Talking of candles…

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Homemade soya candles in tuna tins with homemade paper and raffia string

Talking of candles, aren’t they romantic and cosy? I mentioned them in point 4 of the last post on electricity – why not try blackout night once or twice a week? Detach from electronics, experience how our forefathers lived AND cut the usage of gas, oil and coal used to make electricity.

But did you know that some candles can also be toxic? I mentioned that in the previous post in a very short sentence so I would like to add more info here on this issue.

Fun Facts: Asia Pacific dominated the wax market in terms of volume and revenue in 2013 and is considered a manufacturing hub for major manufacturing industries across the globe; China is the center of the hub – this is actually NOT a fun fact as you will see later on. As of 2015, Europe and America are the biggest consumers, followed by China.

Now let’s go back to toxicity in candles for which you will have to understand the constituent parts: The wax, the wick and the scent.

The Wax: Candles can be made from many types of waxes which all have pros and cons:

  • Paraffin wax: Paraffin wax is a petroleum by-product that is created from the sludge waste when crude oil is refined into gasoline. Most candles are made from this. It emits black soot loaded with highly toxic benzene and toluene when burned (both are known carcinogens). In fact, the toxins released from paraffin candles are the same as those found in diesel fuel fumes. Sheeeeeesh! Problem is that it is cheap and you get it everywhere- Argh!
  • Palm wax: This may be the longest burning natural, vegetable-derived wax. The candles are virtually smoke-free; almost sootless with a cotton wick but since it is a challenging material to work on, these are costly to buy.
  • Soy wax: Soy is a renewable resource and pure soy wax is toxin-free. The candles, which produce little soot, last a long time.
  • Pure beeswax: Burns clean and long and is the all-natural wax from honeybees The candles are virtually drip-free and no artificial scents are needed. However, the candles are expensive 😦 Draaaaat
  • Bayberry wax: This is an aromatic green vegetable wax. It is removed from the surface of the fruit of the bayberry shrub by boiling the fruits in water and skimming the wax from the surface of the water. Its traditional use in candles dates back to the colonial period. However, tis expensive, as you might have guessed. Parp!
  • Mineral oil and resin compounds: This is the better option for people allergic to paraffin. The candles are clean and the higher melting point means less soot and allergic reactions.
  • Mineral-oil based gel: This is an easier material to handle for candle makers as clear gel makes possible various designs, such as floating beads, glitters, underwater scenes etc. However, these candles must be in heat-resistant glass containers as when the candle comes in a fragile glass container, glass shards and melted wax may explode and cause injury – jeez!

The Wick: Another of the main concerns over candles is the wick. Different wicks are used for different purposes and they can be divided into two main categories: cored and non-cored wicks.

Non-cored wicks are usually made of a braided or twisted cotton and considered the safest to burn. Cored wicks are usually made of cotton around a paper or metal core. Zinc, tin, and lead are standard compounds used in its composition. Burning candles with lead-cored wicks is now known to cause lead poisoning, and there are similar concerns about zinc-cored wicks. Australia and the US have banned lead wicks but alas, most candles are curently coming from countries like China where no such regulations exist 😦

The Scent: Top-of-the-range candles are scented with natural perfumes or essential oils. But since they are costly and difficult to add in large quantities, many of the mass-market products contain synthetic fragrances and sometimes dyes that can give off harmful particles when they are heated.

Bearing in mind that candles are often lit in poorly ventilated rooms, such as bathrooms, or during the evening when windows are likely to be closed, the release of chemicals can cause indoor pollution that is potent enough to raise the  risk of asthma, eczema and  skin complaints.

So, you wail forlornly, “what about blackout night? ” Here is my advice: stick to soya or beeswax – you don’t need to bust the bank buying tons of candles – as these two burn long and well, just a few will get you through many weeks of blackout fun 🙂 Ooooh and, why not MAKE your own candles? They can be so much fun plus you can reutilise containers! Next post!

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Glass jars, old tuna tins and any old tin have been used