Everything You Thought You Knew About Burning Candles Is Wrong

I consider myself something of a candle connoisseur. I’ve smelled a ton over the years and lit plenty, from Diptyque to Yankee and everything in between. Tapers, votives, you name it—there’s some kind of candle in practically every room of my home. But I’ve never given much thought to my burning technique, that is, until a recent trip to Nashville, Tennessee. Turns out the country music capital also knows a thing or two about getting (candles) lit.

Paddywax, a candle manufacturer that makes a bunch of cute styles you’ve probably seen at stores like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, is headquartered down in Nashville, and their employees hand-pour about 10,000 candles a day in their factory. That’s a lot of wax, people! They’ve also recently opened two retail locations of The Candle Bar, a boutique-meets-workshop concept where, after choosing a vessel and scent, you can pour your own custom candle. Maybe it’s not as legendary as the Opry, but The Candle Bar is a cool place to visit should you find yourself in town. While sipping on BYOB rosé and hanging with friends, I took their candle-making class and got schooled on all things candle burning by store manager Kelly Heyen. I’ve never met anyone who knew more about candles. Turns out you’re probably lighting yours (and doing a whole bunch of other things) wrong. I was. So if you want to get the most burn for your buck, read on for the common mistakes Heyen sees over and over.

1. Not Choosing Your Candle Wisely

According to Heyen, candles burn roughly five to seven hours per ounce. So the bigger the candle, the longer the burn time. But what you probably didn’t know—and honestly, it seems counterintuitive—is that a three wick candle in the same exact vessel as a one wick candle will burn slower—not faster. “Three wicks will actually extend the life of a candle because rather than tunneling straight down the center of the candle (near the one wick) when lit, the wax gets hot enough (from the three flames) to actually pool across the entire candle,” says Heyen. This way, you’re using every bit of wax in the vessel as you burn it. If you’re worried at all about indoor air quality, soy wax with an essential oil-based fragrance will give you the cleanest burn. “Paddywax actually blends their soy with a food-grade paraffin wax, which has a higher melting point,” says Heyen. “When you add paraffin to the mix, the candle is going to have to burn hotter to melt at all, which leads to a longer, cleaner and more even burn that’s going to make the fragrance as strong as possible.” Noted. Next time you’re shopping for candles, a larger style in a soy-paraffin wax blend with three wicks is probably your best bet.

2. Only Trimming Your Wick Once

“Trim the wick to 1/4-inch each time before burning to prevent your candle from smoking a lot and creating soot marks on your container,” says Heyen. In fact, Heyen says long or crooked wicks can actually cause uneven burning, dripping, or flaring. The good news is you can use regular scissors or a nail clipper to make cuts. No need for a dedicated wick trimmer, but I will say one looks pretty cute on a coffee table, next to a candle and matchbook. And the flat tip design, as Heyen points out, isn’t useless. It provides a surface for the piece of old wick to sit on while trimming, which prevents little soot specks from getting stuck in your candle. Remember to always trim the wick when the wax is fully dry.

3. Not Burning Your Candle Long Enough the First Time

If you want your candle to burn evenly and last as long as possible, you have to light it for about 3 to 4 hours the first time you burn it. “We say that wax has a muscle memory, and it’s going to burn in the same pattern every time,” says Heyen. “So if you light it for long enough the first time, that will ensure that your candle pools completely across all of the wax, setting it up to continue to do so with each subsequent burn.” Otherwise, tunneling, where the wick burns straight down the center of a candle without creating a full melt pool, can occur. Once your candle starts tunneling, you’re losing all that peripheral wax surface area for future burns.

4. Giving Up on an Improperly Burned Candle

Yeah, you read that right. Heyen says you have a couple of options to bring a slightly tunneled candle back to life. You can use a hair dryer on low to even out the wax surface or pop the candle in an oven at 175 degrees for about 5 minutes. These two actions will melt the wax, so that it’s smooth and level across the top again. Scoop out any wax that flows over the wick.

5. Not Watching Your Burn Time

Heyen recommends not burning your candle for longer than four to six hours at a time. “You want to prevent your candle from overheating,” Heyen says. “If you let the whole candle get liquid, the wick or wicks can float to the side, and it’s going to burn unevenly after that,” she says. Always keep a lit candle within your sight.

6. Blowing Out Your Candles

Seriously. I thought snuffers were another marketing ploy, but when you blow out a flame, it actually creates and spreads those little annoying black ash particles that get stuck in the wax. You don’t have to buy a snuffer though. Just get a candle with a lid, and it’ll smother the flame in the same way. Plus, a top keeps dust and dirt out. Best to let the candle cool completely before touching or moving it as well.

7. Not Reusing Your Vessels

All of Paddywax’s candles are designed to be upcycled, and that’s the case with many other manufacturers as well. Ceramic, metal, and glass are food-and drink-safe, but concrete is better as, say, a planter, a makeup brush holder, or a pencil cup.

Hopefully, you learned a little something here about candle burning. And if you’re in Nashville, go pour a candle. It’s $35 bucks and a pretty good time. Plus, you get a custom candle out of it.

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