What is beeswax? What are candles made of?

carboxylic acid*
fatty acid*
The wax made by honeybees is a mixture mainly composed of esters of fatty acids (~74%), hydrocarbons (~20%), and propolis, pigments, and other substances (~6%) [1].

The esters consist of straight chain carboxylic acids consisting of 18 to 36 carbon atoms, linked to a straight chain alcohol (always an even number).

The hydrocarbons are straight carbon chains containing an odd number of carbons (anywhere from 21 to 33 per chain).

Propolis or "hive dross" is a resin collected by bees.

What are candles made of? Candles are usually made of paraffin, not beeswax. Paraffin is a mixture of straight-chain alkanes containing 18 to 36 carbon atoms. Stearic acid, a solid fatty acid, is sometimes added to make the wax harder to prevent the candles from melting in hot weather. Other additives can be used to change the color, luster, transparency, and fragrance of the wax.


  1. The Merck Index, 8th ed., Merck & Co., 1968.
  2. Paraffin Wax Fumes, OSHA Chemical Sampling Information, OSHA, 1999.

Author: Fred Senese senese@antoine.frostburg.edu

General Chemistry Online! What is beeswax? What are candles made of?

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