Take Notes: Types of Wax

Notes on Wax | Common Scents: The P.F. Candle Co. Blog

Today, we’re diving into a topic
I surprisingly have a lot to say about: wax! *insert wax poetic joke here* P.F. has used soy wax to make our candles since we first started, when soy wax was one of the few vegetable waxes widely available on the market. Even back in 2008, when the P.F. of today was not even a dream in my mind, I was looking for ways to reduce my carbon footprint. I made soy wax candles shaped like owls and repurposed old jars and teacups into vessels for my candles. I liked that soy wax was grown domestically, and the soft, opaque color it imparted on my molded candles, plus the scent didn’t overpower the fragrances I infused in the wax.

Today, vegetable wax candles are much more popular, and people have their choice of types of wax to use. So why would we continue to use soy wax? Let’s dive into some myths and facts about soy wax — no BS ahead — plus the safety of it, and other wax alternatives.

But first, what the hell is soy wax? And how is it made?

Soy wax is made through the process of hydrogenation. First, the soybeans are harvested, cleaned, and rolled into flakes, then oil is then extracted from the soybeans and hydrogenated. The process turns the soybeans into saturated fat — kinda like Crisco — and this changes the melt point of the oil, meaning it is solid at room temp. Fun fact: Leftover bean husks are used for animal feed.
Notes on Wax | Common Scents: The P.F. Candle Co. Blog

We use 100% soy wax — we do not blend it with other waxes. Candle manufacturers can call a candle a “soy candle” if it has any bit of soy wax in it, so if using a vegetable wax candle is important to you, be sure to ask what the blend is.


Myths & Facts

Soy wax is considered clean-burning, biodegradable, a renewable resource, and some even go as far as to call it “carbon neutral.” (Technically, everything we do at P.F. is carbon neutral because we partner with Climate Neutral to offset our carbon footprint, but I digress). It’s true that soy wax burns cleanly — you don’t see much soot coming off our candles. We’ve learned from our extensive testing that soy wax, in general, is so clean burning that it's not subject to the same soot testing as paraffin waxes here in the US.

One myth to partially debunk is that “clean” burns only occur with certain types of waxes. The wicking of the candle — the type of braid and the size of the wick — also has a dramatic effect on how sooty your candles are. Plus, as the user, there is a level of control you have, and if you keep the wick trimmed it won’t soot while burning. Soy does tend to burn cleaner, but if a candle is wicked properly it can also reduce the sooting.

Soy is renewable: myth or fact? Soy is indeed a renewable resource — the only limit to the amount of soy wax would be the amount we could grow, whereas something like paraffin is a finite resource from petroleum. But is soy technically carbon neutral? It’s one of those half-myths. It’s certainly more carbon neutral than paraffin wax. Think of it this way: when a plant grows, it takes in carbon from the air. When you burn a candle, you’re releasing carbon into the air. If you squint, it evens out. If you used a paraffin candle, you’re taking ancient carbon that was buried beneath the earth and releasing it into the atmosphere, doubling your carbon. But, again, this doesn’t factor in transportation or the process of transforming the plant into wax, so it’s sort of a half truth that soy is carbon neutral.

Speaking of transportation, the soy wax we use is grown domestically here in the US. Because we use up to 1600 lbs of wax in any given day, using a domestic partner for our wax keeps our carbon footprint down — we don’t have to truck it across an ocean in order to import it.

One of the things I like the most about using soy is that it’s great for creating non-irritating candles. A fun fact is that Tom, P.F. 's Co-Owner and my partner in life and business, actually has a fragrance sensitivity, which is kind of ironic considering his occupation. When we first started dating, I actually stopped wearing perfume. So how does he manage to be around our fragrances all day? The secret is in the sauce, or more accurately, the wax and the fragrance load dose. The candle market is flooded with brands that have a heavy hand in fragrance dose — and they do a great job. Our goal, and what makes us different, is providing subtle, everyday fragrance that doesn’t irritate your senses. The soy wax itself is non-irritating and non-toxic and we add a blend of premium natural and man-made fragrances at a dose that is soothing, not overwhelming.

Just like other waxes, there are certainly drawbacks to using soy. In candor, no wax is perfect, and we choose to use soy because it’s the one we can most closely “round up to one”. We are always testing and interested in new waxes, staying up to date on improvements in the market. Drawbacks of working with soy include the presence of GMOs in the soybeans. 95% of the soybean market in the US is genetically modified. The protein used to test for the presence of GMOs does not appear in the wax after the hydrogenation process, so it’s difficult to reliably find organic soy wax. There are also concerns of monoculture and deforestation linked to soy wax. Deforestation due to soybean farming is typically seen in South America, not in US crops, but we reached out to our supplier for more information and discovered that they have a plan of action to be completely certified deforestation-free by 2025. Love the accountability from our suppliers!
Notes on Wax | Common Scents: The P.F. Candle Co. Blog Notes on Wax | Common Scents: The P.F. Candle Co. Blog

Other Types of Waxes

The most common wax on the market is paraffin, which is a byproduct of petroleum refining. Paraffin gets a pretty bad rep — we’re personally not fans of it here but think the fears surrounding it are slightly exaggerated. As far as waxes go, it burns much cleaner than its predecessors (animal waxes), and because it’s a byproduct, it uses “all parts” of the oil process. But we believe in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, and also, paraffin doesn’t smell great when it’s burning. Without proper fragrancing, it can impart a plastic-y smell. There are also concerns about chemicals that paraffin off-gasses, like benzene.

Beeswax is a gorgeous wax made by bees in their hives. Produced by female worker honeybees from a gland in the abdomen and excreted to create the hive itself. The wax hardens as soon as it hits the air that forms a wax scale — fascinating. I’m personally a big fan of beeswax (check out my rolled taper tutorials), but it’s costly and not considered vegan. Beeswax has a beautiful, natural honey-ish and warm scent that needs no added fragrance, and is an excellent choice for molded candles, as the high melt point means harder wax.

Coconut wax has risen in popularity over the past couple years. Mainly sourced from the Philippines or other tropical Asian countries, coconut wax has a lower melt point and must be blended with another wax (you typically see beeswax, soy, or paraffin blends) in order to be practical for use in candles. Just like with soy, as the popularity of coconut wax and oil rises, deforestation in the land where it is grown is a potential issue.

The poster child of deforestation in vegetable waxes is palm wax. Palm wax gets a pretty bad rep, like paraffin, because until recently, manufacturers were not prioritizing sustainability in their supply chains. The good news is that deforestation-free palm wax is now becoming more available (look for companies that have certification through RSPO.) Palm wax is also generally grown in Southeast Asia and Brazil.

Wax Safety

Recently, some have questioned whether waxes like soy, that undergo a chemical process to alter the melt point, can still be considered “natural”. Soy wax is from a natural, vegetable source — the soybean — and is then processed and turned into a wax. Some people do not consider this to still be a natural product because it has been chemically modified, but most vegetable waxes undergo a process to turn from the raw plant material into the final wax form that can be used in candles and other cosmetic products.

Often when people are discussing natural and non-toxic, what they’re really asking is “what’s the healthiest for me?” and “is this safe?” Burning our candles is 100% safe. Soy wax is clean burning and our wicks are typically self-trimming, which avoids sooting that can release nasty chemicals. What you want to avoid is sooting from candles — anytime you can see your candle visibly sooting, or you see soot around the edges of the jar, it’s time to put the candle out and trim your wick. Soy and other vegetable waxes are non-toxic. If you see someone trying to tell you that their products are “free from chemicals'' — look the other way. Everything is a chemical, and chemophobia does not help us ensure that our products are safe. Toxicity is in the dose, not the ingredient, so it’s important to follow all dosing guidelines for fragrances. Further, you want to ensure that the fragrances are safe as well. We use a blend of natural and man-made fragrance oils that are free of phthalates (a known endocrine disruptor), and adhere to Prop 65 guidelines. In addition, we are constantly monitoring the list of ingredients of concern and even tweaking our own formulas to ensure our products are safe and in compliance. Lastly, if you are concerned about ventilation and respiratory health when it comes to burning candles, ensure you are burning in a location with ventilation (open windows) and not burning too many at once in a small space.

I could probably write another 2,000 words on the subject of wax, as it’s a topic we are frequently researching and testing — but we’ll leave that for another post!

If you’re interested in learning more about fragrance and raw materials, check out our book At Home with Fragrance!


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