What is paraffin wax?

In chemistry, paraffin is a term that can be used synonymously with “alkane”, indicating hydrocarbons with the general formula CnH2n+2. Paraffin wax refers to a mixture of alkanes that falls within the 20 ≤ n ≤ 40 range; they are found in the solid state at room temperature and begin to enter the liquid phase past approximately 37°C.

The simplest paraffin molecule is that of methane, CH4, a gas at room temperature. Heavier members of the series, such as octane, C8H18, and mineral oil appear as liquids at room temperature. The solid forms of paraffin, called paraffin wax, are from the heaviest molecules from C20H42 to C40H82. Paraffin wax was identified by Carl Reichenbach in 1830.

Paraffin, or paraffin hydrocarbon, is also the technical name for an alkane in general, but in most cases it refers specifically to a linear, or normal alkane — whereas branched, or isoalkanes are also called isoparaffins. It is distinct from the fuel known in the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa as paraffin oil or just paraffin, which is called kerosene in most of the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The name is derived from Latin parum (“barely”) + affinis, meaning “lacking affinity” or “lacking reactivity” indicating paraffin’s unreactive nature.

Types of Paraffin Wax

Low Melt Point Paraffin – paraffin with a melting point less than 130° F, this type of wax is soft and adheres well to the sides of containers. Therefore, they are best for container and tealight candles.

High Melt Point Paraffin – paraffin with a melting point greater than 130° F, this type of wax is harder and therefore provides structural rigidity for use in votive and pillar candles.

Why Use Paraffin Wax?

Lots of information is available about candlemaking with paraffin

Most candle fragrances and dyes were formulated for paraffin, so they work quite reliably (note: our fragance and dye also work in natural waxes)

Consistant attractive appearance – does not frost like natural wax

The Basics of Paraffin Wax:

When most people think of wax, in any form, the wax they generally think of is probably a paraffin wax. It is one of the most plentiful and multi-use waxes used today. A by-product of the crude oil refining process, in its raw form, it is a white, odorless, tasteless, “waxy” solid, with a typical melting point between about 110°F to 150°F, and while it’s very inert, it burns really well.

What Kind of Candles Does it Make?

Pretty much any type of candle can be made with paraffin wax. The melting point is the primary determinant.

Medium melt point paraffin (130°F – 150°F) is used for candles that need to stand on their own – votives, pillars and other molded candles.

High melt point wax (greater than 150°F) is used for more special applications like hurricane candle shells, overdipping and other special candle making applications.

How It’s Generally Packaged or Sold:

While many of us have seen paraffin wax for canning in small boxes in the grocery store (not the best kind for candles), paraffin candle wax is usually sold in 11 lb. slabs. (Why they settled on 11 lbs. I don’t know.) There are also a couple of companies that sell paraffin wax in pellet form. This makes weighing it out and melting it super easy!

Candle Wax Facts from the National Candle Association:

From the National Candle Assoc.:

All waxes are primarily hydrocarbons, whether of animal, vegetable, or petroleum origin. The chemical composition of all candlemaking waxes is similar, and all candle waxes burn in the same manner.

No specific type of wax or wax blend is considered “best” for candlemaking. All waxes – when provided in high-quality format – have been shown to burn cleanly, safely and in the same manner.

No candle wax has ever been shown to be toxic or harmful to human health.

There is no such thing as a soot-free wax.

Paraffin waxes have a distinctive crystalline structure, are pale yellow to white (or colorless) and have a melting point range between 122 and 140°F (50 and 60°C).

Microcrystalline waxes have a poorly defined crystalline structure, darker color, higher viscosity, and higher melting points — ranging from 140 and 199°F (63 and 93°C)

What the dictionnary says:

Paraffin: (derived from latin parum affinis, [little affinity])

A white waxy substance, resembling spermaceti, tasteless and odorless, and obtained from coal tar, wood tar, petroleum, etc., by distillation. It is used in candles, as a sealing agent (such as in canning of preserves), as a waterproofing agent, as an illuminant and as a lubricant. It is very inert, not being acted upon by most of the strong chemical reagents. It was formerly regarded as a definite compound, but is now known to be a complex mixture of several higher hydrocarbons of the methane or marsh-gas series

When you buy paraffin wax to make candles, most of the time it is sold by weight and conditionned as wax pellets. Such a conditioning is ideal as it makes it easy for you to store, manipulate and proportion.

Straight paraffin usually comes with a melting point (MP) of 140°F, which limits its use for “hard” candles like Pillars or Votives.

It comes free of any additive so the odds are great you’ll need to add one or several additives, depending upon the type of candle you’re planning to make.

But let’s start with the beginning: straight paraffin wax is great for the beginner candlemaker and will allow you to familiarise yourself with the different additives, their effect when used in different quantities and also with the ideal pouring temperature in such or such case.

Paraffin waxes

The vast majority of candles produced nowadays are made, totally or partially, of paraffin.

The website of Exxon, one of the largest petrochemical companies, states the following about petroleum-derived waxes:

There are three basic categories of petroleum-derived wax: paraffin (crystalline), microcrystallineand petrolatum.

Feel free to check out the complete technical characteristics of these categories. For the sake of this article, I’ll highlight two important facts:

Paraffin waxes have a distinctive crystalline structure, are pale yellow to white (or colorless) and have a melting point range between 122 and 140°F (50 and 60°C).

Microcrystalline waxes have a poorly defined crystalline structure, darker color, higher viscosity, and higher melting points — ranging from 140 and 199°F (63 and 93°C)

Paraffin Wax Uses:

Jams & Jellies – to preserve, fill a canning jar a ½ inch from the top with jam. While the jam is still hot pour melted (food grade) wax over the top to seal.

Bottles – to seal, dip the top of the bottle in melted wax.

Irons – to keep them smooth, rub hot iron over a bar of wax wrapped in cloth.

Drawers – to lubricate, rub a bar of wax over the sliders.

Windows – to keep them opening and closing smoothly, run a bar of wax over the tracks.

Zippers – to keep them from sticking, rub the teeth of the zipper with a bar of wax.

Snow Shovels – to help the snow slide off of the shovel, rub a bar of wax over a dry shovel.

Toboggans – to lubricate, rub the skis with a bar of wax.

Trash cans – to keep things from sticking, coat the inside with melted wax.

Chocolate Making – for a shiny coat, add a little (food grade) wax to the melted chocolate.

Hard Cheese – to keep it fresh, dip the exposed cheese in melted (food grade) wax.

Handrails – to lubricate, rub the handrails with a bar of wax.

Steel or Iron – to prevent oxidation, rub the surface with a bar of wax.

Fruits and Vegetables – to keep fresh longer, dip the fruit or vegetables in melted (food grade) wax. This will slow down the moisture loss and keep them from spoiling.

Candles – to make your own, there are several tutorials on the web for making your own candles.

Hands & Feet – to soften, dip hands and feet into a low-temp wax bath. Wait 10-15 minutes then remove the wax.

Crayons – to make your own, all you need is paraffin wax and some pigments.

Paraffin Wax for Arthritis – Topic Overview

You can use paraffin wax (may be called either paraffin or wax) to apply moist heat to your hands or feet to ease the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis. Paraffin especially helps to reduce pain and loosen up your hand and finger joints before exercise.

You should talk with your doctor before trying paraffin at home. And it’s a good idea to have a physical therapist show you how to do it before you try it yourself.

Procedures

Melt the wax (use low heat if you use a double boiler). Stir often to speed up the melting.

Stir in the mineral oil.

Turn off the heat, and allow the wax to cool until it has a thin film on the top. This will mean it is getting cool enough to put your hand or foot in.

Use the thermometer to check the temperature of the wax. It should read about 125°F (51.7°C) when you begin your treatment.

Before you begin, use warm, soapy water to wash the hand or foot you are going to treat. This will keep the paraffin clean so you can use it again for future treatments. Dry your hand or foot completely.

Relax your hand or foot, and dip it into the paraffin, being very careful not to touch the sides or bottom of the pot. Allow the wax to come to just above the wrist or ankle. If you are unsteady, it helps to have another person guide your hand or foot in and out of the paraffin. Lift your hand or foot out, but hold it over the paraffin. Allow it to dry a few seconds until it stops dripping.

Repeat this process 10 to 12 times. Each time you dip in, stop just below the previous line of wax on your skin. This will keep warm wax from getting in under the wax that is already on your skin and will prevent burning.

Wrap your hand or foot in plastic wrap or slide it into a plastic bag.

Next, wrap a towel around your hand or foot and hold it in place with rubber bands or tape.

Leave the paraffin on for 20 minutes. Then unwrap your hand or foot and slide the paraffin from your hand or foot back into the pot. The wax can be melted and used again.

Cover the paraffin, and save it for next time.