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Why do candles smoke, burn unevenly down the middle, and differ so much in cost?

“There is no better, there is no more open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy, than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle. I trust, therefore, I shall not disappoint you in choosing this for my subject rather than any newer topic, which could not be better, were it even so good.”  THE CHEMICAL HISTORY OF A CANDLE A COURSE OF LECTURES DELIVERED BEFORE A JUVENILE AUDIENCE AT THE ROYAL INSTITUTION BY MICHAEL FARADAY, D.C.L., F.R.S. 1908

 In 1860, Michael Faraday gave his now-famous lecture series on the Chemical History of a Candle, demonstrating dozens of scientific principles through his careful observations of a burning candle.

151 years ago candles were the main light source and everyone was compelled to use them or be stuck in the dark. So why, even though we have light bulbs and the convenience and safety of electric light do we still love candles so much? Did you know :


  • Candles are used in 7 out of 10 U.S. households.
  • Manufacturer surveys show that 90% of all candles are purchased by women.
  • Votives, container candles and pillars are currently the most popular types of candles with American consumers.
  • Candle industry research indicates that the most important factors affecting candle sales are scent, color, cost and shape.
  • More than 1 billion pounds of wax are used in producing the candles sold each year in the U.S.
  • It is estimated that more than 10,000 different candle scents are available to U.S. consumers.

Do your candles smoke? 

Constant flickering and smoking occur when the teardrop shape of the flame is disturbed. This allows small amounts of unburned carbon particles (soot) to escape from the flame as a visible wisp of smoke.

If too much (or too little) air reaches the candle flame, it will disturb the flame’s teardrop shape, causing it to soot. To avoid this, always burn your candles in a well-ventilated room, away from drafts, vents or strong air currents.

 Do your candles burn unevenly down the middle?

The rule of thumb when burning candles is to allow a minimum amount of one hour per inch burning time as the candle needs to burn long enough that the melted hot wax extends practically the full diameter of the candle. Doing so on the first initial burn is crucial to assure a uniform burning “pattern”. On the other hand burning a pillar candle for too long may cause the walls of the candle to become misshapen and if the pool of liquid wax is allowed to continue to grow it can melt a hole through the the sidewall of a candle, causing wax to run down the outside of the candle. This isn’t an issue with a jar candle or a votive. If your pillar candle is not burning roundly, just hug it in with your hands and it will right itself. Be sure to keep your wick trimmed to 1/4 inch!

Are expensive candles worth the money?

Candles made of beeswax burn more cleanly and release fewer chemicals than petroleum-based paraffin waxes. Highly refined paraffin wax, however, can burn as cleanly as natural waxes, creating fewer particulates during combustion than synthetic candles.The type of wick and inclusion of any scents and/or dyes have a much greater impact on the release of compounds, particulates, and smoke, regardless of the base material. The cleanest burning candle will be well-constructed, unscented, undyed, and burn in a draft-free area. Candles will burn well when formulated waxes are blended together (soy, paraffin and other waxes.)

Are some candles better for the environment?

There are differing opinions about which kind of wax in a candle is best for the environment. Proponents of the soy wax candle note that the material is biodegradable.  Paraffin wax, as used in candle making, is also biodegradable. It also often meets the United States Food and Drug Administration criteria for use in foods and food contact. Natural waxes have a neutral carbon footprint as carbon dioxide was removed from the air to produce the natural wax, which upon burning would not result in a net increase in carbon dioxide. Maybe this is important to you, if so, you need to check your labels!


Want to make your own candles?

Here is a link to a candle making DIY video.


Link to scent mixing





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