Candles are a great addition to any home, they are warm, they offer beautiful light, and sometimes they even have a welcoming scent that fills any space. We use candles for all sorts of reasons from mild comfort to light in emergencies.
In any situation it can be less than ideal if the wick can’t keep a flame. Whether it means you don’t have that extra bit of light, or your relaxing evening is being spent lighting and relighting your candle, a flickering flame is a fault worth figuring out.
There are many reasons your wick might not be staying lit such as it is too short, or too long or too wide. Here we will look at how candles burn and what elements of a candle can ensure that it stays lit until you decide to blow it out.
How Do Candles Burn?
The part of a candle that burns, or the candle’s fuel is the wax. Though we light the wick, it is the wax that is burning. The wick assists by absorbing melted wax for the flame to burn. What the wick is made of affects how the candle burns, as the wick needs to be absorbent enough to suck up the melted wax. This is why wicks are typically made of cloth.
Candle wax, typically paraffin wax, is solid at room temperature and melts to a liquid form under the heat of the candle which the wick then absorbs to be burnt. If a candle has too much fragrance or the wrong kind of fragrance oil, the whole thing can go up in flames. This is why candles should never be left unsupervised and candle making requires a lot of know-how.
As much as the wax affects how a candle burns, the wick also plays a big part. If the wick is made of the wrong kind of material, that perhaps isn’t absorbent enough, it won’t stay lit. Similarly if the wick is too short, too long, or too thick, the wax can’t be absorbed properly and the candle will continue to go out.
What Does It Mean When Your Candle Won’t Stay Lit?
In the absolute worst case scenario, your candle won’t stay lit because the oxygen in your home is running out. In reality there are a myriad of factors that cause your candle to not stay lit.
One factor could be what your wick is made of. Most candle wicks are made of cotton twine, though in recent years we’ve been seeing more wood wick candles. I mean who can resist a candle that not only smells like a cozy fireplace but sounds like one too?
Wood wicks need to be trimmed just like cotton wicks do so the flame isn’t hopelessly trying to consume already charred materials.
If your wick is cotton, it also may be too long, too short, too thick, or too submerged in wax. All of these issues have to deal with the wick’s ability to absorb the melted wax properly. Wide wicks should be kept shorter so they are closer to the wax and don’t need to absorb as much to stay lit.
If your candle isn’t staying lit, the first thing you should investigate is the wick. Proper wick care is integral to candle ownership and candles burning properly, i.e. safely.
What Do You Do if Your Candle Wick Won’t Stay Lit?
If you have trimmed the wick properly and your candle still will not stay lit, there are a few tips you can try to keep it on.
This first tip is good for ensuring all future candles burn properly because it won’t do much to salvage an already burnt out candle. The first burn of every candle is so much more important that we realize. Why is that? Wax has memory, aptly called wax-memory. If you have ever noticed a candle that seems to melt lopsided everytime, that would be why.
When you burn your candle for the first time, you can assist the memory. That’s right, you can train your candle. You want the first burn to melt the wax all the way to the edges of its container. This can be done by creating a cone over the top of the candle with aluminum foil so that the heat is dispersed evenly.
If the wax isn’t melted evenly the first time, it will tunnel down into the candle leaving the edges of the wax unmelted. When this happens, it is very hard for a wick to stay lit because there isn’t a strong enough flow of oxygen to keep the flame going so the flame will continue to extinguish.
Another way to fix a candle that won’t stay lit is to make sure you keep the wick trimmed so the flame isn’t consuming already burnt materials. You wouldn’t want to eat food that you had already digested, and fire doesn’t want to consume fuel it has already burned.
A wick should also be kept short so the wax can burn in a continuous stream and the wick doesn’t have to work so hard to keep absorbing enough to fuel the flame.
Wicks can also, unfortunately, drown. This is what happens when the wick tunnels down into the candle and cannot get enough oxygen. This can be helped again with a aluminum foil cone to even out the burn, or by using a paper towel to absorb some excess melted wax. If you use a paper towel, please do so when the candle is not lit.
Thankfully a candle that extinguishes on its own or doesn’t stay lit is no reason to call an exorcist. There are many natural reasons candles don’t stay lit on their own. But if you can learn the science behind why candles burn and stay lit, then it becomes easier to address the problem and fix it.
We now know that a candle wick absorbs melted wax through either a cotton or wood wick which the fire consumes to stay lit. Fire also requires oxygen to survive. Therefore the two biggest problems that cause a candle to go out on its own is either that it cannot absorb wax at the rate at which it burns, or the flame consumes more oxygen than it is receiving.
Prevention here is key, making sure you keep your wick trimmed so it can absorb melted wax and making sure the wax burns evenly across the whole candle will keep the flame alive until you decide to extinguish it. We won’t be having candles with a mind of their own, even if they do have wax-memory.