I love our Claire Burke candles so much, I wish to wax poetically about what makes our candles work so well. And that starts with, of course…the wax.
THE HISTORY OF WAX
Candle wax started with beeswax, dating back to the Tang dynasty in China (618-907AD). Extracts from tree nuts were used to make wax in early Japan, while in India, they boiled the fruit of the cinnamon tree to make wax.
Over the centuries, new waxes were developed depending on the availability of raw materials. Tallow, obtained from the fat of cattle, was the typical candle wax base material and was used extensively in Europe and America until the 18th century, when the whaling industry stimulated the development of spermaceti wax, a clean-burning, low-odor wax derived from the head oil of the sperm whale. Yes, I had the same question as you: What drove someone to look at a whale and say, “I think we can make a lot of candles out of that boy!” No amount of research I did answered that question. But there we were. An industry was born with an excellent product.
Spermaceti was the primary candle wax until the mid-1800’s, when ultimately paraffin wax became popular in Europe. Chemists found a way to remove the naturally occurring waxy substance from petroleum during the refining process and this became the new standard for many reasons. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that new synthetically derived products were created, followed by two vegetable-based waxes, soy and palm oil, in the late 1990’s. The development of vegetable-based waxes was significantly driven by the desire for a more natural, eco friendly product. But is it though? This article will review the pluses and minuses of each type of wax and why we have chosen our base to give Claire Burke consumers the best possible quality product on the market. We use a blend of waxes to optimize the burn and provide the best candle experience. The majority of the blend is soy, but we utilize some paraffin for the reasons found below.
Paraffin is the most cost-effective base material for candle wax and there. While many are concerned that the use of paraffin wax will increase the amount of drilling and using up of a non-renewable resource, the fact is that paraffin is a byproduct of the petroleum refining process and would otherwise be discarded if not used for candle wax. So long as petroleum is needed to run equipment and cars, there will always be excess paraffin available for use without increasing oil production. It IS part of a non-renewable/non-biodegradeable resource but does not add to the mining of it. Good candle companies, such as Claire Burke, use only USDA food grade approved paraffin as is used in the food, cosmetic and medical applications. These grades do not create carcinogenic compounds as has been widely reported.
Burning paraffin candles by trimming the wick before burning (1/4”) minimizes soot creation. According to the National Candle Association, the minuscule amount of soot produced by a candle (the natural byproduct of incomplete combustion of carbons) is similar to the soot given off by kitchen toasters and cooking oils and is chemically different than the soot generated from burning diesel fuel, gasoline, coal and other petroleum related products. Paraffin is the best burning material for candles to prevent cratering and optimize fragrance throw.
Soy wax was developed in the early 1990’s in response to finding an natural alternative to paraffin and the natural, but very expensive, beeswax. It is often marketed as “the natural” and “correct” option for environmentally conscious candle lovers. What people don’t know is that to make wax out of soy, it has to be chemically treated with hydrogen and nickel to harden the oil, then bleached, and subsequently injected with preservatives to prevent this natural product from becoming rancid which happens quickly.
Soy burns more quickly than paraffin, reducing the length of burn hours. Soy is also one of the strongest allergens, which may mean people with sensitivities should not burn a pure soy candle. Soy can never be “certified organic”. Only a tiny fraction of all “100% soy candles” are actually 100% soy. Soy candle wax is almost always a blend of waxes that contain chemical additives.
However, soy is derived from a sustainable, renewable resource so it does not negatively affect the environment in the initial procurement of the beans. It is also cheaper than beeswax and has variable melting points. It also burns at a lower temperature, making it a safer option. This is why most massage oil candles are made from soy.
Unless it is an essential oil, most of which are very expensive, I can say with authority (as I used to own a fragrance company) that ALL fragrances have some synthetic, or man-made, materials in them. So even if the candle is 100% soy, it probably has a synthetic compound in it. Synthetics can be cheaper and can actually perform better and be healthier for the environment than an all-natural product. It’s true. Did you know that the cleaner mechanics use to get grease and dirt off of their hands after working on a car is actually an all-natural product. The orange oil extracted from the skin of an orange is the most aggressive material to cut through grease and is very drying on the skin. Yet it is a 100% natural terpentine product. Interesting, no?
Each wax blend with a different fragrance burns differently so selecting the correct wick for optimum burn and soot reduction is critical. Claire Burke tests many wicks with each fragrance and selects the one which provides a complete burn pool so you optimize fragrance “throw” / impact while also completely burning the wax/fragrance combo to minimize or eliminate soot.
TRIMMING THE WICK
It is critical to ensuring a clean burning experience. To that end, look forward to this fall’s introduction of the first Claire Burke stainless steel wick trimmer. This will enable you to extend your reach easily to whatever height your candle has burned down to in our beautiful mason jars and ensure a clean burn at any time! So look for it in September!
Every product has its pluses and minuses. Claire Burke has worked tirelessly with our manufacturers to develop a blend of paraffin and soy, with high quality fragrances, and customized wicks to ensure the cleanest, yet long lasting burn, while protecting the environment. We are a majority soy blend, but utilize the better burning properties of paraffin to create a cleaner burn, reduce soot emission and provide a pleasant fragrance experience.
And if people are upset because you enjoy burning candles, which create less carbon emission in one year than their car does in one trip to the local grocery store down the street….just tell them to mind their own beeswax!!
Sources:a. National Candle Association