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Candle waxes - Soywax

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Soywax

Soywax is an answer of the candlemaking industry to the demand for (more) natural products, especially products of vegetable and renewable origin, as well as a growing rejection of petroleum-based products, one of which is paraffin wax.

Initially very popular in the United States, candles made of soywax have rapidly appeared on the shelves of our shops and the keen interest they created has resulted in a wide availability to European candlemakers of the ground ingredient, soywax. Nowadays, it has become easy to find and financially affordable.

Soywax usually comes in flakes form

Soywax has a beautiful soft, milky aspect once it has cooled off in its glass container.
This article tells you everything you need to know about the most popular candle wax around.

The history of soywax

The birth of soywax can be traced to 1991 when Michael Richards started looking for an alternative to beeswax (mostly because of the rather prohibitive price of the latter).
The first version he came up with was a blend of soy oil, coconut oil and palm oil, all partially hydrogenated. In another attempt, he tried a blend of soy oil and beeswax.
The first candles to be marketed under the name of "soywax" were actually made of a blend of beeswax and almond oil. The almond oil was later replaced by soy wax. It took Richards close to five years and unremitting research to manage, in 1996, to completely remove the costly beeswax from the equation. From that point onwards, candles labelled "soywax candle" were indeed entirely made of hydrogenated soy oil. The inventor kept on working on his flagship product and produced different blends of waxes with varying degrees of viscosity, some of them suitable to container candles, others, showcasing a higher melting point, better suited to freestanding candles, like pillar candles.

Nowadays, soywax is made of soy oil that went through an hydrogenation process to make it solid at room temperature. The exact process by which this is achieved is a trade secret and is jealously kept that way.

What is hydrogenation?
The hydrogenation process involves a chemical reaction consisting of adding a molecule of dihydrogen (H2) to another element (in our case soy oil) at high temperature and in the presence of a catalyst (usually nickel, palladium or platinum).
The degree of hydrogenation is controlled by the quantity of hydrogen, the length of the process, the temperature of the reaction and the catalyst. The higher the degree of hydrogenation, the more "solid" the oil becomes.

The different types of soywax

The blends of soywax available out there are many but at the end of the day, it all boils down to two types of soy waxes: a blend for container candles and another one for freestanding candles like pillar and votive candles.

The hydrogenation process of soy oil produces a soft wax with a low melting point, which makes that wax an ideal candidate to turn it into container candles. It melts at a very low temperature (around 122°F), sticks nicely to the walls of the container and shows very low levels of contraction when it cools off, provided you pour it at a temperature very close to its melting point.

The blends targeted at freestanding candles, that's another story altogether. Even a very high degree of hydrogenation is not enough to make soywax hard enough to turn it into a pillar candle. Because of this, most soywax blends for freestanding candles include stearic acid (the vegetable kind to keep the "all natural" vibe alive), sometimes paraffin wax or other additives. Their average melting point is around 130°F. Unless the manufacturer certifies that his blend is pure (Ecosoya, for example, guarantees the absence of any palm oil, paraffin wax, beeswax, pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified organisms), you can never be sure that your candles is 100% natural...

A soywax container candle with a wooden wick

What kind of wicks for soywax?

Because of its low melting point, soywax is rather viscous, so you will need to use a larger-sized wick (one, two or three sizes up) than you would in a paraffin wax candle of the same diameter.

Where there's a demand, the supply usually follows quickly. Soywax is no different and you can now purchase wicks that are designed specially to be used with it (and with most other vegetable waxes, since they all tend to be viscous). An example of that is the Eco series of wicks, a coreless cotton flat braid wick with paper stabilizing filaments. Wicks developed to be used with soywax are usually primed in a vegetable wax instead of paraffin wax, which continues the efforts in the search for a 100% natural candle.
But this does not mean you have to throw away your current stock of wicks: traditional wicks for paraffin wax can by all means be used in soywax, but you will have to perform thorough testing with wicks of different types and sizes to see what works.

If you're keen to go all the way on the "all natural" path, you should probably give wooden wicks a try. They give off a wonderful woodfire smell and crackle like one when they burn!

Soywax and additives

Like paraffin wax, soywax can benefit from adding additives, when necessary.
You can add Vybar to improve fragrance retention (not one of soywax's strong points) and UV-inhibitor to protect the candle's colors from day and artificial light. Be cautious when adding stearic acid, though: soywax, by nature, already contains a high percentage of it; also, remember that the manufacturer has probably already added everything he could to make the wax as solid as possible (in blends for freestanding candles). Adding any more could result in a candle not burning properly.

In case you want to give it a try, an universal additive for soywax is commonly available from most suppliers.

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