Paraffin is a type of petroleum byproduct extracted from crude oil during the refining process. The fact that paraffin is a byproduct of the oil industry causes a lot of hesitation for candle makers. Paraffin wax is a hotly debated topic in the candle making world. Is it toxic? Is it clean burning? Does it improve scent throw? Should I avoid it? Is it bad for the environment? These are all valid questions, and we hope this article helps shed some light on these points.
What is paraffin candle wax?
According to Britannica, paraffin wax has been used to make candles ever since the 1860s, shortly after the drilling of the first oil well. Paraffin is a type of petroleum wax – a relatively broad category that includes several types of wax products derived from crude oil.
The various types of petroleum wax can be differentiated from one another based on how much oil remains in the wax after it is extracted from crude oil. According to IGI, Slack Wax is a byproduct containing 3 to 50% oil, while Scale Wax contains 1-3% oil. Fully Refined Paraffin, on the other hand, has undergone such a stringent purification process that less than half a percent of oil remains in the final product.
The type of paraffin used for candles is Fully Refined Paraffin. In most cases, this is a food-grade paraffin with the same level of purity as the wax used to coat certain fruits, vegetables, and even candies. The paraffin wax used for candles is not slack wax or scale wax – both of which are impure products that retain high levels of harmful chemicals left over from the oil refining process.
This is where a lot of the confusion comes in for candle makers. It is true that paraffin wax is a petroleum byproduct. However, petroleum products are not all created equally. There are vastly different levels of toxins in different petrochemical products. The food-grade paraffin used for candle wax has a superior level of purity despite being derived from crude oil. Its oil content is so low that it is literally good enough to eat (although you obviously shouldn’t eat pure paraffin).
With that being said, there are a few reasons that some candlemakers nevertheless choose to avoid paraffin wax. We fully support everyone using products that they are comfortable with and doing their own research to form a conclusion. However, many opinions are highly biased either for or against paraffin. This makes it difficult to make an informed decision.
If you’re on the fence about using paraffin wax or wicks coated with paraffin, keep reading!
Is paraffin candle wax clean burning?
One thing most candlemakers consider is whether a particular wax will cause candles to burn cleanly or produce soot. While eliminating soot is a good thing, it’s important to understand that the wax itself is rarely the cause of sootiness in candles. When candles produce soot, it’s usually because the candle isn’t wicked properly, or the wick isn’t being trimmed to the right level. Soot can also be caused by using too much fragrance or too many additives etc.
There are a number of interesting scholarly articles on the topic of candle emissions. One notable study published in Environmental International compares how emission levels are affected by factors like the wax and fragrance chosen. Many studies have been done on this topic, but most have gauged emissions by analyzing candles purchased from retail stores with unknown ingredients and components. However, this study was a collaborative effort between candle manufacturers and fragrance houses in which a series of candles were created specifically for the sake of the study. As a result, this article provides unique insight into the way fragrance and wax combinations affect candle emissions in a more controlled lab setting.
The various candles manufactured for the study were made of palm wax, paraffin wax, soy wax, and stearin wax. Scented and non-scented candles were created with each type of wax in order to compare how the presence or lack of fragrance affected emissions. Fragrances used for the study were grouped into five main categories in order to represent an “average” candle as accurately as possible: Fruity, Floral, Fresh, Oriental, and Spice/Edible.
One important takeaway from the article is that – based on the test candles – emissions were affected more by the fragrance chosen than the wax or wick used. Interestingly, fragrances that fall into the “fruity” or “fresh” scent family tended – on average – to produce higher levels of emissions compared to scents “spice & edible,” “floral,” or “oriental” fragrance families – regardless of the wax type used for the test candles. However, the test showed interestingly various results with different fragrance and wax combinations.
Keep in mind that this is a single study that aimed to create a broad overview of how average candles perform. It doesn’t necessarily account for all of the factors that may affect candle emissions, and these things can vary widely depending on the specific components used. Nevertheless, it provides some interesting insight on the topic.
As you might expect, the study concluded that unscented candles produced lower levels of emissions compared to scented candles, regardless of the type of wax or fragrance, stating that “no individual wax was shown to have a consistently better emission profile than the others.”
You can check out the full article here – it’s an interesting read for anyone interested in the highly technical side of candle making.
Again, we can’t stress enough the importance of wicking your candles properly. A poorly wicked, sooty candle will produce significantly higher levels of emissions compared to candles that are wicked properly (like those in the study mentioned above).
Is paraffin wax sustainable?
Paraffin is a byproduct of the petrochemical industry. There’s no getting around the fact that paraffin wax wouldn’t exist without oil drilling and pipelines. As much as these things might be bad for the environment, fossil fuels are undeniably part of our lives and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Whether you’re opposed to the oil industry or not, it’s important to understand that buying paraffin wax does not create a demand for petrochemicals. Paraffin wax is a petroleum byproduct that only exists because we already drill for oil for other purposes. It is essentially a waste product of the petroleum industry that we have found various uses for.
Using paraffin wax ensures that this naturally occurring byproduct doesn’t go to waste. Is it ideal? Maybe not. But considering that the oil industry isn’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon, the least we can do is put every bit of the product to good use.
Can you be allergic to paraffin candles?
Paraffin and petroleum byproducts are found in countless consumer products. Aside from paraffin candles, you will commonly see petrochemicals being used as ingredients in skincare products like lotions and creams. Petroleum products are a cost-effective alternative to natural oils that may be used for skin barriers or moisturizers. The benefits of this are debatable, but that’s a whole different topic.
It is somewhat common to be sensitive to lotions and creams that contain petroleum products. People with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis are generally more likely to have a reaction.
If you are someone who’s sensitive to skincare products with petrochemicals, you might be curious if you should avoid paraffin candles as well. It makes sense why many people wonder about this. If paraffin products cause irritation when used on your skin, why wouldn’t paraffin candles create respiratory issues when they’re burned?
While it is possible to have an adverse reaction to candles because of the paraffin content, it’s more likely that any negative effects are caused by sooty wicks or aromatic compounds that may be in the fragrance oil – as mentioned by the study referenced above.
Whether you react to paraffin candles or not can also depend on the quality of the materials used to make the candle. This can vary pretty widely, but most mass-produced candles are made with cheaper (and potentially more harmful) materials than candles you might make at home with higher-quality supplies.
As a side note, one of the benefits of making your own candles is that you can choose supplies carefully so that you’re using materials you are comfortable with. Fragrances – even those marketed as being natural fragrance oils – are ultimately made from chemicals, some of which are better than others. However, information on health impacts is readily available on the SDS which can be found on the product page from any reputable supplier. In contrast, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mainstream candle manufacturer who provides an SDS for the fragrances they use.
So can you be allergic to a paraffin candle? Possibly. However, it’s far more likely that you’re sensitive to the aromatic compounds from the fragrance oil or are reacting to soot produced by improper wicking.
Does paraffin wax improve scent throw?
If you make your own candles, scent throw is one of the most important considerations in choosing your materials. The term “throw” refers to how strong and prevalent the aroma is from your candle. There’s Hot Throw, which relates to the scent your candle gives off when it’s burning, as well as Cold Throw, which is the aroma you can smell emanating from the wax itself when the candle is not lit.
Several different factors affect scent throw. Aside from using fragrances that smell strong to begin with, the wax and wicks you choose can greatly affect how your candles smell. If you’re a candlemaker, chances are you have wondered at one point whether soy wax or paraffin wax has better scent throw. To answer this question, you have to look at the structure of each wax on a molecular level.
Waxes with a dense molecular structure will naturally have a weaker throw. Because soy is denser than paraffin, the easy answer is that Yes – paraffin wax candles will have a stronger scent throw than soy candles.
This topic is hotly debated, and arguments about soy vs paraffin being better for your health and the environment usually get thrown into the conversation as well. As a candlemaker, it can be incredibly difficult and frustrating to find clear answers on which wax is better. It really comes down to your own personal choice.
You can make great-smelling candles with 100% paraffin wax or choose from a huge variety of blended waxes that include smaller amounts of paraffin. When paraffin is included in a wax blend such as CB2 wax, Ceda Serica Wax, or EC-26 Wax, it is done in order to improve scent throw. Keep in mind that this paraffin is food-grade, and it is the same level of purity as the wax used to coat certain fruits and vegetables.
What about paraffin wax coatings on candle wicks?
Pre-tabbed candle wicks are commonly coated in paraffin or natural soy wax. Wicks are coated with wax in order to provide rigidity and improve the burn profile. Most candle supply companies only carry wicks coated in paraffin. However, we have a variety of wicks with either a paraffin wax coating or a natural wax coating – you can read about our wax coatings here.
If you’re worried about paraffin wax, you might also be wondering whether to avoid candle wicks coated with paraffin as well. However, the same information about paraffin candle wax outlined above applies to paraffin wick coatings as well. Wicks coated with paraffin use the same food-grade wax that you would use to make candles.
Is paraffin bad for candles? There are a number of studies that show it is not harmful in candles, and it’s important to remember that paraffin wax used for candles is food-grade. It’s true that paraffin does not come from a renewable resource. However, paraffin wax production ensures that petroleum waste products don’t actually go to waste.
There is an unfortunate amount of misinformation out there in the candlemaking world, which makes it difficult to know what products are actually best. We want everyone to feel comfortable with the materials they choose for their candles, and we encourage you to do your research so you can find the best products for you. Using paraffin or avoiding it is ultimately a personal choice.