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What’s Safer? Soy vs. Paraffin Candle Wax

Soy vs. Paraffin Candle Wax

In an effort to live a more natural and sustainable lifestyle, we’re finding out more and more of the items we use contain harmful toxins and chemicals. One of these concerns I’ve been really interested in is the soy vs. paraffin question.

Is it still safe for you and the environment to burn candles in your home?

I’m going to attempt to answer that question for you in this post so that you can make the best decision for you.

There are three kinds of candles on the market: paraffin, soy, and beeswax. I don’t have any experience with beeswax candles so I will leave that to another blogger, but I will share my insights about paraffin and soy-based candles.

So here goes!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. For more information see the disclosure policy

What is Paraffin? 

According to paraffin is defined as:

A white or colorless, tasteless, odorless, water insoluble, solid substance not easily acted upon by reagents, consisting of a mixture of hydrocarbons chiefly of the alkane series, obtained from crude petroleum: used in candles, for forming preservative coatings and seals, for waterproofing paper, etc.

Sounds yummy…(I was being sarcastic right there).

A landscape image of the silhouette of an oil drill

Paraffin is a byproduct of fossil fuels

Paraffin Candles and Petroleum

The problem with paraffin can be traced back to its origins.

Introduced in the 1850s, it was created by separating the waxy substance in crude petroleum and refining it. Mixed with stearic acid, the candles could burn longer than they would if it was just paraffin. (Source)

It was a good source of candle wax because it had a low cost, but that really is the only benefit.

The problems outweigh the benefits

We are aware today that petroleum, created from fossil fuels (oil and natural gas), is a non-renewable resource.

Fossil fuels were formed over millions of years from plant and animals deep in the earth sedimentary rock. It takes such a long time for fossil fuels to be created, that at the rate we are consuming it for oil, we are going to run out. (Source)

Petroleum is also a source of pollution.

Burning a candle made from a byproduct of petroleum, paraffin, has been shown to create indoor pollution within your home.

A study conducted by researchers at South Carolina State University found pollutants toluene and benzene emissions after burning paraffin candles in an enclosed space.

If you’re at all concerned, think of burning paraffin candles in your home as inhaling exhaust fumes.

Why would we want to support a non-renewable energy industry and add pollutants into the air we’re breathing?

The ecological and health cost of a cheap wax source is not worth it in my eyes.


An alternative?

Thankfully there are other sources of candle wax that are made from renewable sources and safer for our health. Soy wax is my favourite.

Soy candles in the 21st century

There are two major crops grown in the United States today: corn and soy. So it makes sense that U.S. agricultural scientists found new ways to use soybeans, such as candle wax!

Soy wax is extracted by harvesting, washing, cracking, de-hulling, and rolling the beans into flakes. During this process, the oil is drawn out and made into a solid (hydrogenated by the addition of hydrogen). (Source)

Compared to paraffin, soybean wax is softer, burns longer and is cleaner. Best of all, it’s renewable! Where fossil fuels take millions of years to form inside the earth’s crust, soy is grown and harvested each year.


A photograph of a hand cupping a handful of soy beans

Harvested soybeans


The issue with fragrances

I thought about whether or not I should discuss fragrances in this post, because it poses its own problems separate from the wax source.

Today, most candles are purchased for aesthetic, therapeutic and romantic reasons. Most of us aren’t buying candles for lighting anymore. This shift in our motivation has led candle manufactures to add fragrances to the wax.

These fragrances can either be natural or synthetic and range from common scents like vanilla to more novelty ones like aged paper and dusty shelves (I’m not joking, check it out!).

Despite their pleasant smells, aromatics in candles can cause allergies in those with sensitivities.

There is also evidence to suggest the chemicals used to create these fragrances can be toxic to our health.

In 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did a study on sources of air pollution from candles and incense. They determined that candles with more fragrance oils create more soot, which deposits on surfaces and is inhaled in our lungs.


What to look for

Given this information, it can help you to make a more educated choice next time your candle shopping. When debating the soy vs. paraffin issue, think of these points.

Opt for vegetable-based waxes such as soy when choosing your candle. They can be a little more expensive, but with a longer burning time, it is well worth the cost. You will also feel good about the fact that you are supporting a renewable product and reducing toxins.

Aromatics is obviously a personal preference. I personally buy candles for the scents, but I don’t have a sensitivity like a lot of people.

Avoid heavily scented candles to reduce soot. Test how much fragrance oils are in your candle by feeling how soft the wax is. If the wax is easily pliable, that means it has a lot of oils in it. Fragrance oils don’t harden at room temperate because they aren’t hydrogenated.

You can also reduce soot by cutting the wick to 1/4 inch and avoiding drafts so the flame burns evenly.

Lastly, choose a candle with a cotton wick. Never buy one with a metal wick as most emit heavy metals in the air such as lead.

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Shop Etsy for Handmade Soy Candles

My favourite online candle shop to buy from is Frostbeard Studio.

This small business makes novelty soy candles based on books. They advertise their candles as being vegan, renewable, reusable, recyclable and using cotton wicks.

I recommend sampling the scents “Bookstore”, “Headmasters Office” and “Sherlock’s Study”.


Leave a Comment!

What are your thoughts on soy vs. paraffin wax? Do you have a favourite candle or fragrance?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. Ashley Cecere says

    It’s crazy to think how candle crazy we were in the 80s and 90s and we are just now disseminating information that they are more dangerous than just falling asleep with a lit candle! Thank you for sharing!

    • sarah.fournier says

      Yes! I can also imagine we must have used a lot of paraffin candles and oils for kerosene lamps before electricity was a common thing in houses. Thanks for commenting!

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