In candles, mind your beeswax - or soy

December 09, 2007|By Stacy Downs | Stacy Downs,McClatchy-Tribune

If you've gone shopping for candles recently, no doubt you've come across ones made from soy wax.

Many manufacturers promote soy as a natural alternative to paraffin, the byproduct of refined petroleum and the most frequently used candle wax in the world. The rise in popularity of soy candles coincides with rising gas prices and concern about use of fossil fuels.

If you want a natural, more environmentally friendly candle, evaluate the elements of a candle before buying.

The Wax: Soy wax and beeswax burn more slowly than paraffin, says Barbara Miller, spokeswoman for the National Candle Association based in Washington.

Look for candles that are either 100 percent soy or beeswax, or a blend of the two. Palm oil is another natural wax ingredient. Bayberry, a waxy substance scraped off bayberry bushes, was used for candles during Colonial times and is still used as an ingredient in candles. But it is expensive because it is difficult to acquire.

If a label doesn't list the ingredients, the price of the candle could be an indication. Paraffin is less expensive than beeswax, soy and vegetable-based waxes.

The Wicks: Look for all-cotton wicks. The Environmental Protection Agency, in its most recent indoor-air pollution report on candles, cites lead-core wicks as its top concern. Lead was commonly used as a wick material until 1974, when the National Candle Association voluntarily agreed to discontinue lead in wicks.

About five years ago, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead in candle wick cores. However, lead is occasionally found in the wicks of imported candles. If you find metal cores in container candles or votives, they are typically zinc or tin.

The Fragrance: If you want a natural candle, choose unscented. Beeswax candles have an inherent slight honey aroma. Or, choose a candle made from the essential oils extracted from plants. An apple cider-scented candle, for example, is a synthetic scent, whereas lavender is a natural scent.

Color: You won't find natural candles in trendy colors because they aren't dyed. They come in the natural color of the wax, which varies from white to dark yellow.

Safety Tips:

The Home Safety Council recommends you keep wicks trimmed to 1/4 inch. This helps prevent soot, which all types of wax candles can create.

Extinguish with a candle-snuffer. If you blow them out, wax could splatter.

Keep candles out of reach of children and pets, and away from holiday evergreens and other decorations.

Don't use a knife or sharp object to scrape wax drippings from a glass holder. This could scratch, weaken or break the glass upon subsequent use.

Place candles about 3 inches apart from one another on stable, nonflammable candleholders.

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