Using soy wax to make candles is a fairly new idea - it's only in the past few years that the idea has caught on. It's caught on fast, though, with an explosion of soy candles available on the market and many people trying this type of wax for home candle making and burning. Like any new product, there are those who enthusiastically advocate it, and those who point out the drawbacks. Here are both sides of the story.
Clean and Green?
Soy wax was developed as an alternative to petroleum or paraffin based waxes. These are by-products of the fossil fuel industry, produce carbon dioxide and can give off harmful soot and pollutants when burned. Soy is a natural, plant based wax that produces a clean flame with relatively no soot given off. It burns for longer and gives a brighter flame, reducing the amount of candles needed to give the same amount of light.
Enthusiasts point out that soy candles are helping to reduce the amount of petrol used - thus helping the environment. They also have benefits for people who suffer allergies, and add minimal pollution to the atmosphere of your home or the planet! Soy is a natural resource, and therefore fully biodegradable.
Another area where soy candles are advantageous is safety - they burn with a cooler flame than paraffin which means that containers or candlesticks are less likely to heat up to a temperature where they may crack or split. (Of course, any naked flame can still be a safety hazard, and should never be left unattended.)
While beeswax has long been the alternative natural choice for quality wax, it is also known as a relatively expensive product. Soybeans are cheap and easy to source, and the process is less complex than that of beeswax collection. This means that soy wax and candles can be produced at a lower cost than pure beeswax - with many of the same benefits.
The case against...
The evidence that paraffin wax and candles are harmful to health has been contested by some. There are those who argue that the soot produced is of a minuscule amount and is natural carbon - any quality, well-made candle should produce a tiny amount of wax and few harmful by-products or pollutants. They claim that the wick is more important than the type of wax used. As soy is such a new product, the evidence either way is as yet inconclusive. Experts recommend keeping wicks short and choosing unscented candles.
Another issue is the environmental one. Soy wax is made from soybean oil, with a process of mechanical extraction. Detractors point out that soy is one of the crops that are most likely to be genetically modified, and the growing methods are often harmful to the environment, using pesticides and forest clearing to produce large soybean crops.