What's In Candle

By Kathryn Alcock, Bench492

What’s in a candle…. Well, as it turns out, the answer is a lot… and a little. How is that you ask? Candles basically only consist of 4 things, the container (or vessel), the wax, a wick or two, and a scent. Sounds simple right? Well, it’s really not so simple, because it is the quality and type of elements and the way they are used that makes all the difference. 

This month we talked to some experts and learned a lot about what goes into a candle and what you need to know when selecting the perfect candle for you. I must admit, I was never a huge candle person until a few years ago, but all that changed during Covid. With all the time I spent at home -- sitting on Zoom calls, and helping my daughter with her online Chemistry class, I really began to seek out special, cozy things like a good cup of coffee, some relaxing music, and, you guessed it, a beautiful smelling candle.  

Let’s start with wax. There are many types of wax including soy, paraffin, beeswax, mango and coconut wax. According to Gabe of Gabriel John Candles, “when looking for a clean burning, healthier candle, natural waxes are the way to go. They usually cost a bit more but will burn longer and cleaner than a paraffin-based candle. Paraffin wax is a byproduct of the oil purification process and has been shown to cause harmful emissions in some studies. Some natural waxes to look for when buying a candle are soy and coconut blends or at a higher cost, apricot and mango waxes.” Beeswax is one of the oldest forms of candle wax and is often used in blends because it is harder/more solid wax. 

Much like wax, there are many types of wicks. Wick types include cotton, zinc, paper, and wood. But that isn’t where it ends, size matters too (but we knew that). In general, the type of wick depends on the type of wax used and the size and shape of the vessel. Wood wicks tend to burn faster and put out more fragrance, but they can also burn up your candles faster. Candle makers usually test multiple wicks and configurations to find just the right burn. 

Scents, here’s where the magic happens or at least the artistry. According to Gabriel John, “a quality candle is well balanced in the ratio of wax and oil. Better candles will also have a higher ratio of oil (essential oil infused fragrances) to wax for just the right scent throw. There are a lot of candles in the mainstream channels with as little as 2-3% of oil, while the higher quality averages 9-12%.” 

Finally, there is the vessel. They can be made from wood, glass, metal, or ceramic and the shapes and colors are endless. The fun comes with repurposing your container when the candle is done. To remove the wax, you can melt it at a low temp (200degrees) in the oven or freeze it and pry it out. Wooden bowls make beautiful décor when filled with fruit, greens or used for seasonal arrangements. Our clear apothecary cloche candles by Apothecary Guild are great to reuse – you can use the cloche lid over another candle or use the whole jar to hold Qtips or cotton balls. But let’s not forgot refilling it and making your own candles. We carry refill kits from Himalayan candles in 4 different scents and they are super easy to use. Even my husband who is not particularly artsy (but is very into recycling and reusing things) made a perfect tray candle that looked like it was brand new! This would also make a fun girlfriend night with everyone bring their empty containers and making some brand-new candles to bring home. 

Candle care is also very important in getting the most out of your candle. We got some great tips from Elise, from Riley and Wheat. “Soy Wax has a memory and needs to be trained to burned correctly. We recommend for the first burn, to let your candle burn long enough to melt the wax all the way to the edges of your vessel. This may take two hours to achieve, but when done correctly, your candle will have a clean healthy burn, all the way to the end! It is important to trim your wick to 1/4 of an inch before each burn, this helps achieve the optimum burn. Using a wick trimmer makes it easy and clean.” 

After learning so much about the art of candles, I am even more convinced that candles using natural ingredients sourced in the USA and poured in small batches are the only way to go! 

Happy smelling!