Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Burning Paraffin and Soy Wax
Name:  Phil
Status: educator
Grade: 9-12
Country: N/A
Date: 11/22/2005

Is there any difference between burning paraffin wax and soy wax? Our assumption is that complete combustion will produce carbon dioxide and water for both types and burning in air will produce all of the usual byproducts.

Sure, complete (non-smoky) combustion will reduce both waxes to CO2 and H2O.

If you really mean complete combustion, the amounts of other byproducts should be very small for either wax. Then all that can change is the ratio of CO2 to H2O, the oxygen required per gram of fuel, and the heat released.

Differences are mainly that the soy wax probably has a different net composition than paraffin wax. Paraffin will have H and C atoms only, no O or N or S or P. And since the molecule is roughly H-(CH2)n-H, with n>20, the net composition is about CH2. Other waxes will have differences, such as occasional O's (ketone or hydroxyl or acid groups), which reduce the heat of combustion. They may also have unsaturations (C=C double-bonds) and rings, both of which can reduce the amount of H in the net formula by a small percentage.

If your burning is incomplete, these differences might change the amounts of any byproducts other than CO2 and H2O, much like the way oxygenated gasoline reduces the amount of NOx's produced in internal combustion engines. Ordinary candle-burning makes a little smoke and wax-fumes, so it might well be considered slightly incomplete. A soy wax flame might well have more or less smoke, and a different smoke-smell.

Jim Swenson

Click here to return to the Chemistry Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory