This is a question that I get asked at every event that I go to where I sell our upcycled wine bottle candles, so I felt it deserved it's own post. The TL;DR answer is that soy wax is better for our environment inside and out than alternative waxes but the answer is much deeper than that. This post does contain facts but also contains many of my own personal preferences, I will do my best to separate the fact from preference.
Common Types of Candle Wax
There are several different types of wax and there are many variations of each type of wax based on the manufacturer and any additives. Most additives work to improve the quality of the candle's hot throw (scent you smell when the candle is burning) of fragrance and visible appearance. Here are the most popular waxes used today when making candles and the ones that I chose between when starting La Botella.
Soy: Derived from hydrogenating soybean oil
Paraffin: By-product of the crude oil refinement process
Palm : Derived from hydrogenated palm oil from palm trees
Bee: Byproduct of honey, bees excrete the wax into the honeycombs to incubate baby bees
Gel: This is not actually a wax but a combination of resin and mineral oil
Why Not Paraffin Wax?
Paraffin wax has never and never will be in any of my candles. Part of the reason I decided to start this business is to create a more environmentally friendly alternative for candle lovers and paraffin just doesn't fit the bill for me since it is not a sustainable resource. (However there is an environmental argument in favor of this wax, essentially, that using the byproducts of crude oil that we are already extruding creates less waste in the process.) The other reason is that paraffin wax has been found to release undesirable toxins to humans when burned indoors. Now let me also say that burning ANY kind of candle is going to release particles in the air - so NO candle is 100% healthy to burn and ALL synthetic fragrance oils when burned or melted also release chemicals in the air, but for me and mine paraffin just isn't worth the risk.
Why Not Palm Wax?
When I first began making candles I created a batch of palm wax candles. First, let me say that palm oil candles look really cool. They have this amazing shimmer and the facets within the wax remind me of a kaleidoscope. The candles burn nicely and have a great hot throw, but (you knew there would be a but) I learned quickly that palm oil harvesting and production is pretty terrible for the environment. Spoiler alert: Palm oil is also the most common vegetable oil used in food products but can be avoided by carefully reading labels and avoiding the ingredients listed here - but there are a lot...
The majority of palm oil is harvested in Africa and SouthEast Asia with 85% coming from Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil plantations are created by clearing the existing land - often covered by forests with rich ecosystems, these ecosystems are being destroyed leaving many animals including endangered species like the Orangutan with nowhere to go. The unsustainable deforestation that is occurring due to the demand for palm oil is magnified by the fact that the land being cultivated is particularly rich in carbon. During cultivation and when draining and burning the carbon rich peatlands this carbon is released into the atmosphere contributing to.. you guessed it, global warming! There are other environmental and social issues that palm oil brings to these areas that can be read about here.
Why Not Beeswax?
So, this one isn't on my 'do not use' list because I do mix in beeswax with the soy wax I use to create my citronella candles. The reason being, that beeswax has a higher melting point than soy wax which allows people to keep my citronella candles outside year round without fear of them melting in the gloriously sweltering NC summer heat.
The reason that I don't use it in more candles is two fold. One, being that beeswax is more expensive and the other, that it requires a higher fragrance load to achieve the same hot throw as a soy wax candle. This would drive the cost of my candles up and I feel that we are currently on the lower end of candle costs and I would like to stay that way so that our environmentally friendly candles are more accessible.
Why Not Gel Wax?
I think a better question is 'why would one use gel wax?' Like wtih paraffin wax, I never considered using a gel wax - mostly because the look doesn't fit with our brand but I did some digging for facts for this post. What I found is not great for gel candles.
First, like any candle, gel candles pose a burn hazard. However, unlike soy candles, gel candles burn at a higher temperature. This is a particular concern for someone like me who uses recycled glass. The glass bottles that I use are likely formed from recycled glass, containing many different types of glass melted down and reformed. Meaning that the makeup of the glass is unknown, therefore the temperature at which it will begin to experience thermal stress or thermal shock which can crack the glass is unknown.
In a 2006 study, gel candles were also found to emit more toxic particles in the air than all other waxes in the study including paraffin wax.
Lastly, gel candles are created from an unsustainable source that pollutes our world because they are also a byproduct of crude oil since they are typically made of mineral oil - a byproduct of paraffin.
Why Soy Wax?
I'm sure if you have made it this far you are thinking, so basically you only use soy wax because it's the lesser of the evils. Which is true. However, soy wax has plenty of it's own benefits listed below. Currently I use two variants of Golden Brands Soy Wax. One is 100% soy based wax and the other also has a soy based additive that helps to increase the melting point for shipping during summer months.
Cleaner burn with less soot and toxins: Soy wax does not produce as much soot as Paraffin wax and can be reduced further by trimming the wick regularly.
Supporting American farmers and laborers: I purchase my soy wax from Golden Brands which harvests its soy beans in the midwest of the United States. This lowers our environmental footprint as the soybeans/wax is not transported internationally and contributes to our own economy.
Environmentally Friendly/Natural: Soy wax is biodegradable and also comes from a renewable source - soybean plants!
Safer burn temperature: Soy wax melts at a lower temperature than both paraffin wax and gel wax, making it a safer alternative for your home.
Long Lasting: Since soy wax burns at a lower temperature it also has a longer lasting burn time than paraffin wax.
Great Scent Throw: Soy candles give just as good of a scent throw when properly loaded.
Easy Clean up: Just use soap and water
I hope you all enjoyed reading about what aspects of candle wax are important to La Botella and why I choose to use soy wax when creating upcycled wine bottle candles. In addition to sourcing eco friendly materials, we extend the reuse process one more step by allowing customers to receive 40% off a refill of their La Botella soy candle. I am also happy to refill other types of jars as well. Contact me to learn more!