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March 17, 2016

Wax Focus: Paraffin Wax and Blended Waxes

March 2016
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When prospective candle makers begin their venture and are looking for a wax to use, they definitely can become overwhelmed or confused by the number of options that exist, and they may not know that a key term before the word "wax" — indicating the type of wax — can have a significant impact on the results they'll receive.

The terms candle wax, paraffin wax, blended wax, straight wax, natural wax, vegetable wax, etc., to the novice or even to the slightly experienced, may all sound the same. But to those who have learned the hard way, there is a significant difference among the different wax types when they are used in making a candle.

It is always interesting when those of us at Candlewic, a supplier of waxes for the candle industry, are asked to describe the components of wax. When one of my first supervisors (who was not in the candle industry) asked about my family business, I described that we processed and sold waxes. Her half-kidding response was "I thought gnomes made wax."

Wax in today's society is a generic term. Wax can cover a broad spectrum of products that includes petroleum-based, beeswax, animal, vegetable, and synthetic-based materials. One of the primary waxes used over the years in candle making has been refined from petroleum. However, other types of waxes, like Soy and other vegetable-based waxes, have become extremely popular in the last number of years.

In this article, we will limit our focus to paraffin wax and blended waxes. In a future issue of The En-light-ener, we will highlight some of the other growing segments of the market, which include vegetable, soy, palm, and beeswax. With this information, you, the candle maker, will become more knowledgeable about waxes and will be better equipped to differentiate among them when choosing which wax is best for your product line.
Basically, paraffin wax is a petroleum-based product that has gone through a refining process. The end result is a product that is solid at room temperature. Within the refining process, waxes can be classified as fully refined wax, semi-refined wax, scale wax and slack wax.

Most candle makers generally work with fully refined and/or semi-refined wax, which is available in melting points ranging from 121°F to approximately 160°F. Waxes such as slack and scale can be used to make candles, but their applications are generally limited to filling containers or jars, because the melting points on these waxes are generally below the 121°F level.  Many times, when working with waxes with melt points below 120°F, you will find that they generally have high oil contents and can take on a "diesel" odor.

For the balance of this article, we will focus on making candles with fully refined paraffin waxes.

As a candle maker, you have further choices to make, such as which melting point to use and whether to use a straight (non-blended) paraffin or a blended paraffin for your process.

A straight paraffin is a wax not altered by adding additives such as Vybar®, stearic, or microcrystalline waxes. Examples of these waxes include our Container Fill (CF), 3032, 3134, 4144 and 3035. A straight paraffin is best for the candle maker willing to experiment and develop a unique formula that may achieve a specific finish on the candle. The candle maker creates this formula by combining additives, as mentioned, with the straight paraffin. Best uses for straight paraffin are as follows: Those with melting points of 121°F-131°F can be used to fill jars, containers and tins; those with melting points of 128°F-141°F are best for making votives; straight paraffins with melting points of 133°F-146°F are best for making pillars, novelties and figurines; and those with melting points of 141°F-146°F are best for making tapers. Using a straight paraffin also will be the most cost-effective, long-term approach.

The downside for many is that significant testing is involved in determining what additives, and what amount of these additives, to use to achieve your desired performance.
A blend, on the other hand, is a wax that already has the additives in the formula, allowing the candle maker to save time, because all that needs to be added is color/dye, fragrance and U.V.s, if used. Blended waxes also assist the candle maker, because they are uniform from batch to batch, allowing for ease of use. One drawback with blends, however, is the fact that it is more difficult to achieve different looks in the candle, because most blends are developed for specific applications such as jars, votives, pillars and tapers.

Some of the blends have the added benefit of simplifying the manufacturing process as well. Blends like the CBL-125 and the CBL-130 are commonly called one-pours (although this is not always true; see Chandler this month) or low-shrink waxes. Using these can eliminate or minimize the need for multiple pours.

The properties of waxes can be very specific, and for some applications, knowing these properties becomes important for the candle maker, especially when using automated equipment.

However, for most candle makers, the important facts to know about the wax can be limited to the melting point, the oil content, and, in some applications, the needle penetration (hardness of the wax). By determining these factors, you can choose a wax that will be best for your application.
Some of the most frequent questions I get when customers are using paraffins or blends:
Can I use a 141°F melt point wax to make jar candles?
Hi. I'm Chandler. In most instances, any type of paraffin wax can be poured into a container to create a candle that looks good. The problem with using a higher melt point wax in any container is that it becomes difficult for a single wick to burn in the container. In most instances, if you use a melt point as high as 141°F, the largest "burning" diameter when using a 60-44-18 zinc wick will be approximately 2-1/2" to 3".  Also because of the oil contents in the low melt point waxes, they have the ability to deliver better fragrance throw.
Can I use a 121°F melt point wax to make pillars? 
Definitely not. The 121°F melt point is too low of a melt point for pillar candles, and, when making 3" x 6 ½" and other similar sized candles, the candle can sag and lean, creating a dangerous situation. The lowest we would reasonably say you could use is a 130°F melt point wax for a pillar, although this is not the ideal one to use.
Why does my "One Pour Wax" shrink?
Unfortunately these waxes are not always one pours. In most instances, if the candle is under 12 ounces (plus or minus) you should not need to top it off, if you're following the proper pouring temperatures. However, if you are pouring when the wax is too hot, usually above 150°F, or if the container is bigger than 12 ounces, you will experience some shrinkage in the candle.
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