what additives are safe to use in candles

As a candle maker, there are tons of ways to make your candles look beautiful and stand out to prospective customers. Aside from using colorants and interesting candle vessels, many makers have embraced the trend of adding botanicals, mica, and glitter to their candles. These additives do make candles look beautiful, and it’s easy to see how this trend has become so popular. However, popularity doesn’t always make something a good idea.

In this blog we will go over a few of the most popular candle additives in detail and talk about which ones are safe – and which ones you should never use.

What is a candle additive?

A candle additive is essentially anything that you add to a candle to enhance its performance or change its appearance. Some additives like stearic acid are used to make the wax harder and improve the candle’s burn quality. Others, like dye chips or liquid dye, are used to change the color of the wax. Likewise, there are additives such as UV stabilizer that will prevent the wax from getting discolored over time.

There are also a number of additives that are used purely for decorative purposes or because they add perceived value/other benefits. These include things such as:

  • Dried botanicals like flower petals, whole dried flowers, wood, herbs, etc.
  • Gemstones and other types of stones.
  • Glitter and mica.
  • Small items such as rings or other surprise gifts.

Can you safely use botanicals in candles?

Unfortunately, not all additives are safe to use in candles. According to a recent report from the National Candle Association (NCA), candles with dried flowers, leaves, herbs, and other flammable materials embedded in the wax near the wick pose a significant fire hazard.

Note: This does not include pillar-style candles with herbs and flowers embedded on/near the outer rim of the wax (the wax that does not melt and does not get near the flame).

In the report, three different candles with botanicals embedded on the surface of the wax were tested. The botanical material in two of the three candles ignited on the first burning session, with one of the candles experiencing a “flashover event,” in which the entire surface of the candle lit on fire. The botanicals did not ignite in the third candle tested.

Although 3 candles is a small sample size, the report highlights a growing – and valid – concern in the candle making world. Many candle makers are already making and selling candles with botanicals in them. And while not all botanical candles will behave the same way as those tested for the NCA report, it’s still an important hazard for candle makers and consumers to be aware of.

Safety Considerations for Making Botanical Candles

Making candles with dried flowers and other botanicals embedded near the wick is not safe. The likelihood of the dried materials catching on fire is simply too high.

It may be possible to create a botanical candle that doesn’t ignite like those in the NCA tests, but it’s still not a good idea to try. One reason is that no two botanical ingredients are exactly alike. Botanicals you use during testing may be a different shape or size than those that you end up using for candles you sell to your customers. The exact placement of the botanicals on the surface of the candle can also make a difference. Even small variations can lead to very different results.

Keep in mind that botanical ingredients may also shift around as the melt pool expands. Ingredients that were initially placed towards the edge of the container may move closer to the flame as the candle burns, increasing the fire hazard.  

In the event you do choose to make botanical candles for testing purposes, it’s extremely important that you understand how to extinguish a candle fire. If your test candle does ignite or has a flashover event, DO NOT USE WATER to put it out. As the NCA explains in their report, putting water on an out-of-control candle is similar to throwing water on a kitchen grease fire. Instead of extinguishing the flame, the water will vaporize the hot wax, creating even larger flames that are carried up on the vapor.

According to the NCA, the safer way to extinguish a candle fire is to place a metal kitchen pot or other similar device over the entire candle to deprive the flame of oxygen. Never use water.

Safe Ways to Use Botanicals with Candles

It’s easy to understand why botanical candles have become so popular. Even though it’s not safe to sprinkle them on top of candles, you can still get creative using botanicals in other ways. If you have your heart set on putting botanicals in wax, there are several safe ways you can achieve this trendy look.

Wickless Candles

One of the best ways to get the botanical candle aesthetic is to make wickless candles. A wickless candle is very much like a regular candle, except that it is melted using a warming plate or heat lamp instead of a wick.

You can make wickless candles in glass containers or metal tins. Wickless candles can be any size, but you will probably find that smaller containers give you the best results.

Because wickless candles are melted with indirect heat rather than an open flame, you can use essentially any ingredients you want. Botanicals, gemstones, glitter, mica, and other ingredients are all fine to use.

Note: There are tons of different types of wickless candles, with wax melts, squeezable wax, and scoopable wax also falling into this category.

Pillar Candles

The original way to incorporate botanicals into your candles is to embed them into the outer layer of wax when making pillar candles. Because most pillar candles are designed to not melt across the entire surface of the candle, any botanicals embedded in the outer layer of wax should remain a safe distance away from the flame. Candle makers embed everything from petals to whole pieces of pressed flowers and other natural items into the outer layer of wax.  

Can you use rocks and gemstones in candles?

Generally speaking, rocks and gemstones are safe to sprinkle on the tops of your candles. Adding these items to candles has become very popular in recent years with the surge of interest in crystals and gemstones. As long as the stones don’t contain any flammable material, they should be fine to use in your candle designs.  

Although gemstones shouldn’t pose a fire hazard, it’s worth noting that they may affect the performance of your candle. Like botanicals, stones may move around in the candle as the melt pool expands. Any foreign item in the melt pool can interfere with the way the candle burns, affecting how it performs for you or your customers. While not necessarily a safety hazard, it is something you should test thoroughly before selling gemstone candles.

Can you use mica and glitter in candles?

Making candles with glitter or mica sounds like a fun idea, but it’s also something you should consider carefully. Mica and glitter aren’t generally flammable like dried botanicals, but they still can have a pretty significant impact on how your candle performs.

Because of the small particle size, pieces of glitter and mica can move around freely in the melt pool. This can create a beautiful effect, but mica and glitter particles can also interfere with how your wick burns.

Glitter and mica particles don’t dissolve. As the particles move around in the melt pool, they can cling to the wick and prevent it from consuming the melted wax as it normally would. A clogged wick can lead to your flame becoming weaker or even drowning out completely.

That’s not to say you can’t ever use mica or glitter in candles. However, because of its likelihood to affect your wick, it becomes very difficult to properly wick your candles when you use powdered colorants that don’t dissolve. Mica and glitter may behave differently depending on the amount and type used. This makes it hard to predict exactly how your candles will perform – which is a big issue if you are selling your products.

You may not notice an issue if you use a very small amount of mica or glitter in your candles. For example, sprinkling a few particles of glitter on top of a candle for a finishing touch might not impact it much at all. If you do plan on selling mica or glitter candles, do an ample amount of testing before releasing your products.  

As a word of caution, using glitter with large particles can pose a different issue. Small particles of glitter typically won’t melt, but large glitter pieces may melt or even burn if they get too close to the flame. As always, you should do a lot of safety testing if you use glitter with large pieces. Plastic glitter might not be as flammable and dangerous as dry botanical materials. However, the smell of burning plastic is the last thing you want in your candles!

Can you safely use other materials in candles?

When looking for safe ways to spruce up your candle decorations, you might also consider using glass glitter, decorative crushed glass particles, or metal items. As a general rule, any non-flammable materials such as these shouldn’t pose a fire hazard. However, like stones, glitter, and mica, any decorative toppings you add can affect how your candle performs.

You might also be wondering how to make candles with items such as a surprise ring or other free gift embedded at the bottom of the candle. These candles are popular for customers who want a fun surprise after they’re done burning their candle. There are several mainstream brands that sell these types of candles, with lots of hobbyists and small sellers also trying their hand at this candle making technique.

The inclusion of one item in the wax is generally safe and won’t usually affect the candle’s performance – as long as the item is non-flammable and not made from a material that may melt such as plastic. It’s generally a good idea to securely wrap the item in foil to prevent it from being covered with wax. As with any other candle additive, you will want to do a series of tests to make sure any candles you make with surprise gifts will work the way you want.

Using Candle Dye to Color Your Candles

If you’re reading this article, it’s probably because you want to make your candles look beautiful and stand out from the rest. One of the easiest ways to do that is to add color to your wax. Candle dye chips are excellent for tinting your candles just about any color you might want. Dye chips are available in a wide range of colors, including fluorescent colors that will glow brightly under blacklights!

Note: Many candle makers use mica because they want to color their wax. While the pigment in mica can slightly tint your wax, it is difficult to get bright, evenly mixed colors with mica in candle wax. Not only that, mica has a tendency to sink in wax. This can be a very appealing effect in products like wax melts, but might not be the look you're going for in candles. Candle dye chips are the way to go if you want colorful wax.

This information is being provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended to take the place of properly testing your candles. NorthWood is not responsible for any products you make with our supplies, recipes, or informational resources.

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