Plain white candles are common in homes, churches and other settings all around the world, yet many people have no idea what they are made of. Most white candles are simply made of paraffin, a waxy petroleum compound that is naturally white.
According to the National Candle Association, the use of paraffin revolutionized candle making in the 1850s. Paraffin is obtained from petroleum oil, the waxy paraffin being one of the "heavier" substances obtained from petroleum distillation (gasoline is a "lighter" substance also obtained from petroleum). Candles remained well-used for decoration and lighting, but whale oil and then kerosene lamps became much more important sources of light before the coming of the electric light bulb in 1879.
Did you know that paraffin is made only of carbon and hydrogen? And that a paraffin candle will melt at a temperature of 117 to 147 degrees Fahrenheit? As defined by Merriam-Webster, the word paraffin is derived from two Latin words, parum (too little) and affinis (affinity), meaning "lacking affinity," as paraffin is very chemically nonreactive.
Candles Live On
Whether made of beef tallow, beeswax, or modern paraffin, it seems that candles will remain appealing. Candle lovers should remember to always use caution when burning candles, and to never leave a burning candle unattended.