Posted on by Inna Hall

Everyone has his or her own preferences when it comes to candles and melts.

Shape, colour, size, fragrance, ingredients, type of wax… there are just so many variables that it is hard to imagine someone unable to find a candle just right for them (plus the caveman / woman in us all loves fire, obviously).

Personally and perhaps surprisingly I have been a fan of a particular brand of paraffin wax candles for many years… they have an absolutely enormous variety of fragrances and as well as being interesting and dynamic for that reason, they provided my husband with a reliable choice of gift for many years.

To be honest, I didn’t realise that these particular candles were made of paraffin wax and if you had told me at the time and asked me if I even cared, I would have said no. That all changed when my first daughter was born and I suddenly became conscious (paranoid) about everything from sharp furniture corners to the air she breathed. Having a second daughter amplified my concerns and for that reason I switched to soy wax candles. Yes they are usually more expensive, but you aren’t only buying cleaner air you are buying a better, richer aroma I discovered.

It’s true that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet and a quick search of ‘paraffin wax risks’ etc will reveal hysterical health warnings backed by no evidence, which of course you can choose to believe but I prefer to rely on facts. Believe it or not, paraffin wax is not pure evil. In fact, do your kids have crayons? If so, they are probably made of the same paraffin though in a different form (and of course kids eating a small amount of paraffin is different to inhaling vaporised paraffin). Anyway, I digress...

In the philosophical tug of war between paraffin wax and soy wax, these are the facts that I rely on in my now long term monogamous relationship with soy wax (and by facts, I mean things that I know to be true – rather than in the ‘proven by several peer reviewed academic studies’ sense).

  1. Paraffin wax is made from petroleum. It seems there isn’t much (or any that I can find) hard evidence that burning paraffin wax is itself harmful to human health, though I personally don’t like the idea of pumping even small quantities of what is essentially petroleum exhaust fumes into my home where my children are.

    Having said this, various government bodies including the American Food & Drug Administration seem to consider paraffin wax fumes below a certain threshold, which candles for sale must be, to be safe to inhale.

  2. Soy wax candles smell better than paraffin wax candles. I can’t put my finger on exactly why this is, as it is probably a question of chemistry on one hand and biology on the other, but what I can say with certainty is I prefer the smell of soy wax. It smells richer, more like the aroma it holds itself out to be and isn’t a by-product of petroleum.

  3. Soy wax candles last longer. Try this yourself to see! The science behind this is that soy wax burns at a lower temperature to paraffin wax and therefore the same quantity of wax will take longer to burn, thus the candle will last longer. I should point out though that this isn’t at the expense of the way the candle smells.

    Somehow, the aroma of a soy wax candle still fills a room just as paraffin wax does, though in my experience even better. The other benefit of a slower burn is that the aromas are actually released more slowly, avoiding that initial smack in the face of fragrance that paraffin wax candles can produce. Soy wax candles are slow and gentle, not fast and furious.

  4. Soy wax produces less soot. If you are an aromaholic like me you may have noticed black soot accumulating on surfaces near your paraffin wax candles - similar to the stuff that you may find on your tiles if you live next to a main road or airport. I remember I used to burn a candle on a glass shelf under another glass shelf which was about 50cm above it.

    The soot produced by the burnt paraffin wax on the underside of the shelf above and even on a wall nearby was astonishing. The same wasn’t the case with soy wax candles, though there are wick material considerations too so it isn’t all about the wax.

There are other reasons I simply love using soy wax in my candles and melts but we’re talking about which is better – soy wax or paraffin wax – so I will leave my list at that. As always please let me know if I've missed something or misunderstood something above!