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Candles can freshen a room with a clean scent or create a cozy vibe on a rainy day. They can make your space feel luxurious – but in reality, most candles’ negative environmental and health effects are less than appealing. Thankfully, there are sustainable, healthy alternatives. Here’s how to choose eco-friendly candles, as well as my top recommendations for vegan and organic candles.
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What are Eco-Friendly Candles?
Like any other product, candles have an environmental impact. Their ingredients and the way that they’re produced both play a role. The cheap, mass-produced options you see on the shelves at big box stores are rarely eco-friendly. They’re often made of paraffin wax – a petroleum byproduct that we’ll discuss in detail below – and harmful man-made fragrances.
On the other hand, organic, vegan, and eco-friendly candles are made more responsibly. They utilize natural sources of wax, natural fragrances, natural wicks, and easily recycled or reused packaging. By choosing these components, candle companies lower the demand for fossil fuels and keep the air we breathe clean and healthy.
Types of Candles to Avoid
Most candles use paraffin wax. As a byproduct of the petroleum refinement process, paraffin is plentiful, cheap, and carries fragrance well. This makes it an ideal option for companies that want to maximize profit and create a heavily scented candle.
That might seem great in theory, but purchasing paraffin candles drives demand for petroleum, a fossil fuel. Petroleum is the crude oil that we turn into gasoline. When we burn fossil fuels, like petroleum, they release large quantities of carbon dioxide, polluting our air and contributing to climate change.
Additionally, harvesting the petroleum from the underground reservoirs on land and the ocean floor is also damaging. It requires that we clear the area of plants and vegetation and disrupt the ecosystem, as well as the lives of the animals who live there. Sometimes, drilling can lead to huge oil spills that cause even more severe implications, including the death of thousands of animals.
Aside from environmental effects, burning paraffin candles also pollutes the air you breathe. It releases toluene and other toxic chemicals that are known carcinogens for humans. Burning them frequently can leave dangerous pollutants in the air, which can be harmful to your health.
As you can see, it’s imperative to avoid paraffin candles when shopping for eco-friendly candles. Likewise, you’ll also need to be wary of wax blends. Some candles may claim to be soy or beeswax blends. This is a clever way for companies to mislead you into purchasing a candle that still contains paraffin. While the label may state the exact blend, labeling laws don’t require it. Oftentimes, a blend means there’s paraffin involved. The good news is, there are better choices of candles, and taking small steps in our everyday life by switching to more sustainable products is a great way to have a positive impact.
The Most Eco-Friendly Types of Candle Wax
Coconut wax is made by hydrogenating coconut oil, which raises its melting point and keeps it solid at higher temperatures. However, it’s still much softer and melts faster than other waxes, so pure coconut wax candles are uncommon. Coconut wax candles are almost always blended with another wax to give them a higher melting point and allow for shipping in warm months.
Be sure to choose a candle that clearly discloses what the blend is. If a candle simply says “coconut wax blend,” it likely contains paraffin. Coconut wax is often organic, so you may also find organic candles within this category, but be sure to check that the other wax is also organic.
If you’re looking for strictly vegan candles, you may not want to choose beeswax. However, this wax can be sustainable and ethical, depending on how producers harvest the beeswax. Beeswax is both natural and renewable. It’s non-toxic and hypo-allergenic, so it’s much safer than paraffin.
Still, harvesting 100 pounds of honey only results in a few pounds of beeswax, which means it’s taxing on the bees. Taking too much of the honeycomb and wax from a hive can affect the hive’s health, so it’s important that the candles you buy use only sustainably-sourced beeswax.
Commercial bee farms sometimes cut the queen bee’s wings, artificially inseminate the queen bee, and replace honey in hives with sugar substitutes, which can impact the bees’ immune defenses. Before buying a beeswax candle, look to see where the company sources its beeswax. If it’s from local, small bee farms, it’s much more likely that the bees are treated well and aren’t stressed by poor conditions.
Rapeseed wax comes from the oil harvested from the rape plant, which produces bright yellow flowers. In the US, we use rapeseed oil to make canola oil, which is rarely sustainably farmed. However, you can get organic rapeseed oil and wax in Europe that is sustainably farmed. The plant itself is native to Europe and the UK, where there are no over-farming or intensive processes to produce it. It also has a low carbon footprint and is vegan, so it’s great for vegan candles.
Soy wax is made from soybean oil. There’s little waste during the production of soy wax, as the solid parts of the soybeans (known as the flake) are used in animal feed. However, soy isn’t always sustainably farmed. It’s often over-farmed, which can harm the health of the soil and the soy itself. Widespread soy farming has also led to deforestation.
Still, soy burns neutrally and doesn’t release carcinogens, unlike paraffin. Soy is also a renewable resource, unlike petroleum. Be sure to choose sustainably farmed soy to ensure you aren’t supporting over-farming. You can look for the Sustainably Grown U.S. Soy mark to make sure you’re getting eco-friendly candles.
What to Look for in Eco-Friendly Candles
Ultimately, you’ll need to review every aspect of a candle to determine how sustainable it is. Consider the following:
- Wax: As discussed above, the raw materials used in the candle are key. sustainably-sourced beeswax, along with rapeseed, and coconut wax are the best environmentally friendly materials for candles.
- Product Packaging: Look for candles that utilize glass, ceramic, or metal containers and plastic-free outer packaging to avoid plastic waste.
- Wick: Choose wicks that are 100% hemp, cotton, or wood. Be careful of wicks that have a metal core for support. Also note that candles made before 2003 may have lead wicks, which can be toxic.
- Fragrance: The term “fragrance” can refer to a natural source, but it can also be used in regard to synthetic chemicals that can be carcinogenic and toxic. Eco-friendly candles with organic ingredients will note what sources their fragrances come from.
Lastly, read labels critically as they can be misleading. There are few regulations for terms like “natural” and “pure.” Companies can use these words on any product as a marketing ploy to get you to purchase their products. In fact, a product only needs to contain 51% of an ingredient to be considered “pure” in the US. For example, a candle that’s 51% soy could be labeled as pure soy, even if the other 49% of the candle is made of toxic paraffin. Opt for candles that clearly state they are 100% coconut, soy, rapeseed, or beeswax.
Eco-Friendly Candle Alternatives
Candles aren’t the only option for making your home smell great. You can also opt for wax melts, which are flameless, and instead use an electric wax melt warmer. The same guidelines apply here as they do for candles – avoid paraffin wax and opt for sustainably-sourced coconut, soy, rapeseed, and beeswax melts.
Essential Oil Diffusers
You can also go wax-free and choose a beautiful essential oil diffuser. They use essential oils and water, dispersing your chosen scent combination into the air. When properly cared for, your essential oil diffuser can last for years, which could be more eco-friendly than throwing out multiple used-up candles each month. Diffusers and melters do have some energy consumption, so finding one with a timer can help reduce energy use, as well as save you on energy costs. Even better, add some solar panels to your home to switch to renewable energy. A wax melter or essential oil diffuser also makes a great gift!
Crystal Stone Essential Oil Diffuser
I also love this gorgeous green fluorite crystal stone essential oil diffuser. It makes such a beautiful decoration and smells amazing.
Another great option for an alternative to eco-friendly candles is a reed diffuser. You can refill the bottle with the same or different scents, they look beautiful in a bathroom and give off a lovely subtle scent.
9 of My Favorite Eco-Friendly Candles
1. Natural Sloth Pure Beeswax Candles
Natural Sloth makes candles from locally-sourced, pure beeswax in Texas. They use pure essential oils, wooden wicks, and glass containers. My favorite is the Fierce scent – cedarwood, orange, bergamot, patchouli, and ylang ylang.
2. Essentially Charlie Coconut and Beeswax Candles
Essentially Charlie’s Brooklyn-made eco-friendly candles exclusively use coconut oil and beeswax. The candles are scented with pure essential oils and include a beeswax-coated hemp wick. The candle containers are made of glass with a metal lid. They also offer beeswax and coconut oil wax melts.
3. Duenenlicht Handmades Vegan Rapeseed Candles
Made in Germany, Duenenlicht Handmades offers 100% vegan candles made from rapeseed wax. They utilize wood wicks as well as glass and ceramic packaging. Etsy offsets all the carbon emissions associated with shipping and packaging.
4. Concrete No
Concrete No makes vegan candles from sustainably-grown coconut wax and European rapeseed wax. They use wood wicks and packaging that is either concrete or eco-resin. My favorite is the Vanilla, Orange, and Cinnamon Candle.
5. Cocorose London
Cocorose London’s candles are made from sustainably-sourced rapeseed and coconut wax with unbleached cotton and linen wicks. Its packaging is made of glass.
6. Natural Chandler
Natural Chandler candles are made from a rapeseed and coconut wax blend. They utilize wood wicks and metal containers.
7. My Zero Waste Fam Store
This shop offers handmade 100% soy organic candles. They’re scented with organic essential oils and herbs and include some natural crystal healing stones. They also have vegan candles, all packaged in metal containers with cotton wicks.
8. Fontana Candle Company
Fontana Candle Company’s eco-friendly candles are made from beeswax, coconut oil, and essential oils. They’re packaged in metal containers and include wood wicks. There are no harmful dyes or stabilizers in the wax.
9. Make Your Own
It’s also a lot of fun to make your own eco-friendly candles! And if you make them yourself you have total control over the ingredients. You can source your own 100% coconut, soy, rapeseed, or beeswax. Order your own wicks and scent the candles with essential oils. You can also get creative and reuse old glass, metal, or ceramic containers!