Hundreds of years ago, most candles were made of beeswax. But over the centuries, beeswax candles were gradually replaced by tallow (animal fat) candles, and then in the last century by paraffin candles, which are probably the kind you have in your home right now. It sounds innocent enough, but paraffin is made from the sludge at the bottom of barrels of crude oil, which is then treated and bleached with benzene and other chemical solvents to “clean it up” for use in candles.
Paraffin candles put out soot and smoke when you burn them (I thought all candles did that) along with toxins and carcinogens. Since burning petrochemical paraffin smells bad, synthetic fragrance oils are added, many of which are irritating and even toxic themselves when they’re burned. Breathing what paraffin candles give off has been compared to breathing diesel fumes.
Beeswax is produced by bees in the form of tiny scales which are “sweated” from the segments on the underside of the abdomen. To stimulate the production of beeswax the bees gorge themselves with honey or sugar syrup and huddle together to raise the temperature of the cluster. To produce one pound of wax requires the bees to consume about ten pounds of honey.
IMPORTANT: When melting beeswax always use a water bath by placing the container of wax – probably a small saucepan – inside a larger pan of water. Never place a pan of wax directly on a hot plate or gas ring. Beeswax can easily become damaged by localized overheating and if it ignites can burn more ferociously than any chip pan fire. Beeswax does not boil – it just gets hotter and hotter until it ignites.Wax should only be melted in stainless steel, plastic, or tin plated containers. Iron rust and containers of galvanized iron, brass or copper all impart a color to beeswax and aluminum is said to make the wax dull and mud colored. The next time you see a very orange wax in may have been melted in a copper pan.
The uses for beeswax are many but these days the most common are for better quality Candles, soap, skin care products, hair care, fly fishing, the coatings of sweets and pills, furniture polish, batik art, putting on drawer runners to make them slide smoothly and in quilting and heavy sewing as it’s put on the thread to ease its passing through tough materials. We also have industrial companies buying beeswax to help lubricate their machines.