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
- 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
- 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
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.
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