Candles have a way of truly making a house a home. Their welcoming flame makes any room feel warmer and cosier, instantly. But let’s face it — candles are expensive! Some designer candles are even priced in the hundreds.
So if you’re a big candle fan, but don’t want to spend a fortune to have them in your home, why not try making them yourself? Not only are the materials extremely affordable and easy to source, but making your candles at home allows you to customize them, making them whatever color you desire, and scenting them with your fragrance(s) of choice.
Candles are used in all kinds of traditions, and add a touch of warmth and serenity to any room in which they’re lit
In addition to that, making your candles yourself allows you to control what kind of wax is used in your candles. You can choose from paraffin wax, beeswax, soy wax, rapeseed oil wax, and palm wax, according to whichever wax has the properties you prefer (I break down the pluses and minuses of each wax below).
Making your own candles at home is a fun, cost-effective way to customize candles for your home, or even make them as gifts.
History of candles
People have been burning candles since the 5th century, across the globe
The earliest evidence of candle making was in China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), using candle wax derived from an insect. Meanwhile, over in Japan, they were using tree nut extract for their candle wax. The cinnamon tree’s fruit produced the wax that was used for candles in India.
Candles eventually made their way to Europe around the Middle Ages, in the form of beeswax. They were rarely used in homes, because they were seen as unaffordable for most families. New waxes were developed over the centuries, and tallow became the predominant candle wax in Europe and the Americas until the 18th century.
Thereafter, a variety of animal oil and fat waxes were used, until chemists found a way to remove the naturally occurring waxy substance from petroleum during the refining process. It wasn’t until the late ‘90s that soy and palm wax candles were developed by hydrogenating soybean and palm oils.
Nowadays, it’s estimated that 1 billion pounds of wax are used in candles sold across the US.
Choosing your wax
There are many different types of wax that can be used in candles, and all have different qualities that make them better or worse for different types of candles.
You may be surprised to learn that not all candle waxes are created equal, and, indeed, the most commonly used candle waxes can be harmful to your health. Some waxes are better at throwing their scent, some are harder and therefore better at holding their shape (making them better for use in moulds), some have a creamy look, and some have less shrinkage than others.
Though according to the American National Candle Association, no wax is considered “best” for candle making, and no wax has even been shown to be harmful to human health, there is much evidence to the contrary.
Here are the five most commonly used waxes for candle making.
The most commonly used wax in commercial candles, paraffin wax is plentiful and inexpensive. The wax is a by-product of the crude oil refining process. In raw form, paraffin is a white, odorless and tasteless wax, with a melting point between 110 – 150 degrees F. Paraffin waxes of different melting points are used for different purposes — those with low melting points tend to be used for container candles, while the higher melting point waxes are employed for more complex candles like votives and hurricane candles.
Unfortunately, due to its very nature, paraffin wax is considered to be harmful to our health. Being a petroleum waste product, paraffin needs to be deodorized and chemically bleached before it can be used in candle making. When burned as a candle, it creates benzene and toluene gas, both of which are highly toxic.
Beeswax is sustainably sourced and free from toxins, all the while even cleaning the air with the negative ions it emits.
Historically, beeswax was the preferred candle wax of royalty, nobility, and the church, due to its subtle, natural aroma and its lovely light. It’s one of the densest waxes, and has a high melting point (144 – 147 degrees F), which allows it to produce a warm light that is often compared to sunlight. Furthermore, it doesn’t require any kind of chemical processing or additives. There is even evidence that burning beeswax candles emits negative ions that actually purify the air. And finally, due to the fact that beeswax is a natural byproduct of beekeeping, it is known as an environmentally friendly wax.
So, if beeswax is so great, why isn’t it used for all candles? Well, it does have a few downsides. Firstly, it’s one of the costlier candle waxes, priced significantly higher than the other waxes (about nine times more than paraffin). And secondly, though many do like its honey-esque scent, the natural scent makes it much more difficult to use it for any other aroma of scented candles.
Soy wax is a renewable resource, which makes it a desirable alternative to paraffin wax. Furthermore, it is thought to be a healthier form of wax, with no known toxins. However, about 98% of soy wax is genetically modified…but that’s because it comes from genetically modified soybeans, which are used in all other soy products, so if you don’t have a problem with eating tofu, it shouldn’t bother you in your candles either (and that’s a whole other thing to think about now). Add on to this that soybeans require a significant amount of fossil fuels to harvest, and take up a lot of valuable land area to grow, meaning they’re not particularly eco-friendly.
Soy wax has a low boiling point of 115 degrees. It’s an excellent wax to use for container candles, but as it’s quite a soft wax, it shouldn’t really be used for pillar or other shaped candles that require a mould. It isn’t known as a “pretty” wax, as it can develop lumps and bumps, but it does have a soft, creamy look that works well with warm-toned colors.
If you haven’t heard the controversy over using palm products, you must be living under a rock! Joking aside, I’ll hesitantly go through the costs and benefits of palm wax, but must preface it by saying it’s not a recommended wax, due to the large number of animals being displaced and forests being levelled during its harvest across Indonesia and Malaysia.
That said, palm wax is said to be toxin- and carcinogen-free, and isn’t genetically modified. It has a clean, slow burn, and produces hard, smooth, and dry candles.
Rapeseed oil wax
Rapeseed is one of the most eco-friendly, healthy types of wax out there, but unfortunately, it’s not easy to work with.
Rapeseed oil is oil that’s been pressed from the rapeseed plant, which is sustainably grown in Europe, and is a fully renewable resource. Furthermore, it rapeseed oil wax doesn’t require any additives.
The downside to rapeseed oil is that it is difficult to work with. It’s very soft, and produces an extremely oily wax, meaning it’s not ideal for votives or other types of moulded candles (as touching the candles leaves oil all over your skin). However, it’s ideal for use as a container wax, producing a smooth, creamy, ivory wax that burns with a golden flame.
Choosing your wick
Choose your candle wick with care. The wrong wick can make your candle emit toxins into the air, or burn in a funny way.
It’s very important to be careful when choosing your candle wick. Many candle wicks contain heavy metals that create high levels of airborne contaminants that are extremely unhealthy. Some wicks even have lead cores! Instead, look for wicks made from a braided cotton or paper, with a cellulose core, which are considered to be the healthiest.
There are five main types of candle wicks. Here is a brief breakdown of each:
- Round directional wick (RRD) has a cotton core and tension threads. This type of wick works best in solid-colored, scented candles made of both paraffin and soy wax.
- High-tension paper wicks (HTP) have a paper core, which makes them tight and rigid, making them ideal for votive candles, as well as container candles.
- Stabilo wicks (CD) have a paper core, and are well-suited for votives and container candles.
- Flat braided wicks (LX) have stabilized threads. These make the wick curl during the burning process. As such, these types of wicks work best in votives, container candles, and pillar candles, particularly with soy and palm wax.
- Zinc wicks have a zinc core, which provides rigidity in the pouring process. However, they’re prone to mushrooming (when a mushroom shape forms at the end of the candle wick after burning) and carbon deposits. These types of wicks are most commonly paired with paraffin candles.
Materials for making your own candles
You’ll be surprised by how inexpensive it can be to make your own candles at home. Plus, once you purchase a few basic supplies, you’ll be able to re-use them. The only things you’ll need to purchase again are the wax, color pellets, essential oils, and wicks. Plus, you can re-use your jars and cans as containers, not only reducing the cost of your candle making, but making it an eco-friendly practice!
With just a few simple materials, you can make your own candles at a fraction of the price you’ll pay at the store.
Here are the basic items you’ll need to make your own candles at home:
- Wax beads — we like this 5 lb bag of Natural Soy 444 Wax in Golden
- Wax dye — we like these Soy Dye Flakes for Candle Moulds
- Containers or moulds — we like these Polished Marquina Marble Candle Jars
- Wicks — we like these Premium Natural Cotton Beeswax Wicks
- Pouring pitcher — we like this EricX Light Dripless Heat Resisting Wax Melting Pot
- Wick centering device — we like this set of 12 Metal Candle Centering Devices
- Wick sticky pads or sticky putty — we like this 3 ounce pack of Re-usable Sticky Putty
- Fragrance oil — we like this set of 6 P&J Trading Spice Premium Grade Fragrance Oils
- Heat source
- Toilet paper holders
- Duct tape — we like this 3M Multi-Use Duct Tape
- Aluminum foil — we like this 2-Pack of 200-square-foot Food Wrapping Paper
💡Tip: Don’t try using food coloring or any other type of dye that isn’t specifically made for candles. I tried using a gel food coloring in mine, and quickly learned why they make special color pellets to dye your candle wax — because normal food dyes don’t mix with candle wax. It simply sunk to the bottom in a small ball, and then when it went into the candle, ended up looking like mould (it was blue)!
Process for making your own candles
Now that you’ve got all your materials ready, it’s time to start making your own candles! This is the fun part. Roll up your sleeves, and get ready to get creative.
💡Tip: You can get creative with your candle containers and reduce your trash by reusing old food containers. Glass jars of pasta sauce, jam jars, old coffee mugs, etc. all work as candle containers.
Before you do anything, prepare your work area. I suggest laying down parchment paper, just in case you have any wax spills (which you likely will, especially your first time, and especially if you’re trying the toilet paper roll votive candle after this first tutorial). Alternatively, you can use newspaper. Candle making is a messy affair, so taking this step before embarking on your candle making journey will make your life easier once you’re finished.
💡Tip: Be sure to have all your materials ready. Candle making is a swift process due to the fact that wax sets quickly at room temperature, so you have to be prepared to work fast.
1. Melt your wax
Create a make-shift double boiler and use it to melt your wax pellets
💡Tip: If you don’t want to purchase a melting pitcher, you can use a coffee mug just as easily. Obviously it won’t be as easy to pour the wax, without the pouring spout, but you’ll manage! It’s just another way to bring down the cost of candle making.
The first step in the candle making process is to melt your wax beads. Start by pouring them into your containers and from your containers into your melting pitcher. This will ensure you melt as much wax as you need, and no more. Add your color pellets as desired.
Next, you’ll fill a medium-sized pot half-full with water and bring it to a boil. Once your water is boiling, place your melting pitcher in the middle of the pot. At this point, many candle making tutorials call for a thermometer, but I honestly don’t see why. It’s pretty easy to simply keep an eye on your wax until it’s melted.
The amount of time your wax takes to melt will entirely depend on your chosen wax. The different melting points of different waxes is outlined in the section above. Essentially, the higher the melting point of your chosen wax, the longer it will take to melt.
💡Tip: You can also use wax in block form, but, of course, it will take longer to melt.
I used a wooden skewer to stir my wax, and suggest you find something similar. A spatula works well too, and the bonus of using one of these is that it will help you scrape all the wax out of your melting pitcher. Your wax doesn’t necessarily need to be stirred, but it’s kinda cool to move the wax around and watch as it melts. Plus, as the beads melt, they’ll form larger chunks of wax, and if you break this up, it will help speed up the melting process.
I suppose that a thermometer would stop your wax from getting too hot, which can burn it, but what I did was I just kept my water at a gentle boil. This should be enough to prevent your wax from burning.
Use a wooden skewer or something similar to stir your wax around as it melts
After about 5 to 15 minutes, your wax should be fully melted. Use an oven mitt to lift your melting pitcher out of the pot (as it will be hot), and place on a heat protected surface on your countertop.
If you are keeping an eye on the temperature, you want your wax to be around 160 – 170 degrees F at this point.
Your wax will be clear and probably slightly yellowish (or whatever color your color pellets were) once melted.
2. Add your fragrance oils
Select your desired scent(s) and add a few drops to your melted wax.
Now you get to design your candle’s scent! Feel free to have fun with this part, mixing and matching your fragrance oils as you desire.
This is your opportunity to learn a bit about aromatherapy, and then put your new knowledge into practice. Here is a handy essential oil mixing guide:
Orange + patchouli
Chamomile + clary sage + lavender
Rosemary + bergamot
Grapefruit + jasmine + ylang ylang
Grapefruit + cypress
Rose + sandalwood + bergamot
Apple + cinnamon + vanilla + nutmeg + clove
Coconut + vanilla
Cranberry + strawberry
Banana + toffee
Cinnamon + vanilla
Clove + amber + sandalwood
Pomegranate + cinnamon
Plumeria + baby powder
Lavender + vanilla + spring rain
Lilac + violets + fresh linen
Use ¼ to ½ an ounce of oil per pound of candle wax. Since essential oils have such strong scents, remember that less is more! Too much essential oil can either overpower the candle’s scent, or could even cause discoloration in your candle.
Be sure to stir your essential oils in your wax for a good 30 seconds to ensure they’re evenly distributed.
💡Tip: Take careful note of how much of each essential oil you use, and in what combination, so that you can either adjust your recipes in future or replicate them.
💡Tip: Different waxes require different amounts of essential oils. Since paraffin throws scents quite well, for example, it will require less fragrance than, say, soy wax.
3. Prepare your wick
Use little sticky pads or sticky tack to stick your wick to the bottom of your candle container
Now that your wax is melted, colored, and scented, it’s time to prepare your candle container. Remove a sticky pad, or pick off a small amount of sticky putty, and place it on the bottom of the metal part of your wick.
💡Tip: Alternatively, you can try an old candlemaker’s trick. As your wax starts melting in your melting pitcher, it’ll form a small pool of melted wax at the top. Dip your metal wick tab in this melted wax pool, and place it in the bottom center of your container. Let it dry for five minutes, the wax will harden, and your wick will be stuck to the bottom of your container. Be sure the wax is hard before pouring your hot wax, or your wick could easily become unstuck and you’ll have to start all over again.
Make sure to center the wick on the sticky putty or pad, so that you can easily center it in your container.
Next, stick your wick in the middle of the bottom of your chosen container. Your candle container is now ready for wax.
4. Pour your wax into your candle container
Now that you’ve prepped your candle container, it’s time to pour your melted, colored, and scented wax into it.
Pour the melted wax into your prepared candle container.
I suggest pouring your wax in until the container is about ¾ full. You can always top it off afterwards, once your wax has set, should you so desire. Some waxes will shrink (particularly softer waxes, like soy wax), so you may have to do this anyways.
💡Tip: Keep a hold of your wick while you’re pouring in your hot wax, so that it stays in the center, being careful not to tug too hard on it, which could release it from the bottom. It’s impossible to re-stick your wick to the bottom if it comes off in the wax pouring process — if this happens, you’ll have to pour your wax back into your melting pot, clean your container, prepare a new wick and start again.
Now you’re ready for your wick centering device.
Use a metal wick centering device to keep your wick straight.
Thread the wick through the middle of your metal wick centering device, and let it rest across the rim of your candle container, as pictured above.
💡Tip: If you don’t have a metal wick centering device, you can use an old pen. Simply tie your wick around your pen so that it’s in the center of your candle.
💡Tip: Centering your wick is important, not just so that your candle will be aesthetically pleasing, but also for proper burning. An off-center wick won’t burn properly.
5. Allow your wax to dry and set
Set your timer for two hours, and leave your candle alone until it goes off.
When you come back to it, your wax will be cloudy and set. You may need to leave it for a few more hours, depending on the type of wax you used. Some waxes take longer to dry and set than others.
If your wax has shrunk, re-melt the wax in your melting pot, following step 1 above. Pour a bit in at a time until you’re satisfied with your container candle. Leave it a few more hours to dry and set.
Once the candle is dry and set, and you’re happy with the level in your container, remove the wick centering device, and use scissors to cut your wick, about ¼ inch from the wax.
💡Tip: You’ll know if your wick is too long if the candle flame burns big and hot. If the flame is more than an inch high and flickers a lot, your wick is too long. Trim it down and light once again.
Bonus steps: Use remaining wax to create a votive candle, using a toilet paper roll, a plastic bag, and duct tape.
1. Melt your wax, add coloring and scent, according to the steps above
2. Pick up your toilet paper roll and measure out some aluminum foil
Your toilet paper roll will create the shape of your candle.
3. Wrap tin foil around your toilet paper roll
Pay special attention at the bottom of the toilet paper roll. Be sure the aluminum foil is tight against the edges.
Next, get a small plastic bag that fits around your toilet paper roll, and place the roll, complete with aluminum foil, inside of it. This step will stop the wax from leaking out, which it did when I tried it with just aluminum foil and duct tape.
Now, wrap your toilet paper roll, covered in aluminum foil and a plastic bag, with duct tape. Make sure it covers the entire bottom, and is tight to the toilet paper roll so that it holds a nice shape.
Your toilet paper roll-cum-candle mould is nearly ready! (Notice the wax on the counter, towards the bottom of the photo — that was from not using a plastic bag, causing the wax to leak out the bottom!)
4. Prepare your wick, place inside your toilet paper roll, center your wick
Repeat steps 3, 4, and 5 of the original candle making instructions above. The act of preparing your wick is the same. It’s somewhat trickier to place the wick inside, at the bottom center of your toilet paper roll, as aluminum foil is funny to work with. But you’ll get there with a few attempts.
Pour your wax into your mould until it’s ¾ of the way to the top. Thread your wick through your wick centering device or tie around an old pen as described above, and place it across the top of your toilet paper roll holder.
Allow to set and dry for a few hours.
Your homemade candle mould is ready to receive hot wax.
5. Remove the mould, cut your wick
After a few hours, touch your candle mould around the sides. If it’s hard, and not squishy, it’s ready. Remove the wick centering device, peel off the duct tape, remove the plastic bag and tin foil.
The inside of your candle mould, once you’ve removed the duct tape, plastic bag, and aluminum foil, will look something like this.
Now, peel off the toilet paper roll holder as well. Cut your wick about ¼ inch from the wax.
You’ll be left with a candle that looks something like this.
💡Tip: See that number on the candle? That’s from the toilet paper roll. It rubs off easily, don’t worry! Just don’t forget to rub it off before you use or give your candle as a present.
💡Tip: You’re probably wondering how you’re going to clean up all the wax that’s set in your melting pot, on your counter top, on your stirring tools, etc. The best thing to do is to wipe the wax away with paper towel while it’s still liquid. That said, if there’s a large pool of it on your countertop, let it set and cool, and then peel it off in one big chunk. Do not rinse your wax down your drain, or put waxy tools in your dishwasher, as it could harden and clog your pipes.
Congratulations! Your candles are now ready to burn and enjoy.