It is inevitable. You are a thirty-something has-been trying to recreate the atmosphere of a nineteenth-century coffee house in your living room, except without the opium addicts. It is an atmosphere both conducive to frantic bouts of creativity, and a self-loathing aura of gloom. It is perfectly lit by the flickering gleam of a dozen candles. There is no electric light in this room save for the occasional invasion of a passing car’s headlights and the ever-present ruby beacon atop a nearby radio tower. The candles burn low and, as inspiration fades, you drift off to sleep to dream of candlelit predecessors. People who changed the world while squinting at scribbled-on scrolls while you can’t even remember your Facebook password. The problem is that the stupid candles are dripping wax all over the place while you dream of the next great American novel.
Different Kinds of Wax
Beeswax. The best wax, in my opinion, is made and used by bees to build their combs. It takes a lot of work to make this wonderful stuff. The work they do is absolutely necessary, too, otherwise we would be in a world of hurt. Candles made from beeswax range in color from white to a creamy brown, depending on purity, and will burn cleanly, exuding a warm, sweet smell that eliminates the need for adding any synthetic perfumes or colors.
Vegetable and Other Natural Wax. Waxes are also excreted, in smaller amounts, by other insects and animals, such as sperm whales, sheep, scale insects, and humans. There are a number of plant-based waxes that are commonly used for making candles, such as soy, carnauba palm, bayberry, castor, and jojoba, but these generally require processing from an oil form into a wax. As far as I know, no one has made an ear wax candle.
Synthetic Wax. One of the most common and oft-used waxes in the industrial world is rendered out of a petroleum byproduct called paraffin. This is pretty useful, albeit brittle, stuff and is far less pliable than natural waxes. It is a good electrical insulator and lubricant. In liquid form, it is used medically for constipation and can be found in many salves and balms.
Best Ways to Get Rid of Wax
Removing wax from solid surfaces.
Quite often, if the wax is allowed to cool completely, and if the surface isn’t too porous, it will separate easily from a solid surface. You can sometimes expedite the process by using a very cold object, such as an ice pack, to essentially freeze the wax. Then, use a flat, prying device to work your way under the wax. It is essential to be careful not to damage the surface you are trying to clean. Something like a high-interest credit card will work well to scrape any remnants. Some candle waxes contain oils and pigments that might leave a stain on a surface like wood. In those cases, place a folded paper towel over the stain and apply a steady heat, like that produced from a clothing iron. This should transfer some, if not all, of the remaining oils. Another option would be to use chemical solvents, such as acetone or alcohol. However, these could also remove whatever finish you have on the wood at the same time, so some repairs might be necessary.
Getting wax out of cloth.
This is probably the place you will find yourself most often trying to remove candle wax. What romantic dinner is complete without a candelabra aglow with that special light that gives us some youthful color, while masking some of our ever-broadening imperfections? Or perhaps your favorite shirt got dripped on by an overeager altar boy at the Easter Vigil? The process is similar to the one described above. First off, try scraping away as much wax as possible, taking care not to shred the fabric. Then, using several pieces of paper towel or paper grocery bag, place them on either side of the wax stain. Now it’s time to apply some heat to get the wax loose from the fibers of the cloth. Pressing your medium-hot iron to the paper, work it back and forth until you can see the wax being absorbed into the paper. Once an area of paper is saturated, repeat with a clean piece until no more wax comes out. At this point, you need to apply detergent or a stain treatment. It is imperative to try to work it into the fabric really well. Rinse it with the hottest water you can find, and don’t dry it until you are sure the wax is gone. If it doesn’t work as well as you had hoped, consider bringing it to a dry cleaner or a professional launderer. They’re paid to know how to get this done effectively and efficiently.
Extracting wax from your carpet.
This can get very difficult depending on the length and color of the carpet’s shag, as well as the temperature and color of the wax. The first step is to chill the wax down as much as possible using ice packs; liquid nitrogen would work the best, assuming you can get your hands on some. This will make the wax brittle, thereby reducing its hold on the fibers of your carpet. It should break up easily, and the majority of the wax can be removed all at once with a vacuum cleaner. It’s the stuff that’s soaked in deeply that will be difficult. The use of a stiff brush to scrape while continuing to freeze should eventually get you to a point where the wax is mostly gone. If a stain remains, most over-the-counter stain removers will contain the solvents necessary to remove the pigments found in candle wax. Check the label on the bottle and follow the directions. You can try the Resolve stain remover (sold at Amazon), we’ve heard various things about its efficacy.
Getting rid of wax that is stuck on containers.
With just a little bit of forethought, you can prevent a lot of wax-based disasters from happening in the first place by containing the wax in some kind of tray or cup—old plates are a personal favorite. But then you are left with the problem of how to get wax out of something fragile, like glass or ceramic, without breaking it. You are either going to have to go hot or cold, and maybe a combination of both. If you have a lot of melted wax in a cup of some kind, warming it in a hot water bath will melt the outer layers enough to get it to free itself from the surface of the container. If you used a plate, try placing it in the freezer before scraping the wax off the surface.
Getting wax off your skin and hair.
I really don’t want to know how or why people find themselves dripping wax on one another sexually. Assuming it’s dropped from a longer distance, it has probably cooled enough not to hurt too much. Maybe you like pain; I’m not here to judge. However, it can cause burns if it’s too hot, not to mention getting stuck in hair which, along with gum in my hair, is a huge nightmare of mine. Wax will generally peel off our skin pretty easily because of the oils our skin produces. Treat as you would any minor burn; run cold water over it for ten minutes and apply a burn cream or aloe vera. If the wax is stuck in the hair, try chilling it to make it easier to break up. Another approach is to work baby oil, mineral oil, or olive oil into the wax to soften it before removal. When the wax is removed, a simple shampooing should remove any oils. If you go the mineral oil route, you don’t need a huge jug of it, and Amazon sells Swan Mineral Oil in a 16 oz container.
Wax can be dangerous.
As with most things, the best way to get rid of wax is to prevent it from becoming a problem in the first place. An ounce of wax prevention is worth a pound of wax cure. Plan ahead and put your candles in or on something to contain the wax. And while there are a lot of decorative candle holders out there, just remember that they can be a fire hazard in themselves—use your head. You need to leave a good distance between any fire source and another object—eighteen inches is the general rule. Another thing: for the love of all that is good and true, do not leave an open flame unattended lest you endanger yourself and everyone around you.
Finally, I would like to speak out against the dangers of wax warmers. They were a fad a few years ago, and seem, upon first glance, to be a good way to use up old candles—which they are. Just remember, you need to be sure that you have that candle warmer placed in an secure place, taking extra care to tie down the power cord. Imagine, if you will, an innocent, long-haired cat who enjoys a good climb to a relaxing, sun-drenched perch, all to contemplate the importance of good fur maintenance. Suddenly, the cat becomes entangled in a new, poorly placed electrical cord, and a jar of hot wax cascades onto her luxurious fur. What do you do now? Now imagine if that was your toddler. Now imagine social services and all the headaches government intervention brings.
Is it really worth it?
Ways to Reuse Wax
Make your own candles.
In general, you will always have a little stub of candle left over. Collect enough pieces and you can start making your own candles. It’s not too hard to suspend a cotton wick in the center of a glass container and add melted wax. Remember, though, that if you have wax of different colors and scents, mixing them together is going to yield a muddled, brown-grey candle that will emit a confusing blend of odors when burned. Truth be told, this might not be a bad thing, really.
All the rage a couple thousand years ago, this method of producing art has had a couple of resurgences in the last hundred years. In a method not totally dissimilar from decorating eggs, a combination of waxes, oils, and pigments are kept warm until the time of application, which is generally done with a brush or knife. They can be further manipulated on the surface using heated tools. The result is unique in that it is semi-translucent, alternately glossy or opaque, and always notoriously difficult work.
Lost wax molds.
One method of creating a metal sculpture or object is to make a positive of the shape out of wax, then coat that wax with plaster, and dump your hot metal into the mold. As the metal melts the wax, it will displace and fill up the void left in the mold. Wax is very easy to work with, which makes it an ideal medium for this method. Just remember you only get one shot at this—don’t screw it up!