Candles are a beautiful way to create a calm atmosphere in your home. They are elegant, smell lovely, and add ambiance to any living space. However, if you are an environmentally conscious person you may have wondered if the candles that you light in your house have any impact on the environment.
Compared to other sources of warmth and light, most candles are considered eco-friendly and leave behind a low carbon footprint. Some types of candles are better for the environment than others, but overall you can rest easy knowing that the candles you love aren’t too damaging to the Earth’s ecosystem.
Discover what candle materials are the most eco-friendly and what you should look for when choosing luminaries for your home that are environmentally conscious and high quality.
Ingredients in a Candle
As you consider whether or not your candles are the most environmentally friendly, it is helpful to break down exactly what ingredients go into making a candle. A basic candle consists of a wick and a flammable source of fuel, but many candles also contain fragrances and are held inside a variety of containers.
The modern word for candle comes from Latin candēla, meaning “to shine”, which hints at the modern candle’s origins. About 3,000 years ago, Ancient Romans popularized the candle by rolling papyrus into a small cylinder and placing it inside tallow (beef fat) or beeswax. Over the centuries, candles evolved and people began using clean-burning waxes and adding fragrances to the candles they used in their homes.
Although the materials used in the past differ from those used in today’s commercial candles, candle companies follow the same basic template. When looking at a candle’s eco-friendly status, you need to evaluate what type of candle wax is used, what material the wick is made of, the origin of the candle’s fragrances, and the material of the container that holds the candle.
Are Candle Wax Eco-Friendly?
Candles today use wax instead of animal fat as a fuel source. The most common waxes used in candlemaking include beeswax as well as soy, paraffin, and palm wax.
Beeswax is one of the best candle ingredients for the environment. Beeswax comes from melting honeycombs after honey from the hive is harvested. Beeswax is both sustainable and makes use of material that would otherwise be wasted. Raw yellow beeswax has even been shown to actually help remove pollutants from the surrounding air.
Research notes that bees play an important role in the pollination of flowers and crops, therefore using beeswax for candles supports bee farmers and the local ecosystem.
The only downside to beeswax candles is that they can be expensive and do not hold fragrance very well. However, if your biggest concern about candles is their eco-friendly status, then beeswax is the way to go.
- Soy Wax
Soy wax is a fuel made from soybean plants. It is created by harvesting soybeans and putting them through a process to extract the oil they contain. The oil is hydrogenated and converted into fat which is solid at room temperature. This product is called soy wax.
For the most part, soy wax is sustainable and eco-friendly. It comes from a natural source and the bean husks used to make the wax are fed to livestock, so there isn’t a lot of waste in the process.
The biggest concern with soy wax comes into play when it comes from farms where the soy is not grown sustainably. If the environment is your greatest concern when choosing a candle, it is smart to check the label to see if the company lists where their soy wax comes from to ensure it supports sustainable growers.
Read more: Best Soy Wax For Candle Making
- Palm Wax
Palm wax is similar to soy wax, coconut wax, and other vegetable waxes used to make candles. This type of wax comes from palm trees and is created through a similar process as soy wax. Oil is extracted from the plant, hydrogenated, and made into a solid wax that burns clean and is good for making candles.
Similarly to soy wax, palm wax is a great choice for the environment, but only if the palm trees are grown in a sustainable way. In non-sustainable farming, the palm oil industry is responsible for burning and cleaning several miles of rainforest, which is a terrible environmental practice.
Unfortunately, it is often difficult to verify if the source of palm wax in your candle comes from a sustainable farm. When choosing a candle that supports environmentally friendly practices, palm wax is okay in theory but isn’t always the best option if you have trouble verifying the palm wax’s origin.
- Paraffin Wax
Paraffin wax is probably the most used type of wax in modern candles. It is cheap and takes on any type of coloring or fragrance that the candle maker wants to put in it. It is long-lasting and durable. This makes it popular for homeowners who like pretty, scented items.
The downside of paraffin wax is that it isn’t very environmentally friendly. It is made out of the byproducts of the petroleum industry which contributes to the elimination of the world’s dwindling fossil fuels. Paraffin wax is likely not harmful to your home if used sparingly, although as it burns it may emit small amounts of toxins that could prove bothersome in a small space. As far as the environment goes it is probably best to avoid paraffin wax candles and opt for a candle made from natural fuels instead.
Are Candle Wicks Eco-Friendly?
When it comes to candle wicks, there are two main types, cotton, and wood. Although there are potential environmental concerns with either type of wick, neither is much better or worse than the other.
While wood wicks are less likely to be coated in chemicals or paraffin wax like cotton wicks, both types of wicks require harvesting a natural material. Wood must be cut down to be used as a wick and the cotton used to make the wick comes from harvested cotton plants. As long as the manufacturer uses sustainable farming and harvesting techniques, both wicks have a relatively low impact on the environment, which is great news for candle lovers.
Are Candle Fragrances Eco-Friendly?
Many people enjoy candles because of the aroma they give off while burning. They create an atmosphere in a room and evoke the scent of Christmas, fresh-baked cookies, or a tropical getaway. How do candles give off such wonderful aromas? They are usually chock-full of fragrance oils.
The exact ingredients in fragrance oils are difficult to pin down. Manufacturers use many combinations of natural and synthetic chemicals to achieve the desired result. Most fragrance oils include base oil, alcohols, and other synthetic compounds that contain parabens and phthalates. These are not the best types of substances for the environment.
Other scent-inducing options are dried herbs and essential oils. Essential oils are oils that are extracted from a plant source and produce a very strong smell. If you love scented candles but don’t want to bring fragrance oils into your home, grab a candle that uses essential oils or dried herbs in the wax for its smell.
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Are Candle Containers Eco-Friendly?
When you purchase a candle for your house, you most likely buy one in a container of some kind. Many candles are poured into glass or tin containers because these materials can withstand the heat from the candle flame and are able to protect your home from potential fire dangers.
The good news is that both tin and glass are highly recyclable materials, which means they are great for eco-conscious candle fans. The best thing you can do for the environment when you are done burning a candle in a glass or tin container is to resue the container in your home or take it to a recycling center to ensure that it is repurposed.
Read more: Best Jars for Candle Making
Do Your Best When Choosing An Eco-Friendly Candle
The truth is that many candles on the market today are eco-friendly. In response to environmental issues raised by consumers, high-quality candle makers have already switched from the not-so-great paraffin wax and chemical fragrance oils to environmentally conscious materials like soy wax, beeswax, and essential oils.
If choosing an eco-friendly candle is important to you, there are plenty of options on the market. Do your best to verify that your preferred candle companies use wax created by sustainable practices and aim for candles that leave a low carbon footprint. Then sit back, grab a cup of tea, and light your favorite candle and enjoy the experience.