Candle Safety Guide
Treasury of Candles
Despite their ancient origins, candles contribute to modern life in many ways. The surging popularity of candles has fuelled a growing and diverse industry that produces candles in many shapes and colours using a variety of materials. Once primarily used as a light source, candles now fill many roles and perform various functions.
The scent of the right candle can make a room smell better, invoke relaxation or set the stage for romance. Candlelight can dramatically change the look and feel of an ordinary room and set the stage for an extraordinary experience. From the practical to the spiritual, candles are woven into modern society.
Regardless of whether you use candles in your home or give them away as gifts, candles can affect the way you look and feel as well as how other people feel about you. This guide will supply you with a brief history of candles as well as important guidelines that you can follow to make your home and your life better.
Chapter 1: Candles Throughout History
Reflecting on the marvels of modern technology might not lead you to think about candles. After all, candles are old fashioned and have taken the same basic shape for thousands of years. Despite the similarities of modern candles to their ancient counterparts, however, many differences exist. The dazzling array of colours and scents have only recently emerged and affected the way we think about and use candles. Similarly, modern technology can now produce candles in amazing shapes and package them in ways that make them appealing as gifts.
You might not buy a candle today for the same reason that people had to make them thousands of years ago; after all, flipping a light switch seems faster and more convenient when you need to light a room. Still, no technology can replace the shadows cast by a flickering candle or the calming effect of dancing silhouettes and relaxing aromas. The many centuries that lie between the invention of the first candle and the candles that can now enhance the decor of every room in your house tell an incredible story.
A compilation of all the details known about the history would probably require the publication of numerous volumes. Fortunately, you can get a taste of the intrigue that has guided the development of the candle right here. When you understand the time and effort that people through the centuries have invested in producing candles and putting them to use, you will have a renewed appreciation for the candles that you now enjoy by yourself and with others.
Historical Origin of Candles
As early as the year 200 BC, the Chinese were making candles from fat taken from whales, using rice-paper wicks. At about the same time in India, people were making candles from the residue created by boiling cinnamon. Such practices dominated the industry until about 40 BC when beeswax became popular, which was used until candlemakers began creating candles out of synthetic materials.
An interesting method of candle making was using a type of fish called eulachon, also known as the “saviour fish” during the first century AD. The eulachon spawned in the rivers of British Columbia during the winter and were a vital food source. The dried meat from the fish, however, was very oily and burned like a candle, giving the nearby population a source for light. During that time, Europe began using discarded fat from cooking to make candles.
After the demise of the Roman Empire, many Europeans began using tallow. They used animal fat because lamp oil was in short supply. Tallow candles smelled bad as they burned. As a result, candlemakers began using a waxy product from sperm whales called spermaceti as well as oils taken from other types of whale. The evolution of candles took another step forward after settlers from Europe landed in North America. They used boiled bayberries to make candles that smelled sweet.
The evolution of lighting got a boost by 1800 when the French began measuring intensity of light based on the output of a cartel lamp burning rapeseed oil. The standard gave people a way to evaluate and compare a variety of light sources. By the middle of the century, paraffin wax was invented by James Young from Scotland. The refined substance burned clearly and produced no odour. Also, the low cost of paraffin allowed the mass production of candles, making them affordable to a growing percentage of the population.
Perhaps the greatest candle innovation since the advent of paraffin wax emerged in the mid-1980s, when scented and coloured candles became popular. The candles contributed to decor and became popular for gift giving. During the 1990s, soybean wax became popular because it burned more slowly and with a softer light than paraffin wax. Nowadays, candles made from vegetable, palm and gel waxes are available, giving consumers more choices than ever before.
As the composition of candles evolved, so did the wicks. The rice-paper wicks used by the Chinese gave way to the hemp and flax wicks used by the Romans. Still, the twisted fibres required much maintenance and burned poorly, making candles difficult to use. During the 1800s, however, the use of candles with braided wicks became popular because they were reliable and completely consumable.
Nowadays, you will probably never use a candle for essential lighting, except as a last resort during a power outage. Instead, you control when and how you use candles. Regardless of whether you use them as part of your religious practice, for your cognitive well-being or to evoke a desired set of emotions, you will recognize why candles have such a strong appeal that they will liven and brighten the lives of innumerable future generations.
The Purpose of Candles Throughout History
Although candles were first invented to provide illumination, they have almost always filled secondary roles. Throughout history, for example, candles have had symbolic roles, they have been associated with spiritual enlightenment and used by many religions as part of rituals, ceremonies and celebrations. For a long time, candles have also been associated with enlightened philosophers and educators.
Monarchies of the Middle Ages made candles a social and economic status symbol long before modern production techniques made candles almost universally available. During that period, beeswax candles were expensive luxuries that only royalty and other affluent people could afford.
Candles have also been used to measure time. King Alfred the Great of the Anglo-Saxons used candles as a primitive timer. He would place a ring on a candle, a certain distance below the flame and would occupy himself with one thing until the candle burned to the level of the ring. After that, he would embark on a different task. Alfred the Great’s practice led to the definition of the candle-hour as a unit of time.
Modern candles share the same fundamental concept and design as the first candles that emerged in China and India thousands of years ago. Throughout history, however, the composition of candles varied based on the availability of materials and human ingenuity. Candles also accumulated added significance over time as they evolved from a primitive source of light to achieve emotional, spiritual and economic significance.
Electricity has reduced human reliance on candles for light in many parts of the world. Still, candles live on and remain integrated into modern society. From the mystique of candlelit dinners to scented evenings that revitalize the mind, candles have many uses that assure their future relevance.
Candles are commonly found on birthday cakes when people commemorate every year of their life. The tradition of making a wish while blowing out candles, however, is only one reason why so many people are fond of such an ancient device. Candles are also popular decorations during the holidays and are often given as holiday and house-warming gifts.
New uses for candles that are infused with various colours and scents have made them useful as tools to welcome guests, promote romance and reduce stress. Despite their ancient roots, candles now contribute to the environment of practically every home. Now that you understand the basics of candle history, you will appreciate learning about the basic elements of candles and how to use them.
Chapter 2: Candle Basics
Buying a new candle for your home or office will excite you, especially when you discover the available dazzling array of products. As you shop, however, you should know some basic facts about candles that will help you make a good buying decision. This chapter will equip you with enough knowledge to enjoy and love every experience that you have with candles.
Candle manufacturers most often include instructions with their products, so always read the labels on your candles as well as other accompanying information. Even if you already understand fire safety, refreshing your mind will help you avoid careless mistakes that can result in burns to your skin or fire. Also, remember that the special composition and other characteristics of some candles require special handling.
Always inspect the candles you buy for warning labels, instructional inserts and other material that can help you get the most enjoyment from them. You should become familiar with the following common guidelines and precautions to prepare yourself in case you have candles that did not come with any instructions.
Always stay within eyesight of a burning candle. Never leave burning candles unattended. If you forget that you have a burning candle in a room and leave, it can possibly burn down to nothing and cause its holder to melt. Also, if children or pets are in the room, they can topple your candle and cause a fire.
Keep combustible materials such as fuels and paper away from candles (use your candles in places where combustibles are absent). If, for example, you have a birthday party during which you are burning either decorative candles or birthday candles, make sure to keep wrapping paper, napkins and party favours far from candles to avoid the fire risks. Always extinguish candles if flammable materials come near them.
Keep children away from burning candles. Also, keep candles away from small children who might try to bite or chew them. Get prompt medical attention for any burns on a child or pet. In the case of a candle being chewed, call either the Poison Control Centre first or directly seek assistance from a healthcare professional.
Because of your familiarity with candles, you might perceive instructions and cautions from candle manufacturers to be superfluous or elementary. The instructions provided, however, are there to inform you of general handling practices as well as of any special requirements of the candles that you buy. Maintaining a high level of awareness regarding your use of candles will help you safely enjoy them while minimizing the chance of injury or property loss.
Candles have expandable lives, so knowing how frequently you can burn a candle and the duration of each burn can help you optimize the enjoyment you get from it. The following parameters affect candle life and can, therefore, guide your buying choices.
Size. Wide candles will burn for a longer time than thin candles. The birthday candles that you might put on a cake are usually thin, because they do not need to burn for a long time. For lengthy holiday parties and other extended events, you might want to use wide candles to maintain your desired atmosphere without any needless interruptions.
Shape. Often, your choice of interior design or candle holder can influence your selection of candle shapes. If your room features modern angles, for example, you might want to use a square or rectangular candle to carry them. However, squares and other odd shapes of candles burn more unevenly than candles that are round. In other words, round candles are the most efficient shape, because they waste the least amount of wax.
Wicks. A candle will last longer when the wick is short. Also, long wicks cause flickering, smoke and uneven heating. Keep the wick on your candles trimmed to about 6 mm before lighting them. Avoid trimming the wick on a new candle to ensure that it can produce enough heat to melt the wax from edge to edge.
Composition. Different types of candle wax have different burn times. Also, the colour and scent components of candles can affect candle life. Beeswax and soybean oil not only burn longer than other materials, but they are environmentally safe because they do not contain petroleum-derived paraffin which is used in the production of many candles.
Location. Candles burn faster in places where they get a lot of oxygen, such as places where fans and HVAC vents cause breezes. In the middle of crowded rooms, however, candles burn slowly because of a reduced supply of available oxygen.
Storage. Keep your candles in dark, dry cabinets or drawers to preserve their colours and prevent them from either cracking or melting. Make sure to store your candles vertically, to help keep them from warping over time. In addition to that, they should be covered with a cloth or something similar in order to keep them dust-free. Some people store their candles in the refrigerator, but doing so extends their life by a small amount that hardly justifies the use of the space.
Choosing New Candles
Square or rectangular candles can offer aesthetic value, but they burn unevenly. You should thus avoid them in the absence of a particular design requirement. As you shop, you might see attractive candle arrangements, but exercise caution when buying because such products often have flammable or breakable components that require careful handling and use.
You have probably seen or used novelty candles such as the ones in the shape of foods or objects, e.g. Jack O’ Lanterns. Use the above guidelines to get an appropriate shape and composition for every one of your applications that require candles. Also, be sure to read the instructions that come with your candles to make sure they are appropriate for your special use.
Inspecting Used Candles
Take some basic precautions before lighting a candle. For example, you should measure the wick to make sure it is between 3-6mm long. Also, consider how much wax remains in your candle. If your candle burns down to nothing, it can melt or ignite its holder or container, causing a mess and a possible safety hazard. Discard your candles after burning 90-percent of the wax to avoid such unexpected problems.
If you burn candles in a glass container or jar, inspect the glass to make sure that it is not cracked or chipped. If you use a candle inside damaged glass, the heat can cause the glass to fracture or shatter. Also, in the case of blackened glass, clean it first with a paper towel before lighting your candle. If you have been burning a candle in the glass, be sure to allow the glass to cool before trying to wipe off the soot.
Concise Candle Safety Rules
Apply all the above information when you light your next candle. Also, make sure you share general candle safety tips with your entire household. When lighting candles that have unique instructions, make sure you also communicate the information to avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary damage to your candles and other property.
Keep your candles stored where children and pets cannot reach them. Children can chew on candles, resulting in a medical emergency or damage them by using them as toys. Similarly, pets can unwittingly chew on candles and, as a result, require an emergency veterinarian visit.
Mishandling matches and lighters can cause severe burns, so you or another adult should always light your candles. Always stay in the same room as your lit candles, so you can prevent curious children from playing with them and getting hurt or causing accidental fires. Finally, always have a bowl of cold water handy while burning candles or stand near a functioning faucet, in case you get melted wax on your hand. If this happens, immediately submerge the affected area until the wax cools.
You now have learned a lot about the basics for using and handling candles. Always keep this information on your mind as you shop for candles, so that you can create the best possible experience for you, your household and your guests. As you continue to read, you will enjoy an in-depth review of candle safety followed by the best ways to burn and extinguish candles.
Chapter 3: Candle Safety
Now that you have bought a new candle, what should you do with it? You must always remember that an open flame can present a safety hazard, regardless of its environment. With this in mind, you will develop safe candle habits that will ensure your enjoyment of every candle that you own.
Get started by disposing of all the packaging that came with your new candle. Doing so will quickly eliminate a fire hazard. You should, of course, read all the labels and instructions that came with the candle before taking this step. Next, use the following information to help you create a safe environment for your candles and inspect them to make sure that you can use them safely.
Carefully consider the environment of any candle before placing or using it. Doing so will maximize the level of both safety and your enjoyment. One of the most important parts of the candle environment is the object directly connected to the candle. When shopping for containers and holders, the most attractive ones that fit your decor might not be the most appropriate. Always use candle containers that are made of non-flammable materials. The size of your candleholders should be sufficient to collect molten wax and resist overturning.
The most important factor in an environment where a candle is introduced is -- you. You have a responsibility to keep watch over your candles and everything in their close proximity. If you fail to stay within sight of a burning candle, you put yourself, your loved ones and your property at risk. Children can knock over candles while running past them. The same or similar accident can occur due to a gust of wind or even a careless adult. Also, a candle can burn out completely and cause unpleasant repercussions. Heat from a burning candle can cause containers to break or shatter, causing dangerous conditions for people and pets.
Taking these guidelines seriously and acting accordingly, you can minimize the chance of having a mishap. You must, therefore, consider the placement of every candle before you light it. Although you want to enjoy your candles and have them on display for your guests, take some simple precautions. Staying within eyesight range of your candles gives you the ability to quickly respond in case their environment changes or an accident occurs. Simple actions such as guiding children playing and pets away from areas where candles are burning can proactively keep your home and guests safe.
The heat given off by a candle and the height of its flame may vary, depending on the type of candle used and its placement in the chosen environment. You should, for example, place candles in tidy, open areas where they cannot affect walls, beds, Christmas trees, books and other common objects. You should also avoid burning candles in restricted spaces such as book shelves, unless a minimum of 1m distance exists between the top of the flame and the above shelf. You should also keep at least a metre distance between a candle flame and the ceiling of a room.
Other tips for creating a safe candle environment include spacing your candles at least 7 cm or 8 cm apart to minimize the danger of uneven melting and the subsequent leakage of molten wax. Also, decorating Christmas trees with burning candles is extremely dangerous. You should keep candles as far away as possible from Christmas trees and other holiday greens, including wreaths. Finally, keep burning candles away from windows because drafts can cause the flame to shift in unpredictable ways and ignite draperies or window frames.
Prior to lighting a candle, carefully inspect it to make sure that you can use it safely. Developing such a habit will help you avoid careless mistakes and unnecessary problems. Begin by inspecting the wick to confirm that it is no more than 6mm long. Also, the wick should be straight, not crooked, in order to create heat that will evenly melt the wax. A short, straight wick will also help you avoid excess dripping that can cause safety concerns and prematurely burn-down your candle.
You should also check your candles for debris before putting them to use. Wick trimmings and matches can stick to candle surfaces and cause unexpected events such as flare-ups and sparks that can cause a fire or an injury. As you inspect your candles, look to see if foreign liquids and substances have either fused to them or infused into them. If a candle has absorbed flammable or poisonous material it can cause severe health and safety issues, so discard it if it has become deformed or discoloured.
Candle inspections should also include their containers or holders. Simply choosing the most decorative or visually appealing container can result in safety issues. When you practice good candle safety, you will inspect each object for structural integrity. If a candleholder wobbles or has difficulty standing upright, you should discard it to avoid unnecessary complications. The best candle holders are sturdy and show no signs of damage or wear. Test your candle holders to make sure they will not easily tip over. Also, you should inspect the material composition of your candle holders to make sure they are made from non-flammable, heat resistant materials.
With new candles, there are never any problems with reaching the wick in a jar or any candle container. As time passes, however, the candle shortens and the wick becomes harder to reach. In such cases, unless you are extremely careful, you might burn yourself while trying to put your hand into such a cramped area. Rather than becoming frustrated and desperate while trying to light a candle in such confines, use the following tips to make the job safe and easy.
- While reaching into a container with a lit match to light a candle, try tilting it lightly to one side to make more room for your fingers and the match.
- Use the tips of your longest fingers, usually your middle and ring fingers, to hold the match. Doing so extends your reach and can light the candle without new expenses or any additional tools.
- Use long matches that are about half a metre long to use in cases where you simply cannot reach the candle from the top of its container. Such matches are also often used to light fireplaces and grills, so you might already have some at your home.
- You can also choose to use an extended-length barbecue lighter. Such lighters can also make lighting all of your candles easier, if you find pressing a button to be easier than striking a match.
- When you find yourself stuck without long matches or lighters in sight and you cannot reach a wick with a standard match, light one end of a piece of uncooked spaghetti and use that to light your candle. Although unconventional, the tactic is safe because spaghetti will not burn long and it can easily be extinguished.
Always be mindful of the condition of your candles and the environment in which you put them to use. Before reading the above tips for safely handling candles, you might not have realized how much care you must exercise while enjoying their light and scent. The ease of which you learn candle safety might surprise you. Carefully pay attention to how you handle, display and light your candles and soon you will develop habits that will keep your home and family safe from candle-related injuries.
You are getting close to the halfway mark in your journey through the world of candles. Now that you have learned good candle safety practices, you can move on to learn about the burning candle. How does a candle work? Do you know what a healthy candle flame looks like? In the next section of this guide, you will learn about all the intricacies of burning candles. You will find out how candles burn as well as how to handle them as they burn. You will also get tips to determine the duration of a burn and how to evaluate a candle as it burns.
Chapter 4: The Burning Candle
In this chapter, focus is on the actual burning of a candle – what happens as it burns, how to behave around lit candles, how long a candle should be left to burn, and what contributes to good candle quality.
The Chemistry of a Candle: Colours of a Candle Flame
If you look at a typical candle flame, you will see a blue area at the bottom. This is where the wax burns cleanly and steam is produced as hydrogen is released from the burning of the carbon in the wax at about 980 degrees Celsius.
Above the blue flame is dark, brownish-orange section. This is the "inner" flame which gets the least oxygen and allows smoke from unburnt carbon.
Above and around this is the larger yellow area we recognize as the brightest part of the flame because of the wider spectrum of light it produces. This burns at nearly 1200 degrees Celsius.
The outside edge, or "veil" of the flame is also blue and is burning the hottest (at over 1,370 degrees Celsius) because it gets the most oxygen.
The Chemistry of a Candle: The Candle Wick
Most wax by itself is inflammable, and is only consumed when exposed to the burning of the wick. Traditionally, this was a simple cord inserted into the candle wax during manufacture, usually infused itself with paraffin or tallow to slow the combustion of the wick material.
The heat of the wick is necessary to melt the wax and draw it upward to vaporize in the flame. A properly made candle, once lit, is a self-sustaining chain reaction that continues to release and burn fuel (wax) at a constant rate. Any portion of the wick that isn't saturated with vaporized wax is quickly burned, so the wick tends to become shorter as the upper end burns away.
At one time, most candles wicks had to be periodically trimmed to keep them short, or else the wick would burn too quickly. Many modern candles use curving or self-trimming wicks that bend over to bring the tip nearer the flame.
The Chemistry of a Candle: Candle Wax
Traditionally, candles were made of natural beeswax, or tallow (made from melting animal fats). Later, paraffin wax was commonly used. Paraffin is actually a mixture of saturated hydrocarbons obtained through distillation of petroleum.
Candle waxes are chosen not for their chemical properties, but for how well they perform in the burning process described above. Different waxes may work best with certain wicks or for certain purposes, along with other additives for scent, colour, or easier moulding into distinct shapes. There are also some plastics used in candle production today. Many candles and other wax products may contain a mixture of "waxes." But, candles made from natural wax sources can still be found.
Monitoring the Candle
Candles always present a risk of fire, so it is important to only put them in or on non-flammable bases or holders, such as metal, stone, glass, or ceramics. Never leave a candle close to flammable objects like drapes or paper, and never where they might be accessible to children or pets. While many candles can burn safely for hours on end, never go to bed or vacate the room and leave a candle burning on its own.
Time of Burning
Normally, the burning time of a candle is written on the label by the manufacturer. As a rule of thumb, the heavier the candle, the more slowly it will burn. If there's no label, you can estimate the total burn time of a candle by weighing it and burning it for a set amount of time, say 15 minutes, then weighing the candle again. If a candle weighed 280g and lost 14g in that 15 minutes, then the total burn time of the candle should be (10 / 14) 0,70g per 15 minutes, or (14 x 15) 210 minutes (3.5 hours).
Candles as a Source of Heat
As flames, candles can make cheap and efficient heating sources for a variety of purposes, such as pre-made stands for diffusing scented oils or warming foods. Always use the candles recommended for such products. Do not use candles that are too big, inadequate, or unsteady, and do not use them longer than is necessary.
At times, candles can seem like a cheap or pleasant way to generate heat for a small room. This can seem like a good option at times such as power outages. If you are using multiple candles for heat or even aesthetic reasons, it's important to monitor them as described above. You should also have adequate ventilation, as each candle will be using oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. Too many paraffin candles can release toxic hydrocarbons into the room.
One safer solution is to place several small beeswax tea candles in a metal or glass loaf pan, place a smaller clay flower pot inverted over the candles, and a larger clay pot over the smaller one, with enough gaps to permit airflow. The heat from the candles will be trapped and concentrated in the flower pots as an efficient heat source. (It is important to remember not to touch the pots without oven mitts.) It won't warm the entire room, but this arrangement can be an effective personal heater.
Tunnelling and Flickering
Tunnelling happens when the candle wax burns away at the wick, but remains around the edge of the candle. It can continue indefinitely, so that a deep hole forms in the centre. This not only wastes wax, but the high rims will also block the light produced.
Excessive tunnelling may also make it difficult or impossible to relight the candle. Causes for this may lie in the inconsistency of the wax or flaws in design, so be careful when buying candles. Candles should burn flat across the top, maintaining about 6mm of melted wax with no dripping down the sides. If your candle shows signs of tunnelling, keep a close eye on it, as it may correct itself. You can help reduce tunnelling by putting the candle in a larger vase or jar to trap the heat around the unmelted edges, or even wrap it in aluminium foil.
Candles that are constantly flickering are another common problem. This can be caused by air drafts in the room, impurities in the wax, or poor quality of the wick. The best way to minimize flicker is to place the candle in a hurricane jar or similar container to block sudden shifts in the air. When drafts are not the problem, it helps to commit to using better quality candles. Little or no melted wax visible around the flame could indicate "wick starving". Excessively soft or hard waxes may not produce a steady flame.
What constitutes a good candle generally depends on what you want from it. A nice scent? Hours of light? Visual appeal? A quality candle has clean, consistent wax (no matter what type), a good wick of the right height, pleasant fragrance, and a heat/fire proof container.
Different waxes have different qualities. Paraffin, for example, is too soft to be shaped. Bayberry wax can be expensive, but melts at a very low 48 degrees Celsius. Tallow may have an unpleasant smell and is also too soft to be moulded. Beeswax burns cleanly and slowly at about 65 degrees Celsius, but is sticky. One popular new alternative is soy wax, which also burns cleanly and has natural oils that blend well with scented oils.
There are hundreds of scented oils that can reproduce your favourite scent or custom fragrance that's released as the wax vaporizes. In general, maximum saturation for scented oils is 6 percent per volume of wax. Any more than that can seep out and be wasted, or can pool in the melted wax and cause burning problems for the wick.
Wicks can vary by length, composition, colour, and diameter. Today, there are over 300 types of candle wick, including:
- RRD - Round direction wick has a cotton core and outer tension threads, burning optimally with paraffin and soy waxes.
- HTP - High tension paper core wicks are rigid and typically used in poured candles.
- CD - Another type of paper core that's woven into the outer wick.
- LX- A braided wick with tension threads that allow it to curl back into the flame.
- Zinc - The metallic core lets the wick be inserted in the melted stage of candle making but burns away in the hot flame. It does tend to leave more carbon deposits and can have a mushrooming effect.
In general, a quality candle is one that exceeds your expectations on all counts - visual appeal, fragrance, time of burn, and consistency of the candle flame.
Now that we know everything about the burning time of a candle, let us move on to Chapter 5 to learn about when is the right time and what is the safe way to extinguish a candle flame as well as how to dispose of a candle.
Chapter 5: Extinguishing the Candle
This chapter looks at the final phase in the candle burning cycle; extinguishing the candle flame. How long should you leave the candle lit? How do you safely extinguish it? You should also know when it’s time to dispose of a candle, plus some of the ways you can re-purpose candle containers.
Finishing the Burning Candle Cycle
Candles only burn for a limited amount of time, which can vary widely. Look at the burn time given on the label by the manufacturer. It's safest not to leave a burning candle unattended, so if you're leaving the home or office where a candle has been lit and burn time remains, it should be extinguished. This is also true if you're going to sleep for the night. Even if there's plenty of burn time remaining, never use a candle as a nightlight. At times like holidays, candles are festive and there may be plenty of people around, but still you shouldn't leave a candle burning by itself in an empty room.
Because candles are a possible source of fire and may spatter hot wax that can burn skin, it is important that candles be extinguished safely.
When to Extinguish a Candle Flame?
It's advisable to extinguish any candle that's been burning for more than an hour per 2.5cm of diameter, especially new candles. It takes about an hour per 2.5cm to melt the outer edge. Extinguishing candles at this interval will also help to ensure smoother burning and longer candle life.
To be on the safe side, don't burn a candle longer than the manufacturer recommends. If the manufacturer maintains that a candle has a 5-hour burn time, put it out after 5 hours of burning even if there's some wax remaining.
Regardless of the burn time, if there's tunnelling down the centre or if the candle burns so low that there's liquid wax at the bottom of the candle, it should be extinguished.
If you notice the melted wax dripping down the side of the candle or container, it can be caused by a draft that moves the candle flame. Extinguish the candle and allow the wax to cool and harden. When you relight it, try placing it in a different spot. If there's still plenty of burn time left in the candle, allow the wax to harden and the wick to cool before you light it again.
How to Safely Extinguish the Candle Flame?
Blowing out a flame is the common method of extinguishing a candle, but this can be risky. Hot wax can splatter, possibly causing damage to the eyes or skin of anyone standing close. That also applies to particle-heavy wisps of smoke that will appear. Also, the flame can flare up unexpectedly for a moment, creating a greater risk of fire to any nearby combustibles.
Droplets of hot wax can land on objects and harden, becoming difficult to remove without tearing fabric threads or spotting furniture finishes.
Pinching out a candle flame is another common solution, but not advisable. The combination of burning wick and vaporizing wax can reach high temperatures that cause painful burns.
Do not pour water onto a candle flame. This can also cause wax to splatter, and the sudden change in temperature may cause glass candle containers to shatter. Candle flames may even grow higher before they die out.
Problems can occur, because the temperature of melted wax at the base of the flame is higher than the temperature of boiling water and, therefore, less dense. Water falling into the pool of wax will have much the same effect as throwing a brick into a bucket of liquid - splashing. A drop of water may remain in the melted wax, but as its temperature rises it quickly expands into steam and bursts, scattering melted wax that is hot enough to ignite some flammables. Just as using water to put out a grease fire will only spread the burning grease, you don't want to use water to douse a candle.
You can douse the flame slowly by applying a non-flammable, thicker liquid such as dish detergent or shampoo to the wick. This may require a little cleaning up, but works well and prevents smoking.
The traditional and most effective method is to use a candle snuffer. This is a metal cone-shaped object that's placed over the candle flame to block out oxygen and smother the combustion. The cone is attached to a metal rod of various lengths for reaching higher and taller candles, but long enough to keep fingers away from the flame.
This practice began in the 19th century when society decided it was improper for a lady to blow out a candle. Antique candle snuffers, especially made of silver, are very collectible. You can buy one or make your own by attaching a small metal bell or cap to a metal rod with a piece of wire, or drilling a hole and using a small screw.
If you don't have a snuffer, pushing the wick down into the melted wax to smother the flame will also work. You could use any object made of non-combustible materials such as glass or metal. It could be a screwdriver, a letter opener, or a long nail or pin. A steel tablespoon or knife will do nicely. Be sure it's long enough to protect your fingers. Do not use your hands to avoid being burned.
How to Dispose of a Candle?
If you keep track of the size and condition of your candles, you'll be better able to react in time when they need to be extinguished. Candles that no longer seem safe or worthwhile should be simply disposed of.
Normally, when a candle in a container is reduced to 1cm of wax, or a stand-alone candle to 5 cm, it's safer to simply extinguish it, let it cool, and toss it in the trash. Extinguishing candles in a timely manner instead of waiting until they fade out on their own reduces the risk that container will break or that melting wax and the flame will damage the surface under the candle.
Always make sure that the wick is completely out, because even a tiny spark could reignite the flame. Let the wax harden to avoid spilling any. You don't want to burn your skin or ruin your clothing. Wax is difficult to get out of carpets and fabrics.
Re-purposing Candles and Candle Containers
If you're into crafts, or know someone that is, you can always save the candle ends. They can be reused for different ideas, such as fire starters in the fireplace or camping trips. One good idea is to chop up old candles into colourful flakes and put them a jar or bowl to add more fragrance to the home or office. And, of course, you could always try making new candles. It isn't hard to do or to learn, and could be fun and satisfying for those who enjoy having candles in the home.
The simplest way to remove wax from a candle or container is to put it in the freezer for about an hour, until it's hard and brittle. Then any remaining wax can be easily scraped out with a dull knife.
You could also add boiling water to the candle jar. Just be sure the jar is not cold or it might crack and spill the water. The bits of wax should loosen and float to the surface. Allow the water to cool and you can remove the pieces of wax. Keep repeating this until all or most of the wax is gone. Do not pour water with wax in it down the drain as it could lead to clogs. Filter out the wax with a paper towel or coffee filter before dumping the water, and toss the filter in the trash. When most of the wax is gone, you can wipe the container clean with another piece of paper towel or a soft cloth, and reuse it. Don't use your kitchen sponge, so that it doesn't collect wax.
Even if they aren't used in making new candles, candle jars, particularly those that are decorative, can make handsome little storage containers to keep around the house. You can use them as a handy repository for pins, paper clips, and other small objects, or spices in the kitchen. Larger candle holders can provide handsome containers for storing tea bags, pens and pencils, pet treats, or even be filled with candy or mints and given away as gifts.
The important thing about knowing how and when to extinguish candles is to do it safely. It isn't worth saving a few cents worth of wax, or getting every last second out of a burning candle, if it poses a risk of fire, skin burns, or ruining more expensive possessions.
The following chapter of the Candle Safety Guide moves on to the most important aspects of fire safety in a household, alternative light sources you can use in a power outage and what to keep in mind if there are any children or pets around while candles are burning in your home.
Chapter 6: Fire Safety Tips
This chapter looks into some of the crucial points of household fire prevention. Over the last century or so, use of candles has gone from a necessity to essentially a luxury. Thinking about how a candle's primary function has changed, it's good practice to review some of the improper ways that consumers might be using candles. Bad habits and lack of preventive measures could increase fire risks. Anyone lighting candles in their home should be familiar with recommended fire safety equipment and procedures, especially in homes with pets or children where a small accident could lead to a disaster.
Here are the important tips for making your home safer presented in one chapter.
Using Candles for Light
Before the era of home electricity and the light bulb, candles were the chief source of light. Today, particularly in the developed world where electrical grids are safe and dependable, candles are used mostly for fragrance, a warm and relaxing atmosphere, and festive occasions.
In those times when the power lines go down from a storm or accident, it's tempting to light all the available candles to keep rooms brightly lit. This can be dangerous, especially if candles are carried back and forth as people move about. One accessory that shouldn't be overlooked are candle lamps, which are made for this purpose. Even so, it's a good idea to look at alternative means of illumination before lighting candles.
It's a smart practice to keep flashlights, electric lanterns, and a supply of extra batteries in the house. These are a sound backup plan. A good lantern will provide more light than a candle. They're also safer in confined spaces and around flammable materials like newspaper or furniture. Electric alternatives eliminate the risk of fire. Never use kerosene, propane, or other types of gas lantern; these are meant for camping and the open air, and can cause accumulation of toxic fumes if used indoors.
Flashlights are the preferred method of lighting your way from one room to another. Many mobile phones today also have "flashlight" apps or similar function which provide adequate illumination for moving around safely. Of course, batteries don't last forever, but stocking up before bad weather hits will cost far less money than fire or smoke damage.
If you do need some festive decoration, but have small children and pets in the house, you can find electric candles that still provide cheer and flickering light. Some modern products look close to the real thing, and also come with features like timers or adjustable brightness.
Burning Candles Around Children and Pets
You should never light a candle and leave to do something else. Most people light candles for a specific reason, whether it's romance or relaxation. To light a candle and then leave it burning is both wasteful and risky. Always stay where you can keep an eye on the candle in case of problems. Watch for sputtering flames, excessive melting, and thick smoke, as well as the candle's effect on people close by. If nobody is going to be there to monitor and enjoy the candle, put it out. There's always the risk you might forget about it altogether.
Never leave a candle burning on its own. A candle can be an object of curiosity for pets or children. Do not leave a child or pet alone with a burning candle. All it takes is one accident and you could have a fire spreading in seconds across the drapes or carpet, or a young child with painful burns.
Children are naturally curious and eager to explore their surroundings just as young pets are. They see a candle flame as a bright, dancing light, not a danger. A small child has no experience with fire, and curiosity will override caution. They'll be tempted to reach out and touch the candle, and may even climb furniture to get to it. Small children also have less-developed motor skills that create even more risk of accident or injury. They could knock the candle over, get burned, suffer injury from a fall, and quite possibly all three.
People are accustomed to thinking that animals are afraid of fire, or have better senses and instincts than humans do. But many animals also have strong personalities and a natural urge to investigate the unknown. Dog or cat fur can also be singed or catch fire if they get too close.
Pets, especially younger ones, may see the flicker of light as something to be played with. The movement may spur their strong hunting instincts, so that they rush for the candle with no caution whatsoever. Even if a pet seems to be ignoring a candle, don't assume all is well and leave them alone. A wagging tail could knock over a candle just as easily.
To be on the safe side, put candles out of a dog's reach. Cats are great climbers and jumpers, so avoid placing candles on your cat's favourite spots and keep an eye on their behaviour. Short, wide-diameter candles are less likely to tip than tall, narrow ones.
Put candles in the highest spot possible if there are children and pets in the house. And don't forget about the lighters and matches. Put them away as soon as the candle is lit, so they don't get forgotten and become another fire risk for curious children. They may decide to light a candle themselves.
Home Safety Equipment That May React to Candles
It's important under any circumstances to keep fire safety equipment in the home and in good working condition. Protective measure that don't function won't help you and may cause needless delays. Some simple precautions taken before you light candles will help to reduce the level of risk.
It's worth revisiting the proper ways to extinguish candles from Chapter Five. Blowing out candles and especially using water can cause melted wax to splatter or candle flames to leap higher. An extinguished candle can also give off a plume of smoke that can trigger smoke detectors.
Smoke detectors should be installed in every sleeping area, or key passageways such as long corridors or the head of stairways, and in the kitchen. The batteries should be checked and the detectors tested regularly and according to manufacturer’s instructions. Keep burning candles at least 3m away from any smoke detector. You might want to opt for an interconnected system that will trigger all the alarms in the house at the same time. This will alert everyone and provide a few extra seconds to respond.
Fire sprinkler systems respond rapidly and automatically to extinguish flames. However, they are activated by heat, not smoke, so you should be safe as long as you don't put candles directly under a sprinkler head.
Many local fire departments are happy to give free advice or training on the correct way to install and maintain fire prevention systems.
Fire extinguisher is the single most important piece of equipment for any household fire prevention. It's a good idea to keep one or more in places around the home where they can be easily located in case of emergency.
Using a fire extinguisher is always the same procedure:
- Point the nozzle away from you and pull out the locking pin.
- Point the nozzle at the base of the flames.
- Pull the trigger, spraying in a side-to-side motion.
However, it's important to read all the instructions that come with your fire extinguisher. A fire extinguisher's contents may also have a limited lifespan, so it's important to be aware of the expiration dates on any extinguishers you have in the home. You don't want to neglect replacing or refilling your fire extinguisher, or it may be useless when you need it most.
If you use candles regularly, or are planning to use them for a special occasion, it makes sense to purchase a small fire extinguisher and keep it handy in the location where candles will be burning. The best option is a 2kg extinguisher filled with an ABC-type dry chemical fire retardant. If you want to feel more prepared, you can always buy more.
In the next chapter we'll look at clean-up and provide some tips on treating burns from hot candle wax. We'll also look at some practical ways of removing spilled wax from different surfaces and fabrics to avoid staining.
Chapter 7: Treating Candle Wax Stains and Burns
One of the most common problems with burning candles is the melted wax. Hot wax can drip or spatter onto clothes, skin, and carpets. Sometimes wax spills cause painful burns, and other times the wax goes unnoticed so that it gets ground into expensive rugs or stains your good clothing. Candle wax, especially petroleum wax, can also contain dyes that may leave permanent stains after the wax is removed.
Even if you're being watchful, acting fast enough to prevent wax splatter may be impossible. What's important is knowing the right thing to do minimize the damage. This chapter will serve as your guide to treating wax stains and burns.
Treating Wax Stains on Washable Clothing
This includes synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester, spandex, olefin, or acrylics, plus natural fibres like cotton or washable wool. Removing wax deposits and stains from washable clothing is a fairly simple process, but takes some diligence to do properly. If you have dry-clean-only garments, or an expensive or cherished article you don't want to take risks with, bring it to a professional cleaner.
- Put the article of clothing in the freezer or refrigerator for several minutes, or set an ice cube directly on the stained spot until the wax is hardened.
- Carefully scrape away any excess wax with a dull implement, such as a spoon or table knife.
- Put a piece of white blotting area on both front and back of the stained area. You could also use wrapping paper or a brown paper bag. Just be sure there's no ink printed onto the bag that could soak through into the fabric. Ink stains are harder to remove than wax!
- Press the spot with a warm clothes iron. Be sure the iron is at a low temperature and there's no steam that will soak into the paper. Try not to let the iron sit in one spot for too long.
- The paper should begin to absorb the stain from the clothing. As the stain is soaked up, move the paper on both sides to cover the stain with a fresh, dry area.
- When no more wax stain is being soaked up, remove the paper and soak the affected area with a laundry stain remover.
- Rinse with warm water, blot dry with a paper towel or clean cloth, and if any stains remain, repeat the procedure.
For stubborn stains or gentle fabrics, you might try adding a few drops of rubbing alcohol or an appropriate spot-removal product. If using alcohol, add a test drop to an inconspicuous area to see it discolours the fabric. For silks, you'll need a dry-cleaning solvent to remove stains.
When done, wash the clothing and let it air dry to see if the wax and stains are completely gone. Putting clothes in the dryer if there's wax remaining could make it worse.
Removing Wax Droplets from Wood Surfaces
- Apply an ice cube to harden the wax.
- Carefully scrape away the wax with an edge made from a softer material like plastic to avoid leaving scratches.
- Wipe away any remnant using a cloth or clean rag moistened with very warm water.
- Dry the surface and buff it smooth with a chamois cloth. Polish as necessary to restore the wood finish.
Other Household Surfaces
This includes plastics like vinyl tile or linoleum, metals like aluminium, brass, etc., glass, and hard surfaces like granite, ceramic tile, and porcelain.
- Apply ice until the wax is hardened.
- Scrape away the excess with a plastic edge to avoid scratching, though you may be safe with metal on very hard materials such as glass or porcelain. Just be sure not to press too forcefully; more scraping is better than harder scraping. If necessary, you can get into fine grooves with a toothpick or other pointed, non-metal object.
- Wipe the surface with a sponge or cloth dipped in a mix of water and detergent or washing soda.
- Wipe away any residue with warm water and buff dry using a hand towel or clean rag.
Removing Wax from Carpet
- Apply ice cubes directly to the spot to harden the wax.
- Scrape or pick away as much of the hardened wax as possible.
- Vacuum up and bits of loose wax with your vacuum's hose attachment.
- Place a clean, smooth cloth or blotting paper over the spot.
- Press an iron at a low temperature, with no steam, over the paper and worth the cloth into the stain, letting it soak up the liquids from the wax.
- Repeat until the stain is soaked out of the fabric. If no stain, residue, or dye appears in the carpet or on the cloth, the wax is gone.
- Dab the area with a sponge or cloth and some warm water, and allow it to dry.
- If any trace remains, try a spot remover made for carpets.
Cleaning Wax from Leather and Suede
- Put ice cubes onto the spot to harden the wax.
- Carefully scrape the wax off the material.
- Make up a paste from water and Fuller's earth, and daub onto the spot.
- Allow it to dry and carefully brush it away with a clean, dry toothbrush.
- Repeat as needed.
Treating Burns to the Skin
Wax burns can be painful, especially for children. Do not attempt to scrape the wax away right away, or it could damage the skin and cause more pain. Do not apply ice to the skin.
- Ease the pain by soaking the affected area in cool water for 20 minutes or more.
- Carefully loosen and remove the wax after it had cooled and solidified.
- If removing the wax is difficult or causes further pain, leave it as is and cover with a cold, damp cloth for another 10 minutes and try again.
- Remove all particles of wax as gently as possible.
Evaluate the Burn
Cooling down the burned area is the first step in treating a burn, but the second step is to assess the degree of injury:
First degree burns result in reddened skin.
Second degree burns leave a splotchy, painful red area that can also involve visible or subsequent blistering.
If the skin is red but intact, and the size of the burn is smaller than a quarter, you can treat it with antibiotics and some over-the-counter ointments for burns. Always wash the hands before treating a burn.
It's advisable to see a doctor right away if the edge of the wound is blackened or raw white, or if bone or muscle can be seen. Severe burns can do damage to the nerves and may not involve much pain. When the burn covers an area larger than a quarter, no matter how severe, it can be wise to seek medical advice to avoid further damage and discomfort. Do not rub the burned area with a damp cloth, as that can cause friction and increase pain or skin damage.
If you're treating the burn yourself, any leftover wax has to be removed. If there's wax in or near a blister, it may be best to leave it alone until the blister heals. Breaking or popping a blister increases risks of infection. If there is no blister, you can try gently rubbing petroleum jelly into the wax. After waiting for 10 minutes or so, the wax should be soft enough to wipe away with a clean cloth or tissue. Use soap and water to clean the affected area.
To speed healing, try rubbing the burn with a bit of aloe or vitamin E. These also help to reduce any lingering pain. You might also try applying a dab of honey - either unfiltered organic or medicinal honey. Honey is known to have antibacterial properties that help fight infections. Spread it around in a thin layer with a clean ice cream stick or a plastic bag over the fingertips. Then cover the wound with a sterile pad.
Don't try to remove any loose or dead tissue from the burn. This can lead to scarring. Let dead skin cells fall away naturally.
In conclusion, you should remind yourself that any item in your home might potentially be a safety hazard. Everyone accumulates tools, knick-knacks, kitchenware, gadgets, appliances, and so forth. You may be proud of your possessions, and many of them make your life easier. But, if they are used improperly, or left where they could be an obstruction or tripping hazard, there's a chance somebody may come to harm. Candles are high on the list of household items that must be used with safety in mind. By taking precautionary measures discussed in this safety guide, you reduce the chance of negative effects on your household. By being careful and vigilant, you can enjoy candles and achieve the results you intended, whether it's romance, fragrance, or a warm, cheery home.