Candles have been used for over 5,000 years as a source of light. People dipped reeds into animal fats to set them alight. Before other wax alternatives were made available, tallow was used to make candles.
Tallow is a hard refined fatty substance made from rendered animal fat. It contains saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. It is used to make candles soaps, and skin products. It can be obtained from various animals, including pigs or deer. Nowadays, it’s commonly available from beef suet.
Unlike suet, tallow can be stored for extended periods without needing to be kept cool in a refrigerator, as long as it is kept in an airtight container to stop it oxidising. You can use lard if you prefer, but be aware that it will take longer to harden due to slight differences in its fat composition.
Homemade tallow candles are great as light sources for power outages. The flames burn slowly and give a good amount of light. And they are easy to make and keep in your home in case of emergencies.
Tallow can have a pungent smell. If it isn’t rendered fully, or if it contains excess moisture, it can leave a foul smell. However, some tallows have little to no smell at all. You can add essential oils to your melted wax when creating your own tallow candles if you’re worried.
Advantages of tallow candles
Tallow candles can be made easily and cheaply. They are made from the ‘waste’ fat of animals that people will often discard in the bin once they’ve got the meat from the animal. This reduces the use of paraffin wax, which reduces air pollution. Paraffin wax is obtained from crude oil, making it a non-renewable source of wax unlike tallow. Tallow candles light with a brighter flame than other wax candles, and will burn slowly, providing light for extended periods of time.
Disadvantages of tallow candles
Tallow candles can have a foul smell, especially when no additional fragrance oils have been added to the mixture. They are usually softer than wax candles and can leave a greasy residue on your fingers when handed. There is also the ethical issue. Many people do not agree with using animal products in candles when there are other alternatives such as paraffin or soy wax.
Making tallow candles is easy. You only need a few materials including:
- Heat proof containers or jars
- Deer or beef tallow
- Cotton or wooden wicks
- Double boiler
- Scented oils (optional)
Generally, you’ll be fine without using super precise measurements. Of course, if you’re making lots of candles, you will need more tallow.
How to make Tallow Candles at home
Heat the tallow
Use a double boiler to heat the tallow until it has all melted. If you don’t have a double boiler, just use a large pan filled halfway with water, and place a smaller pan or pot inside it. Add the tallow into the smaller pot so it is not in direct contact with the larger pan. This will avoid it melting to quickly and burning.
If you prefer, you can use the oven to melt your tallow. Place it in a large, glass container in the oven at a low heat until it liquifies.
Add essential oils
This step is optional. If you want your candles to be scented, add in your essential oils or fragrance oils to the melting tallow and mix well. Remember to check the flashpoint of the oils you are using and make sure to add enough into the mixture to ensure your finished candles smell great.
Allow the tallow to cool
Once the tallow has fully melted, remove it from the heat source and let it cool down until it starts to turn white. Do not leave it long enough to where it hardens – you still need to be able to pour it into your jars.
Prepare the containers
Get your candle containers or jars ready. You can buy brand new containers, or re-use the jars of your old candles. If you want more information on how to clean out your candle jars ready to be re-used, see my article ‘How to Clean Out a Candle Jar’.
Glue down your pre-made wicks to the bottom of the jar. If you are going to create your own wicks, see my article ‘How to Make a Candle Wick’ for some easy steps on how to do this.
To glue down your wick, I suggest using a glue dot. Do not use a glue gun as the hot wax will melt the glue when you pour it into the container, making it useless.
Keep your wicks upright by using doubly-sided sticky tape, a sandwich bag clipper or even place two pencils on either side of the wick.
Fill the containers
Once your tallow has cooled and your containers are ready with wicks well and truly in place, it’s time to pour to tallow into the jars. If you’re making more than one candle, try to pour an even amount into each jar.
Finalize the candles
Leave the tallow to harden completely inside the jars. Trim the wicks if you need to, and add lids to your new candles if desired. You can store the candles for a few months as long as they are stored at room temperature and kept dry.
Now you’re ready to light your new tallow candles and relax!