Candles today come in several varieties but two of the most popular are soy and paraffin. These two substances have very different origins that can ultimately affect the environment and your home. Before you buy your next candle, take a moment to learn about the benefits of soy wax vs. paraffin.
As consumers began to pay close attention to the eco-friendly qualities of the products they buy, the debate between soy wax vs. paraffin arose. In short, soy wax comes from soybean oil, while paraffin wax comes from petroleum.
However, this is just where the differences begin. Let’s look closely at the pros and cons of soy wax vs. paraffin candles.
Soy Wax Candles
Soy candles are made from soy wax which comes from soybeans pressed into oil, then hydrogenated into a waxy solid. The challenge for consumers is knowing where the soybeans were grown. Those grown with pesticides can have harmful toxins in them, while pesticide-free soybeans are generally free of toxins.
All candles sold in a retail market should meet the suggested Consumer Product Safety Commission federal regulations for being a clean-burning product. Unfortunately, the regulations are minimal. Most of the regulations are about lead-based wicks, not about the toxicity of the wax.
Paraffin Wax Candles
Paraffin wax comes from crude oil, which is a non-renewable fossil fuel. After removing crude oil from the earth, refineries process it and turn it into petroleum-based oil. Candle manufacturers then use the oil and make it into paraffin wax.
Despite coming from oil, paraffin wax candles are considered safe to burn at home because they do not contain lead wicks or lead in the wax. However, researchers have found over 300 other toxic chemicals in paraffin. Still, the levels are so low that they shouldn’t affect your health.
Outside of lead content, the actual safety of paraffin wax candles is still inconclusive, as no paraffin candle tests have been peer reviewed.
Other than how manufacturers source the material, the big question remains regarding the safety of burning paraffin or soy candles. All candles create soot, which is relatively safe because candles rarely emit enough soot for people to develop respiratory problems.
Paraffin candles emit chemicals that can affect your home’s air quality, even though they are in small amounts. Since paraffin comes from fossil fuels, the wax can emit toluene, alkanes, and alkenes. In large amounts, toluene can cause difficulty sleeping, reproductive damage, and tiredness. Also, in large amounts, alkanes and alkenes are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can damage the respiratory system.
Soy candles made from soy wax also emit chemicals, primarily if candlemakers use soybeans treated with pesticides or grown with genetic modification. When burning soy wax, candles can emit some chemicals from herbicides and pesticides.
When buying candles, consider where the wax originates. Soy candles come from renewable soybeans, while paraffin candles come from limited fossil fuels. While some soybean farming practices can be questionable, they aren’t as damaging to the land and waterways as drilling for oil.
Along with being more eco-friendly, soy candles are also easier to clean. If you happen to spill soy wax, you simply use soap and water to clean the spot. If you spill paraffin wax, the oil-based is often permanent. If you want to support eco-friendly candles, the better choice is soy wax.
All candles leave soot in the atmosphere. The soot that comes from paraffin wax is petroleum-based, called petro-carbon. Soy wax does not release any petroleum-based chemicals, thus keeping your home’s air quality safer. Soy wax also has a lower soot level than paraffin candles, so you have fewer soot deposits.
Environmental agencies, like the EPA, warn against using paraffin candles, especially if you have anyone with respiratory issues living in your home. Even though the soot levels are low, the tiny particles can penetrate the lungs, which can be dangerous for people with pre-existing lung conditions.
When you buy an expensive candle, you generally want to enjoy it for a long amount of time. Fortunately, there are several factors that affect any candle’s burning time. Thick wicks help candles burn longer, and the larger wicks prevent wax walls around the perimeter. Candles with two or three wicks burn longer because the wax heats evenly and doesn’t leave wax walls.
Another factor that affects burning time is the molecular density of the wax, and since soy wax is denser than paraffin wax, it burns longer. Since paraffin comes from a highly combustible substance - crude oil, it burns faster than soy wax.
Making the Choice
With so many types of candle wax available, how do you choose? While paraffin candles are cheaper, are they the best option? With a longer burn life and an eco-friendly source, soy candles are safer to use than paraffin candles. If using renewable materials and keeping petro-carbon soot out of your home, then soy candles are a better choice than paraffin candles.
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