The type of wax your candles contain makes a world of difference. Most candles you see are made out of paraffin, but new types of wax are becoming available all the time. In the last two decades alone, several natural waxes have cropped up as potential rivals to paraffin, including soy wax.
Soy wax is a vegan, clean-burning candle wax that is produced sustainably in the US. It typically burns longer and is more environmentally-friendly than paraffin wax. On the other hand, paraffin wax is obtained from petroleum, a fossil fuel. It is a non-renewable resource that releases carcinogens and carbon dioxide when burned, making it terrible for our health and the environment.
Soy wax is a relatively recent invention, especially when we think of the long history of paraffin and the even longer history of beeswax. Soy wax was invented in the 1990s by a group of Berkley University students. They were given the task of creating a sustainable birthday candle, which they did so by finding a way to solidify soybean oil into a wax.
The soy wax they created is clean-burning, leaves no soot marks on walls, and has a beautiful ability to carry a scent. The soft wax is easy for candle makers to use for poured candles, and while it is not as cheap as paraffin, it's more cost-effective than beeswax.
Soy wax has become a popular vegan alternative to paraffin. In terms of the environment, soy wax has a lot of benefits. It is not a finite resource, meaning that it can be grown over and over again without end. It doesn't need to be extracted from the ground in the same way oil does, but can instead be sustainability planted and harvested.
One primary environmental concern associated with soy is deforestation. In South America, sections of the rainforest are often cut down to grow soy. Soy grown in this manner is very destructive ill-advised.
Fortunately, soy is also a very commonly grown crop in the USA. United States-grown soy is generally sustainable.
But what about the enjoyment of the candle itself? When we burn a candle, we expect light, fragrance, and ambiance to help us relax and boost our mood. All candles produce light, but how well scent is thrown depends on—you guessed it—the wax.
If you've ever lit a candle and had the scent smell great at first but then quickly fade away, you know what it's like to have a candle that throws scent poorly. Soy wax doesn't do this. While paraffin wax may have a superior hot scent throw, soy wax is not too far behind.
Paraffin wax is made out of petroleum, a fossil fuel. Fossil fuels are a limited resource that will one day be unavailable. While it is the most cost-effective solution for candle wax, it has plenty of cons.
The biggest concern is the health issues posed by paraffin wax candles. When burned, paraffin can release dozens of different chemicals, several of which are known to cause cancer. These chemicals linger in the air for many hours after the candle has burned, exposing you to dangerous air pollution.
Paraffin wax candles are, by extension detrimental to the environment. Habitats, sacred Native American burial grounds, and other precious resources are destroyed in the effort to extract fossil fuels from the ground. Once they're extracted, oil spills can cause even more damage, resulting in the death of wildlife who get caught in the dangerous spills.
Finally, when burned, fossil fuels release carbon and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, rapidly speeding up human-made climate change. Although the carbon output of a single candle is small, millions are made every year. Paraffin wax candles leave an unpleasant trace of it fossil fuels behind in the form of soot on your walls, ceiling, and carpet.
With all these problems, paraffin wax is clearly the worst candle wax you can use despite its availability. The only upsides are that they are cost-effective and have a marginally useful ability to carry scent, but our next wax is just as widely available.
All in all, soy wax is a winner. Soy wax is superior to paraffin wax in almost every way. It is clean-burning, won't damage your home with soot, won't damage your lungs with cancer-causing agents, and lasts longer. Soy candles are among the longest-lasting candle types, giving you more hours of clean-burning candlelight.
While the initial price of a soy wax candle is higher, it tends to balance out over time. When your paraffin wax candle needs replaced, your soy wax candle will still be going strong.