If you're environmentally-conscious but want to add candlelight ambiance to your home, you might have considered the soy vs. beeswax candles debate. The question is not only which one is better for the environment, but also which is better for your health.
Full disclosure: this isn't one of those pop-news articles that thinks soy candles are the devil and beeswax candles are a saving grace. We'll examine both closely and come to a logical conclusion based on concrete evidence.
What Makes a Toxic Candle?
Most candles come from either paraffin (the same wax used to make crayons), soy, or beeswax. Several news articles speak to the dangers of paraffin wax, and so many studies have tried to figure out whether burning those candles are particularly toxic.
However, many studies have either been inconclusive or have not shown candle fumes as harmful to humans. Plus, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) approves all materials used to create candles in the US.
All candles, regardless of their makeup, emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air. Think of going into a garden and smelling the plants and flowers. Those smells come from those plants' VOCs. All candles made in the US have to meet a standard for how many VOCs they can emit.
Candles produced before the 1970s had wicks made from lead, which helped to keep the wicks upright. Luckily, the Environmental Protection Agency banned all candle wicks made from lead in 2003, and no candle since has had a toxic wick.
At this point, we don't think that any candle can do extensive harm to humans or the environment, but certain candle types release more soot or VOCs than others.
Most mainstream candle companies make their candles out of a soy-paraffin blend. Soy wax comes from soybeans, and soy solids, a byproduct of their oil production process, is used for cattle feed. So soy itself is a natural, sustainable product.
While the soybean industry makes soy candles sustainable, the industry can prove somewhat environmentally dangerous. Soybean farmers use different pesticides and fertilizers to grow soybeans, and deforestation to expand the industry does not help.
Soy candles often have paraffin blended in to hold a scent longer. Plus, many soy products are genetically modified, with many chemicals and additives interfering with the natural makeup.
Although soy candles don't create a perfectly clean burn, they burn more cleanly than plain paraffin wax, which releases soot into the air. Soy also does not burn quite as fast as paraffin, despite having a relatively low melting point.
While certainly not as popular as the scented variety, beeswax candles are also natural and clean-burning. Beeswax has been a candle building material since ancient times and is even said to purify the air. Beeswax releases negative ions, which attach positive ions (the ions found in most pollutants) in the air, neutralizing them and cleaning up the air you breathe.
While some soy candles contain scents that may trigger allergies or headaches, beeswax candles might help purify the air to prevent such things. Rather than merely covering the smell with a pretty scent, beeswax candles help take the smell out of the air.
The wax is a byproduct of bees pollinating millions of flowers, eating several pounds of honey, and building a hive. To obtain the wax, beekeepers put a honeycomb in warm water, and the wax rises to the water's surface out of the comb. Depending on how beeswax is harvested, making these candles can pose a risk to some bee colonies.
Although they do not come in various scents, beeswax candles have a clean, delicious honey scent. Plus, most candles of this variety do not produce smoke or soot.
Where Do Soy and Beeswax Candles Overlap?
In the soy vs. beeswax candles debate, both types still release VOCs, but not enough to significantly impact human health. In all honesty, the VOCs you breathe daily, like pollution or car exhaust, are more likely to affect you than candle VOCs.
Much of the danger from burning candles comes from how you treat the candle. If you keep the candle in a well-ventilated area with no air draft, and you don't burn the candle for more than a few hours, there should be no concern. You should also consider using a candle snuffer instead of blowing it out since that allows the candle wick to smoke.
In terms of being environmentally and health-friendly, soy candles are the winner of the soy vs. beeswax candles debate. There is no concrete evidence that soy candles are as toxic as people fear. Although beeswax seems like the more natural choice, potentially disrupting bee colonies for this product tends to make it less environmentally-friendly - especially since bees have increasingly died off over the past decade.