Candles are popular for holidays and across the year, with many finding scented candles beneficial for calming and creating a cozy home. Lighting a candle seems like such a small habit, but lighting a candle means releasing a little more pollution into the air.
So choosing the most eco-friendly candle wax is important to reduce each candle’s environmental impact.
Soy candle wax is the best candle wax for the environment, though not by far, with beeswax and coconut wax also being more eco-friendly than conventional paraffin wax candles. When purchasing from companies, purely soy wax candles are the way to go, but the more locally sourced the wax, the better!
Which candle wax is the most eco-friendly?
According to the National Candle Association, over 1 billion pounds of wax are used to produce candles sold annually in the US alone. Most of this wax is made from paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum oils and typically bleached.
While paraffin wax may be sourced from dead plants and animals, the process it undergoes includes toxic chemicals, which pose environmental problems and contain many toxic substances.
Paraffin wax candles may release benzene in addition to other hazardous chemicals like toluene. Benzene is a carcinogenic substance associated with leukemia and other blood disorders.
According to one study, paraffin wax contains up to 11 carcinogenic compounds. It’s thought that the amount of carcinogens released from paraffin wax candles isn’t enough to be labeled a health risk, though studies vary on how much harm is done. People who regularly burn candles are more likely to inhale or otherwise expose themselves to these toxins.
The health effects associated with paraffin wax aren’t thought to give enough exposure to most candle lovers, but it’s important to also look at the environmental impact of different candle wax.
Next to paraffin wax, the second most popular candle wax is soy wax. Other types of candle wax include:
- Coconut wax
- Rapeseed wax
- Stearin wax
Some types of candle wax are also combined with essential oils, especially if you make them yourself or buy from small businesses. Essential oils aren’t the most eco-friendly, because the essential oil industry is unsustainable.
Beeswax and stearin wax are more eco-friendly than paraffin wax but they aren’t vegan. Stearin wax is made from vegetable and animal fats and oils.
Stearin wax is usually made with palm oil or is mixed in with paraffin, so it’s best to check the labels thoroughly for any sign of paraffin wax. While palm oil isn’t an immediate reason to veto, always make sure if it’s sustainably sourced or certified organic palm oil.
Rapeseed wax candles are made using rapeseed oil. A popular oil, rapeseed is produced across Europe and the UK. Grown in abundance, the way rapeseed is grown isn’t so sustainable, as farmers use nitrogen fertilizer to maximize yields. Fertilizer run-off makes its way into rivers and groundwater and is usually accompanied by synthetic pesticides.
Coconut wax is made from coconut oil and other natural waxes, usually soy wax. Considered moderately sustainable by HEALabel, coconuts don’t need pesticides or herbicides and are usually manually harvested. However, coconut plantations use up a lot of land and are linked to deforestation. Coconut oil is thought to be as bad for the environment as palm oil.
This leaves beeswax and soy wax.
Beeswax candles are healthier for the air, thanks to their ability to neutralize pollutants in the air. However, harvesting beeswax can cause stress to bee colonies, which could shorten their lifespans.
Soy wax candles aren’t perfect, but they are better for air pollution than paraffin wax. Made from soybeans, they also produce a byproduct that can be used for cattle feed. Unfortunately, soybeans are grown with pesticides and fertilizers.
There’s no clear winner, but soy wax’s widespread use makes it the best alternative to paraffin wax, especially because candles made with coconut and stearin wax are blended with other waxes. For candle lovers in Europe, rapeseed wax candles are also a great option, especially if the rapeseed is certified organic.
Are Yankee Candles eco-friendly?
While not much information is available on how Yankee Candles affect the environment, health hazards associated with the candles are worrying for anyone who regularly purchases them.
Looking at the material safety data sheets for Yankee Candles, we can see what effect different candles have on the environment and health.
According to safety data sheets on Yankee Candles’ jar candles, tea lights, and other products in 2011, the candles are “not expected to be harmful to the aquatic environment” in the ecological information section, yet the label includes a warning of “harmful to aquatic life with long-lasting effects”. So which is it?
The GHS classification for acute hazards to the aquatic environment is Acute Aquatic Category 3, and the long-term (chronic) hazards to the aquatic environment are Chronic Aquatic Category 3.
Acute Aquatic Category 3 is the lowest category and suggests it is “harmful to aquatic life”. Chronic Aquatic Category 3 is the second-to-last category and is labeled “harmful to aquatic life with long-lasting effects”.
The TimeMist Yankee Candle is noted to contain 25% glycol ethers.
Short-term exposure to high levels of glycol ethers is connected to health hazards like liver and kidney damage, pulmonary edema, and narcosis, while low levels of glycol ethers can cause “conjunctivitis, upper respiratory tract irritation, headache, nausea, and temporary corneal clouding”.
Chronic exposure to glycol ethers is associated with fatigue, lethargy, nausea, anorexia, tremor, and anemia, and animals are in danger of anemia and irritation from inhalation. Consuming glycol ethers could cause animals to suffer from anemia and “effects on the thymus, spleen, bone marrow, liver, and kidneys”.
Is soy wax good for the environment?
Soy wax is produced without the use of synthetic chemicals, though part of the process involves hydrogenating with a catalyst – usually nickel. In general, soy wax is environmentally friendly, but the soybean industry isn’t.
To expand the soybean industry to meet increasing demand, the industry has caused deforestation, soil erosion, and higher greenhouse gas emissions. According to the WWF, high rates of soil erosion from soybean cultivation have been reduced but still aren’t sustainable. Soybean farms are very mechanized, and
Soybeans aren’t primarily used for candle wax, with most of the demand coming from livestock feed. Soy is a cheap feed-crop, making it an ideal purchase for many conventional farms. It’s these farms that contribute to most of soy’s environmental impact.
As more farms opt for organic farming practices, the soybean industry may improve, but it doesn’t rule out the current harm many farms do.
It’s hard to find anything about soy wax in particular and its impact on the environment. What is out there is largely written by candle companies competing with soy wax candle producers or soy wax candle companies.
As long as the soy wax is sourced from a certified organic or local farm, the environmental impact of the soy wax candle is greatly reduced. When making your own soy wax candles, always source the soy oil from eco-friendly farms and companies!
Is soy wax really better than paraffin wax?
Because soy wax is derived from natural ingredients it’s seen as an immediate good alternative to paraffin wax.
However, it’s important to remember that paraffin is sourced from crude oil. It’s easy to forget that crude oil, which sounds like vegetable oil, is a synonym for petroleum, one of the most widely used fossil fuels with an almost immeasurable impact on the environment.
While it’s true that the soybean industry is not as sustainable as it could be, comparing it to the petroleum industry makes soy wax much better than paraffin wax.
The main concern is making sure what you’re buying is really soy wax. Some soy wax candles are made using paraffin or stearin wax, especially pillar candles. If you’re vegan, it’s better to avoid pillar candles altogether.
If you make your own candles, contained candles are bound to be better in the long term, as you can reuse the container over and over again.
Either way, it’s better to use soy wax candles over paraffin wax (or “mineral wax”) candles.
Are all soy wax candles non-toxic?
Soy wax on its own should all be non-toxic, provided they’re not mixed with any synthetic chemicals or paraffin. If a candle is described as a blended candle and advertised as including soy wax, make sure that the other ingredient is stated clearly.
Avoid any soy wax candles that include any of the following:
- Paraffin or “mineral wax”
- Lead wicks (rare outside of imports)
You should always avoid products that simply state “fragrance” because this is an ingredient that usually contains synthetic chemicals – including phthalates. Companies don’t need to be clear about what their fragrance is made up of under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.
Are soy wax candles safe for cats and dogs?
Soy wax candles are safer for cats and dogs than paraffin wax candles, as they don’t give off toxic pollutants. However, you shouldn’t light soy wax candles that include essential oils unless you’ve checked that they’re safe for your pets.
Essential oils like peppermint, spearmint, thyme, ylang-ylang, bergamot, eucalyptus, and tea tree oil should be avoided around cats. There are many more essential oils that could poison your cat through inhalation or ingestion!
If you have dogs, avoid soy wax candles that use any of these essential oils: cinnamon, pennyroyal, citrus, sweet birch, tea tree, peppermint, pine, ylang-ylang, or wintergreen. For dogs, ingesting is more of a concern than with cats, so keep all candles out of reach.
Is coconut wax better than soy?
Coconut wax has recently gained a better reputation as a candle wax than soy because coconut burns for longer than soy wax. However, many of the benefits of coconut wax are very similar to the benefits of soy wax.
The impact of coconut oil production is also more worrying than the soybean industry. The soybean industry’s unsustainable practices pale in comparison to the evidence of coconut production causing:
- Massive deforestation
- Harm to 18.33 species per million tons of oil produced (more than 4 times that of palm oil)
- Dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, endangering pollinators
Coconut wax candles are only better than soy wax candles if they are grown locally and with certified organic or fairtrade farmers.
Is coconut wax sustainable?
Coconut wax is made with coconut oil, which is already high in demand. Because of the environmental concerns already associated with coconut oil production, it’s unlikely that coconut wax is sustainable.
Are beeswax candles eco-friendly?
Beeswax candles are eco-friendly but aren’t vegan. How beeswax is sourced for candles is largely unknown and dependent on how companies look for suppliers.
Beeswax is usually made up of the wax cappings of honeycomb when harvesting honey. If beeswax is sourced alongside honey harvesting, it may be more eco-friendly as a byproduct, but honey harvesting isn’t sustainable.
It could be eco-friendly to get beeswax from abandoned hives, but this is unlikely to be where companies find their beeswax.
The most eco-friendly way of getting beeswax candles is to make them yourself. You could ask local beekeepers for any beeswax that may otherwise go to waste and use only natural ingredients.
You could even use old beeswax blocks that are too small or no longer have a use!
Is beeswax better than soy wax?
Beeswax candles aren’t better than soy wax candles because they’re largely less eco-friendly thanks to the conventional beekeeping industry and are harder to get.
The soybean industry isn’t actively endangering and harming the producers of their soybeans like beekeepers often do – or at least not in the same way.
Beeswax is only better than soy wax if you’re making beeswax candles from scratch yourself and use locally-sourced, sustainably-harvested beeswax. Even so, you shouldn’t go out of your way to harvest your own beeswax, as some hives can be repopulated after being abandoned.