Store-bought candles can’t replace that feeling of lighting a candle that you’ve made, colored and scented yourself. You have, however, probably wondered how you can make your candles more eco-friendly by using natural ingredients. One of the easiest types of natural ingredients, that you can add to your candles, is natural dyes.
What are natural dyes?
Natural dyes are pigments that are extracted from plants or minerals, as opposed to other dyes or pigments that are man-made.
The natural dyes that we’ll be looking at in this article are exclusively extracted from plants. Certain plants give better dyes that others, and – depending on the plant you’re working with – all parts of plants can be used, from roots to flowers and even stamens when it comes to saffron.
The time it takes to get the colors infused into the melted wax can also take quite a few hours – anything from 6 to 48 hours to get full saturation! More about this later in this article.
Which types of wax to use with natural dyes
When you’re using natural dyestuffs, you’ll need to use natural waxes – like soy wax, palm wax and beeswax – as well. These waxes are all differently suited to coloring, with soy wax being the most popular to color naturally.
Soy wax – made from soya beans – is perfect for container candles. As the wax is softer, it’s not suitable for pillar candles. Soy wax has a low melting point and great scent distribution, which is just what you want when working with scented candles.
Palm wax is made from palm oil and, unlike soy wax, is suited to making pillar candles as it is harder than soy wax.
Although beeswax is often made into rolled candles (with a natural heavenly scent) by using thin sheets of wax, it can also be used in containers to make container candles. Look out for pure, filtered beeswax.
In this article we’ll refer to coloring soy wax throughout as it’s the most popular, but it works the same for all these waxes.
How to color the wax using plants
Although wax, when colored with synthetic dyes, is saturated with color in minutes, using natural colors takes a long time because the fresh or powdered plant matter is used. The color, therefore, still needs to seep from the plants into the wax with the help of heat.
Preparing the plants for dyeing
To prepare the plants, make sure which part of the plant you’ll need to use – root, stems, leaves, flowers, stamens or a combination of these – and cut them into smaller pieces. This will make it a lot easier to get the color from the plant. If you’re working with wheatgrass, you can even put it in a food processor for a second or two to cut it into tiny pieces (be careful not to juice it!).
Bag it up and let it seep
Next, put the pieces of plant into a heat-resistant tea bag, a small muslin sachet, or a coffee filter. Use a twist tie or piece of wick to close the muslin sachet or coffee filter, turning the filter into a small sachet.
Slowly lower the sachet into the melted wax until the plants within are covered in wax, but the bag isn’t resting on the bottom of the pot of wax.
Now comes the magical part; you’ll see that the color of the dyestuff slowly seeps into the wax.
- Let the plants seep until you reach the shade of color that you want – just keep in mind that some of the colors will remain quite pastel and after 24-48 hours the color won’t intensify any further.
- Be patient – the colors won’t appear immediately as it does with synthetic dyes.
- Stir the wax every 2-3 hours (or, if you’re only seeping it for 6 hours, stir it every hour) to ensure that the color spreads equally through the wax to turn it all one color. You will also be able to better see the color saturation of the dye once the wax is stirred.
- Keep the wax’s temperature stable to ensure the best color and to keep the wax from solidifying too soon.
Preparing the wax for pouring
Once the wax is dyed the color that you want, remove the bag of plant matter, being careful not to burn yourself by touching the hot wax. If you find that some of the plant matter is in the wax itself, strain the leaves, etc. out before moving on to the next step.
Give the wax a final good stir to ensure the color is even, and then it’s ready to be poured into the containers you’ve already prepared by placing wicks inside.
Now we’ll look at which plants you can use to color wax with and the colors that they’ll deliver.
How to get warm colors when dyeing soy wax
Beige or pastel colors:
- Chamomile – Use chamomile flowers (or even some plain, quality chamomile tea to color the soy wax a warm beige color.)
- Vanilla pod – Giving the wax a beige-brown to light brown coloring, cut the vanilla pod open and into pieces before placing it into the wax. Don’t add vanilla essence to the wax, however! Stick to the dried vanilla pods!
- Madder root – Madder root, either sliced, chopped or dried, gives wax a delightful pale peach color.
- Annatto seeds – Annatto seeds or ground annatto gives the wax a rich yellow to yellow-orange color. If you’re using the seeds, crush them slightly in a pestle and mortar first.
- Turmeric – This vivid spice can be used fresh and cut into slices or in its dried and ground form in a coffee filter to give the wax a rich yellow color.
- Lemon peel – Lemon peel – whether in pieces or grated – gives soy wax a less vivid, almost pastel yellow color.
- Safflower – Use the petals of yellow safflowers to color the soy wax yellow.
- Saffron – You’ve probably heard about the many uses of saffron, but did you know it can color soy wax as well? These vivid stamens will give a warm yellow color. Just be sure not to use too much wax and too little saffron. As saffron is so expensive, it’s best to keep the amounts you color limited so as not to dilute the color too much and losing the richness of it.
- Paprika – Use ground paprika to get a dark orange shade. You can also chop the paprika peppers into small pieces and use that, although the color won’t be as saturated then.
- Orange peel – Use pieces of orange peel or orange zest (finely grated orange peel) to color the wax orange.
- Carrots – Grate orange carrots (purple carrots will give another color altogether, if you want to experiment!) or chop them into small pieces before placing them in the coffee filter and into the wax. The orange color is more vivid than that of the orange peel.
- Alkanet root – Alkanet is part of the borage plant family. The root can be used sliced, chopped or dried and powdered to lend a red color to the wax. Remember to crush the slices or blocks in a pestle and mortar before placing it in he coffee filter.
- Rosehips – Dark-colored rosehips (not the young, green ones) will give the soy wax a reddish-brown color. Crush the rosehips lightly in a pestle and mortar before using it.
- Cloves – Use whole cloves that has been crushed slightly in a pestle and mortar or by placing them in the muslin sachet and rolling over them once or twice with a rolling pin.
- Cinnamon – Use either crushed cinnamon quills or ground cinnamon in the coffee filter to get a warm, light brown color.
How to get cool colors when dyeing soy wax
- Indigo – Especially well-known for dyeing fabric, indigo can also be used to color wax a rich cornflower blue.
- Spirulina – Spirulina powder gives the wax a vivid sea green shade that is also easy to achieve. It’s best to use a coffee filter when using spirulina as it is such a fine powder. You can also experiment with more or less spirulina powder (starting with half a teaspoon) to get the shade of color you want.
- Nettles – Nettles are just the thing to give a candle a beautiful olive color. Cut the nettles into lengths of half an inch to an inch before using.
- Kelp – Although not a sea green like the spirulina, this seaweed does give soy wax a beautiful green color.
- Parsley – Chopped parsley (experiment with different types to get the shade of green you want) will also give your candles a green color.
- Rosemary – Strip the rosemary leaves from the stems and either chop them or bruise them in a pestle and mortar before using it as a dye.
- Alfalfa – To color the wax a medium green color, use chopped alfalfa in the dye sachet.
- Wheatgrass – Chop the wheatgrass finely or put it in a food processor for a second or two (just chop it, don’t juice it) before using it to dye the soy wax the bright green of spring.
- Green tea – Make sure that you use green tea that hasn’t been mixed with any other tea or plant to dye the candle a brown-green color. Don’t seep the tea in water before using – rather just crush some of the leaves in a pestle and mortar. The green tea is best used with a tea bag or coffee filter.
- Henna – Henna will turn the wax an earthy, olive brown-green color. Use it in a coffee filter sachet rather than a tea bag or muslin sachet.
- Sage – Sage will give your candle a greener shade of brown than green tea and henna. Chop the leaves and stems roughly and then bruise the leaves in a pestle and mortar before using. You can use a muslin sachet for the sage.
Dyeing your candles naturally with plants are not only an eco-friendly way of coloring candles, but also a much more enjoyable and hands-on way of coloring wax. Many of the dyes you need may even be available in your own garden or on your spice rack!
Carin Marais is a fully bilingual language practitioner (English/Afrikaans) and a copy and content writer for a wide variety of digital and print channels. She has worked with both local and international companies on subjects as diverse as health and mindfulness, finance, beauty, décor, pets, food, and agricultural implements.