Small Measures: Beeswax Insect Repellant Candles


Last week’s solstice made it official: summer is definitely here (at least for those of us in this hemisphere). The attendant spike in the mercury solidified the new season’s arrival, as folks start to bust out their flip flops, chow down on watermelon, slurp popsicles and try to keep their cool with fans. Alongside the sun, sand, festivities and barbeques, however, lurks a less welcome annual feature: the return of stinging, biting insects. There you are, finally able to cool off, cold beer or tall glass of iced tea in hand, cracking open the pages of what promises to be an epic summer read when, boom! Out of nowhere a mosquito lands on your arm, does its thing and harshes your mellow.

Well, I’ve got a solution. It’s much more benign than the bug zappers of days past (and considerably more quiet — those machines were loud!). With a few simple ingredients and tools, you can craft a lovely beeswax candle that keeps the critters at bay while perfuming the air with a heavenly scent. The bugs move on, the breeze (hopefully) moves in, the book delivers on its promise and all is well this summer. — Ashley English

Read the full post after the jump . . .


I like working with beeswax when making candles. Not only is it completely natural, requiring very little processing to get it ready for use, but it’s also a renewable resource. Additionally, beeswax’s inherent high melting and burning temperatures translate to a candle that burns longer than other types of candle wax. It can cost a bit more but is becoming increasingly affordable and readily available. Check here and here for options if you don’t have a supplier nearby. Beeswax can be purchased in pre-made 8″ x 16″ sheets; bags of tiny pellets; or 1-, 2- and 5-pound blocks.

If you try this project and get bit by the candle-making bug, Rebecca Ittner’s Candlemaking the Natural Way is a great resource for exploring the craft further. I used citronella, eucalyptus and cedar essential oils here to give this candle its mojo, all of which have proven highly effective in clinical trials at keeping bugs at bay.

Beeswax Insect Repellant Candle

The Goods
Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound beeswax (either as a solid block or already broken up into smaller pieces)
  • 3 drops citronella essential oil
  • 3 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • 2 drops cedar essential oil

 

Equipment

  • wax or parchment paper
  • 8-ounce glass or metal vessel (to hold the candle)
  • double boiler (or metal bowl resting atop a pot)
  • candy or candle thermometer (or thermometer that reads up to 200ºF)
  • one 6-inch piece of wire-core wick (available at craft stores or online, pre-cut or in bulk spools)
  • 1 wick tab/holder
  • heat-proof spouted container for pouring (such as a glass Pyrex measuring cup)
  • utensil for stirring (I used a take-out wooden chopstick)
  • thin wooden dowel or chopstick, aka a “wick stick” (used to hold and center the wick in the container)
  • screw driver (to break up the beeswax block)
  • scissors (for cutting the wick to length)
  • measuring tape or stick
  • cutting board
  • oven mitt or pot holder


The Deal

1. Clean and thoroughly dry the vessel you’ll be using to hold your candle. I used a 1/2-pint mason jar, but an 8-ounce metal canister or any used, clean, up-cycled glass jar would work equally well here, as would a terra cotta planter (with no drainage hole), a tea cup or any other vessel you can come up with!

2. Put newspaper or parchment on top of your workspace. Beeswax is an especially soft wax, making it challenging to remove once it’s on a surface.


3. Now you’ll need to break up the beeswax block. I used a screwdriver on top of a wooden cutting board for this step. It’s important to break the block into smaller pieces so that they all melt at right around the same point in the heating process.


4. Next, you’ll need to do what’s called “priming” the wick. This step is helpful for a number of reasons: it helps the wick to match the color of the finished candle, aids the wick in standing up straight, makes the candle easier to light and helps the candle burn more slowly. To condition the wick, place the broken-up beeswax pieces in a double boiler (or metal bowl placed on top of a pan filled about 2–3 inches high with water; you want the water to boil beneath the bowl without actually touching the bowl). Clip a candy (or candle) thermometer to the side of the top bowl. Turn the burner to medium-high and melt the wax, taking care to keep the temperature no higher than 160º F. Use your stirring utensil to move around the pieces of beeswax so that everything melts at around the same rate.

Once the wax is melted, remove the double boiler from the heat and place your pre-measured piece of wick into the wax. Leave it to soak for 20–30 seconds, then use your stirring utensil to remove it from the melted wax. Place it on a piece of wax or parchment paper, pull or roll it taut and straight and leave it to dry for 10 minutes.


5. Once your wick has dried, thread the wick through the hole of the wick tab/holder. Use pliers to squeeze the threading hole, closing it tightly around the wick. Place the wick/wick tab into your candle holder/vessel. Set aside.


6. Warm the wax back up to 160º F, using the stirring utensil to help liquefy any solidified pieces. Add the drops of essential oils, using the stirring utensil to fully incorporate them.

7. Remove the bowl containing the melted wax from the heat. Transfer about 1/4 cup of the melted wax to a heat-proof spouted container, and return the bowl with the rest of the wax to the double boiler.


8. Pour approximately 1/2 inch of melted wax into your candleholder/vessel containing the wick/wick tab. Set aside until it has firmed up and cooled a bit, about 20–25 minutes. This step helps to anchor the wick, keeping it in place as the rest of the candle is poured.


9. Warm the remaining wax until it liquefies. Transfer all of the melted wax to the heat-proof spouted container. You may need to use your stirring utensil to incorporate any wax that has solidified in the spouted container with the new hot wax.

10. Pour all of the melted wax into your candleholder, on top of the wax used to secure the wick/wick tab.


11. Gently wrap the top of the wick around a wick stick, centering it in the middle of the container. Be sure not to tug too tightly on the wick during this step, as doing so could dislodge the wick from the wick tab, causing it to float to the top of the melted wax. Rest the wick stick on the center of the container/mold and allow the candle to cool completely.

12. Once the candle has cooled completely, remove the wick stick. Trim the wick to 1/4 inch before the first use, and after every use, especially if the candle is in a glass container (be sure to provide this crucial tip to others, should you gift them with your homemade candles). Otherwise, a lengthy wick could overheat the glass, causing it to spontaneously shatter.

What about you? Got any natural candle-making or bug-repelling wisdom you’d care to share? I’d love to hear it. Otherwise, I’m off to drink a beer, light a candle and naturally enjoy the perks of summer, minus the pests.

Photos and styling by Jen Altman

  1. Shield says:

    I’m going to try doing it this weekend. Ashley, you are so resourceful! :)

  2. Soooo awesome. This is such a great project for all those summer days and nights! It looks pretty easy to do. And I love those candles with multiple purposes: a beautiful soft glowing light and to ward off biting insects.

  3. Christine says:

    This is my baby boy’s first summer and I’ve been looking for natural bug repellent ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  4. This is such a good idea! I hate wearing bug spray and so many bug repentant candles just smell awful but don’t actually keep bugs away. Definitely going to try this out! Thanks!

  5. Stevie says:

    Approximately 10 minutes ago I said, “I bet I could make a beeswax candle with essential oils to repel bugs.” Thanks so much! I hadn’t thought of eucalyptus. That sounds like it will smell much nicer than standard citronella. I’ve also heard lavender and rosemary are unappealing to bugs. Also, thanks for being so thorough in the directions and photos!

  6. Rebecca says:

    Thank you so much! My 8-yr-old son is terribly sensitive to mosquitos, and I am anxious to try a natural method to help make his summer evenings more bearable. I can’t wait to try this!

  7. Eileen Paulin says:

    Couldn’t be happier that you recognized the hard work Rebecca Ittner put into her book: Candlemaking the Natural Way. Rebecca has a generous, loving soul and I know she is thrilled to have provided inspiration. You did a wonderful job presenting natural Candlemaking. Thank you.

  8. Kristina says:

    Hi! This is great – something that repels bugs AND I get to make! Yes, please!
    But, I am trying to find the cedar essential oil and am having some trouble. On one site they have a few different options, but nothing that just says “cedar essential oil.” They have incense cedar leaf oil, incense cedar leaf hydrosol, thuja oil/cedar leaf, atlas cedarwood oil, and himalyan cedarwood oil.

    Please advise?

    Thank you!

  9. Priya says:

    What a gorgeous and inspiring tutorial! I especially love the careful instructions on handling the wicks. I LOVE beeswax candles, and I’ve made them (and soy wax candles) lots, but they can be tricky to scent with essential oils…. Many essential oils have a lower “flash point” than the melting point of beeswax (around 146 degrees Fahrenheit), which means that the essential oils will just burn off instead of sitting in the warm wax and releasing their lovely and insect-repelling aroma into the air. Citronella’s flash point is pretty high (170 F), so that should work well, and atlas cedarwood essential oil is also great for candles (flash point 215 F), but eucalyptus’s flash point is only 120 F, so it’d surely just burn off! I’d guess it’d work better to just leave out the eucalyptus and increase the citronella and cedarwood. BTW, usually candles are scented with a whole lot more essential oil than in this recipe – probably about 90 drops for this size recipe! Hope my comments are helpful to someone! :)

  10. kristina-from the website you’re looking at, go for either the “atlas” or “himalayan” cedarwood oil. mine is “texas” cedarwood, but all of those options work just as well.

  11. Great tutorial but do you think that there’s enough essential oil in the recipe to keep the bugs away?

  12. Lauren E says:

    Does anyone have some clean up tips? I froze my double boiler and pyrex to chip away at the wax afterwards. I had so much fun but the clean up has been lengthy :)

  13. Thank you for this perfect post ! I love making my own cosmetics -and other things lol- and summer coming, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to make my own insect repelant candle, when I do have all the material needed at home.

  14. mike says:

    ditto on the cleanup. made a HUGE mess in the kitchen (which is fun) but have no idea how to clean it up

  15. Debbie says:

    I am a beekeeper and make candles but have struggled with container candles I can’t wait to try this. Easiest cleanup is boiling water. I put the containers I need to clean up outside and boil pots of water and pour it over until the wax is removed. Instead of using a Pyrex bowl to make the candle use large cans (sauce or family size). Then you don’t have to worry about your bowls.

  16. Mandy says:

    I love this. It’s still winter down here but I’ll start prepping now for summer!

  17. Jenny says:

    How did you keep your candles from developing cracks as they cooled? I wanted to give mine as gifts but they aren’t quite so pretty with all of the cracks.

  18. Ravyn says:

    Would this work camping to repel bugs?

  19. Ravyn says:

    Would this candle work at a campsite to repel bugs?

  20. Victoria says:

    I’m LOVING this… DIY is like a perfect summer day on its own on top of if I want it/need it (sorta) I best find a way to make it myself with whatever I can find at home or from a friend but because I’m at home all day most nights I try to be outside especially during the day! How would these work then? Day time- different bugs insects BEES are everywhere (also deadly allergic as is the 3 other adults that reside here)! It’s beeswax? Any DIY daytime bugaway tricks? A cup of kool-aid far far away, & my racket bug zapper combo isn’t working WELL AT ALL!!!

  21. Got any good ideas for a tiki torch. I was given about five of them with no container for a candle.

      1. those are pretty but i need something to place inside the wicker part. would a candle work. then it placed in a can. thanks for the idea it’s pretty but i have no bottles and no fence to put them on. just the tiki wicker torch holder

  22. we just got a pool table and it has been in use daily. flies and skeeters so far have been our big problems. oh June bugs too.what gets rid of all of the above?
    that can be in one candle?

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