How to make your own eco-friendly tea lights

Like me, you probably go through a lot of tea lights. Fortunately, they’re pretty cheap when you buy them in bulk.

While this may true in terms of pounds and pence, another cost needs to be taken into consideration: the cost to the earth and our health. Paraffin wax is made from petroleum, coal, or oil shale. In other words, finite resources. Additionally, paraffin candles have been proven to give off toxic fumes.

The best substitute I’ve found is soy. Many people like beeswax candles, but since I’m vegan, I don’t use beeswax. Beeswax is also more expensive and usually has a distinctive smell and darker colour, making adding scent and colour difficult.

Consider these benefits of candles made from soy wax:

  • Longer lasting: soy candles last up to 50% longer than paraffin candles. (My soy tea lights burn for 7 hours.)
  • Non-toxic: no petrol-carbon soot, carcinogens, or asthma-triggering fumes.
  • Biodegradable: the wax remains can be composted.
  • Water soluble: the wax washes away pretty easily with soap and warm water.
  • Renewable: EcoSoya wax isn’t made from soy grown in the rainforest; it’s made from US soybeans.

Not all soy waxes are the same. Some are mixed with other waxes, contain added ingredients, or are made from soy that’s been sprayed with pesticides. The EcoSoya range is probably the best soy wax available. From their website:

EcoSoya® soy waxes are perfect for Candle manufacture and are produced using 100% pure, natural soybean oil from soybeans grown in the U.S.

EcoSoya® soy waxes are manufactured from non-petroleum renewable resources and are produced with consideration and care for the environment. The 100% vegetable waxes in the EcoSoya® range are all Biodegradable and free of Pesticides and Herbicides. Kerax natural waxes are from GMO free and responsible U.S and European sources.

And yes, you can buy pre-made soy tea lights, and they are a convenience, especially for an item you may go through so many of, but I see the process of making my own tea lights as creative, therapeutic, and a chance to infuse some magic into an item used in magic – making them even more…magical. There’s undoubtedly something extra special about making your own. This is the case for anything, of course – handmade is always better than mass-produced. I see it as a magical craft. It’s also really easy and doesn’t take long at all. Plus, it works out cheaper.

If you’d like to make your own, here are some instructions with links for buying the supplies you need.

Step 1: Purchase your materials

You’re going to need the following:

  • Tea light cups
  • CB-XceL Soy wax (800g will give you 50 tea lights.)
  • Wicks: WickWell NT-TL Wick. These wicks are pre-waxed so that they will stand upright as you’re pouring the wax.
  • Glue dots (for attaching the wicks to the cups)
  • Thermometer
  • Glass beaker (at least 250mL), glass measuring jug, or metal pouring jug
  • Kitchen scales
  • Something to stir with, like a metal spoon or stirring rod
  • Pan of simmering water (to act as a double boiler)
  • Tea towel
  • Baking tray
  • Kitchen towels
  • Cocktail sticks

Step 2: Prepare your tea light cups

The tea light cups available from pretty much all candle ingredient suppliers are pretty flimsy. They’ll probably arrive a bit wonky.

  • Spend some time gently manipulating them into shape. Sometimes pinching the edges can remove dents.
  • Apply glue dots to bottoms of wicks. Don’t attempt to remove the glue dots with your fingers. Instead, press the bottom of the wick firmly to dot, then peel away. You may need to use your fingernail to help dislodge the dot from the strip of paper. Use your fingernail or a cocktail stick to ensure glue dot is firmly and evenly attached to the base of the wick.
  • Centre the base of the wicks in the cups and press down.
  • Ensure the wicks are standing up straight. Sometimes they want to lean to one side. Gently push them in the opposite direction. If they refuse to stand upright, don’t worry; we’ll sort them out after the wax has been poured.
  • I like to place 2 sheets of kitchen towel on a baking tray, under the tea lights. This isn’t to make cleanup easier; it’s to keep spills from spreading more than necessary.

Step 3: Get your wax melting

I like to do this step before attaching my wicks, but if you do, make sure you don’t forget about your wax. To make 50 tea lights, you’ll need about 800g of wax. I suggest doing this in at least 2 batches, preferably 4.

  • Measure out your wax. (200g to start with is best.)
  • Concoct a double boiler system.
  • Position your thermometer.
  • Allow wax to melt, stirring occasionally.
  • Allow wax to reach 70°C.

Step 4: Pour

Before you can pour your candles, your wax needs to be completely melted and around 70°C. I turn the heat off once the wax reaches about 65°C; the temperature will continue to increase slightly.

  • Remove the jug from the water and dry the bottom with the tea towel.
  • Slowly pour the wax into each cup. There is no need to rush this part. If the wax starts to harden in the jug, you can always put it back on to the heat, so take your time. You may want to have a tissue or kitchen towel handy to wipe any wax that dribbles down the front of the jug. When that happens, the wax will try to follow that path and you can end up with the wax running down the front of the jug as you’re trying to pour rather than pouring straight down from the spout.
  • Allow them to harden for 24 hours before use.

If the wicks are wonky:

  • Once you’ve finished pouring (and before the wax begins to set), check the straightness of the wicks. If any of them are leaning, try gently nudging them to the middle, but take care because the wax coating that the wicks came with will have melted and they can go “floppy”. For stubborn wicks, take 2 cocktail sticks and position the wicks. Leave the sticks in place until the wax has completely hardened. If the sticks have become stuck to the candle, do not pull them straight off. Instead, twist them to loosen. Lifting them straight off can cause a big chunk of wax to come away with the stick. There’s going to be a mark, but once you light the candle, it won’t matter. A centred wick is more important than a groove or 2 on the surface of he candle.

As an added bonus…

I’ve sometimes found that there is a fair bit of wax left over around the insides of the cups once they’ve burned down. I’ve started salvaging this wax using a cocktail stick, and I plan to reuse it in my next batch. Soy wax is quite soft, so this is easily done, especially if you don’t wait too long after the candle burns out. It’s also quite easy to remove the burnt-out wick and wipe the cup down, ready to be used again.