DISCLOSURE: The candle featured in this blog post was gifted to me by Wax Buffalo. The company did not sponsor the topic of this article or provide any information used in this post. All statements and opinions are my own.
Scents tell a story. They take us back to a specific time in our lives, remind us of a place we visited or someone we know. Scent is powerful, which is probably why candles are a huge fixture in any household. Candles provide ambiance, decoration, and can help us unwind after a long day. Are they good for us though?
In this blog post, I discuss the differences between paraffin wax and soy wax candles. I talk about how they’re made, how they affect the environment, and the potential effects they may have on indoor air quality. When I refer to paraffin wax, I’m talking about the candles you’re familiar with that you can buy everywhere. Let’s get started.
When I went looking for information on paraffin wax candles, I kept running across a 2009 study from South Carolina State University. This study claims paraffin wax candles emit toxic chemicals such as toluene. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), toluene is a colorless liquid that is used in fingernail polish, paints, dyes, adhesives, cigarettes, gasoline, and other manufactured goods and breathing it in affects the central nervous system, eyes, skin, respiratory system, liver, and kidneys aka it’s super bad for you.
However, the validity of this study has been questioned by the National Candle Association (NCA) because the study doesn’t have any peer reviews and was never published in a journal. Additionally, the study never established if the candles used in the experiment were actually paraffin or soy candles. It also found that the claim that toxic chemicals like toluene are released during candle burning to be false. The NCA says paraffin wax does not possess the necessary elements to create harmful chemicals.
The NCA, along with other candle associations worldwide, sponsored an independent study to find out what chemicals are released from different types of wax candles when burned. The study discovered that “all the main waxes burned in an exceedingly alike way, and all waxes emitted similar combustion chemicals, and all waxes proved safe when used in standard candle burning procedure.”
Still, this doesn’t let paraffin wax off the hook. So let’s talk about what we know for a fact about paraffin wax. Paraffin wax is created when you take crude oil and refine it into petroleum. Oil refineries then use petroleum to make the gasoline that powers our transportation system and use oil’s by-products to produce all sorts of products — paraffin wax being one of them.
This process is the way paraffin wax has been made since 1867. Last time I checked, it’s 2019, and a lot has changed in the last 152 years. The type of candles we burn should be something we change too because paraffin wax is not sustainable. Here is how the oil industry impacts the environment:
Refining crude oil creates air pollution. It releases toxins into the atmosphere that are dangerous for human and ecosystem health.
Burning gasoline releases carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, which increases global warming and pollutes the air.
Oil spills cause significant environmental damage. Whether it’s massive oil spills like the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico or oil that leaks from cars, airplanes, and boats, it causes severe damage to the environment.
Drilling for oil, both on land and offshore, is disruptive. It can destroy natural habitats, displace and endanger wildlife, and alter public lands. 
So really if the oil industry destroying the planet in more ways than one and paraffin wax candles are a by-product produced by that industry, why give it any more business? (You thought this was going to be a nice blog post about candles. Oh no, we are getting into it!)
Just like cars pollute the air everyone breathes, paraffin candles may pollute the air in your home. The EPA or any other organization has not conclusively studied the long term health effects of burning paraffin wax candles. However, studies have shown that soot produced from frequent candle burning can damage a home’s interior.
What is soot you might ask? It’s the black stuff that collects on the inside of the candle jar. The jar isn’t the only place soot collects though — soot deposits on walls, carpets, ceilings, furniture, and window treatments. And because soot particles are attracted to electrically charged surfaces, it can build up on appliances and electronics. It can even get into the ducts of an HVAC system.
It's a pain to get rid of the stuff. Once soot deposits, it’s almost impossible to clean with household cleaners. The best options are to hire a fire restoration company that offers a soot cleaning service or or replace the damaged items entirely. Before soot deposits, it’s hanging out in the air. According to a 1999 study, it can potentially penetrate the deepest areas of the lungs, the lower respiratory tract, and alveoli. But, I didn’t find any research on the health effects associated with candle soot exposure, so further testing is needed.
Did I tell you all of this to scare you? No. I did it to make you aware of the effects that using this one product can have. I believe that when people are informed, they’re able to make better choices about the products they use. In this instance, the better choice is soy wax candles.
HOW SOY CANDLES ARE MADE
Soy wax candles are made from soybean oil. After soybeans are harvested, they are cleaned, cracked, de-hulled, and rolled into flakes. Then the oil is extracted from the flakes and undergoes a chemical reaction called hydrogenation turnings the oil into a solid at room temperature aka wax.
Soybeans are grown primarily in the Midwest. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Nebraska alone produced more than 333 million soybean bushels in 2018, contributing $2.8 billion to the state economy. The production of soy wax candles greatly benefits Nebraska’ economy as well as the U.S. economy. The U.S. is the top global soybean producer and brought in $39.1 billion from soybean production in 2018.
It’s estimated that if soy wax candles replaced paraffin wax, an estimated 1 million bushels of soybeans would be needed for candle production every year, which would add an estimated $8.6 million to the economy annually.
Since soybeans are grown right here in the U.S., soy wax is a renewable resource that is only limited by how many soybeans can be grown. Soy candles are more sustainable than paraffin wax candles made from crude oil as I mentioned earlier.
I’m sure there are negative effects from over-farming that I don’t have time to go into here. The difference is, the negative effects of oil production are what’s contributing to climate change. Eventually, the production of paraffin wax may become too expensive as oil reserves are depleted. So soy candles are definitely way better for the environment.
They’re also better for your house and possibly indoor air quality. When burned, soy wax produces less soot than paraffin wax, and it’s not potentially releasing any toxins into the air since it’s literally (appropriate use of the word) the solid form of the vegetable oil you cook with.
If you’re looking for a candle that produces no soot, good luck finding one. The only soot-free flame you’ll find is a natural gas flame that you get when you turn on a gas stove among other things. Plus, you really wouldn’t want a candle burning as hot as it would need to be to create the blue flame of a complete combustion that doesn't produce soot.
Another positive of soy candles is that they burn at a lower temperature than paraffin candles. You might be thinking a low melting point is bad because that would mean the candle would melt faster, but soy wax is denser than paraffin. So even though soy wax has a lower melting point, soy candles burn 30 to 50 percent slower than paraffin candles of the same size.
Last thing before we move on, usually soy candles are scented using natural oils rather than synthetic chemicals used in paraffin candles. That’s not always true though, so make sure to check the label. The same goes for wicks – they should be made of recycled cotton, hemp, or recycled paper fiber — not lead, definitely not lead.
Now that you know all of this, you probably want to know where you can find an awesome soy candle. I got you. Cue Wax Buffalo.
Wax Buffalo is a local female owned and operated candle company located in Lincoln, Neb. that makes hand-poured, pure soy wax candles. (Not to worry if you don’t live in Nebraska, you can order from their website.) Wax Buffalo makes their candles by mixing the purest American made soy wax with fine phthalate free essential and fragrance oils. They use unbleached cotton wicks, and all the candles are made in small batches right in Lincoln.
Full disclosure, Wax Buffalo was kind enough to gift me their best selling sweet tobacco candle, and my goodness does it smell fantastic. It has notes of warm vanilla scented tobacco, coriander, and a bit of tonka bean with under notes of honey blossom, and clove. Think of what library smells like on the perfect fall day mixed with coffee, and that’s how it smells. It smells cozy and warm.
Wax Buffalo is having a grand opening party this weekend to celebrate the opening of their new studio in Downtown Lincoln.
When: Saturday, May 11 from 10-6 p.m. & Sunday, May 12 from 10-6 p.m.
Where: Wax Buffalo's new studio at 727 O Street in Lincoln, Neb.
There will be lots of goodies from other local artisans, free food, and exclusive Wax Buffalo products that you can only get at this event. For all the dets, check out their Facebook event page.
Krause, David. "Black Soot and Candles: New Research and Case Studies." Indoor Environment 1999 Proceedings.
Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution: Market Analysis and Literature Review https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi/P1009BZL.PDF?Dockey=P1009BZL.PDF
Rezaei, K, T. Wang, and L.A. Johnson. "Combustion Characteristics of Candles Made from Hydrogenated Soybean Oil." Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society 79: 803-808 (2002). Available at:http://www.springerlink.com/content/l318x06857621705/