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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Adventures in Natural Candle Making

By Charna Ethier from Providence Perfume Co, we make 100% natural perfumes.

When I decided I wanted to create a few naturally scented candles for the holidays I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I expected my foray into candle making to be fun and somewhat challenging.  A little bit or trial and error I thought.  I thought wrong.

Being a natural perfumer I knew I wanted to create naturally scented candles.  I wanted to use essential oils and floral waxes to scent the candles.  I knew I would have an uphill battle in getting the candles to "throw" scent using no fragrance oils.  In addition I wanted to use soy or beeswax to create the candles as eco-friendly as possible. I also wanted the candles to smell amazing.  I have yet to piece all three aspects into a wildly successful BURNING candle.  

I'm going to break my candle making process into four main components: Wax, Wick, Scent, Burn.

WAX: ah, the controversy!  

  • Soy wax is considered eco-friendly, burns cleanly but is apparently made from genetically modified soybeans. Thanks Monsanto!  Soy wax is considered one of the most difficult waxes to pour with and apparently many "newbies" to candle making become frustrated with soy wax as using it can require multiple pours and little aroma.  In my experience soy wax also produces the least scent throw of all waxes.  It literally swallows up essential oils.  And, if you add too much fragrance--watch out!  (More on this later.)
  • Paraffin wax is created from petroleum distillation.  Bad for the environment and does not burn cleanly.  It holds lots of fragrance and throws scent very well.  Damn you paraffin!
  • Cream wax is a version of paraffin wax that possesses a creamy texture, is very easy to use, typically requires one pour and holds the most amount of fragrance.  I believe cream wax is often used in many high priced designer candles that I seem to be attracted to.  Candles that cost more than a good bottle of wine.  These candles have a very soft consistency and can permeate an entire room quickly with fragrance.  Too bad this wax is paraffin based.
  • Beeswax is the most expensive wax, priced at about $10.00 per pound.  FYI, 1 pound of wax will typically fill one-two large size candleholders.  Beeswax can be bought yellow/golden and unfiltered possessing an amazing honeyed beeswax aroma or processed and bleached white.  Beeswax candles burn forever!  Beeswax seems to be able to hold a good amount of fragrance but seems to have trouble "throwing" the scent.  Beeswax candles possess a very hard wax consistency and burn the longest in my experience.
I ordered bags of four different types of soy wax.  From Cargill's Nature Wax to Golden Foods 444.  Two additional soy waxes that were recommended to me were Soy-125 and Soy-135.  After working with them I noticed . . . nothing.  Umm, seriously I couldn't tell the difference between them.  I tried to note if one type of wax burned longer than another or if one wax seemed to hold or throw fragrance better and, I really could not detect differences between them--but don't forget I'm a novice.  To my eye, no wax seemed to leap out as being better than the rest.  (It didn't help that I was constantly changing the fragrances of the candles from batch to batch.)

After my experiments with soy and beeswax, I decided to work with mixing the two.  The difficulty came in what proportion to mix the beeswax and soy wax.  After some experimentation, I think I like 3/4 soy and 1/4 beeswax or even 2/3 soy to 1/3 beeswax.  The small amount of beeswax allows the candle to burn longer, imparts a slight honeyed aroma and increases the amount of fragrance load one can add to the wax.

WICK: the most important part of creating a successful candle.  Who knew?  Alas, not me :) I'd like to thank Nikki Sherritt of Gabriel's Aunt for all her assistance.  Nikki is the owner of a successful natural candle line called Gabriel's Aunt. I've sampled her candles and found them to be top of the line.  I booked a consultation with Nikki last year to discuss candle making and quickly realized I might be over my head.  While making candles may not seem difficult, it is difficult to create naturally scented candles that burn well and smell good and Nikki is an expert.  She stressed the importance of finding the correct wick, experimentation, and sticking with the same size container.  

Side note - I consider Nikki a friend.  She is such a doll that she recently fielded a phone call from me that went something like this: 

"Hi Charna.  Yes, I got the text with the pictures you sent of your candles.  Um, well I wouldn't call them Frankenstein candles, but ah maybe they cooled too quickly? 
Me (sullen) 
"They're MONSTER candles!  Admit it.  Hey, what's that noise?"

"That's a tow truck.  I'm on the side of the road.  My truck just broke down."

Me (embarassed) 
"Oh, sorry Nikki. I'll let you go.  Ah, good luck with your wedding next week?"

Scene ends with Charna realizing that Nikki is indeed a saint and Charna is indeed neurotic.

Back to wicks.  Wick size is chosen based on the diameter of the candle, along with the type of wax used.  Thus far, my favorite wick for soy and wax candles in glass jars measuring about 3 inches across is RRD-47 or RRD-55 from  Did I mention that candle making was more difficult than I anticipated?

One tip I discovered along the way is to use a slightly larger than average wick when creating candles made with soy and or beeswax.  The larger thicker wick seems to burn better in bee/soy and create a larger pool of wax increasing scent throw.  Is it just me or is this candle making endeavor becoming more complex by the minute?

SCENT: sigh.  A general rule of thumb is to add one ounce fragrance per pound of wax.  These guidelines are for fragrance oils which is where it gets complicated.  Weighing your ingredients, just as with making perfume is advisable.  Some waxes are able to hold more scent, some less.  I like to add as much aroma as possible but am still not thrilled with the amount of fragrance my candles possess.  If you add too much fragrance the candle will not burn.  Take it from me and don't try to add anything thick like benzoin or labdanum.  The candle smelled INCREDIBLE.  The candle did not burn.  Not one bit.

Beware the dreaded citronella complex.  The citronella complex occurs when you add a variety of lemony or spicy essential oils to the wax.  The aim is sophisticated freshness.  The result is Walmart tikki torch.  As your spiced citrus scented candle cools, it smells wonderful.  Enjoy these fifteen minutes or so of pleasant aroma as they will be your last.  Beware the lighting of the candle the next day as you will smell the repellant aroma of citronella somehow wafting from your candle made with any of the following oils: coriander, black pepper, juniper, litsea cubeba, ginger, bitter orange.  You have just created a very expensive citronella-like bug repellant candle.  Sad times.

I'm still experimenting with adding floral waxes to the candles.  It seems to be the only economical way to add faint floral aromas to the candle.  It would be cost prohibitive to add rose or jasmine as they are so incredibly expensive, but high quality floral waxes add a soft roundness to candle aroma.  More on this another time.

BURN: As I've mentioned earlier the type of wax and wick one chooses for their candle has a great deal to do with how long the candle burns.  The container or candle holder also determines candle burn time and success rate.  I am only experimenting with container candles, so I can only speak on my experiences with this type of candle.  I've noted that candle containers that are tall and skinny (like the candles with saints and religious vows printed on them) are harder to master.  Candle holders that are short cylinders or have a wide mouth seem a bit easier to burn.  I've wondered how accurately one can record burn times of candles?  Will I have to burn the candle in four hour intervals to accurately gauge how long the candle will burn for?

I can recommend sticking with one type of container for experiments with candle making.  Each time you change the candle holder, you must change the wick and some waxes and wicks work better in different styles of containers.  To cut down on the confusion, I've found sticking with one container is best.  I'm currently working on mastering one scent, with one wick in one container.

Wish me luck.  Oh, and if anyone's interested in purchasing some overpriced citronella scented candles, let me know.

p.s. the talented Marla Bosworth also provided assistance in my candle making.  I think I may be a lost cause.

Charna also makes natural perfumes, her company is Providence Perfume Co.