Tuesday, 27 May 2008

With the introduction of the light bulb in the late 1800s, candles and declined steadily in popularity. Now candles are used mainly for ambiance or emergencies. We find out more about candles, including their cost, materials, and health risks.


The Basics

  • Candles are made using a few main types of materials:

    • Paraffin, the most common wax, accounts for about 75% of all candles. A white, waxy, odourless by-product of petroleum distillation, it comes in different grades suited for particular types of candles.

    • Beeswax, derived from bee honeycomb, burns slowly and smokeless, with a faint honey scent. It’s more expensive than paraffin. Look for "pure beeswax" candles since plain "beeswax" on the label may only be 51% pure, with the rest paraffin.

    • Soy Wax, a plant-derived natural wax made of a blend of botanical oils in soybean base is a great alternative to paraffin. It’s economical, all-natural, burns very clean, produces less soot and holds essential oils better than paraffin.

    • Gel, not made of wax, is a combination of common mineral oil and patented gel resin. It can contain higher concentrations of scented oil than wax and is a popular medium for strong home fragrance.

    • Bayberry Wax, from the berries of the bayberry shrub, is more expensive than beeswax because it takes 15 pounds of berries to produce one pound of wax. It’s sometimes used to make authentic, period-style candles.

    • Tallow is an almost colourless and tasteless solid fat extracted from natural fat of cattle, sheep and pigs. It’s best used for container candle making, if at all. It burns very smoky and stinky and is generally kept to authentic, period-style candles.

  • Candles come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Choose according to your intended use:

    • Taper candles are slender, typically 6-18 inches in height, and need to be held securely upright in a candle holder. Sometimes referred to as dinner candles.

    • Votive candles are small and cylindrical, usually about 1.5 in diameter and 2 to 2.5 inches high. These are most often placed in a glass cup-like holder to contain the liquid wax that results from burning. Votives were originally produced as white, unscented candles for religious ceremonies, but today they are available in many colors and scents.

    • Pillar or column candles are rigid, self-standing structures that are thick in diameter. They often have one or more wicks and can be a variety of shapes and sizes. They should be burned on a heat-resistant candle holder.

    • Container or filled candles are poured into a special or decorative glass, tin or pottery container designed to withstand heat.

    • Tea lights are small, cylindrical candles, usually about 1 inch in diameter and 1.5 inches high. It is filled in its own holder, typically made of metal.

    • Floating candles are shallow with a smooth, convex bottom designed specifically to float on water.

    • Specialty candles may be unusually-shaped or sculpted, free-standing candles. They are often painted to depict a three-dimensional object or designed to be viewed primarily as decorative artwork.

    • Gel candles, a more transparent-type of candle typically with a rubbery-like consistency, are made primarily from gelled mineral oils or gelled synthetic hydrocarbons, poured into a container to maintain its shape. Decorative wax items are frequently suspended within the gel for special visual effect.

  • Candles are coloured in two ways:

    • Dyes colour a candle throughout to create a translucent effect similar to stain. Dyes can fade over, or bleed onto any porous surfaces (e.g. paper or a box).

    • Pigments coat the outside of a candle to create a solid wall of colour, but don’t fade like dye.

  • Scented candles have become very popular in recent years.

    • Fragrances used in candles are generally a combination of natural and synthetic materials. Some fragranced candles may produce more soot.

    • Aromatherapy candles must contain a minimum amount of essential oils to be called “aromatherapy”.

  • Candles can be manufactured in three ways:

    • Hand-dipped, made by repeatedly dipping wicks into vats of wax, are usually expensive and prized for their hand-crafted appeal and irregular shapes.

    • Molded candles, made by pouring hot wax into forms, are more affordable and uniform in size and shape.

    • Rolled candles are made by simply rolling sheets of the wax (usually beeswax) around a wick.

Be Aware

  • Metal wicks are often a health concern and should be avoided. Some are 100% lead and can create a toxic cloud in a room if burned for long periods of time. To check for a lead wick, cut off a piece and remove the outside coating. Rub the inner wick on a piece of paper – if it makes marks like a pencil then it may contain lead. 

  • Candles pose many safety concerns. Follow these guidelines when burning:

    • Always keep a burning candle within sight.

    • Never burn a candle on or near anything that can catch fire.

    • Keep candles out of reach of children and pets.

    • Read and follow manufacturers’ instructions carefully.

    • Keep candles away from drafts and vents – this will help prevent rapid, uneven burning, smoking and excessive dripping.

    • Always use an appropriate candleholder placed on stable, heat-resistant surface.

    • Use in well ventilated room. Candles need oxygen to burn or they will smoke.

    • Extinguish a candle if it smokes, flickers repeatedly or flame becomes to high.

    • Keep wax pool free of wick trimmings, matches and debris at all times.

    • Never move a votive or container candle when the wax is liquid.

    • Extinguish pillar candles if the wax pool approaches the outer edge.

    • Place candles at least 3 inches from one another so that they don’t melt one another.

    • One of the safest ways to extinguish a candle is to use a candle snuffer, this helps prevent hot wax from spattering.

    • Flashlights are a much safer light source during a power failure.

    • Always store candles in a cool, dark and dry place and tapers should be stored flat to prevent warping. Candles will fade if left in the light for extended periods of time.


We tested a few different kinds of candles to see if they burned for as long as advertised. Types of candles we tested:

  • Homemade beeswax candles, $0.70 each, 3 hour burn time.
  • Professionally made beeswax tapers, $4.50 each, 12 hour burn time.
  • Soy candles, $1.80 each, 6 hour burn time.
  • Paraffin candles, $2.06 each, 11 hour burn time.
  • Gel candles, $3.75 each, 18 hour burn time.

Burn Time Test

  • All of the candles met or exceeded their burn times, except for one.

  • The gel candle only lasted less than one third of the advertised time before its wick drowned. If that happens to you, you should return it.


Since all of our candles but one passed the test, we don’t have a top pick for this review. However, we are fans of the soy candles, which are increasingly popular on the market.





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