A Current Affair recently published a story titled Candle Warning that had all of the customary fear mongering flair that its brand has become synonymous with. The subject — exploding glass candles and how they’re a danger to your home. Three minutes of concerned mothers, hidden video cameras and a few tips on how to avoid burning your house down and you have yourself some glorious Facebook clickbait.
I worked for a candle company for a number of years and I can confirm that candle explosions are quite a legitimate problem. I can also attest that most of the time these incidents occur due to a lack of education or common sense. Here’s the thing, scented candles are a lovely luxury but they still involve fire; something that is always potential danger when you’re not careful.
The good news is that there are ways to help tame your candles through some simple safety practises. Here are some (mostly) foolproof tips:
Trim the wicks: Trimming the wicks before every use stops candles from burning too hot — this not only increases the overall burn time (which is better value for money) but is also important for safety. Leaving them long can allow parts of the wick to fall into the hot wax and act as a second ignition point, resulting in a wax pool fire or a container explosion.
I would recommend proper wick trimmers but a pair of scissors will do in a pinch
Set the wax memory: Wax wants to be told how to behave. The first time you burn any container candle, make sure it hits the edge of the glass before you extinguish it. If you do it too soon the wax won’t melt past that same point on subsequent burns.
This tip is particularly important with pillar candles. With decent quality pillars you’ll notice a ring indentation just before the edge of the candle itself. When burning you will want to extinguish the candle once it hits that ring so you get a wall of wax on all future burns. Failing to do this can result in the candle dripping or even collapsing.
Don’t burn for too long: Most candles should have a recommended burn time; usually 2-3 hours. I highly recommend using common sense though. Smaller candles should be burned for less time. If you can see that the wax pool is getting deep, extinguish the candle. No amount of quality glass or ceramics can hold up against pure science – the longer that fire burns within a contained space the hotter it is going to get.
Don’t burn until the end: Container candles should never been burnt more than 10mm from the bottom. Doing so decreases the wax buffer and increases the risk that the wick will lean over against the container and potentially create a weak spot.
Light all the wicks: If you have a multi wick candle, make sure you use all of them. Failing to do so not only wastes your wax, it creates an uneven burn. This can result in the wicks drowning or leaning against the glass.
Use a Plate: Plates aren’t just a pretty accessories, they actually protect delicate and flammable surfaces from pillar drippings and the bottom of container candles if they have been burnt too long or to the end.
Give it space: If you’re burning a pillar candle inside a glass vessel (such as a lantern, hurricane or vase) it is imperative that you give it room to breathe. The general rule of thumb is to have 70% space to 30% candle. Even if a larger candle will fit into the space – don’t do it. The bigger the candle the faster the container will heat up. If it’s too hot it can make the candle melt into a hideous blob or, worst case scenario, weaken the glass enough to make it shatter.
Avoid Clustering: Clustering too many container candles together may look aesthetically pleasing, but it’s a bad idea. Clustering minimises the air flow and, like many of the tips above, means that the candles heat up too quickly and compromise the structural integrity of the glass or ceramics.
Never leave unattended: Under no circumstances should you leave a candle burning unattended. It may seem fine to burn a small jar in your bathroom, but again… it’s fire. If you want a low maintenance fragrance option for your home invest in a diffuser or a set of oil reeds.
Use a snuffer: Candle snuffers aren’t just for fancy Victorians, they actually have a practical use! Blowing out a candle not only creates unpleasant, smelly clouds of black smoke, it can also spray hot wax around and blow wick debris into the pool. This may cause potential problems on subsequent burns if they spark one of the aforementioned second ignition points.