Can Candles Set Off Fire Alarms?

Candles create an ambiance that few other light settings can. And scented candles can fill your rooms with lovely fragrances that make your house feel more like home. There’s something about that steady flame and fragrance that makes you want to collect more and more candles to light in every room. But if you light candles, do you risk setting off your fire alarms? 

The amount of smoke generated by a candle is not enough to cause your smoke alarm to go off. But leaving a candle unattended can create conditions that might spark a fire, then set off your fire alarm. While candles can be beautiful, not paying attention to how and where you light them can be detrimental.

You’ll get the most enjoyment out of candles when you take the proper safety measures. Read on to learn more about how you can safely enjoy candles without setting your home on fire.

Can Candles Set Off Fire Alarms

What Triggers Fire Alarms?

A candle flame alone would not produce enough smoke to set off a fire detector. Even smoke blown towards a smoke detector from 15 tea candles wasn’t enough to trigger it. But lighting candles and sparklers on a birthday cake might do the trick.

On a serious note, fires are unpredictable and nothing to play around with. Different smoke is even produced by different fires. And this is why property owners are required to place smoke detectors inside of their houses or rental properties for the safety of those who live there. 

How Do Fire Alarms Work?

According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), smoke from flaming fires and smoldering fires are not the same.  There are even different smoke detectors for each type of smoke: ionization and photoelectric.

Ionization smoke alarms best sense the presence of smoke from flaming fires.

Photoelectric smoke alarms best sense the presence of smoke from smoldering fires.

Each device can detect the other type of smoke but the response time varies. Both devices have their benefits, so it’s suggested that there’s either both placed in residences or a dual sensor device that can detect both types of smoke. Both the USFA and the National Fire Protection Association make the same suggestion.

Smoldering vs Flaming Combustion

Smoldering fires are slow, low temperature, and flameless – similar to lighting an incense stick. You’ll see a subtle glow, but never a full-on flame.

Flaming fires start with an open flame source that comes in contact with something flammable.

This is the type of fire that could be started by a candle. But candles alone won’t set off fire alarms. Simply lighting a candle wouldn’t produce enough smoke or burning to set off any alarms, but they can pose a fire hazard when they aren’t properly monitored. 

Over 50% of all candle fires occur because objects were too close to the candle flame. And most house fires caused by candles occur most often in the month of December when decorations are set too close to candle flames.

But there are things that you can do to prevent your candles from setting off your fire alarms.

Candle Safety: Points To Consider for Fire Prevention

Not to worry if you enjoy lighting candles in your home, but you might be wondering how you can go about creating safe conditions when doing so. Candle safety practices help prevent fires, injuries, and damage to your property. Here are some points to consider:

  • Trim your wicks to ¼ inch prior to relighting. This leads to a more even burn and prevents smoking. 
  • Make sure your candle holder is sturdy, flat, and also wide enough to catch any wax that might drip down. 
  • Never relocate a burning candle. Once you’ve lit a candle and wax begins to pool, let it sit. The container itself is hot, and that can startle you, causing you to drop the jar and unintentionally set fire to your space.
    • Also, candle wax is extremely hot. If you move the candle and the hot wax somehow comes in contact with your hands or body, that can cause you to drop the candle, leading to roaring flames. 
  • Choose sleep over ambiance. If you feel sleepy as you’re about to light a candle, choose sleep instead. Falling asleep while a candle is lit is such a hazard. Thirty-seven percent of home candle fires that occurred between 2014-2018 started in the bedroom.

Honestly, I learned this the hard way. I fell asleep while a candle was lit, and it burned all the way down to its base, but it did this on an angle. Bright red wax poured over the edge of the candle holder down the edge of my bookcase, and then onto the cream colored carpet. Not only was there a forever pink stain on the carpet but with a slight shift in conditions, that flame could have ignited the entire bookcase and then spread throughout the apartment.  

  • Never leave a candle unattended. Leaving a candle unattended may seem like an innocent act, but it can actually lead to many problems. For example, if you walk out of the room then a small gust of wind causes a sheet of paper to blow towards the flame creating a small fire, that small fire can quickly turn into an overwhelming one, and you wouldn’t even know about it right away. By remaining in the room, if the same scenario were to occur, you would be able to prevent a small fire from turning into something much bigger.
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets. If you have a frisky cat or little person that likes to climb on tables and shelves, do not place lit candles on any surface they can access. Even a slight whip of their tail or their body weight being placed on one side of a lightweight table can cause a candle to get knocked over.
  • Candle flames should not soar really high or flicker often. If this happens, snuff out the flame to prevent the candle from smoking. Once it cools, trim the wick, and then light it again.
  • Keep lit candles at least 12 inches (1 ft) away from any flammable object. This includes window curtains, carpeting, bedding, papers and books, artificial plants, holiday decorations, or anything that could come in contact with the flame and then cause a fire.
  • Almost done is the same as finished. If you are burning an older candle that is almost finished, be mindful of how far down the wax is. Avoid letting the wick continue to burn to the very base of the container because that could pose a fire hazard. When there’s a thin layer of wax that remains at the bottom of the container, you can consider that candle to be done. It’s time to clean and reuse the jar or discard it altogether.
  • Completely extinguish the flame. Once you’ve doused the flame, before leaving the room, make sure that the fire is fully extinguished. If there’s a subtle glow to the candle wick, it can possibly reignite, so snuff it out completely before walking away.
  • Power outage safety. If there’s a power outage, it’s better to use flashlights than candles as a light source.

Read more: 23 Candle Fire Safety Rules You Must Know

In Conclusion

Candles can only set off fire alarms when we create the conditions that cause that to happen. If you’re safe and smart about how and when you use candles, then you’ll have far less to worry about.

What’s the best way to put out a candle? To snuff out a flame without any smoke, use a candle snuffer, or a wick dipper. You can also wet your fingers and pinch out the flame. Or you can use a metal rod or something else that isn’t flammable to turn the burning wick into the pool of wax surrounding it (this is what a wick dipper does).

If you don’t feel that you can carry out these safety tips, you might consider using flameless candles instead.

Here are the biggest takeaways to help you avoid setting off fire alarms when lighting candles:

  • Keep your wicks trimmed.
  • Clean dust and debris off of your candle prior to lighting it.
  • Never leave lit candles unattended.
  • Only light candles on stable surfaces out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Keep matches out of the reach of children.
  • Never move a candle once it’s lit.

If your smoke detector is highly sensitive and is set off by the slightest amount of smoke even after taking these precautions, make sure it’s mounted either on the ceiling or on the wall four to twelve inches from the ceiling. You can also light candles in an area that’s away from your smoke detectors.

In extreme cases, you might want to replace the fire alarm if it’s more than ten years old.

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Grace Young

I love candles! I have personally tried over 100 brands of candles. The total burn time of these candles is over 5000 hours. I also talk about essential oil diffusers and reed diffusers. Essential oil diffusers and diffusers are also an important part of the scent in my home.

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