When you first start making candles at home, melting the wax can be the most daunting task. If you look up how to do it on the internet, you'll come across all sorts of elaborate double boiler solutions that can seem very complicated at first, so you might ask: can't I do it all with my microwave?
The short answer to the question is yes. However, just because we can do something does not mean that we should do it.
How to melt wax in the microwave?
Technically, it is possible to melt wax in modern microwave ovens, but this can be dangerous and the end result may not be what you expect, so it is a better idea to avoid this and invest a little more time and money in using the right equipment.
But if you must use a microwave, be extra careful and make sure that if a fire does start, you can put it out safely.
The same applies to wax as to food, so don't put too little of it in the microwave, and using paraffin wax is almost guaranteed to ruin your kitchen utensil, so don't even try heating it.
The first step is to get a microwaveable and heat proof container to put the wax into. Then, in one-minute bursts, place the pot in the microwave until the wax is completely melted.
Since the variation in microwaves, wax types and wax amounts is practically endless there is no fool proof recipe, so unfortunately we have to experiment. Once the wax is melted, handle the dish very carefully and make sure that it is not placed on a cold surface (such as a stone worktop), as even heat-resistant dishes can crack from sudden heat differences.
We have seen that the method is relatively simple, yet most candle makers (including professionals and hobby craftsmen) do not recommend this method. Let's see what the drawbacks are!
Let's start with the obvious problem: wax is highly flammable, so it's important to handle it with care. Melting wax safely requires a certain precision, which cannot be left to the microwave.
It's no coincidence that everyone recommends melting wax over warm water, as this is the least likely way to start a fire. I'm sure we've all been annoyed that when we heat our lunch in the microwave, we find it too cold, put it back for a few minutes and it's already too hot. If we did this with wax, it might catch fire.
It's not for nothing that we need a thermometer for candle making. It is very important to heat the wax to exactly the right temperature. We are talking about a high degree of accuracy, which can only be achieved by slow, even heating. For some types of wax, the "temperature window" that will give you a good result is very narrow, as narrow as 4-5 degrees.
Overheating the wax will lead to uneven burning, discolouration and non-uniform hardness in the finished product, so it is better to be precise here. If your wax looks melted but is not warm enough, it will probably not take the added scent well, which can lead to aesthetic flaws as well as spoiling the aroma therapeutic effect.
In addition to the fact that setting the right temperature can be a problem, microwaves are notorious for not heating food or drinks evenly. Therefore, if you take out the wax and find that it is the right temperature on one side of the dish, this does not mean that the whole dish is at the right temperature for candle making.
To understand why you can't heat paraffin wax in the microwave, you need to know a little bit about how these appliances work. A microwave oven uses electromagnetic waves to set water molecules in food or in drink ( or in wax in our extreme case) in motion. The oscillating particles then produce heat, which heats the food in the microwave.
If the microwave is switched on empty, the electric waves have nowhere to release their energy, so the microwave itself is forced to absorb them and will break down because of this.
That's where paraffin wax comes in, because it's a refined petroleum derivative that contains no water, so the microwave can't heat it up, but on the other hand this process can ruin it.
Natural, plant-based waxes such as soy wax contain enough moisture not to ruin your microwave, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be careful! If you want to heat wax in a microwave, put a larger amount in.
Most candle makers swear by the double boiler. You can buy this at almost any kitchenware shop, of course, but you can also make one at home using the pots you already have. This tool will help you to work more safely and accurately, so make sure you get one if you plan to make a lot of pretty candles.
In summary, it is possible to heat candle wax in the microwave, but it is not without risks. Most people who use this method claim that it is faster than the traditional method. This is true, but the advantages of microwave melting over the double boiler are emitted to this one fact. As we have seen, microwaves are much more dangerous, less controllable and for some types of wax they don't work at all, so we would definitely recommend the conventional solution even if it is perhaps a little bit slower.