It seems that everyone loves scented candles. Since the late eighties and particularly in the last decade there has been an enormous increase in demand for scented candles, so much so that it is estimated that the home fragrance industry, of which scented candles form by far the biggest part, is now worth in excess of two billion pounds globally. The visual and sensory appeal of long burning scented candles has much to do with this surge in popularity, with manufacturers vying to provide candles in the widest range of fragrances and designs. After all there are few things nicer after a hard day’s work than to come home, light up a candle or two and relax as your home is filled with delicious aromas.
But in the world of home fragrances are all candles created equally?
This may strike you as a strange question but while most people are aware that scented candles are available in a plethora of different shapes, colours and, of course, fragrances, did you know that they are also available in a variety of different waxes?
Paraffin wax has been traditionally used for candle making since the late 19th century. So why the need for change, particularly when paraffin wax appears to have served us so well for such a long time? Well, on closer examination there are a few problems with paraffin wax. In the first place, as the name suggests, paraffin wax is derived from petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource, and, depending on your viewpoint, a significant contributor to climate change. This consideration apart, there is also growing evidence to suggest that burning paraffin wax candles, particularly in smaller confined spaces such as our homes or apartments can release toxins into the air which, at best, may cause allergic reactions such as asthma or respiratory disease, or, at worst, expose us to dangerous carcinogenic compounds. In the light of this, the need for a healthier, “greener” alternative to paraffin wax becomes easier to appreciate.
So what are alternatives to paraffin wax when it comes to scented candles?
There are a number of different options such as beeswax or vegetable wax, or a combination of these, but for the purposes of this article we shall concentrate on the most popular of these alternatives, namely soy wax.
Soy wax is obtained from the humble and ubiquitous soya bean and was invented in the early 1990’s by Michael Richards who was at that time actively seeking a more natural – and cheaper – alternative to paraffin wax for his candle making. Since then, the popularity of soy wax has increased exponentially to the point that it is today the number one choice of wax derived from natural renewable resources used in the manufacture of scented candles.
But how do you get wax from a bean?
Soy wax is produced by crushing the beans to obtain oil, which is then treated or hydrogenated, to create a wax-like substance in the same way as certain seed or nut oils are when making dairy spreads or butter substitutes,. So does soy wax owe its popularity solely to its eco-friendly credentials, however noteworthy they may be? Well not quite. While today’s discerning consumers are more environmentally aware than ever before, there are a number of other factors which have contributed to the rise of soy wax in candle making.
The first of these is cost. No-one likes to pay more than necessary for a product and the good news on this front is that soy wax candles are often cheaper to buy than their paraffin wax equivalent. Not only that, but because soy wax burns at a lower temperature than paraffin wax, your candle will burn more slowly and more evenly than paraffin wax, which means your scented soy wax candle will last longer and offer better value-for-money than a paraffin wax equivalent!
One of the most significant problems associated with paraffin wax candles, particularly in the home environment, is the amount of soot they give off, which is not only potentially harmful to health as referred to above, but can also cause the build-up of dirt around the walls and ceilings of your home as dirt deposits rise and settle. Happily, as they are created from natural vegetable matter, this is not a problem you will encounter with a soy wax candle, which burn more evenly and much more cleanly than paraffin wax, with little or no soot or fumes. Soy wax is also a great deal more versatile than paraffin wax and candles made from soy wax can be made in a huge range of colours, shapes and fragrances.
So, we have established that soy wax candles are the environmentally sound choice and that they offer better value for money and burn more cleanly than paraffin wax long burning scented candles. But above all these factors there is perhaps one overriding consideration when it comes to the appeal of soy wax for candle makers, namely that it diffuses fragrance considerably more effectively than candles made with paraffin wax. When all is said and done, when we choose a scented candle, our intention is to create a little piece of luxury, enabling us to fill our home with wonderful fragrances. Soy wax candles achieve this better than any others, so it is little wonder they have become so pre-eminent.