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Why Doesn't My Candle Burn Correctly?

Updated on November 8, 2016

Many Lit Candles

Candle Problems and Possible Solutions

We’ve all had them, candles that just didn’t burn right and the mysterious reasons that cause this. We’ll take a look at the reasons this can happen as well as exploring possible solutions. It is such a frustrating problem, because candles are such an effective way to add sensory beauty to a home, and a person has spent their hard earned dollars on that candle.

There are many reasons why a candle doesn’t burn correctly. The general rule of thumb for a properly burning candle is it should take one hour of burn time per inch of diameter of the candle. For example; if you have a candle that’s three inches across the top, it should take three hours to reach a full melt pool.

Below we’ll explore common problems.

Problem - Candle Tunnels Straight Down

What this looks like is the candle reaches only a small melt pool then instead of burning across in width of the candle to reach a full melt pool, it starts “tunneling” straight down. Probably the most common reason tunneling happens is operator error. What this means is you light a candle a burn it for a little while and then extinguish it, never letting it reach its full melt pool.

Remember the example above? That three-inch in diameter candle needs to burn for three hours at a minimum! The first burn is especially important as wax has some degree of “memory” in that it will tend to follow the pattern of the first burn.

The other reason tunneling can happen is that there were air pockets left when the candle cooled near the wick.

Problem - Wick Drowns Out

What happens with this problem is acandleburns for a little while (time varies) and then just goes out on its own. The one problem that can be operator error is if a wick is cut too short. However, the main reason for wicks drowning is the candle itself was wicked with a wick too small and this is a manufacturer issue.

One thing you can try if a wick drowns is to take a lighter and melt the wax right around the wick and try to pour that out, thus trying to make more room for the wick. Only a few candles will respond to this however; mainly the instance where the wick is cut too short.

Problem - Flame Gets Too High and Too Hot

This problem is just as it sounds. There are usually two causes for this problem, one that the candle was made with a wick too large. The only thing you can try on this is keeping the wick trimmed pretty short very consistently. The other problem is that you’ve let the candle burn too long without trimming the wick.

Problem - Candle is Smoking

Several reasons this can happen, one is that there is a draft in the room. Burn the candle only in non-drafty areas. The second and most common reason is that wicks haven’t been trimmed properly. The third reason is that the candle may have too much dye or some fragrance oils just tend to smoke, usually with very good quality scents, this doesn’t happen.

So, what is the proper way to burn a candle?

Of course, safety is number one, keep debris out of the candle and melt pool, make sure there’s no flammable objects near the candle and keep it out of drafts. Be sure to trim your wick beforeeveryburn, you’ll want to trim to about ¼ inch. Scissors or toenail clippers work great for this.

Be sure to burn for the minimum amounts of time. A candle 3 inches in diameter needs to burn at least 3 hours. If you wick starts getting too long or flame too high or the wick starts to look like a mushroom on top, extinguish it, trim it and relight.

Some of the above problems come from a poorly made candle. In many cases burning properly will overcome the problem, but not always. In the worst case scenario when you can’t get it to burn correctly, sometimes the best way to salvage it without just tossing it out, is to use a candle warmer. That’s an electric container that you can put your candle on and it melts the wax and the fragrance escapes that way, or simply putting in a pan of water on the stove on a very low simmer. Know that to use them this way, the wax will never disappear, when the scent is all gone, then it’s time to throw it out.

Sometimes it’s reassuring to know that you’re doing everything correctly to make sure your candles burn right and sometimes they were simply poorly made.


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