My love of candles began during my student years. I burnt an assortment of candles, and was quick to learn that there was a big difference when burning an inexpensive low quality candle and a good quality one.
I now don’t even bother to light a low quality candle anymore, instead I give the offending candle to my local charity store. You might think I am such a diva or a snob (both of which I sometimes am), but not here. I got absolute zero pleasure when burning lesser quality candles (usually cheap and made from paraffin). They burned awful (uneven, dripping or tunnelling), dirty (sooty and depositing wick debris), produced little or no scent, the wax was white inside if it was a coloured candle, and it produced no aromatic experience (or any positive one’s). I was left with a lot of the candle that would not melt, some melted into an ugly shape and colour, and as with others similar, it ended up in the trash. I gave up trying to save these kind of candles... it never worked, was frustrating, very messy, and I often ended up disappointed.
In comparison, a good quality candle made from a high quality wax (e.g. soy, coconut, palm, or bees wax), that does not contain paraffin, has either a cotton or paper wick, and is scented with essential oils, will provide a long clean even burn and a purer scent experience, with no compromise on the indoor air quality. However, burning a good quality candle is no guarantee that it will give a clean even burn. There are other factors that can affect the way a candle burns throughout it’s lifespan.
Avoid burning candles in draughty conditions, like near an open window, AC vent or fan. Unregulated air flow causes an increase in soot and smoke, and where the flame may change in size, bounce, flicker, smoke, or dance from side to side and leaves soot marks on the glass. Soy candles are known for their soot-free quality.
Candles come in all shapes and sizes and are available in many scents, whether woody, floral, fruity or spicy. I like to use candles because they can be uplifting and relaxing, help mask aromas (like when I’m cooking), creates ambiance and can provide a long lasting enticing aroma that lingers through the next morning.
Commodity candles are soy based. Orris - Floral, 184g burns for 60 hours
Using a candle capper will help regulate the air flow on jar style containers, and is an easy and discrete solution that will help your candle burn cleanly and evenly. Likewise, a candle draft shield can be used on taper or dinner candles.
Always clean a candle when it is dry and solid. Use either a nylon pantyhose or an alcohol swab, to pick up all the dust and debris from the wax surface and removing any wax and soot from the container. I also like to use a candle jar cap where possible, as it helps keep the candle dust-free as well as locking in the scent, and it also protects the container’s rim from chipping when storing.
Trim the candle wick
Long or crooked wicks can cause uneven burning, dripping, or flaring. The wick should be trimmed to an ideal length of ¼ inch (6mm). The only exception is when a bigger and hotter flame is required for wider containers, because it may be the only way to melt all the wax to the edge.
Jo Malone candles are made with a cotton wick and paraffin wax. English Pear & Freesia - Fruity, 200g burns for 40 hours
Trim the wick each time before you light your candle, ensuring none of the trimmings remain in the wax. Use a wick trimmer with a flat tip design, as it provides a surface for the cut wick to sit on while trimming. Alternatively a regular pair of scissors or a nail clipper will work just as well, and always trim the wick when the wax is completely dry.
The first burn is the most important, where the candle wax should pool to the edge of the container before it can be extinguished. Candles burn one hour for every inch in diameter of the candle (depending on the wax and its quality), and should not burn more than once every 24 hours.
Did you know that wax has a memory? If the candle wax doesn't pool to the edges, it will begin to tunnel. Candle tunnelling forms when the flame begins to drop below the level of solid wax, leaving a dry hard ring that won’t melt and will tunnel the next time (even if you trim and remove the hard wax rim). A few short burns in a row can also cause your candle to tunnel. I like to repeat the initial burn after each short burn, as I find it keeps the candle burning properly and the wax even.
The size of a candle can not only indicate the number of hours needed to produce a melt pool, but also the total burning hours.
Diptyque candles are made from vegetable and paraffin wax.
Baume d'Ambre (Limited Edition) - Woody and Spicy, & Opopanax - Woody, 190g burns for 60 hours; Baies - Fruity, & Ambre - Woody, 300g burns for 90 hours, 70g burns for 30 hours (not shown)
Benjoin - Woody, 35g burns for 18 hours
A large candle with a single wick should burn a minimum of 2-3 hours to liquify the top layer of wax, and a good quality three wick candle will burn slower, as it takes longer for the wax to get hot enough to pool across the entire candle (even with the combined three wicks). Burning for more than four hours can cause soot and the wick may form a mushroom. Therefore, it is important to remember that this means not leaving the large candle burning unattended for 3+ hours. Because of this, I burn various sizes to suit my lifestyle, and it works out to be more cost effective.
I usually like to light a large candle late afternoon on days when I am not working. I have found burning one large candle is enough for me to enjoy the scent throughout my open-plan flat. On working days I burn small or narrow jar style candles, taper (dinner) candles, or scented tea lights, as they will form a wax pool to the edge within an hour or so. These are ideal at meal times, bath time, or during the evenings when I simply want to wind down.
(Malin + Goetz) glass jar candles are filled with a combination of bees, vegetable and soy wax. Cannabis - Spicy & Herbaceous, 260g burns for 60 hours, 67g burns for 25 hours.
Extinguishing the candle flame
Once the candle has formed a melt pool all the way to the edge of its container, extinguish the flame with a candle snuffer. The candles metal lid, a small expresso cup or an egg cup can be used as a snuffer. When you blow out a flame, it creates and spreads soot (tiny black ash particles), that get stuck in the wax and mark the container.
Candle burning problems
When a candle tunnels, it can become harder to light, it may have a small flame or the flame may go out (the melted wax pools into the burn ring surrounding the wick), it might not relight at all, or the wick is buried in the wax entirely.
If your candle is tunnelling and only burning straight down the middle, you need to reset the wax memory. You can do this by:
Space NK Candle Shimmering Spice - Spicy, 175g burns for 40 hours
If your candle has a buried or short wick (e.g. you accidentally cut it too much while trimming, or it broke off when handled), you can:
Always keep a watchful eye on a burning candle and follow the manufacturer’s burning warnings, or the container might shatter or break.
Find creative ways to recycle your used candle container. Glass, ceramic, and metal are food and drink safe. Stone and marble could be used as a planter, a bathroom bin, a makeup brush/toothbrush holder, or a pencil holder.
One of my favourite ways of recycling jar filled candles is using the empty jars to store cotton pads or cotton buds (swabs or q-tips) in... beats those horrid plastic containers any day!