candle making 101: how to select the right wax for any projectFinding the right wax is easier than you may think! In this article, you'll learn how to select the appropriate wax for your container candles, wax melts, pillars, and more.
Understanding types of wax
While there are many wax varieties to choose from, knowing the type of finished product you want to make is the simplest way to start. This is called the wax application, and the two main choices are container or pillar. Manufacturers formulate their waxes for use within these applications, so let’s look at the characteristics and differences between them.
Container candle wax
Specifically formulated for container candles, container wax is made for use in jars, tumblers, tins, glass, and other candle making containers. Container wax is designed to adhere to a container as it cools and may be softer in consistency.
While paraffin and soy are the most common varieties of container wax, you can also find container waxes made from various materials like coconut, apricot, and more.
Pillar, melt, and tart wax
Pillar wax is formulated for pillar candles, wax melts, tarts, votives, and any other wax product that needs to hold its own shape. Because there’s no container surrounding the wax, pillar wax is a harder wax that’s also designed to pull away from the mold as it cools, allowing for an easier release from the mold.
Like container wax, pillar waxes are made from various materials like paraffin, soy, and beeswax.
How to tell if your wax is made for containers or pillars
Most candle suppliers clearly state “container” or “pillar” on wax labels and their online product descriptions. Check the label or online description to confirm that the wax application aligns with the needs of your project.
The wax application (again, container or pillar) for every CandleScience wax is listed on the right side of each product page, under the “Properties” section.
Wax varieties: characteristics and differences in soy wax, paraffin wax, and wax blends
Now that we’ve broken down the two main categories of wax, let’s discuss the different wax varieties.
Made from soybeans, soy wax generally has a longer burn time, produces less black soot, and is often preferred by consumers who value naturally-derived products. Its appearance is opaque, semi-matte, and creamy white. Soy candles are known for their impressive cold throw, which can provide a light scent even when they’re not lit.
Frosting is a common occurrence with soy wax candles. It’s caused by tiny crystal formations on the surface of cooled soy wax and looks like a white-ish coating. While frosting doesn’t create burn issues, it’s a common aesthetic concern. Soy wax also tends to form a bumpy, uneven top when it cools. However, many soy wax lovers enjoy frosting and bumpy tops because they indicate that a candle or melt is made with pure soy wax.
Paraffin is the most widely used candle wax on the market. Many people don’t consider paraffin a natural wax because it’s made from petroleum, but modern paraffin candle wax is highly refined and performs extremely well in candles and melts. The appearance of paraffin wax is colorless and typically pretty translucent, so rich, vibrant colors are easy to achieve with smaller amounts of dye. Paraffin wax tends to have an excellent hot throw and smooth tops after cooling.
Most mass-market candles are made with paraffin wax, so consumers are often familiar with the way it burns. Paraffin wax candles tend to leave a bit of wax hang-up on the sides of containers after the first few burns, but that unmelted wax liquefies as the candle is burned further down. While paraffin wax doesn’t frost, it often shrinks down after it cools and usually leaves a divot around the wick. Many candle makers who use paraffin incorporate a second pour into their candle making process to fill any sunken areas.
As you’ve probably guessed, blended waxes offer the best of both worlds. Blended waxes are made of at least two different types of wax. The specific formula of wax blends is held as the wax manufacturer’s proprietary information, but the waxes used are usually shared.
Soy and paraffin blends combine soy wax’s slow-burning and cold throw qualities with paraffin’s smooth aesthetic finish and optimal hot throw.
While soy and paraffin blends are probably the most popular blends on the market, there are plenty of other blended waxes to peruse. Soy and coconut wax, for example, uses coconut-derived wax to minimize frosting and reduce rough tops after burning.
Wax options for popular projects
In this section, we’ll walk you through the process of choosing wax for popular candle making and wax melt projects. You’ll learn about the factors to consider when selecting wax for your own projects, and we’ll share our top choices in soy, paraffin, and blend formulas.
If all container waxes are formulated to have good container adhesion, why are there so many different varieties available? Modern manufacturers formulate their waxes to suit different preferences. Wax source, appearance, maximum fragrance allowance, and melt point are all factors you might consider when selecting container wax.
The best wax for container candles:
- Soy: Golden Brands 464 Soy Wax
- Paraffin: IGI 4627 Comfort Blend Wax
- Blend: IGI 6006 Soy/Paraffin Blend Wax
There’s a reason they call it pillar wax! Pillar candles are self-supporting candles. Many are intended for decorative purposes, and some pillar candles are fragranced. They come in all shapes and sizes and typically burn so that an unmelted wall of wax contains the melted wax.
While it may sound redundant, it can’t hurt to reiterate that you’ll get the best results by using pillar wax for your pillar candles.
The best wax for pillar candles:
- Soy: EcoSoya PB Pillar Soy Wax
- Paraffin: Paraffin Pillar Wax (MP-137)
- Blend: BW Paraffin/Soy Wax (BW-910)
Clamshell and snap bar wax melts
Clamshells and snap bars are thin, plastic molded containers with dividers. They hold segments of wax intended for wax warmers or melters, and high scent payoff is often their main purpose. It’s important to select a rigid wax that has a high maximum fragrance allowance and good fragrance performance.
Pillar wax is the best choice for clamshells and snap bars because end users can easily remove the wax segments from the plastic shells. Easy release is also a huge benefit to the end-user because it means easy clean up of wax warmers or melters; applying pressure on one side of the cooled wax should result in a satisfying puck of wax releasing cleanly from the dish.
So, what’s the best wax for clamshells and snap bars? Since most clamshell and snap bar users want strong fragrance, we recommend pillar waxes that hold higher percentages of fragrance and have a good hot throw.
The best wax for clamshells and snap bars:
- Soy: Blended Waxes® Pillar Soy Wax (BW-921)
- Paraffin: Paraffin Pillar Wax (MP-137)
- Blend: IGI 6028 Paraffin/Soy Pillar Blend Wax
Note: Some candle makers use container wax for their clamshell or snap bar wax melts. While these wax melts may be more crumbly or difficult to remove from the package, many makers report that they’re happy with the performance of container wax for this purpose. If you’re inclined to test making clamshells or snap bar wax melts with a container wax, we say go for it. Using the same wax for different products could definitely simplify the supply ordering and making process!
Tarts, wax melts, and embeds
While tarts, wax melts, and embeds are similar to clamshells and snap bars, the main difference is that they aren’t contained in packaging that supports their shape. So while you may find some container waxes that work in clamshells and snap bars, this category really needs a wax that supports and maintains its shape. Some are used mainly for decorative purposes, while others are intended for high fragrance payoff.
Because we want a wax that maintains its shape and has good mold release, pillar waxes work best here too. Tarts and embeds are often used for decorative purposes, so waxes that resist frosting are a huge plus.
The best wax for tarts, wax melts, and embeds:
Selecting the right wax for candles and wax melt projects can make a huge difference in their outcome. The right wax will help bring the project you envisioned to fruition. Plus, you’ll avoid frustration and save time by thoughtfully choosing your wax.
Understanding the wax selection process is another step to becoming a more confident, knowledgeable maker. Remember to give yourself credit for the time, energy, and willpower it takes to master a new skill.
As you gain experience, you’ll learn the difference between waxes first-hand and begin to notice the difference in the way they behave. If you don’t already have a favorite wax, you will soon!