Why Does This Happen?

We have received a couple of emails from some customers regarding 3 wick candles they had purchased and are having some trouble with.  The main question has been, “Why did my candle crack down the side and why did it burn down so fast?”.  So today I am going to address this question (we have already answered our customers, of course).

Wax Is Supposed to Melt

melted candle

First lets talk about how a 3 wick candle, or any pillar candle, should burn.  Unlike a candle that is made in a container such as a jar or votive cup, a pillar candle is ALL fuel.  This presents some challenges when manufacturing them, use too small of a wick and the pillar will tunnel, too large a wick and the liquid pool will spread too far and run over the edge.  Ideally, regardless of the size diameter of the pillar candle, the liquid wax pool should melt out to about 1/8″ from the edge and no further.  This would allow the maximum amount of wax to be used up as the flame works its way down the candle.

Ambient Temperature

A few things come into play that make it nearly impossible to manufacture a pillar candle that would burn perfectly every time and here is why.  A major factor is the environment in which the candle is burning.  This will influence how easily or hard the flame will have to work to melt the wax, turning it into usable fuel.  To demonstrate, here is an extreme example, take the same pillar to the Antarctic and to Death Valley, it will perform completely different in each location.  The same goes for in your home even from day to day.  On a warmer day the wax will be softer and flame will melt the wax easier since the starting point is already “closer” to melting.  When it is cooler, the wax will be harder and the flame will have more difficulty melting the wax.

The location IN your home can have this same affect on the wax.  If you burn the candle in an area near a lit fireplace or heat vent the wax will be softer.  Some of the emails we received were from customers who were burning 3 wick pillar candles inside of a hurricane.  While this looks really pretty and is a neat idea, the heat from the flames is contained around the wax more than when the candle is burned in the open air.  This is another example of what can cause the wax to become softer.  Ok, so you got the idea, temperature affects how a candle burns.

Air Flow

A second major factor is air flow.  Burning a pillar in a drafty environment makes the flame burn at an inconsistent rate and temperature.  This causes the production of soot as well as causing the wax to melt unevenly.

The Cycle

melted pillar

So now you have a little bit of background, lets talk about what happened to the pillar candles that we were asked about.  In these particular cases a couple of the candles were inside a hurricane.  The liquid pool of wax melted to the edge of the candle and began to run over the side.  Once this starts, the hot wax begins to melt the wall of the candle away which allows more wax to empty through the side.  As the level the pool lowers, the length of the wicks exposed to the air is getting longer.  This causes the flames to get larger and therefore produce more heat.  More heat means faster melting wax.  More hot liquid wax means more running out the side wall of the pillar which at this point is carving a crevasse down the side.  The cycle continues, bigger flames, more wax running out, bigger crevasse down the side.  The next thing you know your pillar is burned all the way down to the bottom, there is a pool in the bottom of your hurricane.  Rising from the liquid is the shell of a pillar with a crack in it big enough to film a retake of Tom Cruise rock climbing in the opening scene of Mission Impossible.

Do It Right

How do you avoid this mess and waste of money?  It is actually not that difficult, it starts with the #1 rule of burning candles… NEVER leave a candle burning unattended.  Did I mention NEVER leave a candle burning unattended?  The next thing is know what you are looking for, (besides the obvious ball of fire, a whole new set of problems).  Take a look at the size of the liquid pool of wax AND the size of the flames.

  • If the candle has been lit for a while the flames may have gotten a little larger.  Extinguish the flames, trim the wicks, and relight it.
  • If the liquid pool has gotten about 1/8″ from the edge of the edge of the candle, extinguish it and allow it to cool for a little before relighting it.  Make sure to trim the wicks prior to lighting it again.

Doing this will ensure that the wax doesn’t run over the edge and start ruining your candle.

Watch For the Bulge

The other customer's question was different in that the candle had burned down beautifully about 3 inches but then the liquid broke through the wall and drained out creating the same cycle as described above.  Remember my statement from the beginning of this post “Unlike a candle that is made in a container such as a jar or votive cup, a pillar candle is ALL fuel.”?  This means that even though the candle has a nicely established wall above the level of the liquid pool, the walls are still wax and can still soften to the point of giving way.  A very good indicator that the wall is softening and getting too thin is the “bulging” appearance that occurs as it starts to sag.

The ways to keep this from happening are the same as avoiding the first issue.  Keep your wicks trimmed and watch that the diameter of the pool is not getting too large.

Keep these things in mind when burning your gorgeous new 3 wick pillar candles and get the best burn for your buck.