Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What makes a candle "green"?

Soy candles have been gaining popularity since Michael Richards first developed the technology to use hydrogenated soybean oil for soy wax candles in the 1990's. At first, soy candle home-based businesses sprouted, prompting the larger candle makers to take notice of growing consumer demands for more natural products. When there is money to be made, why not?

In the past few years, the "green" movement has prompted the largest of U.S. candle makers to develop their "natural" lines, including Yankee Candle's "Beanswax" soy candle line. On, you can look up the "Beanswax" candle line that promote their soy candles with "Go Green with Beanswax." The candles are made from 100% natural soy (harvested from American farms - probably Iowa). They contain 100% natural wicks (probably cotton), no artificial colors or dyes, and made with frosted green class made from recycled materials, with a wood lid. The Beanswax line comes in 10 different fragrances: Pinwheels in the Breeze, Beat around the Bushel, Cran Slam, Over the Moon, End of the Line, Make Waves, Spice, Spice, Baby and the Great Pumpkin. Think they are going for some fancy marketing names for their soy line of candles? I had to look at the pictures to even contemplate what the fragrance line would smell like. End of the line - shows a blue towel on a clothesline --oh yeah, a clean scented laundry scent?

What Yankee Candle doesn't mention - is whether the "fragrances" are 100% natural - of which we can assume that they are not. Natural fragrances are made from essential oils, plants, herbs, and natural sources. Fragrance oils can be made from a combination of up to 500 different types of chemicals/natural ingredients. Each fragrance oil comes with a Material Safety and Data Sheet (MSDS) which only has to disclose the hazardous materials used in the making of the fragrance oil, not the entire blend of the fragrance oils. Manufacturers are not required to disclose their proprietary blends of fragrance oils. You know - the "secret stuff".

With Yankee Candle's line of strongly-scented paraffin candles, it would seem "natural" for Yankee to develop a line of strongly scented soy candle line that is made from fragrance oils. After all, that is what Yankee Candles are famous for - a beautiful, highly scented, long-lasting candle with a trade-marked name.

So what makes a candle "natural" or "green" or "organic" in the labeling, in order to market the product effectively? According to the Natural Ingredient Resource Center (, the NIRC has established "guidelines" that mirror those used by the USDA for organic food, and are inspired by other organizations that are working to establish the term "organic" for cosmetic products. There are currently 3 guidelines to be used in labeling products with natural ingredients:

1. 100% Natural/All Natural
The NIRC guidelines state that products labeled as "100% Natural" or "All Natural" can only contain ingredients that fit the NIRC criteria for natural ingredients.

2. Natural
The NIRC guidelines states that products labeled as "Natural" have to include 95% of the ingredients that fit the NIRC criteria for natural ingredients.

3. Made with Natural Ingredients/Made from Natural Ingredients
Products labeled as "Made with/from Natural Ingredients" must contain at least 70% natural ingredients that meet the NIRC criteria. The remaining 30% may come from ingredients that do not meet the NIRC for natural, however, products that include synthetic fragrances, artificial colors or ingredients from petrochemicals MAY NOT display the NIRC "Seal". All percentages are based on weight.

So, we can conclude from this that Yankee Candle's BeansWax line of soy candles do not have the NIRC seal - because they are using fragrance oils. So, why didn't they use essential oils - and make their candles 100% natural? Probably for several reasons:

1. Essential oils are made from natural source - leaves, flowers, tree needles, etc - and the"essence" or oils will eventually evaporate. Therefore, depending on the particular essential oils, the scent may not be as strong as a fragrance scent - which aides in marketing the line and selling the candles.

2. Essential oils can be more costly than using fragrance oils. Depending on whether the essential oil is 100% pure or blended with a carrier oil can affect the price greatly. Also, there are essential oils that are completely cost prohibited in making candles - such as rose oil (up to $70 for 1/6 oz.)

3. Yankee Candle makes their own proprietary blends of fragrance oils, and probably does this at a lesser cost than most manufacturers - since they are buying the components and blending the fragrance oils themselves.

So, if you're contemplating or already making your own soy candle lines, take the NIRC criteria into consideration in labeling and marketing. I make several lines of candles to satisfy my customers and myself - but I only use 100% soy wax for my candles. I have a fragrance line that is dyed, and a "Green" line - with essential oils, 100% recycled glass, 100% cotton wicks primed in natural waxes, recycled tin for the sustainer bases and of course, 100% soy wax. Depending on the essential oil, the scent is milder than the fragrance oils, but the wicks burn cleaner because they are all natural.

Stay tuned for more blogs on soy candle making in which I will talk about various aspects of making soy candles, burning soy candles, marketing soy candles and the business of setting up a soy candle business.

I have just produced a high quality instructional DVD called "The Art of Soy Container Candle Making" - and we are currently in post-production. The DVD will be available in September 2009 in both standard format and Blu Ray. Please check out my website at for more information on how you can obtain a "free" video of what you can expect to see from the DVD. Thanks & hope to see all of you soon!


1 comment:

  1. Making soy candles is fun! I actually like experimenting with it. Since you used paraffin, beeswax and palm oil to make this, I have been tinkering with the ingredients to see if the end result will be harder or softer, or it will burn longer or faster. I normally use the wick to control the flame, but if the wax surrounding the candle is thick then it won’t melt as easily.

    Guy Mailloux