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The Great Candle Burn-Off #3: Jo Malone Grapefruit vs. P.F. Candle Company Sweet Grapefruit


Time for the third in this epic series of Candle Burn-Offs (#1 and #2.) We’re getting closer to true competition, I feel, fewer random retail pickups, increased intention. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. That sounds arrogant. OK, anything worth doing is worth trying to do well. More subjunctive in feeling, and therefore High WASP-appropriate.

Enter the amphitheatre, British candle queen Jo Malone! Cheers! Duck under the ropes, Los Angeles indie brand, P.F. Candle Co., to howls of approval. Let the burning begin. This time, tangy, tongue-tingling citrus. Jo Malone Grapefruit vs. P.F. Candle Co. Sweet Grapefruit.


I bought the Jo Malone candle with a Neiman Marcus return credit. Swooshed into the San Francisco store like a Grande Dame, Helloooooo rotunda!, and out. A reader recommended P.F. Candle, I ordered from Shoptiques, a site that allows you to shop from boutiques all over the world. This time we drew Orange County.

Jo Malone story: In fact, Jo Malone is a real person, and in fact, she sold her company to Estee Lauder in 2006. She’s now fragrancing at Jo Loves, a new business very like her first.

P.F. Candle story: No P, no F per se, but the husband and wife team. Kristen Pumphrey and Thomas Neuberger, have been making their candles – by hand – since 2008. The P and F stand for “Pommes Frites,” because, homophone for Pumphrey. Good to know, and now I’m going to forget the derivation, since I do not want to breathe deeply and think of french fries, unless I’m parked in front of a bistro steak and a glass of vin rouge.



Jo Malone’s candle gives you 7.5 oz and 45 hours of burn time for $65.00. P.F. Candle, 7.2 oz and 40-50 hours burn time for $18.00. Indie prices for the win.


Packaging, Design & Materials

These are both exceptionally well-branded and packaged products. I never pass a Jo Malone display without wanting to smell something, alternatively, to tie on a brown ribbon or start speaking in an English accent. P.F. Candle also pays attention to details. You might have thought brown glass, kraft paper and typewriter font had been overdone, as might I, but no. Something about the No. 10 designation and the uppercase font works here.

It’s not clear, however, that Jo and P.F. are equally non-toxic. While Queen Jo (as owned by Lady Estee) uses “lead-free” wicks, she does not disclose her wax. P.F. is very clear about their materials, soy wax, cotton core wicks. Big check in their favor.



Hmm. Jo Malone is burning crookedly, and with the occasional black flame. Might be I forgot to melt the wax all the way across the candle on the first burn. Or, might be inconsistent quality. P.F. is burning beautifully, straight, clean. The crowd begins to murmur, “Jo, say it isn’t so!”


The Scent Itself

And here the wax meets the wick. Jo’s candle suffers from that terrible “department store smell.” P.F. Sweet Grapefruit may not smell like grapefruit, per se, but it is sugar-y and citrus-y and pleasant. My own tastes run more to the salt and sand of India Hicks, but if you like sweet and tangy blossom perfume, this is your candle.


You guessed it: P.F. Candle No. 10., Sweet Grapefruit. On sale today for $13.99 down from $18.00. I prefer Jo Malone’s packaging, a tad, but this isn’t a Box and Ribbon-Off. Flame And Scent take the day.

The Candles As They Portray Themselves


Links may generate commissions. Thank you reader Danielle for the P.F. Candle recommendation. Much appreciated.

41 Responses

  1. I’m not a fan of scented candles, or even perfume. But I do like unscented candles, but would never burn one without knowing what the was was made of. If Jo Malone’s was non-toxic, they would release the ingredients, I feel sure of that.I like the look of the other candle better anyway.

    1. @Kathy, I like scented candles, but never buy them.

      The problem is that ALL scented candles are harmful to the respiratory system, no matter how “non-toxic” the ingredients.

    2. @Noelle ~ Thanks for pointing this out. I knew it, but felt shy about saying it.

      1. I am not sure this is as serious as it sounds. Soy candles have been found to emit no harmful pollutants. So the issue is whether the essential oils are harmful. Are there studies showing that the essential oils cause problems? More problems than the lingering odor of pork and cabbage stew with vinegar:)?

    3. @Noelle, Yes, those refer to the article about paraffin candles, and add in a caution about artificial scents. The safer options are soy candles with plant oils. Now, nothing at all might be safest, of course. I’d love to see a comparison of, for example, a lit wood fire vs. a soy candle with plant oil fragrances. It is so hard these days to navigate marketing claims vs. alarming headlines about studies vs. what really is going on here;).

  2. I love, love, love Jo Malone cologne. I currently have 5, yikes! But 2 are for combining, which is a thing – lol.

    Her candles, not so much. I don’t know why….could be the department store smell!

  3. Yay! I’m so glad you liked PF Candle Co! I <3 re-using their containers when empty, too… they are easy to clean out at the end and make great makeup jars and pen holders :)

  4. Well, now I have a new candle company to try. I tend to like herby, outdoorsy candles, so will be trolling for that type of scent. Citrus is good, too. I just don’t care for that whole vanilla cookie , bubble gum, candy type of scents

    P F to be sure!

  5. I like Williams-Sonoma’s pink grapefruit range of products, including candles. When I bought my house, which had been empty for a year or so, I got a few of these candles to chase away the stale air.

  6. Adore grapefruit, but the real thing. I’ve never purchased a scented candle but do burn plenty of non-scented, especially for dinner parties.

    I do like the look of the PF candle, very down to earth, but I find that if I want to scent my home, especially the kitchen, I just simmer a little water in a pan with dried orange peel, cloves, cinnamon etc., and keep the flame low. Does the job nicely.

  7. Well that is good news….and a money saver too!
    Will you try a comparison using a Diptyque candle? We love their Ambre one but it is expensive and I have yet to find one I like better…but am open to suggestions.

  8. What fun! I love a good scented candle but both of those are priced higher than I’ll go. I like going to say, Marshalls or TJ Maxx and get candles there. I will go up to about seven bucks apiece but most of the time I can get them for a couplefew dollars less. Half the fun is standing there for 20 minutes and sniffing til I find just the right ones. Must be realistic and mostly I prefer clean citrusy, herb-y scents. Often I find some really nice, high quality candles in unusual scents that I get to enjoy once and never find again. I currently have a Levitate candle in Lemongrass. This post has reminded me I need to go candle shopping! We are mere days away from Hurricane Season starting; always a good excuse for buying extra candles :-)

    1. @Lisa Chavez, Unfortunately I do think these inexpensive candles are often the ones made of paraffin wax and wicks with lead in the core:(

  9. I Always Have One on the toilet! I light it in the morning when we are at Home and the Sent spreads out in the entire House but very light!

  10. Woot for the indie candle company.

    I was hoping (and assuming) the little guy would win.

    I like the price point too.

    Thanks for the name PF!

  11. Those candles can cause Asthma, Skin Irritations and even Cancer.
    Same with perfumes if used daily and on your skin. I rarely do, but spray just a bit on my hair.

    Why not open a window and take a breath of fresh air?

    1. @Barbara, Can you point us to the source of your information? If this is true for the soy- and beeswax candles made with plant oils, I would very much like to know. And my windows and doors are often open, but, with an open plan house and an active kitchen, a candle can be a great way to deal with the smell of dinner once we are done eating.

  12. :-( Oh. Thank you. So disappointing to hear and yet I guess it doesn’t surprise me. Will look for natural unscented, and like you say, open a window…

  13. I like to imagine beautiful scented candles around my home-it is funny,it is atmospheric,it has an allure,it is so cool-but as I said above,too scared!
    (yes,about water as well :-)).
    I have tried it,it is beautiful-I agree!- but I decide to stick with L’Occitane home perfume sticks!

  14. Here ist one of the studies (I read in in german):…/223827610_Chemical_compositi…

    Even if the candles are made of beewax they contain paraffin to increase the melting point.

    And essential oils can cause the described health issues.

    1. I will have to signin to that database and read. At this point my assessment is that paraffin is probably dangerous enough that we should avoid it. Soy and beeswax, when made by small, reputable, independent manufacturers, should not contain paraffin if they say it’s 100% soy. As for the oils, I think those are a question of individual sensitivities. So far I’ve had no reaction to lighting a candle and leaving it to burn for 45 minutes. That is, if the scent agrees with me. For example, I’ve read that lavender oil is difficult for some to tolerate – for me it’s bliss.

      But I will keep reading to see if there is data that convinces me otherwise. I suspect this issue sits on a spectrum, as I said, with danger on one side and over-alarm on the other, and one can find one’s way if one so desires. Of course, the easiest would just be to avoid them altogether, but I suspect that isn’t necessary. I’ll come back and report if I find out I am wrong, which, quite possible.

  15. While I like the idea of scented candles – sounds nice – I haven’t used one in years. My husband is not on board – worries we will forget to extinguish. So it’s open windows when the weather cooperates. And now this info about health hazards.

    1. @Jane, No reason to use them if you don’t like them. But read the comment below, health hazard concerns are perhaps lingering from before manufacturers made the changes described.

  16. Hello Lisa,

    I have a small Candle Company, French Flower Farm. All candles are a hand-poured, Soy/Beeswax blend. I am also a chemist by training. There is absolutely no difference between a chemical (such as Linalool) produced in a chemical plant versus the same chemical produced by a plant in the ground. Essential oils do not mix well with soy wax and really are no safer than artificial fragrance oils. In fact, essential oils may be less safe because they vary in concentration and composition and are extracted with toxic chemicals such as benzene. Essential oils may have Caché but add significantly to the cost. Your choice.

    If your candle is smoking, trim the wick. I see a lot candles with 2″ high flames. This is dangerous and actually wastes fragrance. The flame should be no more than about 1/2″ high. Always burn your container candle until a complete melt pool forms across it or it will tunnel. If the candle tunnels no matter how long you burn it, the manufacturer used a wick that is too small. Don’t buy that brand again.

    Paraffin does make a candle that has a stronger “hot throw” than Soy. That is the fragrance when burning. However, I prefer Soy because it cleans up easily if you spill it and it creates a fragrance with a “softer edge”. Soy is also more bio-degradable than paraffin. Many of my customers comment that my candles don’t bother their sinuses as much as paraffin candles. Nice to hear, but to be honest, I think that is just the difference between individuals.

    Don’t worry about lead wicks. No one in the United States uses them anymore because it is illegal to sell them. Zinc is a popular alternative. I use paper core wicks dipped in natural wax as do many candle makers who use Soy wax.

    If you want Candle-Fragrance-without-the-flame, consider Wax Melts (also called Wax Tarts or in my case, BonBon Melts.) These are little chunks of fragrant wax that are melted in a 15 to 25 Watt electric melter – no flame and no soot! Available both in Paraffin and in Soy Wax.

    Hope this answers some of your Commentor’s (is that a word?)concerns.

    Smiles from Charlotte Des Fleurs

    1. @Charlotte Des Fleurs, Thank you so much for the information. Do you have any idea why these health concerns linger? Media impact? Or is there really anything to worry about in burning a fragrance?

  17. Hi Lisa,

    Well, “anything to worry about?” is kind of a loaded question. I have not read every study ever done but I have read A LOT of them. The media needs something to write about and there are always people who “worry” about every little thing. Can’t change that. Anything you burn, spray or otherwise aerosolize (and that includes perfume sticks, hairspray, deodorant, fragrant shampoo) adds chemicals to the air that otherwise would not be there. For a very small portion of the population, that may be a problem. For the rest of us, probably not.

    IMO: Are “natural” oils any safer or “better” than manufactured fragrance oils. No. Manufactured fragrance oils are better controlled than “natural” oils. I can get a list of every single chemical in a fragrance oil. Can’t get that for a “natural” oil. Personally, I like that. But, if it gives you peace of mind or you want the bragging rights for using “natural” fragrances, go ahead. They cost A LOT more money. Major amounts of petrochemicals are used to harvest the flowers and to run the distillaries that produce the the oils. No one is harvesting by hand and stomping the flowers like grapes.

    I have been making and have been in intimate contact with both natural and manufactured oils for nearly 5 years now. I have also had asthma all my life. My second year I got very sick during the late summer which is the start of the heavy candle-making season. I thought it might have been the candles. But, no problems for the last 3 years. So, I just happened to get sick – candle fragrances probably not involved.

    Paraffin candles last forever (and I mean long past the lifetime of anyone posting here.) They also burn a little hotter and brighter than Soy. Therefore, I keep paraffin candles for Emergency lighting and outdoor ambiance. I prefer the smell of soy burning for indoor use (it is a very subtle difference) and I like the fact that soy cleans up with soap and water. Try that with a paraffin candle!

    If a particular candle makes you sneeze or gives you a headache, try a different candle fragrance or a different manufacturer. Wax melts are an excellent alternative because they give off fragrance but not soot.

    I have a section on my website called “Of Wax and Wicks” which talks about the history of candles and difference waxes if people would like more info. Website:

    Smiles from Charlotte Des Fleurs

  18. Thank you very much for taking the time to address concerns about burning scented candles. I feel better know all this since my daughter and her husband often use scented candles in their home. Sounds like soy candles are our best choice. By the way, I am not about to give up using perfume or scented soaps – I just enjoy lovely scents. Love walking through the soap section of Whole Foods!

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