Is it true that candles never go bad? You often hear it said that candles will last pretty much indefinitely until you burn them up. Other folks claim that candles can “spoil” like food does.
Does the type of wax make any difference? Can a candle burn irregularly or expire if it is just too old? What is the straight answer?
Yes, candles generally deteriorate over time and may expire after too long, becoming useless. The type of wax makes a big difference. After a year or so, soy- or palm-based wax candles begin to decay, while paraffin wax blends start degrading and expire after 5 years.
However, properly stored beeswax candles have a decades-long shelf life, at least.
Although most candles eventually decay or spoil entirely, it appears that not all do. The best way to make an informed decision on the shelf life of your candles is to understand what characteristics the different waxes have and how they hold up over time.
I’ll also offer you some suggestions on how to keep your candles stored so you can count on them when it is time to light them.
Understanding Wax Type and Characteristics
There are numerous varieties of candle waxes commonly encountered on the market, each with its own set of pros and cons.
It is helpful to group these waxes initially into organic and inorganic varieties. Organic varieties are made from biological sources and can, in time, rot or spoil much like our food can.
Contrast these with inorganic waxes, those made from non-biological sources. These waxes may still degrade, but usually enjoy a much, much longer shelf-life compared to organic types.
We’ll look at the two most common inorganic types first.
Paraffin wax is among the most common candle waxes, made from refined petroleum products and available in both liquid and solid forms.
This hard, brittle wax burns at a high temperature and is typically the cheapest option around, making it an excellent choice for bulk burning.
If properly stored and kept cool, paraffin wax candles may last up to 5 years or even a while longer.
Even though paraffin is not organic, the effects of time and oxidation can still cause chemical decomposition, degrading your candle.
Beeswax candles are old-fashioned and traditional, probably the first candles ever made. Beeswax is a natural wax that produces a clean flame as well as a pleasant scent, and the enzymes in beeswax are even thought to help clean indoor air.
But most surprisingly, despite being natural in origin, beeswax has a theoretically limitless shelf life if kept in a sealed container and away from heat sources.
As a result, beeswax may be the ultimate candle wax for long term storage.
Our first organic wax is palm wax, a natural and sustainable wax, produced from the fruit of the palm plant and has a smooth texture.
Palm wax is an excellent choice for molded candles with intricate details. Because palm wax is organic in nature it will deteriorate over time and spoil, taking on a discolored, rancid appearance.
Expect these candles to only last a year if taken out of an airtight factory package, or last perhaps a bit longer if kept sealed. At any rate, these candles are not made to last despite their other advantages.
Lastly, we have soy wax. Soy wax is one of the most popular and inexpensive organic wax types.
Soy wax is manufactured from, you guessed it, soybeans and has a considerably lower melting temperature than other waxes.
This makes it well-rounded choice for all-natural candles though it produces more smoke unless the wick is kept judiciously trimmed.
Soy wax is also susceptible to spoiling as with any other organic wax, though preservative additives may extend shelf life somewhat.
Expect a soy candle to only last for 12 months if kept properly, or perhaps 2 years if it has preservatives in the mixture.
In the next section, we see what an expired candle actually looks like and how spoilage affects them.
What are the Signs of Spoilage?
When a candle properly expires, certain things will happen to it. Learning to recognize signs of degradation can inform you of whether or not a candle is too old or even if it is unsafe to light.
Considering paraffin or beeswax candles, the wax might become hard and brittle, chipping easily, or in the case of organic waxes it may acquire a sickly yellowish tinge and crumble.
The change in wax characteristics makes it nearly impossible for the wick to absorb the melted wax after lighting it, or the flame may flicker and produce less light or more smoke than usual, as a result of its age.
This assumes the candle can even stand up: candles past the point of no return are often so degraded they will collapse.
If your candles are scented, the intensity of the fragrance may be reduced or even disappear completely. Most essential oils and other ingredients that yield the fragrance can easily evaporate or lose potency over time.
Also, use caution when considering any candle that you suspect is “too far gone” past its expiration date.
A lit candle that collapses or slumps over suddenly is a major fire risk. Keep an eye on any suspect candles at all times!
Keep Your Candles Out of Direct Sunlight
No matter what kind of candle you have, and how you are storing them, keep them out of direct sunlight!
UV radiation has been found to significantly increase the rate of deterioration in candles, no matter the wax type.
This is due to UV radiation’s tendency to modify the chemical composition of waxes and fragrances alike, resulting in a host of ill effects: namely accelerated wax decay, strange odors and degradation of other additives such as dyes and antioxidants.
There is no good way to protect a candle from UV other than keeping it out of the sun. Strong fluorescent lighting might also be an issue due to their high amounts of UV emission.
Keeping your candlesticks out of intense light sources is the best method to keep them safe for a long period of time.
Store Candles Properly for Maximum Shelf Life
Again, no matter what kind of candle you have, proper storage is critical for maximizing shelf life. All candles should be kept in a cool, dark place when not being burned.
Also take care to keep your candles upright for storage rather than on their sides, with one possible exception: this is typically an issue for thin, tapered candles which should be laid flat on a solid surface to prevent sagging.
Any candles poured into a tin or jar can be stored any way you like.
For any candles acquired factory new and sealed, keep them in their factory wrapping or box.
If you’ve already opened the candle or bought multiples in bulk, consider giving it a wax paper or plastic wrap to help keep air away from it.
Finally, if possible, keep them in an airtight container to minimize the effect of oxidation and evaporative loss of any oils in the wax.
This also aids in the prevention of dust and other airborne pollutants. To help retain the scent of your aromatic candles, place them in a zipper freezer bag.
Finally, keep in mind that different waxes all have varying shelf lives. Palm and soy waxes will never last as long as paraffin or beeswax.
If you intend on keeping your candles for a long time or as a preparedness item, look for ones made of beeswax or paraffin as they will last much longer.
Your Candles Won’t Last Forever
Organic wax candles may indeed go rancid with time, especially those made of palm or soy wax.
On the other hand, even paraffin wax will eventually decay and crumble. Beeswax candles, stored properly, may last forever.
No matter which candle you have or prefer you can help yours last much longer by following proper storage tips like keeping your candles in a cool, dark location away from bright light and properly sealed in a box or bag.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.