Affordable luxuries: eco-friendly candles

Sales of candles, particularly fragranced ones, continue to grow. And we're seeing more small artisan manufacturers bring delicious, quirky, new fragrances to the market while striving to make their products environmentally friendly

 

Scented candle from the Little Karma Co

The game certainly is worth the candle...In the US, the National Candle Assocation says sales top a staggering $2 billion a year, with seven out of 10 American households buying candles. And in the UK, sales are burgeoning - demonstrated by the proliferation in small brands such as Willow & Honey, The Littlecote Soap Company and Otter Candle Co. Pictured above: scented candles from the Little Karma Co, £29. Made with rapeseed and coconut oil. No chemical fragrances, no parabens. Refills available, £19

*click on images in article to see them in larger format

You might have thought the advent of electric light and subsequent introduction of dimmer switches that candles would become redundant. But sales of candles for home use has been growing year on year for many years - and it seems what we really can't get enough of is the scented variety.

Because we've got more sophisticated in our tastes and want to be taken to new olfactory highs, we're receptive to the intriguing and delicious-sounding new combinations of fragrances developed by the creative independent candle-makers who are able to make in small batches using high quality ingredients.

Purists say burning candles indoors should always be a no no since burning anything creates CO2. However, a candle or two burning for a couple of hours an evening won't damage your health, though the proviso is to avoid cheaper paraffin candles (paraffin is detived from petrochemicals) and choose ones made from sustainably-sourced plant waxes. 

Soy waxing not waning.. which is the most eco wax for candles? 

Many artisan, as well as more commercial brands, of candles are made from a mix of white beeswaxsoy and coconut wax, which achieve a clean burn with no black smoke or soot; and it's notable that many makers prefer soy or vegetable waxes over paraffin wax, which has been used since Victorian times to make candles. It's probably fair to say paraffin wax has become a pariah in the candle world because it's derived from petrochemicals; and it does emit small amounts of soot, which in a small unventilated room could realistically impact indoor air quality. 

Read the ingredients used by the small independents and they assert that soy wax is more healthy and eco friendly because it's from a sustainable plant (most soy wax is produced from hydrogenated soy oil from beans grown in the US), is biodegradable and gives a long clean burn. That said, concerns are growing about soya wax because soya plantations in the Far East cause deforestation, while growing soya for wax and bio-diesel takes away land that could be used for food. Other plant waxes used include rapeseed wax and palm wax - though makers are increasingly moving away from the latter. Again that's because of the harm caused to the environment by the clearing of ancient rainforest in Indonesia to make way for the huge palm tree plantations being created to meet demand for palm oil.

Beeswax is, of course, a wonderful natural product that is sustainable as long as bee populations flourish. However, it isn't used that much by candle makers simply because it is considerably more expensive than soy or other plant waxes. 

 

Furniture company Loaf has got in on scented candles, its cost £40
Corpo Sancto candles are made from rapeseed wax
Skar organic beeswax candles are made in Yorkshire
Willow & Honey scented candles, soy wax, £29.95
Vietnam's Cochine offers gorgeous scented candles made from plant wax
Sunday of London scented candles contain nothing synthetic
Art House London candles are hand-poured using soy and rapeseed waxes, 8 fragrances
North London based Irusu candles are super eco and vegan friendly
Hand made in London, Bolt & Star candles are made from soy wax
Holistic candles are hand poured soy wax, vegan friendly
Neom candles are made from plant wax and essential oils

Brighton-based Corpo Sancto says it's done research and found that the most sustainable wax for candles is rapeseed wax. It's derived from a plant that grows yearly and prolifically throughout northern Europe (all those lovely yellow fields in summer), it doesn't degrade the land or require forests to be chopped down, and all of the plant can be used - rapeseed oil for cooking, wax for candles and leftover bits of the plant can be used for compost or animal feed.

The company has switched to producing all of its candles from rapeseed wax and it uses wooden wicks instead of cotton ones. It offers unusual scents, such as coffee and bread, Biker Jacket and Log Fire, as well as more conventional delicacies such as wild fig and green tea & lemongrass.

For pure beeswax candles, look to Yorkshire-based Skár, which offers the first certified organic candles, both scented and unscented. They too use wooden wicks from FSC-cert wood. Its scented candles cost from £25-£35

Otter Candle Co is a small brand that uses coconut and soy wax
Sissie Green candles and wax melts use soy wax, are made in Cheshire. Candles £12.95
Freckleface Home Fragrance wax melts and candles are handmade in Lincs
Made in Devon from plant waxes and essential oils, Breath of Clarity Lola's Apothecary

Fragrances that are emotive and evocative

We tend to choose product either because we like the smell or we like the sound of the fragrance. Indeed the naming of fragrances has become a lot more about evocating a scene than naming the plants. So Indiana producer Linnea's Lights, available in the UK on Amazonhas fragrances such as Ocean or French Pear, while newcomer to scented candles, Loaf (better known for its furniture) uses names that conjure memories, such as Summer Holiday. Devon based Lola's Apothecary has candles with names that promise something nice...such as Breath of Clarity (aka eucalyptus, rosemary and sweet marjoram). The brand uses a mix of plant waxes and essential oils.

And up there with liking the sound of the fragrance is the label on the candle jar, because it's the labels that give character. Posher brands have sleeker packaging, more artisanal ones look homely. For the latter, a search on Etsy will yield myriad candle makers, such as Otter, which uses coconut and soy and like many good brands, eschews parabens. 

We're more drawn to fragrances from essential plant oils or natural ingredients rather than synthetic fragrances which smell, well, synthetic.

London-based candlemaker Matthew Brooks says read the ingredients on products you buy: 'We create all our fragrances from natural essential oils.

'We never use synthetic oils as we believe these are just one interpretation or version of a natural scent, and we'd rather have the real thing -  even though you do get a a fair degree of variation to deal with in natural oils which can mean the occasional adjustment to ensure the right fragrance.

Today fragrances are inspired by the way in which smells evoke memories and the past.'

 

Recycled glass jars and soy wax are used for Rewined candles
Des Res Citrus Fizz candle, soy wax, vegan friendly, £14
Kiss The Moon soy candles are fragranced with essential oils, £38

The repertoire of fragrances continues to grow apace. Elaine Stavert at The LIttlecote Soap Company has found huge success with their G & T soya candle. 'It's made with lemongrass and juniper essential oils and is hand-poured on our working farm in Buckinghamshire by myself and a small team. Our jars are made of glass with cotton wicks and are packed in paper boxes, which are, of course, recyclable. Oh and our packaging is made in the UK too.'

High quality scented candles range from £15 up to £60 or so, so with the more pricey ones you should see what the burn time is... if a candle is fairly pricey but you get 72 hours of fragrance from it, then it seems a good deal. Roullier White puts the burn time of its soy candles on the lid.

As well as brands already mentioned, check out Bolt & Star, which makes small batch luxury vegan candles using soy wax and essential oils, and Art House London, which also makes vegan-friendly candles hand poured in the UK. Choose from eight rich and long-lasting scents. Willow & Honey is another niche brand set up by two sisters who wanted to offer affordable but luxury soy wax candles. They come in smart white boxes with black text or black boxes with white text, and brand uses wooden wicks. What differentiates these myriad brands, which all do in a sense offer the same product, is the look of the jar and the fragrance; sample as many as you can until you settle on a fragrance you love. A problem with a fair few candles both inexpensive and expensive is that they don't give off enough fragrance into a room to make you feel they've justified the cost. So start with small sizes to test out as they are cheaper - it feels less bad to 'waste' a tenner on a candle than £50...

Obviously quality products are available from the big names in the fragrance world - Jo Malone, Diptyque - certainly do not short change on the fragrance front. And at newcomer Freckleface, a son and mother enterprise, they reckon you get a much better fragrance hit in a room from a wax melt. Freckleface products use soya wax and a mix of essential oil and chemical fragrances. Their mini candles cost £7.50 and larger ones £15. Lots of delicious sounding scents - white tea and sage, peony and vanilla, jasmine and lime.

And if you want a candle with wax so gentle you can use it for massage, Des Res Design's scented soy candles are perfect, while if you want a candle with fragrance that can help you sleep, try soy scented candles from Kiss The Moon and Neom.