alive logo

Clean Candles

Light up sustainably


Want to add a little romance to a cozy evening at home? Warm your spirit with the enchanting radiance of candlelight, but choose your candles with care.

Want to add a little romance to a cozy evening at home? Warm your spirit with the enchanting radiance of candlelight, but choose your candles with care.

The most common fuel used in modern candle-making is paraffin, a low-cost byproduct of petroleum refining. National regulatory bodies see it as a safe, nontoxic substance, but studies of paraffin candles illuminate a different side of the story.

The problem with paraffin

Paraffin candles contribute to poor indoor air quality, releasing fine particulate as they burn. These particles can irritate sensitive lungs when inhaled and form a sooty coating on walls, floors, and furniture. A US Environmental Protection Agency study identified scented paraffin candles as the worst offenders, emitting soot, formaldehyde, and other volatile organic compounds, smelling all the while like homemade apple pie.

Historically, lead had been used in the core of wicks to stiffen them during burning. Amid concerns over heavy-metal toxicity in the 1970s, this practice was discontinued by many North American wick-makers, but remarkably, imported candles may still contain lead fibres. As the difference between lead and less toxic alternatives is imperceptible to the naked eye, it is prudent to avoid all wicks containing metal fibres.

Soybean solutions

The early 1990s saw the introduction of a new player to the candle scene. Wax derived from soybean oil was developed and found to burn longer and cooler than paraffin while creating less sooty residue. Although chemicals are still required to extract the oil from the bean, the ability of this sustainable wax to be grown in the ground rather than extracted from the earth puts it head and shoulders above its petroleum counterpart.

The same cautions about lead wicks apply to soy candles, as their wicks may come from any source. Additionally, as many manufacturers tout soy’s ability to hold and release scent for extended periods, be on the lookout for synthetic fragrance oils that are commonly used with this wax.

Artificial scents are created using hundreds of ingredients, predominantly petroleum-sourced products, meaning that your sustainable candle may contain wholly unsustainable ingredients.

Beeswax bliss

Beeswax is regarded by many (including the author) as the Cadillac of candles. Be aware that once you let the sweet aroma of natural beeswax fill your home, you will be spoiled for life.

Proponents of this natural masterpiece describe the air-cleaning abilities of its negative ions, the living energy of its golden glow… but it simply feels good to burn them. These candles epitomize sustainability, requiring minimal processing and land use, and working in harmony with the cycles of nature.

Its high cost relative to paraffin means many shy away from beeswax, but its extended burn time means excellent value over the long term. Beware of paraffin/beeswax blends posing as the real deal: insist upon 100 percent pure beeswax in your candles.

Warm up your winter with the exquisite glow of sustainable candles.

Minding your beeswax

Here are some tips to keep your beeswax candle burning efficiently.

  • Burn the wax pool all the way to the edge of the candle and push the softened walls toward the wick to maximize efficiency.
  • Keep the wick trimmed to 1/4 in to 1/2 in (0.5 cm to 1 cm) long (trim after pushing in walls).
  • Extinguish the candle by snuffing or dipping it to prevent the wick from smouldering.


Hollywood Balancing Act

Hollywood Balancing Act

Drawing on martial arts philosophy, Peter Jang finds mind-body balance in a decade-plus career

Shawn RadcliffeShawn Radcliffe