondering what candles are made of, we will explain the pros and cons of six of the most common candle waxes: paraffin, beeswax, soy, coconut, gel, and palm.
Paraffin wax is a byproduct of petroleum, created by removing the waxy substance from crude oil. Paraffin wax is cheap and holds both dyes and scents well. However, it’s not biodegradable or natural, and it’s made from a non-renewable resource, so many people avoid it for environmental reasons. Heating paraffin wax releases soot and 11 known toxins — two of which are carcinogens — into the air. For these reasons, paraffin wax candles have been falling out of favor in recent years.
Beeswax is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, waxes in existence. This all-natural wax is secreted by bees from special wax-producing glands in their abdomen. The bees use it to build their honeycomb hives and the wax is harvested at the same time as the honey. Beeswax has a naturally sweet scent from the honey and flowers, and its color may vary from white to yellow to orange to red to brown. Due to the labor-intensive production, beeswax is often one of the most expensive waxes out there, and the natural color makes it hard to dye.
Soybean wax is also all natural, but it’s more widely available and less expensive than beeswax. It has a strong fragrance and burns for longer compared to paraffin wax, the other most common candle wax. Soy wax candles also create less soot and emit fewer toxins when burned compared to paraffin wax. Soy wax has a naturally off-white color that looks great on its own, or it can easily be dyed with other colors. It also has a lower melting point than many of the other waxes on this list. This melting point makes it easier to burn in cooler environments or during colder seasons like winter. (Check out our blog post for more on the differences between paraffin vs. soy wax.)
Coconut oil took the world by storm, and now coconut wax is having its moment as well. Like soy wax, coconut wax is all natural and also derived from plants (no animals involved!). It can have a subtly sweet scent thanks to the coconut but also takes well to other scents. Coconut wax results in a slow, clean burn that lasts for a long time and doesn’t emit much soot, which is why we choose it for our new Daily Collection line of coconut wax candles.
Gel wax isn’t wax at all, but rather a transparent, rubbery compound made of mineral oil and polymer resin. Gel wax is clear and used to make transparent jar candles. This wax offers a unique look and holds both scent and dyes well. However, not all fragrances are gel-safe, which limits the scents that are available. Gel wax also burns hot and can cause poorly-made or thin glass containers explode.
Once, palm wax was held up as an environmentally friendly, plant-based alternative to paraffin, similar to soy and coconut wax. This hard wax is long-burning and has a clean flame with low soot. However, major palm product suppliers, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, have devastated local environments over the past decade in order to plant enough African oil palm trees to satisfy demand. Many people are now forgoing palm products, including palm wax, in favor of less environmentally destructive waxes.
Whatever wax it’s made of, jar and container candles are made using the same process. They are made with a braided cotton wick that may be coated in a bit of wax to hold it together. The bottom of the wick is crimped into a metal disc, called a tab, which adheres to the bottom of the container. The wax is melted and mixed with scents and dyes, then poured into the jar. The wick is centered and the candle is left to harden. Once it’s ready to burn, the wick is trimmed and the candle is ready for use.