Candles are very relaxing and pleasant to have around the house, but things can get out of control just like nearly anything that involves controlled fire. One question that many new candle enthusiasts have is, “Is it possible for candle wax to catch on fire?” It is a good question and important to know if you want to stay safe while burning candles, so let’s take a look.
Candle wax can catch on fire, but it is unlikely to happen on a well-made candle. If the main body of wax in a candle reaches its flashpoint (around 395° F), it can ignite. Most well-made candles will stay well below the wax’s flashpoint, but contaminated wax and fragrances can also cause a fire.
While it probably won’t happen if you’re using half-decent candles and taking the proper safety precautions, your candle’s wax catching fire is a real possibility you should try your best to ensure doesn’t happen.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at how wax can catch fire, what causes it to happen, why it’s dangerous, and so much more!
Can Candle Wax Catch On Fire?
Put simply, candle wax can catch on fire, but it is pretty rare if you’re using good candles and being safe.
Candles work by siphoning wax into their wick, which fuels the flame and allows the candle to burn. The main body of wax in a candle can catch fire if the temperature goes above the wax’s flashpoint. A candle wax’s flashpoint varies depending on what type of wax it is, but generally, it’s around 395° F.
Most well-made, or even decently made, candles have a design that allows them to disperse heat and keep their wax body well below its flashpoint. However, in some situations, a candle’s design or materials can cause it to catch fire, which we’ll discuss in the following section.
What Causes Candle Wax to Catch On Fire?
While wax reaching its flashpoint is the primary reason for candle wax catching on fire, other things may cause it to happen or help lead to the wax reaching its flashpoint. Let’s go over a few of the possible things that could cause candle wax to catch fire.
Contaminated Wax or Debris
If your candle has debris or some other contamination in its wax, the chances of it catching fire go up pretty significantly.
Debris or some other sort of wax contamination can act as a secondary wick. When you light the primary wick on your candle, the flame can travel across the surface of your candle using the debris in the wax as fuel.
Not only can the debris or contamination in your wax act as a secondary wick and cause a fire, but it can also heat the wax body of your candle. If left unattended, your candle could heat up past the wax’s flashpoint and combust.
Letting Your Candle Burn All the Way Down
Letting your candle burn all the way down to the bottom of its container can cause some serious risk and could potentially cause it to catch fire.
Especially if you’re using a candle with a tall container, burning it to the bottom will trap more heat inside the container and, in turn, heat the wax. Burning a candle to the bottom also means there will be less wax, so whatever wax is left will liquefy and become SUPER hot.
Overall, letting your candle burn all the way down is usually not a risk worth taking. Generally, you’ll want to stop burning free-standing candles when they get 2 inches from the bottom and stop burning candles with containers when they reach ½ in from the bottom.
While it is unlikely, the more fire you have near or on your candle, the hotter the wax will generally get. Multi-wick candles inherently have two or more flames, which can cause your candle’s wax to reach its flashpoint faster and easier.
If you want to use a multi-wick candle, go for ones that have smaller wicks, so the flames will be smaller and won’t heat the wax as fast. Multi-wick candles can be great, but just know that there is an increased chance for a candle fire, however so slight.
Another thing that can play a role in candle wax fires is fragrances. Most candles have some sort of fragrance, but the commercial fragrances tend to be more accident and fire-prone than essential oils.
Candle fragrance oils have their own flashpoints as well where, if they reach a specific temperature (usually between 140° F and 185° F depending on the fragrance) and come into contact with a flame, they will combust. Fragrance oil flashpoints usually won’t be an issue because the oil needs to be over the flashpoint temperature and in contact with a flame, but if you have an existing wax fire, it could be an issue.
Every fragrance oil acts differently, but just know that the presence of fragrance oils can increase the chances of your candle wax igniting, or at least increase the problem if it does catch fire. Just be safe and do everything you can to ensure your candle doesn’t catch fire beyond a contained flame on its wick.
Unsuitable Candle Holders
While it might not directly relate to catching your candle’s wax on fire, an unsuitable candle holder could contribute to a fire or heat your candle past its flashpoint.
Typically unsuitable candle holders fall into two main categories: flammable candle holders or candle holders that retain too much heat.
The first one is pretty self-explanatory, but if a candle holder is flammable, it is likely to catch fire and is very unsafe to burn a candle in. The second type of unsuitable candle holders is a little more subjective but equally important. If a candle holder retains too much heat, the main body of wax in a candle can more easily heat past its flashpoint and combust.
Multiple Candles Too Close to Each Other
Having too many candles too close to each other can present a serious fire safety risk, in addition to possibly causing one or more candles to heat past its flashpoint.
Much like the problem with multi-wick candles, too many candles in close proximity to each other can create too much heat and heat wax past its flashpoint. Keeping all candles at least 3 inches apart (preferably MUCH more) will ensure they don’t share heat and possibly catch fire.
This problem of too many candles too close to each other is especially prevalent with tea lights. People often like to light multiple tea lights at one time, so the chances of putting them too close to each other is a real problem.
Why are Candle Wax Fires Dangerous?
In addition to the obvious, “they’re dangerous because of the large flame,” candle wax fires can also be dangerous because you cannot put it out with water.
When you see any sort of large flame that must be put out (such as a candle wax fire), many people immediately try to put water on it. However, this will just cause more problems in the case of a candle wax fire.
Pouring water on a lit candle will cause the liquid wax to splash upwards in a fiery ball of molten wax and flames. The reason for this is because water is more dense than wax, so instead of extinguishing the flame, it will simply sink to the bottom of the molten wax pool in your candle and spray liquid wax everywhere.
All that to say, candle wax fires can be quite dangerous if not handled properly. Make sure to carefully read the following section to learn how to extinguish a candle wax fire safely.
What to Do If Your Candle’s Wax Catches On Fire
Instead of pouring water, or any type of liquid, on your candle to put out a wax fire, you need to put out the flame by depriving it of oxygen.
There are many ways of depriving a candle of oxygen, but the safest method is to use a candle snuffer. A candle snuffer is a metal cone with a handle that you can place over a flame to snuff it out. If your candle is in a container, another option is to put the container’s lid or a metal pan lid over the opening to cut off oxygen flow to the flame.
There are many ways to deprive a candle wax fire of oxygen, and it really doesn’t matter which method you choose as long as you remain safe. Just remember, never to pour water on a candle wax fire!
Read more: What Does Flashpoint Mean in Candle Making