Have you ever wondered what’s in your candles? – terra20

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By Andrea Tomkins

What’s in my candles? What chemicals am I inhaling when I light them and might be lingering in our family room afterwards? This is something I caught myself thinking while I lit an unprecedented number of candles during a three day power outage over “tornado weekend” here in Ottawa recently.

A few of them were a bit dusty from underuse, for sure, but the lovely candle-lit silence of the night actually inspired me to light up the night more often. But back to my question. After I lit a dozen candles of all shapes and sizes I wondered what, if anything, was being added to the air in our home, especially since they were burning in a relatively unventilated space. Was there anything I needed to worry about? What’s the difference between all of these candles anyway? So I decided to find out.

Paraffin candles

Did you make dipped candles in school? It was a common classroom project in my day. We melted hunks of paraffin wax in a double boiler, tossed in a couple of crayons to colour the wax, and dipped a string in it a bunch of times to make a tapered candle. (I’m still kind of surprised we did this. Melted wax is hot! But then again, we are talking about the 80s!)

What is paraffin anyway? According to Wikipedia, paraffin wax is a soft colourless solid, derived from petroleum, coal or oil shale. Paraffin wax was first created in 1830 in Germany and marked a major advancement in candle making technology because it burned more cleanly and reliably than tallow candles (a.k.a. rendered animal fat) and was cheaper to produce. And back in those days, people used a lot of candles.  

According to this article on CNN.com, researchers at South Carolina State University studied the emissions petroleum-based and vegetable-source candles. They lit candles from different manufacturers, let them burn for up to six hours in a small box, and then collected and analyzed the substances they released into the air. They found that paraffin-based candles – the most popular kind – emitted toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene.

So what can you use instead of paraffin candles? There are lots of options at terra20.

Beeswax candles

Beeswax candles are made of a natural wax produced by honey bees and burn longer than candles made of paraffin wax. Beeswax candles are very clean burning and shed a lovely, warm light. Check out terra20’s selection of Honey Candles. Whether you’re looking for beeswax tapers, votives, or pillars, there’s a Honey Candle for you. And they come in colours other than honey. (!) I really like this gorgeous fluted sphere. Honey Candles are handmade in Canada from 100% pure Canadian beeswax and cotton wicks. You know what you won’t find in these natural candles: solvents, lead or zinc, or any other toxins commonly found in candles.

terra20 also carries Cheeky Bee candles and beeswax bars for DIYers who use them to make their own candles and lip balms. Made in Ontario, the folks at Cheeky Bee source their beeswax from local, ethical and environmentally-aware beekeepers. Yay! They say they’re good for the planet, and good for the soul.


Soy candles

Soy candles are made from soy wax, which is a processed form of soybean oil. Soy candles are usually poured into containers because this kind of wax has a lower melting point than traditional waxes. You won’t see a soy pillar candle unless there are additives in the wax.

Paddywax candles are made out of clean-burning soy wax, cotton wicks, and oils for fragrance. They have a long burn time, so it’s truly the gift that keeps giving! I’m considering buying two of these Pomegranate & Spruce Plaid Candles, one to give as a gift, and one to put on our mantle over the holidays. (Hey, a busy gal has to find ways to shop efficiently!) This Paddywax candle is on my own Christmas list. It would look really pretty on my nightstand and it smells heavenly. Take a look at terra20’s selection of Paddywax candles right here.

Whitewater candles are also soy-based. I love classic design of the candle containers, and having a lid is a nice bonus. Protip: when hosting a dinner party, light one of these candles in a high-traffic restroom and keep it burning. They’ll burn for a lot longer than your dinner party (even if it happens to end the next morning)!  

Please remember to keep an eye on any burning candles and keep them out  of reach of young children.

I am looking forward to adding a few new candles to my collection, especially now that I’m better informed about what they’re made of. Hopefully, my new candles will inspire me to slow down and savour those fall evenings a bit more. No power outage needed!


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