As the days get shorter and colder and the nights grow long, people tend to want to make their homes feel cozier. One of the quickest ways to do so is with candles, so now is the perfect time to consider making your own. Why would you do this when it’s so easy to buy candles at the store? Store-bought candles tend to contain unsavory ingredients like animal fat, carcinogenic paraffin and oh-so-unsustainable palm oil. When you make your own soy wax candles, you know exactly what’s in them. Once you improve at making attractive candles, you can even give them as holiday gifts. With the ongoing pandemic, 2020 is the year for DIY hobbies, so get started with this guide on how to make your own soy wax candles at home.

soybeans on gray background

Why soy wax?

You can get soy wax online or at a craft store. The wax is made from soybeans which are harvested, cleaned and processed into flakes. Then, the manufacturer extracts oil from the flakes and hydrogenates it, which changes the melting point and makes the oil solid at room temperature.

Related: Make your own artisan soap bar from repurposed scraps

Most of the world’s soybeans come from the Midwest, especially from Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. Soy is a renewable resource that makes for a clean-burning candle. Other good waxes for DIY candles include coconut wax, which is great for holding any scents you might want to add, and rapeseed oil, which has a firm wax that works well for pillar candles.

person adding wick to brown jar

Pick the right wick for your soy candle

This may seem like the simplest step, but it turns out there are more than 200 different types of wicks available — and if you pick the wrong wick, your candle will burn inefficiently. You can even make your own wick with cotton string, salt and vegetable oil, as described by Sew Historically.

If you’re wick shopping, larger-numbered wicks are thicker and made for bigger candles. A medium-sized candle calls for a medium-sized wick, and so on. It’s wise to make and burn a trial candle before you create a whole batch. If your trial candle flames way up and creates a large melt-pool surrounding the flame, this means your wick is too big. Flame too small? Try a bigger wick. If you switch up your candle recipe by adding coloring or scented oil, this could affect how it burns. So for any changes you make along the way, be sure to burn a trial candle under close supervision.

white candle on marble table near two plants

Contain your candle

When you first start making candles, you might begin with simple glass jars you have around the house. But the container you choose adds personality to your candle. There are a ton of options, as long as you choose something that won’t catch fire, leak, crack or break. This means no coconut shells, artistic wood pieces or plastic.

Metal cans are a good option as long as they don’t leak. If your intended metal container has seams on the bottom or side, test that it can hold water for a couple of days before you trust it to contain your candle.

Cracking is a common problem for candle containers. Thinner glassware, such as martini glasses, can crack at high temperatures. Thick glassware, such as jelly jars, which are made to withstand heat, are safe.

Ceramic bowls and cups are pretty options. Be aware that if the vessel is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, it will get hotter as it burns and could be prone to cracking, leading to a fire hazard. As a reminder, burn candles on heat-resistant surfaces away from anything flammable, and never leave them unattended. Burning candles isn’t recommended for households with cats or other small, curious creatures that leap on various surfaces or could grab at the candles.

On the left, soy wax melting in a pot. On the right, wicks held in place with clothespins while homemade candles dry

A basic DIY soy candle recipe

You can melt your wax in the microwave or use a bain-marie, a pan that goes into a larger pot of hot water to melt ingredients. While your wax is melting, attach your wick to the bottom of a clean container. You can use a dab of vegan glue or a bit of molten wax. Straighten the wick and hold it in place until it starts to harden, then put two skewers or chopsticks around it and tape the sticks to the side of your container.

Back to the wax — once it has reached 160°F, remove it from heat and let it cool for about 5 minutes. Then you can add in a few drops of your chosen essential oil, distributing it evenly. Untape the chopsticks from your container. Slowly, gently pour the wax in, leaving half an inch at the top of the container. Be sure to save a little wax. You may need it after your candle sets, as candles often shrink away from the container edges and/or the wick. If this happens to your beautiful creation, you can re-melt that surplus wax and fill in the holes until your surface is even.

Let your candles sit overnight, trim the wicks and then they are ready to burn or give as gifts. This is much more personal than buying candles from a store, and you can even create special scent blends for different family members or friends.

Images via Jing, Fi Bell(1, 2, 3), Samantha Gades and Dan Smedley