There are many different types of candles out there, but none are quite as unique as gel candles.
Gel candles look beautiful, especially when things such as shells, flowers, and other small decor are embedded into the gel.
They also give off a unique glow that other candles can’t quite match.
But despite their uniqueness, are gel candles eco-friendly?
Although gel candles are beautiful, they are not eco-friendly. Like regular paraffin wax candles, gel candles are made from crude oil by-products.
Is it worth accepting negative environmental impacts for the beauty and uniqueness of gel candles?
In this article, we’ll look at different aspects of them with regard to eco-friendliness so that you can decide for yourself.
1. What Are Gel Candles Made Of?
Gel candles have a slightly different composition than traditional paraffin wax candles, but in reality, they are pretty much made from the same source: crude oil.
Both gel candles and paraffin wax candles are both made with mineral oil that is a by-product of refining crude oil.
However, paraffin candles are specifically made with paraffin oil which cools to form white wax.
Gel candles are made from mineral oil (either paraffin oil or something else) combined with a small amount of powdered polymer resin, which causes the oil to form a gel-like consistency.
The gel can be colored or clear, but fragrance oils are added to it as well to give it a certain scent.
2. What’s the Difference Between Gel and Regular Candles?
Other than gel candles being partially made from polymer resin in addition to mineral oil, there are a couple of other differences between gel and regular candles.
One major difference when it comes to manufacturing them is that gel candles are made with a different type of fragrance oil than regular candles because gel holds fragrance differently than paraffin wax does.
But in the sense of the candles themselves, gel candles have a longer burn time than paraffin candles.
The reason why this is the case is that gel candles aren’t made from 100% wax. Since there is polymer resin in the candle as well, it raises the melting point of the candle so that the gel doesn’t melt as quickly.
Gel candles also give off a different light than regular wax candles. Some people describe the glow of gel candles as being richer, but essentially the light given off is brighter because of the transparency of the wax and the way it reflects the light.
But from an eco-friendly standpoint, there is very little difference between gel and paraffin candles.
3. Are Gel Candles Eco-Friendly?
Gel candles are not eco-friendly since they come from a by-product of crude oil refinement.
Crude oil has to be collected by drilling, which has the potential to cause environmental pollution as well as habitat loss.
Then the oil has to be refined in order to be usable, which relies on heavy manufacturing processes that can contribute to more pollution.
Crude oil refining is also the third-largest industrial emitter of greenhouse gases due to the equipment and processes that are used as well.
The mineral oil that mostly makes up gel candles is left over as a result of the refining process.
But it’s worth considering that gel candles are also made partially of polymer resin: in other words, plastic.
Plastic is also made from refining crude oil, but to make the resin, more chemical processing has to be done.
This means more manufacturing processes are needed, as well as the potential for more pollution to occur as well.
4. Are Gel Candles Sustainable?
Gel candles are not sustainable since crude oil is a non-renewable resource.
Once all of the crude oil has been collected, it’s gone forever. That means gel candles can no longer be made unless manufacturers come up with an alternative way to make them that gives them the same qualities as gel candles made from crude oil.
Plus, gel candles can’t be recycled due to the potential to clog up recycling machines.
5. Are Gel Candles Biodegradable?
Gel candles are made primarily from mineral oil, and studies have shown that the biodegradability of mineral oil is very low, usually between 15-35%.
Plus, gel candles aren’t just made from mineral oil, but polymer resin as well. Since polymer resin is a type of plastic, it has low biodegradability as well.
If gel candles were to biodegrade, they would have the potential to release harmful chemicals into the environment, both from the gel and the polymer resin found in them.
6. Are Gel Candles Compostable?
Since gel candles have low biodegradability, they won’t compost well either.
That’s because composting is essentially human-controlled biodegradation.
But again, even if they did, it would have the potential to leach chemicals into the compost.
7. Are Gel Candles Safe?
There’s no evidence that says that gel candles are unsafe as far as toxicity is concerned.
Gel candles are made from similar substances as paraffin candles, and there have been concerns about the potential for paraffin candles to release toxic substances such as benzene and toluene into the air.
But, studies have shown that when used as intended, scented candles don’t pose a risk to the consumer.
However, there is always the potential for fire hazards when burning candles, gel or not.
It’s important to keep combustible products away from candles and make sure that you don’t leave them unattended for an extended period of time.
8. Are Gel Candles Vegan?
Gel candles are vegan since they are made with crude oil by-products and not animal products.
9. Are Gel Candles Reusable?
It is possible to reuse the gel wax from gel candles. But to do so, you’ll have to remove it from the jar and put it into a bowl by itself.
Melt the wax in the oven for about an hour, then pour it into a new container.
Note that you probably won’t have much wax, but this can be a great way to reuse the gel from several candles if the wax level is too low to burn or the wick breaks off.
10. Are Gel Candles Better Than Wax Candles?
Gel candles are better than wax candles because they have the potential to burn for twice as long and emit a brighter glow.
But in terms of eco-friendliness, neither gel nor paraffin wax candles are better since they aren’t sustainable, recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable.
Other types of wax candles, such as candles made from beeswax and soy wax are better than gel candles in terms of eco-friendliness, but they still don’t burn as long as gel candles do.
Find out more about eco-friendly candles as alternatives to paraffin-based candles here.
4 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Gel Candles
Except for paraffin wax, most other types of wax candles are more eco-friendly than gel wax.
These wax candles come from plant or animal sources, and some are better than others. But they are all sustainable and biodegradable compared to gel wax.
Beeswax candles are one of the most eco-friendly candles that there are.
Beeswax is sustainable and can be produced and harvested all over the world.
The only downside to beeswax is that it is not technically vegan, although some people accept it as a vegan product since bees aren’t harmed during the harvesting of the wax.
Learn more about beeswax candles here.
2. Coconut Wax
Candles made from coconut wax are another very eco-friendly and sustainable option.
Although growing coconuts does contribute some to deforestation, coconut trees produce a very high yield once they mature.
Plus, most coconuts are grown without the use of pesticides, and the coconut wax itself releases no toxic fumes when burned.
3. Palm Wax
Palm wax is another type of natural wax that is used to make candles.
It is more eco-friendly than gel wax, but not as eco-friendly as beeswax and coconut wax.
The biggest problem with palm wax is that growing palm trees contributes to deforestation.
However, palm wax is a natural wax that comes from a renewable resource, and it is biodegradable as well.
4. Soy Wax
Most candles that aren’t made from gel wax or paraffin wax are made from soy wax instead.
Of the natural waxes, soy wax is the least eco-friendly.
But despite all of the downsides of it, soy wax is still a better choice than gel wax since it comes from a renewable resource and is biodegradable as well.
Learn more about soy wax candles here.
Despite gel candles being quite different in appearance compared to candles made from paraffin wax, the two are actually quite similar in terms of eco-friendliness.
Gel candles are still made from crude oil by-products, the gel is just processed differently, with added polymer resins in order to give it that jelly consistency.
One of the advantages of gel wax candles is that they do last longer than wax candles due to having a slower burn.
But if you want to be more eco-friendly, then gel candles are not the answer. Instead, try candles made from soy, palm, coconut, or beeswax instead.
Check out the best natural, eco-friendly candle options in our dedicated article here.
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