How To Prevent Tunneling & Help Your Candles Last Longer
What's more disappointing than reaching the end of a candle you love? Reaching the end of a candle you love during quarantine, when you're not sure when you'll be able to get another. Put off the dreaded moment for as long as possible with these candle maintenance tips.
First of all, what affects the burn time of a candle?
A candle's container size, wick length, and wax type all contribute to its burn time. Soy wax has a higher melting point than coconut wax, for example, and will take longer to burn. "The higher the melt point, the more hours of burn you'll get, as it takes more time for the wax to liquefy from the heat of the flame," Abigail Cook Stone, co-founder and CEO of Otherland, tells mbg.
The size of the wick is also important: A larger wick means a larger flame, which will burn through your wax faster. (This is why it's important to trim your wick before every use, but more on that later.) "One job of a candlemaker is to ensure that a wick is large enough to melt the full surface of the candle, but not too large that it's drawing up more wax than necessary," Stephen Tracy, the co-founder of Keap, explains. It's a science, people!
A candle's burn time—usually between 40 and 60 hours—is largely determined during formulation, but there are things we end users can do to make sure it reaches its full fragrant potential.
How to help your candle last longer:
Trim the wick before every burn.
Since larger wicks stoke larger flames, you'll want to keep yours trimmed for a steadier, more even burn. Jade Meresz, the product development manager at P.F. Candle Co., adds that trimming your wicks can also prevent smoke and visible soot from forming on the side of your jar. Don't cut your wick too short, though, since it needs to be large enough to support a flame that can melt the full surface of your wax. The sweet spot is around ¼ inch.
When you're tending to your wick, be sure to also take off any curdled clumps or buildup—mushrooms, as they are called in candle land—since they, too, can cause your wax to burn too quickly.
Don't burn it next to an open window or in a drafty place.
According to Stone, added oxygen in the air can cause your flame to grow too quickly, which means a lower burn time (not to mention a potential fire hazard).
Burn your candle for long enough that it forms a full "melt pool."
You know when a candle looks like it's burning straight through the middle and it's leaving wax on the sides? That's known as tunneling, and it's a sign that you're not burning it for long enough at a time. "Tunneling is typically caused by extinguishing a candle too soon in its initial burns," explains Tracy.
To allow your flame to melt the entire surface of the wax, you should leave it going for at least an hour—especially during those first few burns. "If you stop short, the candle will develop a memory of where the melt pool stopped previously, which can lead to tunneling," says Stone. "Repeatedly burning a candle this way will create a smaller and smaller melt pool each time," adds Meresz.
If you do notice your candle start to tunnel, not all hope is lost! Stone says that putting a little "tinfoil tent with a silver-dollar-size open hole in the center for ventilation" on top of your candle as it burns (again, for at least an hour) can help trap heat and liquefy the entire surface again. Stand by while this is happening to make sure your tent doesn't get knocked over.
...but don't burn it for too long.
The experts agree that any longer than four hours and your wick will start to mushroom and your candle will lose some of its fragrance. At that point, blow it out and rotate out with a different scent or supplement with another smell-good option like incense or essential oils in a diffuser.
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Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.