Guide to Waxes for Candle Making

Paraffin, soy, gel wax and more

One of the first choices you'll make if you want to make candles is which wax to use. At one time, the only choice was to stick a piece of wick into a lump of tallow, or dip a reed into some grease to make a rush light, but nowadays we have many different options.

There are several types of wax readily available for making candles today - some natural, some synthetic, some a little bit of both, and each has its own particular qualities. Some candle makers will prefer one strongly over the...MORE other. Others (like me) like to use all of the different types. They all make great candles...just in a little bit different way.

  • 01 of 05
    Glass jug containing white chunks of parafin wax, standing in blue saucepan of hot water to melt wax.
    James Merrell / Getty Images

    Paraffin wax is one of the most versatile and most common waxes used today. It comes in many different melt points, appropriate for many different applications, from votives to pillars to containers.

    Most of the commercially available candles you buy in stores today are made with paraffin. It is not universally embraced these days, however. Paraffin wax is a by-product of the crude oil refinement process, and natural or green-minded folks often label it as bad just because it is related to...MORE petroleum. However, just because it is related to petroleum doesn't automatically make it toxic. And in a way, by using the by-products of the oil refining process, you're actually using parts of the oil that would otherwise be discarded.

  • 02 of 05
    A woman stirs a pitcher of hot soy wax to prepare her handmade candles in demonstrating the step by step process for candle making
    Alanna Dumonceaux / Design Pics / Getty Images

    Soy wax is a new wax on the candle making scene...but has taken a solid hold. With the demand for "natural" candles growing, soy wax was developed in the early 1990s as an alternative to the petroleum-derived paraffin, and the natural, but expensive, beeswax. Like paraffin, soy wax comes in a variety of blends and melting points, though the most common soy waxes are container candle blends. Many of the soy waxes are made from 100% soybean oil. Others are blended with other vegetable oils...MORE (like coconut) and waxes (like palm and beeswax.) There are also a number of paraffin/soy blends out there that capitalize on the benefits of both waxes. However, note that generally as long as the blend is at least 51% soy, it is called a soy wax blend.

  • 03 of 05

    Gel Wax

    Multicoloured gel wax lamps sale for diwali christmas, dadar, Mumbai, Maharashtra, india, Asia
    Dinodia Photo / Getty Images

    Candle gel wax is not actually a wax at all - it is a combination of resin and mineral oil. The Penreco company holds the patent for gel wax - so chances are if you're making gel candles, your wax came from them. It is similar to other waxes in that it holds scent and color and melts and burns. The difference is in its transparency that allows for an entirely different variety of candles to be made from it -- and it is often used to imitate water or other liquids like beer, cola or wine. In...MORE the past, there has only been gel wax for votive or container candles, but recently some gel that is firm enough to make pillars out of has come onto the market.

  • 04 of 05
    Organic Farmer collecting Honey
    Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

    Beeswax is probably the oldest candle making wax. Beeswax candles were found in the pyramids. Beeswax is produced by bees as a byproduct of the honey making process. They wax is excreted by the bees into "combs" to incubate their larvae. Because it is infused with honey during its creation, it naturally has a sweet fragrance which will vary slightly depending on what flowers or plants the bees are feeding on. After it is harvested from the beehive, it is melted and filtered several...MORE times. Candle makers can purchase beeswax in blocks or slabs, like paraffin, in "pastilles" (little pellets) which melt very easily, or in pre-rolled sheets, which can be easily made into candles without any melting at all.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Palm Wax

    Palm oil farm, Belem, Brazil
    Glowimages / Getty Images

    Palm wax is similar to soy wax in that it is made from a natural oil - in this case, palm oil. About 75% of the palm oil harvested worldwide is used in food applications. The other 25% is available is used for a wide range of products including soap, candles, detergents and agricultural products. Palm wax is a very firm, almost brittle wax, that works very well in pillars and votives. (There are container candle blends as well.) It usually produces a crystalline or "feathered" effect in...MORE the candles that is quite lovely. Palm can be also blended with soy wax to make it harder, while still retaining the natural qualities of the wax.