Which is better? Cotton or Wood Wicks?

Which is better? Cotton or wood wicks for your candles? As is often the case; It depends on where you will be burning the candle, using what wax; and whether it is a dipped candle, a molded candle, or a container candle. Cotton and wood wicks are good choices for candle wicks, but they behave differently. More than that, they are not the only possible options for candle wicks. You can have prefabricated candle wicks or wicks that you make from scratch to further complicate matters.

To determine which is better for your candles, cotton wicks or wood wicks; You need to review where you will be burning the candles; what kind of wax you will be using, and the type of ambiance you wish to establish. Cotton wicks are best for outdoors because they are more resistant to being blown out; They generally, burn more evenly. Wood wicks are better for aromatic candles that will be burned indoors to create a pleasant aroma inside your home.

Cotton or Wood, Not the Only Options

To understand which wick will be better for your purposes, let’s examine each type of wick separately. And discuss related types of wicking. Cotton wicking and wood wicking, while perhaps the most common in today’s DIY candle market; are not the only options for your home candle creations. Each has its characteristics, but it might be best to describe cotton wicks as being made of fiber, while wood wicks are made (you guessed it) of wood solids. But these two choices do not end your options, nor should candle wicks be considered in such a simplistic manner. 

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The First Wicks

Which is better? Cotton or Wood Wicks?

An early form of wicking was the rushlight. To make a rushlight, the pith of a rush or reed was separated from the outside, leaving only the innermost sheath to hold it together. The fibrous cylinder was then soaked in cooking fat and placed in a holder. Depending on the size and length of the rushlight, it might burn for fifteen minutes or up to nearly an hour. They were an inexpensive but unreliable type of lighting.

Sometimes the rush piths were used as candle wicking. By adding wax to the mixture, they burned longer and were more reliable. However, rush piths are not generally available to most people these days. Therefore, this information is offered for your amusement before we get back to the business of deciding whether wood or cotton makes the better wick. 

Fiber Wicks

Fiber wicks, of which cotton is a subgroup, have the advantage of being easy to size up or down simply by braiding in additional strands. Cotton is a beautifully absorbent material that is flammable, which makes it a good choice for candle wicking. Another popular fiber for candle wicking is hemp, the same stuff that is used to make rope. Natural wool when spun or twisted into strands can also be used as wicks for candles. However, artificial fibers, such as acrylic, do not make good candle wicking for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the tendency to smolder rather than burn. 

Characteristics of a Cotton or Fiber Wick

Cotton or fiber wicks are usually limp or limber, like the string from which they are made. They need to have some sort of support to hold them upright while the candle is drying, and benefit from having an anchor at the bottom of the wick to hold it in place while pouring wax in around it. They are excellent for dipping candles because the support can be used to hold onto the string while it is being dipped and to hang the candle to dry between dipping sessions. 

Fiber wicks tend to hold the flame more tenaciously and will remain ignited even when a breeze bends them over at an angle. However, a poorly trimmed fiber wick is likely to smoke, and it will collect a sort of sooty ball at its tip over time. Cotton wicks that are not properly sized so that they melt the entire surface of the candle will be prone to ‘tunneling’ or creating a crater or hole in the wax of your candle, which can potentially waste a great deal of both wax and scent. 

Fiber Wicks Can Have a Variety of Structures

Large candles require large wicks. There are several ways to make a fiber candle larger than its original design. The easiest way is to make an ordinary three-strand braid of the wicking material. Wicking can also be fashioned into a round braid or a square braid, such as you might use when making a keychain or watch fob. Larger wicks tend to burn slower and are a better choice for large candles than single strands of wicking. 

Characteristics of Wooden or Rigid Wicks

Which is better? Cotton or Wood Wicks?

Wooden or rigid “crackling” candle wicks can be purchased readymade, but you can also make your own. You will need a piece of wood that has a small diameter, is the right length for your candle, and that has been completely cured before using it as a candlewick. Balsa wood is a popular choice because it is easy to cut and does not require a lot of soaking before adding wax. Other possible choices include cherry wood or dried reeds.

Before pouring wax around a wooden wick, it needs to be prepared by soaking it in a flammable liquid. Olive oil seems to be the liquid of choice because it readily soaks into the wood, has a pleasant aroma of its own, and it does not contain artificial additives. 

Because these wicks are stiff, they do not need a top support when the wax is poured around them. 

They tend to spread heat more evenly than the cotton wicks and are therefore the better choice for scented candles because they will heat the wax to a melting point that allows it to release the aroma, rather than simply burning the wax.

Environmental Considerations

Cotton grows more quickly than wood, but tends to deplete the soil where it is grown. There is also the matter of how it is harvested and processed. Wood is not as quickly grown and therefore has its own environmental issues. Reeds grow quickly and are easy to harvest, but can spread and create their own environmental problems, especially when imported reeds crowd out native plants. The final analysis comes down to which material is most available in your local area.

Which is Best: Cotton or Wood

Which is better? Cotton or Wood Wicks?

Both work well. Cotton is easier to light with a match. Wood needs a long-nosed charcoal lighter because it has a higher ignition temperature than cotton. With that said, as previously mentioned, wood is great for the efficient use of scented candles because it does a better job of creating a pool of wax, rather than immediately burning away the good aroma. 

If you are creating lumina or using hurricane lamps out of doors, cotton wicks are better because they tend to layover rather than being immediately blown out. 

In the final analysis, fiber wicks tend to be more versatile, but wood wicks are better for use with scented wax. 

Trimming Wicks

Both fiber and wood wicks need to be trimmed occasionally. This means cutting or scratching away accumulated char at the tip of the wick. The charred area will make the candle difficult to light and might make it smoke. 

To trim a fiber candle, you can pinch its tip or trim it with a pair of scissors. To trim wooden wicks, simply brush your finger or a candle snuffer across the tip of the wick. Shake or dust off any debris from trimming the wick before lighting the candle. 

Related Questions

Can you harvest your own wooden wicks?

Yes, you can. Slender cherry sticks are a good choice. Select sticks that are very small in circumference, dry them completely, then soak them in olive oil to assist with lighting them and keeping them burning. 

Why is balsa wood frequently used for candle wicking?

Balsa wood is light and easy to cut with a craft knife or pen knife. It burns cleanly, absorbs olive oil easily, and burns with a pleasant aroma. 

Are there advantages to using hemp wicking over cotton?
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Yes, there are some advantages. Hemp tends to burn cleanly, with minimal impact on indoor air. It braids into a more rigid structure and is more ecologically friendly. On average, it takes three acres of cotton to produce as much fiber as can be created from one acre of hemp. Just to keep the record straight, the hemp under discussion is the same stuff as is used to make rope. 

What causes tunneling?

Tunneling occurs when there is a mismatch between the size of the wick and the amount of wax in a molded or container candle. A wick that is too small or that burns too fast will consume the wax next to it without melting the surrounding surface wax. When this occurs, the wick burns down into a hollow and sometimes will even drown in the melted wax. It is a common problem with homemade candles or even large commercially made candles. 

If outdoor candles do better with a fiber wick, why do buckets of citronella candles often have a dowel rod for a wick?

Citronella candles are usually burned for their scent, rather than their light. They are made in such a way that the bucket protects the wick from stray breezes. At the same time, the larger wick helps to melt the citronella scented wax to create an even pool that will maximize the insect-repelling scent.

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