Imagine a quiet evening, the room dimly lit by the soft glow of a candle, the faint crackling of the wick and the delicate scent wafting through the air. It’s a scene familiar to many, yet the simple elegance of a candle often belies the complex composition that makes up this humble source of light and ambiance. But what exactly does a candle consist of?
In this enlightening exploration, we’ll journey to the heart of the candle’s structure, detailing the ingredients and materials that come together to create this essential object. We will look at the different types of wax, such as paraffin, beeswax, and soy, that serve as the main body of a candle, providing its shape, texture, and fuel. We’ll consider the essential role of the wick, made from materials such as cotton, linen, or even wood, and its function in maintaining the flame. We’ll also look at additives such as dyes, fragrances, and stabilizers that contribute to the visual and aromatic appeal of candles.
So whether you’re a candle enthusiast, a curious observer, or an aspiring candlemaker, join us as we delve into the fascinating world of candles and uncover the intricate blend of science and artistry that goes into every flickering flame.
It is a mixture of hydrocarbons obtained as a byproduct of the refining process. Paraffin wax has been used to make candles for many years because it burns relatively cleanly and can be easily molded into any shape.
The composition of paraffin wax varies depending on its source, but it typically contains alkanes with between 16 and 24 carbon atoms per molecule (e.g., hexadecane, pentacosane, heptacosane, octacosanoic acid esters, and tetradecanoic acid esters).
It also includes some long-chain branched components such as tridecanol. These are not classified separately as they do not contribute to the melting point.
Paraffin is inexpensive and can hold both colorants and fragrances. Paraffin is non-biodegradable and non-natural. It’s also made from non-renewable resources, so many people avoid using it for environmental reasons.
Heating paraffin wax causes the release of soot and 11 known toxic substances—two of them carcinogens—into the air. For these reasons, paraffin wax candles are losing popularity.
This is a natural wax produced by honeybees of the genus Apis. Bees produce wax from a special gland in their stomach. A swarm of bees uses it to build their honeycomb hives.
The wax is harvested at the same time as the honey. Beeswax has the sweet smell of honey. It is white, yellow, orange, or red. Beeswax is expensive because it takes a lot of work to make. It is difficult to dye because it is naturally brown.
*Beeswax has been found to have remarkable antibacterial properties, so its use would provide protection against bacterial contamination during storage or transportation. It also helps prevent other substances mixed with beeswax from burning too quickly.
This is a natural and renewable alternative to animal-based wax, such as beeswax. Soybeans are grown without the use of harmful pesticides or GMOs, so it’s environmentally friendly too.
It has been used by candle makers for centuries because soy candles burn very cleanly, enhancing their fragrance and leaving less residue behind on the glass jar after burning than other types of candles.
Soybeans provide an inexpensive source of raw materials from which products can be made for many industries, including textiles, lubricants/cutting oils, plastics and elastomers (materials), inks & paint additives, foodstuffs (vegetable oil), and biofuels.
Soy wax is also biodegradable, unlike paraffin wax. The melting point for beeswax is lower than most of the other waxes on this list. This makes it easier to burn in cooler weather or during the wintertime.
It is a type of wax used in candle making that is derived primarily from coconut oil. When the oil is hydrogenated, it is transformed into a waxy substance. This type of wax is known for its slow and clean burn and excellent fragrance throw.
Coconut wax is a relatively new player in the candle industry and has gained popularity for being an environmentally friendly and sustainable choice. Not only is it made from a renewable resource, but the coconut palms used in its production have a high yield and fast growth rate.
In addition, coconut wax tends to be softer than other waxes, such as soy or paraffin, and can have a more luxurious, creamy appearance. However, it’s often blended with other types of wax to improve its performance, as pure coconut wax can be difficult to work with due to its low melting point.
Gel wax, also known as jelly wax or gel candle wax, is a clear, rubbery compound that’s made from mineral oil and polymer resin. It is typically used for creating candles that are unique and visually interesting due to its transparency.
Gel wax has a higher melting point compared to traditional waxes like paraffin or soy, so it burns longer, making it a popular choice for long-lasting candles. One of the notable features of gel wax is its ability to suspend decorative items such as glitter, sea shells, stones, or small figurines, creating distinctive and visually appealing candles.
Despite its many benefits, it’s worth noting that gel wax requires a bit more care in handling compared to other types of candle wax. It needs to be heated to higher temperatures to melt, and it requires specific wicks designed to withstand those temperatures. It is also critical to only use non-flammable, heat-resistant items within the wax to maintain safety.
This is a natural and sustainable wax that’s used in making candles. It comes from the same trees that produce palm oil. Palm wax produces an even burn with little to no ash residue left behind, which makes for easier cleanup.
And like soy wax, this type of wax burns cleanly without releasing toxins into your home environment while you’re burning it on your candle. However, many people still avoid using palm-based products due to deforestation concerns.
A candle’s wick is what lets it burn. It transfers the wax from the candle to the flame and then burns itself in the process. Candle wicks can be made of different materials, like cotton. Sometimes the wick also has metal in the middle to help it stand up straight.
Cotton fibers are the most common candle wicks. They are braided into a flat shape and then covered with wax to allow them to stand straight. Depending on the size of the candle, there may be one or more wicks.
Some candles are colored by adding a colorant to the wax. Candlemakers use some type of pigment or dye, like those that you might see in food coloring bottles. The most popular choices for candle dyes and pigments come from natural sources, such as berries or leaves.
Other options include iron oxides, titanium dioxide, carmine/cochineal extract (a red dye made from ground beetles), ultramarine blue powder (made with minerals), and copper mordants. Adding these substances helps make your candle’s flame change colors when it burns down into different parts of the jar!
Many candles are scented. This is because the scent helps give them a special aroma and feeling that can make people feel happier or relaxed, depending on what type of fragrance they choose to burn in their candle.
Fragrance oils come from many sources, such as fruit peelings (orange), herbs (rosemary), flowers (lilac), roots/root powders (eucalyptus root powder), and leaves/stems (lemon leaf oil).
Candles are a great way to create ambiance, but what exactly is in them? As it turns out, there’s more than just wax and wick. There can be additives like dyes or fragrance oils that help make the candle smell better.
I hope this article has given you some new insights into the chemicals that are used to make candles. Did we miss anything? Leave your thoughts in the comment below!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the main components of a candle?
The main components of a candle are the wax body and the wick. The wax serves as fuel for the candle, while the wick draws the melted wax upwards to feed the flame.
What types of wax are used in candles?
Various types of wax are used in candle-making, including paraffin wax, beeswax, soy wax, palm wax, coconut wax, and more. The choice of wax can affect the candle’s burning time, scent throw, and appearance.
Can candles be made without wax?
While wax is the most common fuel for candles, alternatives exist. Tallow (animal fat) was historically used to make candles. Oil lamps, which use liquid oil as fuel and a wick for burning, are also an alternative to traditional wax candles.
What gives color to the candles?
Candles can be colored using various dyes specifically designed for candle-making. These dyes can come in forms like liquid, powder, or even dye chips, and are mixed into the melted wax prior to the candle being formed.
What are some eco-friendly candle materials?
Eco-friendly candle materials include soy wax, coconut wax, beeswax, and palm wax (when it’s sustainably sourced). These waxes are derived from renewable resources and typically produce fewer pollutants when burned compared to paraffin wax.
Are all candle waxes safe?
Most commercially available candle waxes are considered safe for normal use. However, some people may prefer to avoid paraffin wax, a petroleum byproduct, due to potential concerns about air quality. Always ensure that candles are used in a well-ventilated area, regardless of the type of wax.
Carole Brooks has been making candles for many years. She loves to create candles of all different types and for all different purposes. Here she shares her experience and knowledge. Carole is a graduate of Texas A&M University.