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What Should I Know About Burning Candles?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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There are a few things to keep in mind while burning candles which will increase safety and make the experience generally more enjoyable. Candles can be burned for decorative or functional reasons, and many people enjoy burning candles to create an atmosphere around the house or at a special event. Candles do present a fire hazard, however, so they need to be handled with care.

When burning candles, it is important to trim the wicks. Longer wicks are more likely to create smoky candles, which are unpleasant. Trimming wicks should be done before burning a new candle, and after an old candle is extinguished and cooled, if the wick has gotten long. Wicks should be around one quarter inch (one sixth of a centimeter) long for maximum burning efficiency.

Candles should also always be burned in holders. Using a holder can catch dripping wax, preventing an unsightly mess, and it also protects the surface under the candle from stains and overheating. Most importantly, candle holders reduce the risk of fire. It is also a good idea to burn candles away from drafts and breezes. If a flame burns very irregularly and has a guttering appearance, it means that it is in a breeze, and it should be moved.

Candles should never be left unattended, because it takes only a few seconds for a fire to start. In a house with young children and pets, it is a good idea to burn candles up high, and on sturdy surfaces which cannot be knocked over. Candles should always be burned in an open area, and kept away from low shelves and ceilings, fabric, paper, and other flammable materials. In the case of scented candles, a large pool of wax needs to build up before the candle starts releasing scent, and the hot wax will continue to release the scent after the candle is extinguished, until it cools.

When burning candles, people should be aware that the wax gets extremely hot. Hot wax can cause burns instantly when it comes into contact with skin. Candles with large pools of wax should not be carried or moved, in case the wax spills, and when extinguishing candles, people should be cautious. Ideally, candles should be extinguished with a snuffer which is lowered over the flame, and if candles are blown out, people should blow in a direction which does not face other people, in case some wax spurts out.

Candles are especially popular in the holiday season, when people feel like they add cheer to a home. The holidays can also be a very dangerous time to burn candles, since many homes have more flammable items around, along with an influx of guests which often includes young children. It can be a good idea to use electric tapers instead of burning candles for holiday decorating, so that no one needs to worry about the fire hazard.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By SarahGen — On Apr 22, 2014

@bluedolphin-- Can you remove the candle from that holder or is it attached? If you can remove it, then just put it into another safe candle holder and use the candle that way. If it's attached, then you might want to contact the company and ask them if the holder is flammable.

I also do not think that they would use a flammable holder but you never know. Some candles are actually intended to be decoration and depending on the quality of the candle and the manufacturer, they might not be safe for various reasons. I think if you're not sure, it's best not to use that candle. I have seen some cheap candles inside holders that did not look very safe either.

By bluedolphin — On Apr 21, 2014

I was gifted a candle recently in a holder which appears to be made of wooden sticks. I don't know if I should use this candle or not because I suspect that the holder might be flammable. I don't understand why they would make a flammable candle holder though. There was nothing on the packaging about what the holder is made of. What should I do?

By stoneMason — On Apr 21, 2014

My roommate's cat once almost started a fire by knocking off a burning candle from the table. I'm not sure how he did it but he was playing and running around like crazy. He ran over the table very quickly and the next thing we know, the candle rolled down onto the carpet. The carpet almost caught fire. Aside from the house burning down, I was worried about the carpet getting damaged which would cause us to lose our deposit. Thankfully nothing happened but we learned our lesson.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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