Why Do Candles Smoke?

Few things are better than pairing a good book – or bath – with your favorite candle. And there are few things more concerning than when that candle starts to smoke like a chimney! Fortunately, there are some simple tricks to tame that candle wick and prevent unnecessary smoke.


Understanding Why Candles Smoke


While the old saying “where there is smoke there is fire” is true, to a certain extent the opposite is also true.  Meaning: any flame, especially when it is first lit or extinguished, always emits small puffs of smoke. Much like a match smokes when you blow it out, so too will your candle.  But keep reading – we’ve got a hack for that too. Here are the top reasons why candles smoke, and helpful tips to prevent your candle from smoking excessively.

1.  The Candlemaker Used the Wrong Type of Wick

Making a candle isn’t as simple as just placing a wick in waxThere are hundreds of different types and weaves of wicks, a candlemaker must test to use ensure they have right wick, for both the right candle wax (e.g., Soy Wax, Natural Coconut Wax or paraffin wax blends), and the size of the candle. Use the wrong wick and you end up with a very poor burning candle, or worse. Fortunately, standard testing requirements for candles made in the U.S.A. guarantee that, when used properly, the candle should not smoke excessively. The good news is that if you stick to candles made by reputable brands, you can rest assured that those tests were already in place before you purchased your candle. So chances are, we can quickly scratch this cause off the list of the likely culprits.

2.  The Candle is Burned in a Drafty Area

If you read the instructions attached to all of your favorite candles (and we certainly hope you do), no doubt you’ve noticed warnings to avoid burning in “drafty areas."  Think: don’t burn a candle in front of an open window or in front of an air conditioning or heating vent. Why? Because a draft or breeze causes the flame to dance or move.  Watching a flickering flame is fun – that is, until you happen to notice that with each flicker, the flame emits a small puff of smoke. Allow that to continue for an hour or two and you’ll likely notice that the interior of your candle shows the telltale signs of smoking. So, on this one (and all the others), take the recommendation offered by the candlemaker – and avoid those drafts! 

3. The Wick is Too Long

Ever wonder why candle labels instruct to “always trim the wick to ¼,” and to allow the wax to cool before relighting?” It makes sense, but a longer wick can result in a taller flame than the candlemaker intended, causing smoking and a variety of potential safety hazards. Its easy to trim your wicks with a wick trimmer, an everyday scissor or even a tissue pinched together with your fingers. Just be careful to prevent all of those wick trimmings (or any other debris for that matter) to fall and remain inside your candle. 

4. The Candle Wick Didn't "Bend Over" During Use

Find a candle that burns with no fuss, and we’ll show you a wick that has “turned over” and starts to look like a lower case “r.” This is intentional, allowing the wick to be consumed and to “self-trim” as the very tip reaches and stays in the most outermost and hottest parts of the candle flame. Sometimes, however, you will notice that your wick is standing straight up and has developed a “black ball” at the top. While this can be a sign of a poorly matched wick, it can also be the result of the exact essential oils. Do you like candles that have complex and woody and resinous notes? Sometimes, those oils tend to create little carbon balls (which often prevent the wick from “bending” properly.  So too, do some natural floral essential oils. Before you swear off enjoying all of your favorite fragrances – just extinguish and trim off those wicks a little more frequently. It’s a small inconvenience to allow you and your guests to enjoy that one candle fragrance that you just can’t seem to live without.

5. Your Wick Has "Tunneled" Into the Wax

Let’s face itSometimes your favorite luxury candle can cost a small fortuneSo it's only natural that we try to extend their life by blowing them out every chance we canThe problem with doing that is you can actually reduce the life and encourage a candle to burn poorly! WhyCandle flames, like all flames, need a certain amount of oxygen to burn. If you don’t allow the entire wax pool to liquify, or keep lighting and blowing your candle out too quickly - you may notice that the top of your wick is sitting inside a small hole (“tunnel”) with a lot of unmelted and wasted wax surrounding itWhen that happens, the problems really start; the flame is robbed of the oxygen it needs, and that lack of oxygen supply causes the flame to become increasingly smaller and smaller (and sometimes, to stop burning at all). At that point, there is no sure-fire way to get your candle working properly again and worse, the disruption of the oxygen flow caused by that tunnel can cause smoking issues

So while your candle warning certainly tells you to “extinguish after 2 hours use” we take it a step further to say: always extinguish after 2 hours but also (or at least as often you can!), try to burn it for at least 2 hours so the entire top can liquify. It sounds completely counterintuitive, but trust us: if you do that, you’ll not only extend the life of your purchase but also, you’ll also enjoy a much better-burning candle. 


Some Smoke Is Normal


And a few final observations and hacks before we go. All candle wicks, when first lit, will emit some noticeable smoke. That’s normal and not a reason for concern – and that smoke should quickly disappear after a few seconds or minutes as the candle wick starts to turn and the flame to start to settle. And any fire, including a candle wick, will emit smoke when you blow it out. So what are you supposed to do about that?  One simple solution is to always use a candle snuffer. If you don’t have one handy, don’t worry.  Here’s an even better hack: just cover the entire top of your lit candle with a plate or any flat, fireproof and damage-proof surface. What you will see is that your candle flame reduces in height and quickly extinguishes, dramatically reducing the amount of smoke, and keeping what little smoke is created inside the glass or vessel itself. You can remove the plate or cover after a few minutes – and you’ll be ready to start the process and your new mantra all over again: Burn for two hours - extinguish and allow to cool - trim those wicks before lighting enjoy - and repeat! 

For more information on candle care, check out our other blog posts, like "How Long Should I Keep My Candle Burning," or, "How to Fix and Prevent Candle Tunneling."