Surprise! You’re Burning Candles All Wrong

Before you strike your next match, be sure avoid these pitfalls that diminish the aroma, attractiveness and longevity of jar candles.

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The Five Ingredients for an Optimal Candle Burn


Whether you’re making the house smell delectable before guests arrive or trying to zen out after a long day, there’s an art to burning and caring for candles that goes beyond just lighting a wick. It’s all about eliminating the sixth element. “There are five ingredients that make getting an optimal burn for a candle difficult,” explains Mei Xu, co-founder and CEO of Chesapeake Bay Candle. “They are: Wick, wax, fragrance, color and vessel.” Candle makers work hard to balance all of these “ingredients” to make the perfect candle. But when you introduce a sixth element (something as simple as a draft), or throw those five out of whack (by, say, not trimming your wick), you get sooted glass, diminished scent, lost wicks and more. Learn how to light your fire the right way by snuffing out these slip-ups.

Related: Suprise! You've Been Buying Sneakers All Wrong

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Mistake #1: Not Mastering The First Burn


The first time you light a candle, you’ll need the wax to melt all the way to the edge of the jar to create a good “memory burn” that impacts all future burns. So if you don’t have at least two hours, wait for another time. “Most people have lit a candle and blown it out in an hour,” says Fay Pottinger, co-founder of Scentered. “You end up with a tunneling effect that shrinks the size of your candle. You lose out on fragrance and it won’t last as long.”

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Mistake #2: Not 'Airing' on the Side of Caution


Keep your candle away from fans, ventilation ducts, air conditioning units, windows or any area in your home that might catch a breeze—one of those sixth elements. While you may think you’re circulating the lemon verbena or ocean breeze scent better, you’re actually not. “When you have a draft, it’s less likely you can burn into the pool of wax and that’s where you get the fragrance,” explains Xu. Also leaning flames won’t create an even burn.

Also see: Holiday Gift Ideas for the Home

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Mistake #3: Not Trimming the Wick


While you don’t have to snip the wick every single time you burn your candle, there are a few cases when you definitely should. One telltale trimming sign is that your flame has gotten too big—over an inch. Another is that black smoke is forming on the jar of the candle. One more: a “mushroom”-shaped wick. In general, just eyeball it before you light it and clip it to a centimeter if necessary. 

Related: Wick Trimmers and More Hostess Gifts for Less Than $30

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Mistake #4: Not Watching The Clock


Those wax wonders aren’t designed to go all night (or all day) long. “I’d suggest not burning a candle for more than three hours,” says Xu. “Longer than that and the wick can get buried in a deep pool of wax.” If that does happen, let the wax cool before attempting to find the wick.

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Mistake #5: Not Realizing Size Matters


“A one-wick candle is more than enough for your normal bathroom or powder room,” explains Xu. “But if you have a very large living room or a multi-floor living room, you may want to consider a multi-wick candle.” That way you get that cranberry apple or sandlewood aroma throughout your entire space. 

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Mistake #6: Not Covering it Up


Don’t let your sixth element be dust. “It actually contains a lot of rubbish you don’t want to be burning,” explains Pottinger. Gently clean off the surface with a tissue before lighting your candle.

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Mistake #7 Not Putting It to Use


Maybe you only want the scent of pine or gingerbread when December rolls around. Or someone gave you a candle years ago that you’ve been waiting to re-gift. Either way: The clock is ticking. “Candles don’t have a shelf life like cosmetics, but I’d say three years in its packaging is how long they last,” says Pottinger. “Any longer than that you’d expect deterioration in the fragrance.”