If you’re hip to the candle scene then you’ve likely heard of soy wax candles or heck you may even already own a few. Their popularity has been and is quickly growing these days so I decided to do some poking around to find out what all the buzz is about. These candles have typically been promoted as being environmentally friendly and better in many ways than your typical candle made with paraffin wax. There’s a lot to sort through so let’s take a look shall we? Down the rabbit hole we go!
What is Soy Wax and how is it made?
So first I’d like to explain what soy wax is, where it comes from, and how it’s made. Soy wax, as the name suggests, is made from soybeans. Soybeans are sliced into flakes (to produce more surface area I presume), heated to around 167 degrees (F), then immersed in a chemical solvent called hexane (more on that later). The soybeans percolate in the solvent which removes 99% of the soybean oil from the flakes and then the hexane is filtered out through an evaporation process. The extracted oil is further purified and bleached to remove color and any remaining impurities. You’re left with a liquid soybean oil.
Once the oil has been extracted it is then hydrogenated to transform it into the soy candle wax we all know and love. Hydrogenate means to infuse with hydrogen atoms which essentially transforms the liquid oil into a solid state. Interestingly, the hydrogenation process creates trans-fats in hydrogenated substance so it’s becomes quite unhealthy for you to eat this stuff (which is common in margarine’s or shortenings), but as far we’re concerned we’re only considering it for it’s combustible properties!
Claimed Benefits of Soy Wax and my Findings
- Soy wax is said to burn longer than the typical paraffin wax candles. In my research I found claims that soy candles burn 30-50% longer than paraffin candles, but I couldn’t find any concrete evidence to show that they last even 1% longer. The idea though is that soy wax supposedly burns at a cooler temperature causing the wax to burn slower and in turn last longer. Unfortunately, all of the folks making these claims are in the business of marketing and selling soy candles. If you do find concrete evidence please do share it with us in the comments section below. This could make for an interesting experiment and future blog post!
- Soy wax is said to be environmentally friendly and do not harm the environment. In contrast I found that hexane, the chemical used in soy wax production, is actually classified as an air pollutant by the Consumer Protection Agency because it effects the central nervous system and causes nerve damage. Hexane has been approved by the FDA as being ‘safe’ for the soybean oil extraction process, however there is still a lot of controversy surrounding it. Soybean extraction plants dump literally tons of the stuff into the atmosphere every year. One such plant, run by Perdue Agriculture, indicates they dump 208 tons of hexane into the atmosphere per year. And that’s just one plant. I think it’s worth noting here that these plants do try to capture as much of the hexane gas as possible during the evaporating process so it can be re-used.There is an argument to be made however that despite the hexane gases released into the atmosphere that the production of soy wax is still better than the production of paraffin wax from an environmental perspective due to the fact that paraffin is mostly derived from petroleum.
- Soy wax is said to prevent sooting due to all of the impurities being removed during the extraction process. Let’s take a look at this one a bit closer. Firstly, sooting has the potential to occur in any candle wax that has had scented oils mixed into it. If you’re burning scented soy candles you’re not likely to benefit much from this point. Secondly, if you keep your wick trimmed properly (See our post on the necessity of wick trimming) you aren’t going to have a sooting problem with any candle.
- Wholesale prices of soy wax are slightly cheaper than wholesale prices of typical paraffin wax. To be clear though, I did not find any claims that soy candles are cheaper in general, but I did find that wholesale of soy wax appears cheaper than wholesale of paraffin wax. It’s really tough to say though if these savings translates to savings passed on to the consumer. In my experience it seems soy candles are actually more expensive, perhaps due to their popularity. It’s difficult to come to a conclusion here with all the different varieties, sizes, and brands out there. If you happen to make your own candles this one could certainly be a plus.
Verified Benefits of Soy Wax
- Hard evidence shows that the United States is the largest producer of soybeans in the world (followed by Brazil, Argentina, China, and India) so when you purchase a soy candle you’re more than likely contributing to U.S. economy. If you like to buy ‘made in America’ then this is indeed a winning check mark in the soy column. In comparison China happens to the world’s largest exporter of paraffin wax.
So after doing my research I’ve concluded that many of the benefits touted regarding soy candles seem to be a bit overstated. For me personally, I wasn’t convinced enough to shift my preferences to be more favorable towards soy based candles. If I like the candle’s scent, the look, the ambiance created, and the price then in all honesty the type of wax just isn’t going to influence me. Anything I missed? Any other points I may have overlooked? I’m sure there are! Post your thoughts in the comments section below. Happy burning, candle kids!