Are My Candles Non-toxic? | How to See Through the Buzz Words and Understand What You are Burning in Your Home

Are My Candles Non-toxic? | How to See Through the Buzz Words and Understand What You are Burning in Your Home

We are currently in an era where everyone is beginning to pay attention to the things we allow in and around our bodies. In a lot of ways it is long overdue, in some it is downright ridiculous. 

Regardless of your opinion, there are some changes that just needed to be made and, though I'm a lil biased, I think it's valuable to take a look at what we burn in our candles.

Candles are one of the few products effecting our health that most people forget to learn the ingredients of. If there is anything I have learned since being in the candle industry it's that THAT IS A MISTAKE! Just from making these myself for a year I have learned that we burn in our homes can make a surprising difference in our health and mood, in ways the media doesn't always tell you.

The internet is great but you have to think about each author's monetary incentive... and most of the information I read early on that was open to the public was so saturated with buzzwords and false dichotomies that do nothing but SELL.

When I started this business, I knew I wanted to be different, offering honest products even when it didn't sound as fancy. I am here to share the reality behind what is in your candles and how to choose one that is truly non-toxic, wherever you happen to be shopping!

Hopefully after reading this article, you'll be better informed to make the healthy choice when you are candle shopping anywhere and understand what you are really getting.


Soy Wax

The Wax 

Candle wax is increasingly becoming an object of debate in the realm of "clean living," gurus. It is the center of attention in most articles you'll read about candles so I am starting out with it before I cover any of the other elements.

Short version: soy wax is derived from soy bean oil while paraffin is refined from crude oils, or oils extracted from underground created by plant and animal decay. That description is pandered to soy wax and makes paraffin wax sound bad so let me give you a brief explanation of their differences.

While the latter sounds bad, invoking the word "crude oil," that is merely a buzz word to scare people away from the competition. Both are derived from whole oils considered "natural," and the only difference is how they are processed. 

Soybean oil must be treated with hydroxide to make it solid, making soy wax while paraffin wax only needs to be refined. Both undergo a refining process which helps them maintain their title of "natural" even though they aren't "organic," — but there is no research supporting that one is cleaner than the other. In fact, research proves that as refined oils, there isn't much of a health difference at all. Most of the effect comes later in processing — a manmade process wherein contamination can occur.

So in summary, both are equally clean and found in everything from skincare products to drywall to the film coating grocery store fruit (that wax on the outside of an apple is straight paraffin wax!). I never said it made sense but it's true.

Soy wax is the most commonly used candle wax and that is simply because it is the most user friendly and cost efficient wax. Because of it's vegan nature it is both soft and easy to use compared to paraffin and also due to it's vegan nature, it is easier to market. However, just because a candle in the checkout aisle of T-J Maxx reads "100% soy wax" does not mean the candle you're holding is strictly soy wax. I know that is shocking but here is the truth.

It is difficult to find a candle that is 100% soy wax - it is almost always blended with paraffin or other additives to harden and create a candle that sets more quickly. Mass produced candles are almost never made of 100% soy. Instead, they are nearly always made with their cheaper counterpart, paraffin. 

T J Maxx Candles

What is concerning is that the required amount of soy wax to legally be considered a "soy wax candle," is 51% — and the 100% soy wax on the label is still permissible. What a loophole, I know, but that 100% soy candle you think you got from T-J Maxx was most likely a sea anemone decaying underneath the earth at one point.

The best and only way to know what you are getting is to visit the creator's website or contact them personally. That is something not everyone is willing to do, but if you care about the wax and fragrance in your candle, that is what you have to do. Luckily brands like ours exist that are 100% honest about everything we put in our candles! You can read our full list of ingredients here.

Believe it or not, wax is the least important part of your candle. It is the part with the least impact because it is not what is burning (the wick) or what disperses (the oil), it is just a carrier. So what you should more importantly be paying attention to? The fragrance.

Dirty Oil

Clean Fragrances are Hard to Find

As a candle maker, this one is kind of hard to come clean about (no pun intended) because of this simple reason: clean fragrances are hard to find. Similar to artificial flavors, almost all of them are synthetic, over-processed, and contain chemicals that enhance in a harmful way. Combined with a bad wick, fragrance is the single most common culprit of a candle that burns toxic black smoke. I won't talk much about soot right now but keep reading to hear what I have to say.

I have tried to swap to fragrances only derived from plants and made in the U.S. but because of restrictions and secrecy from the fragrance developers themselves, it is extremely hard to do. Especially concerning fragrances like vanilla and cinnamon, things can get a little messy. Still, there are a few fragrances that are almost always safe so regardless of where you are shopping, here are some of my tips for picking candles that are clean.

The first thing you want to consider is, "does this candle have any vanilla in it?"

I know, it stinks, but when I got into this industry I quickly learned that vanilla is one of the most toxic scents. I was shocked by the lack of vanilla-containing scents on the clean fragrance website the previous owner of this business had recommended and after browsing I finally discovered the reason. Almost none of the vanilla products were safe for skin and the majority of them advised only using a small percentage in each candle. I was so surprised by the reason.

Vanilla is derived from a substance known as Vanillin. It is not necessarily toxic but it is not gentle either and is a perpetrator of migraines in candles. While I love the scent, I look for alternatives while I am making my candles because a shocking majority of people are sensitive to this ingredient.

My best advice if you are sensitive to scents is to avoid anything with even a hint of vanilla in it. Even most cinnamon and pumpkin scents contain vanillin — what you are keeping your eye out for is the sweet smell. If it smells sweet and there are no ingredients listed, stay away from it.

Scents like lavender and sage and peppermint along with other floral and woodsy scents are much more predictable — but still be wary. The presence of Vanillin is a good way to gauge the toxicity of fragrance oils, but almost no candle companies disclose if they are phthalate and paraben free which are the most toxic fragrance ingredients. It is always safer to purchase from a small creator or a business that is outspoken about what they use — for example, our candles are free from phthalates and paraben😉

As a final note on fragrances, beware if a candle reads that it uses strictly "essential oils."

Because of their pungency, they can be just as harmful as artificial scents when burnt, especially around babies and dogs. Although peppermint oil stands alone in it's aid with migraines, any essential oils are not pet safe as most are toxic to dogs and cats. Dogs have been known to have seizures from leaving essential oil candles burning and, while that is rare, that is a risk I knew early on that I was not willing to take. 

Because of this I advise everyone REGARDLESS of the content of the fragrance, ALWAYS be careful with scents like peppermint, tea tree, and lavender, even mine!

My dog is my favorite co-worker so I stay away from these when she is working with me in my facility. The risk is low but never nothing!

The Wicks

Clean living junkies love to go on and on about wax pumped with synthetic fragrance but I actually saved the most important thing for last. It's time to talk about what you are actually burning: the wick.

This bit contains one of my biggest tips for candle shopping wherever you happen to be. Pay attention to the wick.

The majority favorite for wicks of home goods and grocery stores are LX wicks, thin, white wicks that are easy to light. While these maintain a reputation for being easy to light with minimal and mushrooming (when your wick forms a head at the top), they burn far too fast (in my opinion) and easily break off.

LX wicks are thin with twisted fibers for the fastest burn possible — overall, they burn through quickly, leave wax on the edges, and make you return to the store for another candle. Yes, they soak up fragrance well so they can put out a good bit of scent... but when the scent they're dispersing is full of harmful chemicals, it is not worth it. They are the addictive candy, so to speak, of candles which is why you almost never see anything different in most stores. And most candle makers can get them for less than 1 cent a piece.

My biggest tip for finding a non-toxic candle when you're shopping with no knowledge of ingredients is getting one with a good wick. If you can find one with a wider diameter wick — better yet, one that isn't white but more of a natural ivory color — most of the time you can trust that the people who made it care a little more about what they are putting in your home. If they are spending more to make sure you get a clean wick (the easiest element to cheat on), chances are they care about your safety and they are using the same logic in the rest of their ingredients.

Bigger wicks make for a slower burn and the cleanliness and overall experience is so much better. 

Bigger wicks are common in big candles (as an alternative to adding multiple small wicks), luxury candles, or all natural ones. 

So if it is an off color, high density wick and the scent contains little vanilla, you're probably going to be satisfied with a clean burn.

But if all burning omits carbon... what about the soot?

 I got discouraged as a young business owner when I first started doing this. I was putting some candles out at an outdoor store and a former army sniper (who I happen to be scared of anyway but that's beside the point) challenged my marketing strategy of offering candles that quote "don't soot".

"You're gonna get carbon anytime you burn anything — the wax doesn't matter." He then proceeded to tell me that he's seen enough explosions to know how it works — it's not what's burning, it's the fact that it's on fire. I didn't argue with him. Instead I went on a deep dive on the scientific side of the internet to find out exactly how different items combust. Probably some weird searches in my history but the questions are ones that don't often get addressed.

The physics behind a burning candle is more complicated than you think but I'll simplify for the sake of time: it is all about the ratio. Most of the time a bad wick will create more smoke.

A bad wick is a thin one that absorbs and burns too much fragrance at one time. You want a wick that is going to slowly absorb the fragrance oil to consistently disperse the right amount of scent into the air all the way through.

This depends on the size and density of the wick but it also depends on the viscosity and composition of the oil. And the size of the jar (how close the sides are to the flame to determine how much carbon the vessel catches). So even candles that look "sooty," could just be a result of having a jar too small for the size of wick. Or the oil to thin for the absorbants of the wick. Or the oil to wax ratio thrown off so more oil than wax is soaked into the wick. It is a huge chemical balance and it varies for every single candle and every new size and fragrance blend.

In short, when I come out with a new size or collection, appreciate it because I probably had to order way more supplies than I would likely need and test it way more times than you think to make it fit the lofty claims of "clean burning," and "BOLD" that Burnworthy stands for😂

The Gist

In the end, the most easy way to tell a good from a bad candle is the wick, the most impactful element is the fragrance, and the most deceiving ingredient is the wax.

Because of the multitude of legal loopholes surrounding candles (and all fragrance bearing products for that matter), it can be extremely hard to decipher what you are getting. 

As pioneers in the industry, we want to be honest and open about what our products contain. Read here to see our full list of ingredients, including brands we use for our clean fragrance oils.

All of our fragrances adhere to strict International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and RIFM (Research Institute for Fragrance Materials) standards. You can read our full list of fragrance features and ingredients we exclude here

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.