by Shanda Lynn Markham, BellaOnline's Candlemaking Editor
This article is focusing on the controversial topic of paraffin wax versus soy wax. The intent of this article is not to convince you of which is better, but to help you understand the real differences between soy and paraffin. Ultimately, it is each candle maker’s personal choice which wax to use and either one is a good choice. I hope that any discussion in the forum not be combative or “bashing” of one or the other, but more a quest to truly understand the differences.
The most highly touted inaccuracy is that soy wax candles do not soot and paraffin wax candles do. This is a false statement. A candle is a combustible and combustion equals soot. Soy candles produce white soot that is generally not seen by the eye whereas paraffin candles produce black soot. Neither soot is better than the other or healthier for you. It is important to note that sooting mainly happens when the flame is disturbed. This can happen by an air draft, an improperly trimmed wick, as well as a clogged wick. All these things happen in both types of candles. It is even more important to note that it the amount of soot you are exposed to by burning candles is minimal. It is very unlikely that it will cause health problems. Now if your house were to burn down due to a candle accident, the soot from the house burning would be harmful to you. I use this example to show you the difference in the amounts of soot you are exposed to. We sometimes forget to think about these things when we are bombarded with statements made to cause us to be fearful.
The main difference between soy and paraffin waxes is that one is “renewable” and the other is not. Soy wax is a by-product of soy beans and is thus renewable. We can plant more soy beans without adversely affecting our natural resources. It is also helpful to farmers who grow and sell their soybeans. Paraffin wax is a by-product of petroleum which is not renewable. But I also want to help you look at this in a different light. We do not drill for oil solely for paraffin wax. Petroleum is used in almost every aspect of our lives. It is used in the plastics we use for storage, the make-up we wear on our face, the clothes we wear and furniture we use. Petroleum is a basis of our life and we have become very dependent on it in our lives. When crude oil is sent to be distilled, it goes through many phases of distillation producing many different products from that one barrel of crude of oil. The categories made in order of distillation are: fuel gases, liquefied petroleum gases, aviation gas, jet fuel, kerosene, distillate fuel oil, diesel fuel oils, residual fuel oil, lubricants, greases and finally waxes. I do not claim to understand the distillation processes, but it is obvious that waxes are the final product made. They are more greatly distilled and cleaner. Food grade paraffin is used in many of our foods and is FDA approved. Food grade paraffin wax must meet different standards than plain paraffin wax. I personally use food grade paraffin wax in my candles.
Ultimately, I am not bashing either type of wax. My only issue is that current trends have brought us to believe that one wax is better than the other and this is not true. The only true difference is that one is renewable and one is not. It is a choice of personal preference. I prefer a highly fragrant candle and this is better achieved with paraffin wax than soy wax. The candle maker adds additives to both types of waxes to change the melting point, hardness of the candle and the ability to hold scent.
Permission to reprint by Shanda Lynn Markham, BellaOnline's Candlemaking Editor. Original article - http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art52885.asp