DIY Skills & Techniques

You’re Probably Burning Candles Wrong—Here’s How to Do it Safely

From lighting a candle with a match to putting it out with your breath, learn what to avoid and what to do instead.
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Woman holding lit white candle in hands.
Photo: istockphoto.com

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Candles are one of the easiest and more affordable ways to add a sense of luxury and tranquility to a space. Decorating with candles helps make a room feel calm and cozy with attractive scents, soothing flames, and often pops of color. There are endless choices, including votives, pillars, tealights, container and jar candles, floating candles, novelty candles, and more.

While many people continue to enjoy candles, not everyone knows how to light and care for these common home décor items correctly. And because they come with a fire safety hazard, it’s critical to know how to handle a candle. In fact, about 20 home fires per day start with a lit candle, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Keep reading to learn the do’s and don’ts of candle safety and care.

DO trim the wick before lighting the candle.

Woman trimming candle wick.
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An important step that many people forget involves trimming the wick before lighting the candle. “Before lighting each candle, always remember to trim the wick down to ¼ inch,” advises Tram Nguyen, founder of Living Good Candle Co. “This step is crucial, as longer wicks can create smoke and reduce the burning time.”

If the wick is broken or too long, the flame can grow too big, flare, and produce soot and smoke. Trimming the wick also helps the candle last longer. The National Candle Association recommends using a wick trimmer, nail clippers, or scissors to trim the wick effectively.

DON’T place the candle where air is flowing.

Two candles by windowsill and one blown out.
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A drafty room can put a real damper on the candle glowing experience. To help make a candle last longer, be sure that air is not flowing near the flame. A draft can lead to uneven burning, sooting, excessive dripping, or putting out the flame altogether.

“Airflow can cause the flame to become more volatile and potentially harmful to the air and surrounding space if there are flammables,” explains Selise Rivera, founder and CEO of Selise Studios. “It can also cause tunneling or uneven burning, which makes your candle more difficult to relight and maintain.”

Avoid leaving burning candles near an air vent, fan, air conditioner, door, or window where air can seep through. Heavily trafficked areas are also problematic, as air movement can result from people walking near the flame.

RELATED: Solved! What Does a Candle in the Window Mean?

DO opt for a candle lighter.

A person lighting a candle using a long candle lighter for candle safety.
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The safest and most effective way to light a candle is with a specialized candle lighter—not a match or cigarette lighter. The best candle lighters prevent people’s hands from accidentally touching the candle fire and are typically between 7 and 14 inches long. Choose one that has a long, flexible neck to bend when lighting wicks that are hard to reach. Some models contain a safety lock to prevent children from lighting a fire.

There are many types that come in varying sizes and designs, and some use lighter fluid while more modern ones are electric. To use a candle lighter properly, position the tip about an inch away from the wick. Then press the trigger or release the safety lock and keep the flame near the wick until it ignites.

DON’T burn the candle all the way down.

Candle burned very low with high flame.
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Ever wonder how long to burn a candle? Nguyen says it’s best to not burn the candle for more than 4 hours. “Ideally, aim for a duration of around 2 to 4 hours to ensure the candle’s top layer melts and pools to the edge.” This helps prevent a “mushroom” effect in which the wick will then become unstable and produce a dangerously large flame that can smoke and release soot. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines on the candle warning labels for specifics about the maximum burn time for the product.

It’s also imperative to not burn the candle all the way down. The National Fire Protection Association recommends putting the candle out before it gets too close to the holder or container. Stop burning a candle when half an inch of wax remains in the container or 2 inches remains if using a pillar candle.

RELATED: How to Get Candle Wax Out of a Jar: 4 Effective Methods

DO choose a safe location for lit candles.

Lit candle on candle tray.
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If a candle is not placed in an opportune location in the home, it can lead to problems. “Make sure to put your candle in a clear spot on a flat surface like a table, with no fabric nearby in case a flicker sparks off of a wick,” recommends Lora Bovie, owner of Clean Earth Candles. It is also wise to avoid placing a candle in an enclosed area, such as a bookcase since it can leave soot on the surface above where the candle is burning.

She also advises, “A good rule of thumb with candles is to not put them in a place where they can get easily knocked over, like a wobbly table or a coffee table during a gathering.” For safe candle burning, it’s also a good idea to invest in a candle tray or coaster to catch any ash or wax drippings.

DON’T keep burning a candle that is flickering or smoking.

Candle flame smoking.
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The National Candle Association warns against burning a candle if it is constantly flickering or forming wisps of smoke in the room. When a candle is showing these signs, put it out right away. Flickering and smoking often results when the teardrop shape of the flame is disturbed due to drafts or strong air currents. When this happens, soot forms and creates smoke. Be sure to only light candles in well-ventilated areas to prevent this from happening.

DO use a candle snuffer to extinguish the flame.

Candle snuffer extinguishing candle flame.
Photo: amazon.com

While many people simply blow out a candle, the best way to extinguish the flame is by using a candle snuffer (also called a candle extinguisher or douter). Dating back to the 17th century, this tool consists of a small cone at the end of a handle that puts out a flame by cutting off oxygen to it.

According to the National Candle Association, using a candle snuffer is the safest way to put out a candle since it helps prevent hot wax from splattering and potentially burning the person trying to blow it out. Rivera notes, “A snuffer reduces the soot and carbon emission when the flame goes out and results in a more consistent and manageable wick.” Finally, it is critical to never use water to put out a candle.

DON’T buy candles loaded with chemicals.

Three handmade natural beeswax candles.
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To avoid dangers of scented candles like allergies and poor indoor air quality, do not burn toxic candles that contain harmful chemicals. Safe candles do not contain paraffin, phthalates, parabens, synthetic dyes, or lead wicks.

Nguyen shares how to know what are safe candles to burn: “Opt for natural wax varieties, especially those made from beeswax and certified nontoxic beeswax candles known for their cleaner burning and air-purifying properties.” Read the label and check the manufacturer’s website to ensure that the candle contains 100 percent pure ingredients.

RELATED: 20 Candle Scents to Make the Inside of Your House Smell Like a Spring Garden

DO follow instructions for properly removing wax drippings.

Candle with many wax drippings on side.
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Even if the candle was lit according to all the instructions, there is no avoiding the wax drippings that can cause an unsightly and annoying mess. Fortunately, wax can easily be removed. But there is a right way and wrong way to clean up after a burning candle.

The National Candle Association warns against ever using a knife or sharp object to remove wax drippings since it could scratch or break the candle holder or surface it is resting on and potentially cause an injury. Depending on the type of surface the wax dripped on, there are a number of options to remove it, such as using boiling water, ice, vinegar, a hair blow dryer, or an iron.

RELATED: 20 New Uses for Old Candles

DON’T forget about key safety rules to avoid a fire.

White cat laying near lit candles.
Photo: istockphoto.com

Although burning candles can create a calming ambiance, they can also lead to a disaster at home if safety tips are ignored. Some people may choose flameless candles like this highly rated scented option available at Amazon, to avoid the risk, but here are some safety rules to keep in mind when enjoying an open flame:

  • Never leave a burning candle unattended.
  • Never fall asleep while bedroom candles are burning since bedding and mattresses can easily catch fire.
  • Keep candles at least 1 foot away from flammable items, such as hair, clothing, books, paper, furniture, drapes, bedding, carpets, flammable decorations, etc.
  • Place candles out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Do not place lighted candles where they can be easily knocked over.
  • Never touch or move a candle while it is burning or while the wax is liquefied.