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We Know: How to Buy Candles

Candles come in a variety of shapes and sizes, colors and scents and, in modern times, are mostly used for decorative lighting. You can find long tapers in white or colors for weddings and candelabras, or short squat pillars and pedestal candles that create their own unique container for the flame to shine through.


What materials are candles made from?
Three hundred years ago, almost all candles were made of either beeswax, which burns with a clean, bright light, or tallow, which is cheaper but has a lower quality light. Today it's not that simple.

Candles today may still be made of tallow or beeswax, but are often made of paraffin wax, soy and vegetable oils, or other solid fuels like stearin (a palm wax), gel (a mix of resin and mineral oil), and plant waxes from palm, carnauba, bayberry, or soy. In addition, a high proportion of candles today have a high scented oil content.

Beeswax and soy candles are the cleanest burning, and the least clean burning are those based on petroleum (paraffin).


What materials are wicks made from?
Wicks are the center piece of the candle that you light; generally, wicks are made of a braided string. Historically, they were often made of lead, and today may be made of zinc, paper, or synthetic fibers as well as cotton string. Larger diameter wicks provide a larger flame, larger melt pool, and a faster burn. Flat-braided wicks curl into themselves as they burn, consuming themselves in the flame and reducing smoke.

A perfectly-burning candle would not consume any part of the wick, but instead burn only the melted wax or solid fuel of the candle. Most of what you see burning in the flame of a candle is the wax, not the wick.


What should I consider when buying a candle?
Safety considerations include:

  • Candles are a primary cause of fires in households.
  • If you have a candle manufactured in a foreign country, your wick may be lead-cored, which are more dangerous because they can produce lead vapors, a health hazard.
  • One of the most common hazards of candles is fire caused when the candle tips over. Be sure the candle has an adequate base or is in a container designed to keep the flame and hot wax away from flammable objects.
  • Remember that scented candle may contain essential oils. If you're allergic to roses and your candle uses rose essential oil, you're going to be allergic to your candle, too.


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