A candle maker once wrote me asking if the same natural colorants used in soap making could be used in candles.
Even though "natural" candles are very popular these days, I had never heard of anyone using any natural colorants in candles. I know that pigments and other "dispersed" colors like micas and oxides don't work well in candles because they clog the wick. But I wasn't sure about an "infused" color.
You can make an herbal oil infusion for soap making - and soy wax is just modified soybean oil. So I tried it!
- I started by taking eight jelly jars and putting them in a water bath in my crock pot. I filled each jar with about 6 ounces of soy container wax. (For additional step-by-step photos of the entire process, view the Natural Colors in Candles Gallery.)
- I put a bit of the herb I wanted to infuse into a coffee filter and tied it with a twist tie. The herbs I used were:
- comfrey - 1 tsp.
- rose hips powder - 1 tsp.
- peppermint - 1 tsp.
- lavender - 2 tsp.
- madder root powder - 1/2 tsp
- alkanet root powder - 1/2 tsp.
- annatto seeds - 1/2 tsp.
- spirulina powder - 1/2 tsp.
- I dropped the herb-filled coffee filters into the jars, turned the heat on low and let them steep/brew for about 24 hours.
- The wax stayed about 130-140 degrees. I stirred it every few hours to make sure that the infusion was getting into the wax.
- After 24 hours, I pulled the filters out and let them cool. (For step by step photos of the entire process and the tests, view the Natural Colorants in Soy Wax Gallery. The comfrey, rose hips, and lavender didn't infuse much color at all. The rose hips gave the slightest of an orange tint. The peppermint gave a very light green shade. The madder root gave a nice light peach shade. The alkanet gave a wonderful burgundy red shade. The annatto gave a nice warm yellow and the spirulina gave a nice warm green. With more herb in the filter, and more infusion time, the colors would be darker.
- In the tests I've done so far, none of the infused colors seems to be affecting the burn time or clogging the wick - but you'll want to test it for yourself. I did get a bit of sediment in the alkanet and spirulina jars...but not enough to affect the candle really.
The really exciting thing is that you really can make a nicely colored natural candle using soy wax, essential oils, and infusing the wax with one of these natural colorants.
Basically, the process is the same for infusing any herb or plant material into any oil - mix the two together, put them on a low heat, and let them stew for a while. The difference between the wax and the oil is that the oil is liquid at room temperature, where the wax is not. You need to keep it at 120 degrees or above to keep it liquid so that the color will infuse.
- I used a crock pot for these tests. You could do the same just putting the wax into the pot and setting it on low. Be sure to check the temperature so that it doesn't get too hot. You want it to steep at the lowest temperature you can keep the wax liquid. My crock pot stayed at about 130 degrees.
- If you can find/get a Presto Pot, those work the best for this kind of infusion. Presto Pots are great because you can accurately adjust the temperature and keep it steady over a long period of time.
- While possible, I would not recommend just using a regular melt pot on the stove. There's too much possibility of temperature irregularity.
- Put the herbs in a coffee filter, some cheesecloth, or a small muslin bag. You want the color to infuse out, without too much of the plant material getting into the wax. With the really fine powders like alkanet and spirulina, it's not quite possible to prevent all of it...but do your best. You may need to let some sediment settle out of the wax or strain it before you make your candles.
- Let it stew. For these tests, I let it infuse for about 24 hours total, stirring every 4-6 hours. For deeper colors, another 24 hours would have helped. Past that, you're not going to get much additional color.
- That's it. Remember that your fragrance oils are going to add some color to the wax as well. Also be aware that natural colors are often more sensitive to fading than synthetic colors.