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Soy vs Paraffin - The Great Debate
No matter where you look or who you ask, there are so many varying opinions on the age old question of which wax is better, or better for you. Is there really a difference between the two?
Before I get into tackling this debate, I must say that I am taking my opinion out of this and looking strictly at the data. I must say that I make soy and other natural wax candles but I am not looking at this to try to sway you to buy natural candles. Keep in mind that paraffin candle makers along with natural wax candle makers will sometimes mislead you into thinking one or the other is better than the other. I'm not here for that. Let's take a look at the information (with references) and help you make the best decision for you.
Paraffin wax comes from crude oil. It is the waste product that is left over when refineries refine the crude into lube oils and fuels. The waste product goes through a process to turn it into paraffin wax. Paraffin by definition comes from fossil fuels which are extracted through drilling. Due to this fact, paraffin is considered non-renewable.
Benefits of Paraffin:
- Higher fragrance load generally allowing for a higher fragrance throw, especially hot throw.
- Smooth, clean looking candles
- Cheaper cost
Drawbacks of Paraffin
- Burns hotter than Soy - could more easily crack glass containers if the glass isn't thick enough
- Release chemicals benzene and toluene when burned (chemicals in crude oil)
- Black soot (all candles soot regardless of wax type, black soot is more common in paraffin)
- NOT biodegradable (more on this later)
Soy wax is extracted from harvested soybeans which go through a process called hydrogenation where the soybean oil is treated with a hydrogen solution to turn the oil into wax. Since soy wax comes from soybeans, and soybeans can simply be replanted, soy wax is considered renewable.
Benefits of Soy:
- Little to no black soot or smoke
- Cleaner burning
- Longer lasting (generally speaking. Various conditions can effect burn times)
- Exceptional cold throw (scent when not burning)
- Burns at lower temp, safer for glass containers
Drawbacks of Soy:
- Hot throw sometimes not powerful enough for large rooms
- Low melt point. Can start to melt and have wet tops in warm weather
With both of these waxes, there is a lot of misinformation out there. Starting with paraffin, a lot of candle makers will say that paraffin wax is completely safe to burn. This isn't entirely true. Based on a 2009 study done by Lead researcher Dr. Ruhullah Massoudi at South Carolina State University, paraffin wax candles were tested against soy wax candles (all were unscented, undyed) to determine what chemicals, if any, the candles would release. It was found that paraffin candles released harmful chemicals such as alkans, alkenes and toluene, all reported to cause harmful effects to humans. The soy wax candles released no chemicals. The top two chemicals released are benzene and toluene. Benzene is a known carcinogen and toluene is known to cause a wide variety of health problems.
The paraffin fan club will quickly point out that soybeans are also harmful. This is true to a degree. The way soybeans are grown these days, mostly GMO and grown with pesticides, could be cause for concern. Also, the carbon footprint of the farming itself can take it's toll on the environment. For example, deforestation to grow more crops, the over use of pesticides or just the abundant use of farming equipment burning fossil fuels to harvest the crops. Within recent years, the US Department of Agriculture and farming cooperatives have taken steps to responsible farming and sustainability. Likewise, soy wax advocates will point out that soy is renewable, doesn't require refining fossil fuels, and that paraffin is not biodegradable. Some say paraffin is biodegradable. Here's the deal. It comes from crude oil. If we spilled motor oil on the ground and left it, it wouldn't degrade and would cause pollution. Same thing with paraffin. In fact, a massive study was done on the effects of paraffin wax in the marine environment. Paraffin was found to be a significant problem.
The key would be to use in moderation if paraffin is used and if purchasing soy candles, try to purchase organic soy wax or soy wax marked as responsibly sourced. Don't burn an excessive amount of paraffin candles and try to vent (open a window/turn on a fan) your space when you have a paraffin candle burning.
It all comes down to personal choice. If you want a stronger, more powerful hot throw from your candle and your ok with potential chemicals being released, then choose paraffin. If you don't mind more subtle scent throws and don't want to chance any chemicals being released, go organic soy or another natural wax.
For me, personally, I choose to create candles with natural waxes going paraffin free. The potential of harmful chemicals is too great for me to even consider having a candle like that in my house, so why would I make one for your home? Besides, with the global push to rid ourselves of fossil fuels and start transitioning to cleaner alternatives, who knows... one day paraffin wax may no longer be produced.
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