Why Your Homemade Candles Aren’t Staying Lit

Making candles is a fun pastime. While it looks easy, making candles that reliably stay lit can be tricky. What are the possible reasons your homemade candles aren’t staying lit?

Homemade candles might not stay lit because of an incorrectly sized wax pool. To make sure candles stay lit, candle makers should pay attention to these four areas:

  1. Wick length
  2. Wick size
  3. Ingredient ratios
  4. Initial burn

As a hobby or a career, candle making can be both rewarding and frustrating. Candles not staying lit is one of the most common quality issues in homemade candles. Troubleshooting issues with your candles doesn’t have to be difficult if you look at these four potential problem areas first. 

Problem 1: Incorrect Wick Length

Until you start making candles yourself, you probably have no idea how important it is to keep your wick at the right length. After all, if the wick is the wrong size, it will eventually correct itself as the candle burns, right?

Wrong. Starting with the wrong wick length will almost always cause issues with your candle burning correctly, including not staying lit. 

Wick Too Long

Why Your Homemade Candles Aren’t Staying Lit

If your wick is too long, it will likely become coated in carbon. This creates an effect known as “mushrooming,” that is not only unsightly but also will create a flame that burns too high and hot.

This flame, in turn, contributes to a wax pool that is too large, which essentially causes your wick to drown in the surrounding wax instead of using it for energy. The wax pool is the part of your wax that has become heated and is liquid. Ideally, the wax pool should reach all the way to the sides of your container

Mushrooming can cause a secondary problem, tunneling. Tunnelling means that the candle burns downward instead of using the wax all the way to the edge of the container for an energy source. 

The tunnel crated by the swiftly burning candle makes it hard for enough oxygen to get to the flame. Once a flame is deprived of oxygen, it ceases to burn.  

Having a candle wick that is too long is literally the easiest candle problem to fix. All you have to do is trim it to the proper length. Candle wicks should be approximately ¼ of an inch above the wax surface, so trim your wicks to that length before burning. You can use a small pair of scissors or a wick trimmer to shorten your wicks. 

Wick Too Short

Be careful you don’t trim your wick too much, though, or it will be too short. Having a wick that isn’t long enough can also be a reason why your homemade candle is failing to stay lit. 

When it is too short, too much of the wick becomes buried in the wax to light properly. While you might get a flame at the outset, as soon as you walk away, the flame will fizzle out. 

Fixing a wick that is too short is more complicated than trimming one that is too long. Basically, you must remove the wax around the wick so that it is the proper length. 

One way to do this is by melting the wax around the wick with a candle lighter or other extra-long lighter, like the type you would use to light a barbecue. Use a set of tweezers to hold the wick upright while the wax melts away. Approximately ¼ inch of the wick should be exposed.

Another method is to use something to gently scrape the solid wax away from the wick until you have the right amount of the wick exposed. 

Some people say the best way to deal with a buried or too-short wick is to hold the candle upside down while you light it. I highly recommend against this, as the wax melting from around the candle wick can easily burn you.

Problem 2: Wrong Wick Size

The “size” of a wick refers to its thickness. Using the wrong wick size can also cause homemade candles to flame out. 

Wick Too Large

As with using a wick that is too long, using a wick that is too large or too thick in diameter for your candle causes the flame to burn too hot. The resulting deep wax pool overwhelms and suffocates the wick, putting the candle out.

The only way to prevent this is by using the correct wick size when you make your candle. It is not something you can fix after the candle is poured, except by deconstructing the candle and starting all over again.

Wick Too Small

Using a wick that is a size or two too small can also be a cause of candles failing to stay lit. This is because the flame will only burn the wax immediately around the wick, which will also cause tunneling, as with burning a wick that is too long. Only this time, the tunnelling isn’t caused by a candle that is burning too quickly, but one that is burning too slowly.

How to Find the Correct Wick Size

Why Your Homemade Candles Aren’t Staying Lit

Using the correct wick size is one of the significant challenges inherent in candle making. Wick size depends on three variables: container size, wax type, and wick type. 

Choosing the right sized wick is a two-step process:

  1. Use a Wick Calculator. First, you want to use a chart to get an idea of the correct thickness needed for your wick. For traditional wicks, Candle Science’s calculator is the perfect resource for this. When using wooden wicks, the rules change a bit. If you are making a crackle candle with a wooden wick, use Wooden Wick’s selection guide to help determine the correct size for your wick. 
  • Conduct a Burn Test. To conduct a burn test, light your candle and burn it in four-hour cycles until the end of the candle’s life. Along the way, you can spot quality control issues, such as your candle failing to stay lit. If your wax pool is too large, you need to choose a smaller sized wick. For candles that fail to produce an adequately sized wax pool, you need to choose a larger size wick.
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Problem 3: Incorrect Ingredient Ratios

Using incorrect ingredient ratios can also cause your candle to burn too hot or not hot enough. Besides the wick, candle components include wax, dyes, fragrant oils, and other additives. 

The amount of wax you use is determined by your container size. Using the other ingredients in the wrong proportion to your wax will cause candle-burning issues.

Fragrant Oils

Using too much fragrant oil in relation to your wax can prevent your candle from staying lit. Also known as fragrance load, this means that too much oil causes smoking, which in turn causes soot to form around the wick. The wick can become coated in the extra soot, smothering the wick. 

In the event the wick stays lit, the extra fuel can fuel a large wax pool, in which your wick can become submerged. 

Candle Dyes

I prefer the natural color of wax, but plenty of people like to add dyes to their candles to enhance color effects. If you are adding too many dyes, however, you may find that your candles fail to stay lit as expected. 

Figuring out how much candle dye to use is quite scientific, and I don’t want to get into it here. If you buy commercial candle dyes, make sure to follow the instructions for how much dye you should use in your candle. 

Cierra Candle’s tutorial on measuring liquid dyes is a useful guide to determining proper proportions of dyes to candle wax. 

Homemade candle makers have been known to melt crayons for use in coloring candles. This is a terrible idea and will likely cause your wick to clog and not stay lit.

Other Additives

Always follow the directions and precisely measure the amounts of other additives, including hardeners, stearic acid, UV inhibitors, etc. Too much of any additive in your candle will cause your wick to have issues staying lit and could pose safety problems as well. 

Problem 4: Not Conducting Initial Burn Correctly

The first time you burn any candle, you need to burn it for a minimum period. Wax has a “memory.” For its whole life, a candle will burn based on how you burn it initially. Failing to burn a candle for the prescribed amount of time can cause it to not stay lit on subsequent burns. 

The first time they are used, candles need to stay lit for at least one hour for each inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter. A candle that is four inches (10 centimeters) in diameter should be burned for at least four hours on the first use. 

Failing to burn the candle for the prescribed period will create tunneling. That is because the wax will melt first where it is weakest, and the wax pool will stay roughly the same size on subsequent burnings. 

As you know by now, tunneling means your candle will not stay lit. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the best wax for candles staying lit?

Following the rules above, you can make candles that stay lit no matter what wax you use. But for windy areas, paraffin wax candles work the best, which is why paraffin is often used in emergency candles. 

Why is my candle flickering?

Even if your candle stays lit, a flickering flame in a room that is not drafty can indicate a quality control problem with one if the areas listed above. Flickering candles are caused by incorrect fuel combustion for the same reasons that cause candles to not remain lit.

Looking to start your own candle making business, check out my startup documents here

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