1 dicembre 2013

Candles: usage directions (1/2)

Can you think of something that creates atmosphere more than a candle? Since I'm madly in love with them, I burn them all year round but it's mostly in winter that candles fall into our wishlist. Maybe because of the warmth they give, or because there are candles suitable for every taste and wallet they go straight on top of the perfumed Christmas gifts. How to chose them though? Talking about it with my friends on the Adjiumi forum, I thought about what makes a good candle and what are the tips and tricks to enjoy it at best once lit. Making a good candle is more difficult than what we imagine and involves various technical aspects I will try to simplify. So what are che things that we must look for in choosing a candle?

Even more than for fragrances, we rely on sight for choosing a candle: the one matching the same shade of red of our couch, or better still the ones with odd shapes will be winners at first. Soon we will have to deal with our nose in case we want to light them and not just consider them as a knick-knack. Smelling an unlit candle already gives an idea of the fragrance but only burning it will be the crucial test to sense how good the candle is. Here's what we have to pay attention to:
  1. The wax
  2. The wick
  3. The fragrance
  4. The combustion
  5. The packaging
  6. The concept
The wax: melting science
There are two kinds of wax, the synthetic one and the natural one.
The main synthetic wax is paraffin, a white and odorless derivate of petroleum. Nowadays highly refined paraffin is used also for cosmetics and to preserve foods (do you remember the thick waxy rind of certain cheeses?). Other synthetic waxes are gels made of polimers and mineral oils, or again crystallized waxes derived from petroleum. Also in this case appearence and smell can vary according to their refining.
Natural waxes can be from animal or vegetal origins.
With animal waxes today we mean above all beeswax with its typical ambery colour and honeyed smell. Don't be foolished by synthetic beeswax that's just an odorless chemical replacer that tries to imitate its appearence. Derived from cow fat similar to lard,  also tallow was widely used till the XIX century and it's still used in soaps and as a butter replacer.
Finally vegetal waxes are mainly derived from soybean, rice or from palm like carnauba wax (yes, the one you get in jelly beans and in shoe polish).
The burning temperature depends on the kind of used wax. In general synthetic waxes melt at a higher temperature and have a greater heat capacity. This means a hotter candle melting a larger amount of wax in a hotter glass. This also means though the candle will last shorter than a natural wax candle.
Now let me discredit a false myth about paraffin being toxic. Nowadays there are very refined paraffins burning almost releasing no sooth on air. The problem with paraffin so is not about being toxic but rather in its higher burning temperature that makes easier for colours and fragrances to reach the smoke point, becoming so unpleasant and even toxic. This happens less frequently with vegetal waxes. Of course different kind of natural and synthetic waxes can be pourred to obtain the mix giving the best combustion to our candle.
Now, you can't help but buying that oddly shaped, neon coloured candles coming maybe for few bucks? Let me give you an impartial advice: better you keep them just as knick-knacks.

The wick: from wax to the air
The wick is the thread we see popping out on top of the candle and giving to melted wax the way to the flame. It can be made of textile fabrics (synthetic or natural) or other materials like wood or paper. A good quality wick must burn without letting smoke or toxins in the air. Round or flat, threads are soaked in liquids making them burn slower like salty water, then dried and waxed to them stiff and easier to light. Sometimes they contain metal threads to give stiffness: once they used lead, later changed to zinc to prevent lead poisoning. The greater the wick is, the higher the flame and the burning temperature: so its diameter it's related to the candle's one. The wick can be fixed to the base of the candle with a metal holder, a kind of small pedestall making it more stable when the wax is completely melted, and the candle is ending.

<Part 2>

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