Illuminate your home with Charlotte Willis’s guide to making your own non-toxic, vegan-friendly candles. If you don’t want to make your own take a look at our pick of the best vegan candles you can buy here.
Think all candles were created equally? Think again. Believe it or not, many a common candle you buy on the high street is likely to contain non-vegan ingredients including beeswax, tallow (animal fat), paraffin (toxic when burnt) and palm oil (not the most sustainable of oils). Follow this guide to making completely vegan, non-toxic candles and your home will smell delightful yet your conscience will be clear!
The issue with conventional candles
Whether you love twinkling tea lights or chunky pillar candles, there’s nothing that soothes the soul more than shunning artificial light in favour of a beautiful, natural, orange flickering-glow. But how many of us have considered the vegan suitability and, indeed, the safety, of the candles we have in our homes?
Conventional candles, unless otherwise stated, are often made using potentially toxic ingredients. Paraffin wax is one such nasty, yet extremely common, ingredient used in traditional and cheaper candle-making processes. When burned, paraffin contributes to indoor air pollution. You’ll be inhaling small doses of benzene and toluene, which are both known carcinogens found in the exhausts of diesel engines! What’s more, certain candle wicks are made using heavy metals such as lead. These pollutants are also emitted into your living room upon burning. Not so relaxing now, eh?
Luckily, making your own candles is pretty easy, and you can customise them with whatever colour and fragrance you like and mould into any shape you can imagine. You can use old jam jars, mason jars and old glass vases to create luxe candle vessels, which means you’re recycling with style without even trying.
Choose Your Wax
Before you get started, there are a few essentials you’ll need to source. Firstly, and quite fundamentally, you’ll need to select your wax. Choosing a clean and sustainable wax is the best way to ensure your candle will burn both without pollutants or using animal ingredients, and will also ensure an even burn inside your chosen candle vessel. Some favourite alternatives include:
- Soya wax: melts easily in a microwave, is renewable and environmentally sound when bought from an organic and sustainable supplier. Lasts 10%-15% longer than paraffin and is soft when set. Perfect for a beginner.
- Coconut wax: This wax gives a beautiful white colour and holds any added scents and colours well. It burns well and evenly and is suitable for use with most common wicks.
- Other vegetable waxes: These waxes are made from a variety of plants, but most frequently you’ll find hydrogenised rapeseed oil is used. This will produce a firmer wax, ideal for use in pillar candles.
Pick Your Wick
Believe it or not, choosing your wick is one of the most pivotal components of candle making. If you pick the wrong wick for your candle, and it doesn’t matter how beautiful it smells or looks, your candle simply won’t burn efficiently. You might be surprised to learn that there are over 200 different types of wick on the market, and the appropriate wick you should choose will depend upon the size of candle you want to create. When buying or selecting your wick, follow these simple guidelines:
- The larger the number attached to the wick’s name or description, the larger the wick size will be.
- If creating a medium diameter candle, opt to use a medium-sized wick to begin with. Use this candle and wick as a trial candle.
- When the trial candle burns, you’ll need to pay attention to the flame size and the melt-pool that surrounds the flame. An overly large flame with carbon soot build-up on the wick, along with an overly large melt-pool, means your candle wick is too large and must be replaced for future candles of similar diameter.
- If your candle flame is too small or the melt-pool is not sufficient to extend to the outer regions of the container, your candle wick is too small and you need to use a larger one for the same size diameter of candle.
- Be aware that the addition of different colours and oils may affect the burn of your candle, so always be sure to run a few test candles prior to gifting away.
Basic Candle Recipe
- 2-4 heatproof glass, metal or other heat-resistant container vessels
- 2-4 candle wicks suitable for your container size
- Vegan glue to attach the wick to the container base
- Candle wax (enough to fill your chosen containers)
- Large glass bowl to melt the wax in
- Large saucepan (if melting wax over a bain marie)
- Your favourite essential oils
- For higher accuracy, use a glass candy thermometer
- Kebab skewers or chopsticks to secure the wicks
Step-by-step: Natural scented candles
1. Melt your wax
Place your soya wax into your glass bowl and melt over a bain marie (or in the microwave for a faster recipe). You’ll want to melt the wax to around 70°C. Stir the wax occasionally whilst it’s melting.
2. Prepare the container
Wash and clean your containers, ensuring there are no foreign objects inside that may affect the clarity and the burn of your candle.
3. Wick your candle container
Secure the wick at the bottom of your candle container. To do this, either use a small amount of glue, or dip the wick sustainer into the molten wax slightly. Place the wick in the centre of the candle container. Once secure and set, straighten the wick and ensure they stay central and in place by pinching two chopsticks or skewers between the wick. Secure the sticks to the candle vessel with tape.
4. Add your scent
Once the wax has reached 70°C, remove from the heat/microwave and leave to cool to 65°C, or for around 5-10 minutes if you don’t have a thermometer. Add in a few drops (approximately 10-12) of essential oils such as rose, lemongrass or lavender. Stir to distribute evenly.
5. Pour the wax
Pour the wax very gently into the vessels immediately, leaving about 1cm free at the top of the container. Pouring slowly will prevent any air bubbles from forming. Make sure you leave approximately 200ml of wax spare for the next stage…
6. Setting and sinking
A common occurrence during candle making is shrinkage and sinking of your wax away from the edges of the container and wick. But don’t panic – you’ll be able to fix this! Simply let the container wax set, then re-melt any remaining wax you may have left over from the previous stage. Carefully pour the re-melted wax into the sinkages and cracks of your candle vessel. You may have to repeat this one or two times to ensure you get an even surface.
7. Leave to set
Allow your candles to set and cure overnight and you’re done! If you’re giving them as a gift, tie with rustic twine or ribbon and place in a recycled box.
Charlotte Willis is a freelance journalist and health writer who has worked with the Vegan Society, Veganuary and other online vegan publications. Her fields of expertise and interests include vegan nutrition, holistic healthcare, mindfulness and fitness. She is currently researching and studying the links between food and psychological health while pursuing a doctorate degree in counselling.