As we all look to make our homes cleaner and greener, scented candles have come under fire (sorry, I had to!) a bit, since burning them can release potentially toxic chemicals into the air. I mean, those ominous sooty rings you sometimes find on the lids and lips of your candle jars can’t be good, right? But I love a candle as much as the next person, so I figured there has to be some kind of an option here. And that’s where soy comes in. Unlike paraffin wax, soy burns without emitting chemicals like petroleum-based soot.
The problem is “soy” can just be slapped on a label without much explanation. And for scented candles to really be fragrant, there’s likely some paraffin in there. “Soy is more dense than paraffin, so it requires more heat to burn it, which means it can take longer for soy to release the fragrance,” says Jon Bresler, the founder and CEO of a luxury candle and personal care company, LAFCO.
This can also make soy more expensive, so, according to Bresler, a lot of “soy-based” candle companies cut corners and go with more paraffin for “performance.” The question then becomes: If you want a clean burn, how can you tell if your candle is more soy than paraffin? Bresler shared this hack for figuring it out. Spoiler alert: At 80 percent biodegradable soy and 20 percent paraffin, LAFCO’s candles pass it, and it’s basically a touch test.
“An easy way to tell is by touching and inspecting the wax,” says Bresler. Generally speaking, paraffin candles are soft, feel oily, and can look translucent if you hold them up to the light. Meaning if you tap your finger on the top of a candle and the wax dents or leaves a film or residue on your fingertip, Bresler says it’s probably more paraffin than soy and not necessarily such a clean burn after all. Of course, there are some exceptions. According to Bresler, the paraffin wax used to make pillar candles can sometimes be harder since it’s needed for them to retain their shape. But most candles in vessels will follow this rule, so you should try it before you buy it.
What else to look for to help you find the cleanest, best burn? An all-cotton wick, says Bresler. And yes, there is an etiquette or list of best practices for candle burning.
First off, LAFCO recommends burning a candle one hour for every inch of its diameter, especially the first time you light it, so the wax pools across the entire service. This will prevent tunneling, where the wax burns straight down near the wick, and should set your candle up for even burning in the future. Trim your wick to 1/4-inch every time you light your candle after first burn. (LAFCO suggests doing this with the candle upside down so the wax stays debris-free.) Always snuff your candle to put it out and let it cool for 12 hours before lighting again. And remember to upcycle your vessels.
It turns out there’s another upside to higher soy content in a candle here as well. The more soy, the easier it should be to freeze that last little bit of wax so you can tap it on the bottom and pop it right out of the vessel. Hello, new drinking glass, succulent planter, or makeup brush holder.