Soy candles vs paraffin

There are now a variety of candles on the market made from different types of wax and it’s hard to know which to choose and what the differences are. Paraffin wax is the most commonly used material for candles and is widely available. In more recent times, a demand for healthier and more eco-friendly alternatives has led to vegetable waxes, such as soy, being used to make candles. We will go on to explain a bit more about both these types of waxes and look at what makes them different.

Unlike paraffin candles, soy candles are renewable, biodegradable, clean-burning, long-lasting, work well with essential oils and do not emit any nasty toxins. Visit our shop (sale now on!), where you can buy one of our scented candle relaxation or sleep packages. Our candles are made with 100% natural wax (soy and rapeseed) and fragranced with the pure essential oils of lavender, bergamot and geranium. The perfect remedy for tension and stress! Our candle does not contain any paraffin wax or synthetic fragrance. Plus all packages come with a free relaxation or sleep guide!


Paraffin wax candles
Paraffin wax is a hard type of wax and is normally white/translucent. It was first produced in the mid-1800s and was soon used for candle-making. It was popular because it was a cheaper material for manufacturing candles than other possibilities, such as beeswax. Paraffin wax is not only used for candles, but for polishes, cosmetics and electrical insulators (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2015).

By the end of the 19th Century, most candles on the market were made from paraffin wax combined with stearic acid. Stearic acid made the wax harder and therefore more suitable for candles.

Where does paraffin wax come from?
You’ve probably heard of paraffin wax, but not everyone knows where it actually comes from. Paraffin wax is one of three types of petroleum wax. Petroleum wax is derived from crude oil. Crude oil results from the decomposition of very small aquatic animals and plants that lived millions of years ago in the seas. Commonly, crude oil is referred to as a fossil fuel. Crude oil goes through a refining process, and one of the products derived from this process is lube oil. It is from the refining of this oil that petroleum waxes are derived (IGI wax, 2015).

What’s good about paraffin wax?
Paraffin wax candles are often cheaper than others on the market and they often have a good ‘scent throw’. They’ve been around for a long time and there are therefore lots of different types to choose from. Because the wax is hard, there are a variety of different candles available, including pillar (self-standing), taper (‘dinner candles’), floating (designed to float on water) or container candles (housed in a metal, glass or ceramic container).

What’s not so good about paraffin wax?
In recent years, research looking at the emissions from this type of candle have raised health concerns; Massoudi and Hamidi (2009) conducted a study to test different brands of un-scented paraffin candles and soy candles. The candles were burnt one-by-one in a chamber, where the emitted gases could be collected and tested. The researchers found that the paraffin candles released ‘unwanted chemicals’, which Massoudi, a Chemistry Professor, suggested may be because paraffin wax is a ‘by-product of oil refineries.’ He concluded that, for people who used paraffin candles ‘frequently’, inhalation of their emissions could ‘contribute to the development of health risks’, such as ‘common allergies’, ‘asthma’ or even ‘cancer.’ In contrast, it was found that none of the soy candles produced toxic emissions.

Another study (Pagels et al, 2009) sought to investigate particle emissions from burning a tapered paraffin candle in indoor air conditions. They found that these candles emitted ‘ultrafine’ particles, which are said to have ‘adverse health effects.’

The researchers found that the type and quantity of emissions varied, depending upon whether the candle was in a ‘steady burn’ or a ‘sooting burn.’ Overall, the ‘sooting burn’ emitted the highest level of ‘mass emission factors.’ These researchers advised consumers to use high-quality candles, keep the wick trimmed and not to burn them when the airflow causes the flame to flicker or create visible soot. They also mentioned that other factors can affect candle emissions, including wick type, additives in the wax and any colouring used.

Paraffin wax may well become much scarcer and consequently more expensive in the future as there is a general move towards bigger oil refineries. Such refineries install a more efficient technology that converts wax to base oil and eliminates wax as a by-product (American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, 2015).

Finally, paraffin wax in not a good choice for consumers who are concerned about the environment as it is derived from a non-renewable resource (crude oil) and is not fully biodegradable.

Advantages of paraffin wax candles
• Lots of different candle types available (e.g. container, pillar, floating or taper)
• Relatively cheap to buy
• Good scent throw

Disadvantages of paraffin wax candles
• Concerns around toxicity when burning
• Higher melting point than soy wax (less safe)
• Hard to clean off materials e.g. clothing and carpets
• Artificial fragrances are often used
• Can be ‘sooty’ when burnt
• Not fully biodegradable
• Derived from a non-renewable resource

Soy candles
Soy wax is a vegetable wax made through hydrogenation (solidification) of soy bean oil. Soy is normally used to make container candles as the wax is quite soft. Candles have a creamy-white appearance. Because this type of wax has a low melting point, not only can essential oils be added to fragrance the candles, but the ‘scent throw’ from these is excellent.


The first soy candle came onto the high street in 1995. However, the use of vegetable wax as a candle-making material is not as new as we might think. In fact, historians believe that early Japanese civilizations used candles made from tree nut wax.

What’s good about soy wax?
Soy candles are clean-burning and you won’t normally get any unwanted smoking. But remember, it’s important to keep the wick trimmed. Soy is a safer choice because it burns at a lower temperature than paraffin wax. If you do happen to accidentally spill soy wax, it can normally be cleaned up easily with soap and hot water.


On an environmental front, soy wax is good because it is both renewable and biodegradable. The soy crop can be grown over and over again, and the wax used to make a soy candle can be broken down in the natural environment.

Soy candles are long-lasting, which means they have a long burn life. They can burn for up to 50% longer than paraffin candles. They have a good scent-throw, which makes them an ideal choice as scented candles.

What’s not so good about soy wax?
Because the wax is quite soft at room temperature, it is normally only used to make container candles or tealights. However, this isn’t a problem if that’s the type of candle you are looking for. Container candles are very popular and there are lots of choices available.

Advantages of soy wax candles
• Environmentally-friendly (renewable and biodegradable)
• Clean-burning
• Safer
• Long-lasting
• Good scent throw
• Easy to clean up spillages
• Can be blended with essential oils
• No nasty toxins emitted (unlike paraffin candles)

Disadvantages of soy wax candles
• Usually only container candles available

Blended waxes
It should be noted that not all candles are either one type of wax or another. There are candles that are made from a mixture of paraffin and vegetable wax (such as soy or palm wax). This can sometimes be so the candles can be marketed as containing ‘natural vegetable wax’, although this can be misleading for consumers, who may assume they contain no paraffin wax at all.

Key points
• Paraffin and soy candles are both common candle choices, although they have very different profiles.
• Paraffin wax is used to make lots of different types and styles of candles, although research has raised concerns regarding the health implications of emissions.
• Soy wax is generally used to make container candles and, unlike paraffin wax, is renewable, biodegradable, clean-burning and spillages are easily cleaned up.
• Some candles are made from a mixture of soy and paraffin wax.

candle and box square

Don’t forget to visit our shop (sale now on!), where you can buy one of our scented candle relaxation or sleep packages. Our candles are made with 100% natural wax (soy and rapeseed) and fragranced with the pure essential oils of lavender, bergamot and geranium. The perfect remedy for tension and stress! Our candle does not contain any paraffin wax or synthetic fragrance. Plus all packages come with a free relaxation or sleep guide!


You may also be interested in:

Zuna shop
Soy wax vs beeswax candles
Rapeseed wax candles
Soy candles vs palm wax candles

Further reading:

SC State University (2009). Frequent use of certain candles produces certain chemicals.

© 2015 Zuna Naturals Ltd.

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