March 23, 2010 (12:50 am)

Organic Soy Candles. Ok. Here’s the Deal.

topics: Green Home
by Kristen Suzanne

Organic Soy & Vegetable Wax Candle. Isn't it pretty?

I love candles. A lit candle at my desk has a very calming effect on me. Suppose, for instance, I get a crappy email for whatever reason, all I have to do is look at my lit candle — day or night — and I’m like… “aahhhhh.” I also like to have one lit while I’m getting ready in the bathroom, even combined with the regular lighting. It’s a spa-girly thing. And, of course, candles are always nice for romance in any room. ;) All it takes is a little theatrics to lend a touch of the exotic to everyday life. Let’s hear it for mood lighting, every day! … Right?

Well, turns out, maybe not every day. Here’s the thing… wait, back up a moment…  I’m definitely not an expert in all things green (I’m learning more every day), but, on my journey toward living more sustainably, I’ve been wondering lately, “Are candles eco-friendly?” I mean, I frequently see black smoke coming from them, and what’s with those soot stains on the wall near where the candle was burning?! Breathing that can’t be good. Because candles were part of my daily ritual (as opposed to an occasional treat), I decided I needed to find out more about them. The last thing I wanted was to feel guilty for using candles — or worse, anxiety — when their very purpose for me is to create an atmosphere of relaxation.

Here’s the skinny: I’m at a candle crossroads.

Basically, it turns out that candles are not particularly eco-friendly, because of what can be released from them when they’re burned (carbon dioxide and multiple toxins). Crap. It’s not black and white though. Some candles are very bad for both the environment and your health, while other candles are not nearly as offensive. And, like most things, there are some candles that fall in between.

Let’s start with the pure evil candles: Paraffin wax candles with nasty wicks. These are the standard candles you find at most stores. These nasty muthers produce a number of by-products when they’re lit — hence the black smoke and soot stains if burned too close to a wall. As you might expect, the soot is not healthy to breathe. But it’s actually worse than you probably expected: The smoke from paraffin wax can contain up to 11 toxins, three of which are freaking carcinogenic!… formaldehyde, toluene and benzene. Paraffin wax candles are made from petroleum (derived from crude oil), a non-renewable resource.

And that’s just the wax. There is also the wick to watch out for. Some wicks are made with additives such as lead and zinc. You know, LEAD?!  … the stuff we don’t let them put in paint because it’s poisonous? Yes, that lead. Unfortunately, even though it’s not supposed to be there, it can be because it’s not always easy to regulate this.

And, finally, there’s the packaging. Many candles come packaged in wrap that isn’t biodegradable, which just adds to our landfills. Granted, lots of things — most things — are packaged, so this isn’t a candle-specific gripe so much as a general gripe about unnecessary consumption. Little things like candle wrappers add up when you use a thing every day. So the more often I use candles or any other consumable, the more determined I am to source it from someplace that uses minimal and eco-friendly packaging.

Next up: the in-between candles: These are candles that are on the road to becoming environmentally friendly, but they could still use some help. For example, beeswax candles might sound like a great alternative to petroleum-based candles, but I don’t want to take anything from bees so that’s not an option for me.

And then there are soy wax candles, most of which are made from regular (conventional) soy. The good news is that soy candles are better for the environment (and your health) than paraffin; in the way that they burn; the bad news is that most of these products use GM (genetically modified) soy, which I avoid whenever possible. There is also the whole issue of using pesticides in growing non-organic soy and, frankly, I’m not into supporting Monsanto in any way, shape, or form.

Which brings me to what I deem are the best options for candles… “mostly good” candles: I write “mostly good” because in most cases, even the best candles are still not a truly eco-friendly option. But if you’re going to use candles, this is the way to go. I will point out that, yes, there are potentially cases where using candles could actually have a positive effect on the environment, such as using candles instead of electrical lighting (this depends on many factors however, such as the source of the electricity and amount needed — I don’t recommend doing surgery by candle light, haha!). Also, the cost of manufacturing and shipping the candles needs to be considered in the equation.

So what are the mostly good candles? These candles are made from healthier materials such as organic soy and vegetable products (there are some made from hemp, too) – YAY! They usually include a wick made from things such as organic cotton, hemp, etc. Some companies boast that their organic candles are 100% biodegradable. The candle you see pictured above is from Lumia (offering organic wax candles).

Other things to consider for eco-friendlier candles: I try to buy from companies that use organic or healthy essential oils to scent their candles and use packaging that can be recycled or reused. The nice thing about soy (and vegetable wax) candles is that the container they come in usually cleans easily with soap and water so you can reuse it.

So, what’s a Green Mommy to do? I’m sad to say, after all of my research, I’m not as stoked about using candles as I used to be. After weighing the pros and cons, I have decided to use them less. I have also been searching for a suitably mood-inducing replacement for them… something soothing, romantic, zen, and warm that would help me kick my daily candle habit. I came up with two ideas: crystal salt lamp or LED candles. I haven’t researched the eco-friendliness of these yet, or figured out if they rate better than candles. That’s my next project. Until then, I’ll enjoy the organic soy candles I have, but I’ll limit my burning of them to special occasions, and over time, they’ll play less of a role in my life.

UPDATE: {03/18/11} We now use both salt lamps and LED candles and love them both! They give the perfect lighting… soft, romantic, beautiful. I could go on and on. And, I love that I don’t have to worry if I fall asleep with them on. Salt lamps and LED candles ROCK!

What do you think?

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  • http://gingeristhenewpink.blogspot.com/ Lauren519

    I use to use candles daily too, now it’s a sometimes treat. Like when I have company or on a Friday night watching a movie. I buy soy and vegetable based candles too. I do have a beeswax ones that was a gift, but I love it so much I never burn it! LOL! I love those salt lamps too, so pretty and from what I understand they get rid of negative ions from electronics. Anyway, sorry to ramble, those are my thoughts..lol

  • Kelly Michelle

    thanks for sharing. I actually have lots of candles I've collected over the years because I rarely burn them since I've always been worried about what I'm breathing in, so I mostly just look at them unlit! But I do love candles. I have seen and worried about the soy ones since I often see stands for them at the mall but never did the research or purchased one. It is good to know there are special occasion options.

    Another thing I've been wondering about are those fragrance diffusers, those sticks you put into a bottle of smelly stuff and it smells good. I like those and think they are pretty but have the same concerns :/

    I guess the best option would just be for all of us to make our own potpourri type mixture using essential oils (if that would even work?)

  • sonya_st

    For me the glow of candles can not really be replaced with anything. The mood of reverence and peace they set, every time I lit one, is unsurpassed. I use them on special occasions mostly.
    I love my crystal salt lamp and I just bought crystal salt candle-holders.

    I LOVE the greenmommy blog!!! Looking forward to your lovely posts!

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    I love your thoughts! :)

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    I'm not sure about those fragrance sticks. To tell you the truth, there are really only a couple of scents I like and my husband prefers no scent, so we never looked into those. I think my mom-in-law uses them though.

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    The glow sure is beautiful. :) Thanks for the crystal salt lamp feedback.

  • Kellie

    Hi Kristen, what about an electric oil burner, I'm sure (I hope) they don't use much electricty and you can use whatever essential oil you love the most!!! I find that most calming.

  • http://www.crookedmoonmama.com/ crookedmoonmama

    Well, we use crystal salt lamps in every room in the house. I also have a salt candle holder, but since you're looking to replace candles…that's not much help.
    The glow and the positive ion effect these lamps have is why we use them, plus they are simply gorgeous when lit. :) LED candles we tried as a nightlight in my daughter's room, but it was just too fake.
    We burn beeswax candles. There are many local bee farms that harvest the wax and honey to sell in order to continue keeping the bees and colonies thriving (honeybees are endangered and some say these beekeepers – the good ones- may be helping the bees, not hurting them) for what it's worth.
    Thanks for sharing your candle sleuthing!

  • Snowgirl

    http://www.bubbleandbee.com/servlet/the-189/Org

    Hi Kristin,

    Bubble & Bee Organic has an organic coconut wax candle. I have never used one but thought you might want to check it out!

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    groovy, thanks for the tip :)

  • http://veganjoy.blogspot.com/ Joy

    Thanks for a great article. I've been thinking of making my own olive or coconut oil lamps for awhile now (they make really gorgeous ones for religious ceremonies that I used in my yoga studio), and this is what I needed to actually do it. I just had no idea conventional candles were so heinous, and the “better” ones aren't much better. Beeswax isn't an option for me either, so I'm excited to try something completely different.

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    Thanks for sharing, Joy! :)

  • amy

    I had the smae experience. I now use LED tealights, and a salt lamp for atmosphere, and an LED light/aromatherapy candle that I purchased from Homedics. There is nothing like the soft, sexy light of a candle, but when you think of the toxins they produce, its much easier to enjoy alternatives to set the mood. I don't get any LED candles that are scented, only the ones without a fragrance. I have also been hanging lights around my apartment, oriental ones, with full color spectrum bulbs for mood setting.

  • http://www.hollafoodzone.com/ Tracie@Hollafoodzone

    I came to the same unfortunate conclusion myself only last year. Now I burn candles rarely – usually just for special occasions.

  • blondie111399

    I love candles myself, I have to have one going at all times, the glow the feeling the smell are all that attracts to to them.
    You will love these candles, great for the enviroment, vegan, 100% soy wax check out the website http://www.ascentofscandal.com
    Hope u like!

  • spring

    I have known about this problemm with candles for a while and I got a salt lamp instead, I love it! Gives such a lovely warm glow and no problems with pets or children and one bulb has lasted for over 5 years so far.

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    Thx for the feedback :)

  • http://animalfriendlyeating.blogspot.com/ kelli

    how about incense?

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    Not crazy about the scent. ;)

  • http://frugalbabe.com/ Frugal Babe

    When my husband and I first met, he used to joke about how I was able to find a candle to buy every time we went shopping, and had them on every flat surface in our apartment. Nine years later, there is not a single candle in our house. I went through the same process as you, questioning what exactly I was breathing when the candle made the house smell so great. I eventually got rid of all of them, and now I love the fact that when you walk into our house, you smell nothing at all, unless I'm in the middle of making dinner.

  • http://bittsblog.blogspot.com bitt

    i have a crystal salt lamp and i LOVE it. it really changes the air. i also have a candle one and you have to use tealights for it. tealights are usually not made in soy. so i bet those candles are pretty bad, huh?

    i usually use candles to help with stinky doggie smell (you can imagine I suspect). the soy ones don't really have the same type of wax though, it's all mealy. ick!

  • suz

    i have been decreasing my use of candles too. i do get a bit overwhelmed when we start talking about toxings, then reusability etc.. but i have found taking a spray bottle and adding water to it, the adding 5-10 drops of essential oils (i like lavendar and mint) to it and spraying it around does wonders to help freshen the air and doesn't add toxic scents.

  • JustAudrey

    I read your post (thanks for the info about paraffin candles–ick!) but don't really understand what the problem is with organic vegetable or soy candles. The shipping and packaging? Why are they not eco-friendly and only 'mostly good'. Are they still bad to breathe and release bad stuff into the environment? Thanks. :)

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    depends if non-gmo soy is used…. that helps. :)

  • http://bestsoycandlesonline.com/ Soy

    I found a soy jar candle! They’re so cute!! I think they’re good for the environment..I guess I agree with Audrey and I don’t really understand…

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Kristen Suzanne is a Raw food chef and author who blogs about all things green and mommy-related! More...

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