How to Spot an Unsafe Candle – Thumbprint Soap

How to Spot an Unsafe Candle

Posted by Katie Adams on

Around the holidays, people start looking for DIY gift ideas that are easy and inexpensive to make. And while I'm all for giving handmade gifts, it's important to know that safe candle making is not as easy as it looks.

There is a reason that small business insurance for candle makers is much higher than any other craft - it's just too easy to damage someone's home if you haven't done the proper research and testing.

If you are gifted a candle, even if the packaging looks incredibly sleek and professional, keep an eye on it when you burn it and watch for these warning signs that your candle may not be safe.

Watch for These Warning Signs of an Unsafe Candle

Flame Height

After trimming your wick to 1/4 of an inch, if you notice the flame is still very high and seems unstable (bounces around a lot), this can mean the wick is too large for the candle or that the fragrance is being combusted by means of the wick (which is caused by using too much fragrance). Keep a very close eye on this candle while burning. ASTM standard flame height is under 3 inches.

Wax Pool

The wax pool is the pool of liquid wax that forms as you burn your candle. If you measure the width of the candle, it should take approximately 1 hour of burning per inch for the pool to melt all the way to the edge of the container. So if the mouth of the container is 3 inches, it will take about 3 hours.

Warning signs: If the wax pool is deeper than 1/4 of an inch or reaches the edge of the container faster than 1 hour per inch, there is a good chance the candle hasn't been wicked properly and your container could get dangerously hot. This could cause damage to anything too close to the candle, or even cause a glass container to break. 

Pretty Stuff Sprinkled on Top

If it's got glitter, herbs, coffee beans or anything else sprinkled on top, don't burn it. You can use a candle warmer instead. Sorry, I know it looks pretty and fun, but that stuff can and will catch fire. It might not happen the first time or the 30th time you use it, but know that it can absolutely happen. Any candles that have debris in the wax would definitely not pass the ASTM Standard Specification for Fire Safety for Candles.

The DIY candle tutorials I've found on Pinterest really concern me. They are teaching people to DIY a fire hazard. If you come across tutorials like these, just keep on scrolling!

  • Coffee candles with coffee beans incorporated into the wax.
  • Rosemary mason jar candles with fresh sprigs of rosemary positioned upright in the jar.
  • DIY glitter candles with glitter sprinkled on top or mixed into the wax.
  • Crystal candles- using real crystals and herbs pressed into the top of the wax.
  • Pumpkin spice candle with star anise, cinnamon sticks and cloves pressed into the top of the wax.

A Word About Essential Oil Candles

People like to promote that they "only use essential oils" when making their candles. Sure, I see the appeal, but essential oils aren't meant to be heated. Asking a candle maker to make an essential oil candle is putting their health at risk. Candle wax has to be pretty hot when you add the fragrance, so there are fumes and some essential oils can actually become toxic when heated. Not to mention essential oils can be harmful to pets, children and pregnant women.

Besides this, if an essential oil is heated over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the aromatherapy properties are degraded, meaning the candle will have no therapeutic value in the end. The resulting candle might not be dangerous to the final user; but it is definitely not superior to one made with fragrance oils.

True Stories of Unsafe Candles

1) I was recently gifted a candle that smells ah-maz-ing. The label is on point and it has a wooden wick, so I thought "It's my lucky day!" Unfortunately, the wick was half the width of the container (unnecessarily wide), meaning the flame was scary high and within 30 minutes of burning, the jar was hot enough to burn skin. I'll admit I still light it, but I never leave the room while it's lit and I make sure to blow it out after about 25 minutes.

2) I purchased a candle from a maker that I considered to be very "legit." I'm talking incredible branding, fantastic scents, lots of stores stocking their products, etc. Can you imagine my disappointment when I discovered the wax appeared to be boiling in the jar? I don't think the wax can get hot enough to boil, but it's concerning to say the least. 

I hope I've been able to share some valuable safety information about candles that you may not have known. Please pass along to anyone who might benefit.

For instructions on how to safely burn a candle that has been properly made, check out these tips from Barn Wood Candle Company. I have purchased multiple candles from Sarah and have never had a single issue with them. I trust her candles and would be comfortable giving them as gifts without having to worry about the consequences. Find her products at an upcoming event.

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2 comments

  • Great information! Candles are hard to make and getting the right wick size and balance between beeswax and oil. Thank you for the tips! I learned something new and I’m off to do my research.

    Cheshire Fields on
  • Thanks for the sage advice! I’d always wondered if those embeds would burn. I made candles with embeds once but they were also the same wax used as for the candle.

    Rebecca Dillon on

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