Tea light candles are an affordable, attractive way to create a cozy atmosphere. Since they usually come in little metal cups, some people think that using a holder shouldn’t be necessary. I’ve found that the issue isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.
Whether it’s okay to burn tea lights without a holder depends on a number of factors. If you take the right safety precautions, it’s possible to get away with not using one. Still, there are many occasions where the little metal cups tea lights often come in simply won’t suffice.
The good news is that if budget or style are the reason you don’t want to use candle holders, there are some alternatives. And if the style is your main priority, explore your options before deciding that using holders won’t work.
If the plan is to use these little candles at an event, be sure to check with the venue to see if they have any rules about how you can use them. Other than that, there are a few rules of thumb that can help you determine if and when you should put your tea lights in holders.
Safety Considerations for When Not Using Holders
Unlike many other types of candles, tea lights aren’t easily knocked over thanks to their height, though it can happen. While the fact that they’re wider and shorter can mean more stability and therefore less tip-over hazard, there are some other aspects of tea lights that can lead to trouble.
For example, people tend to set out more of these candles because they are so small, and that means more little flames to keep an eye on. Here are some other things to consider:
How long a tea light lasts not only influences how often you’ll have to replace it but how soon the flame will get down to the surface. The cup these candles come in usually work fine for protecting the surface from the flame, but the metal can be very hot. If that cup is sitting on a plastic surface without protection, that little flame could result in a big fire.
Most tea lights burn for about three hours by design. There are some extended burning versions that can go for as much as eight hours. While the advantages of the longer burn time include not having to replace the candles as often, keep in mind that greater time may equate to those tiny metal cups getting even hotter.
Of course common sense applies to the placement of any type of candle. Keep them away from drafts, pets, children, and high traffic areas, and don’t put them on the floor, under shelves or near curtains.
While a big concern should be the heat-resistance of the surface you sit the tea light on, it’s also all about what’s around it and above. When part of a table setting, for example, the open flames can be more of a burn hazard for guests and centerpieces. Place the lights where there’s little risk of objects being dropped into them by accident.
Tea Light Holder Options
You may decide that using going without the holders isn’t the best approach. If you were thinking about using the candles alone for the sake of style, you may find that some holders suit your taste even better.
Of course the most neutral option is clear glass. These give you all the elegant beauty of the little flames without hindrance. But if simplicity isn’t your motive, then there are countless options for finding something that fits your theme.
Tea Light Candelabras
These holders vary in size, style, and even material. Each one can hold several tea lights. Some are made to hang like chandeliers while others stand on flat surfaces like lamps. They can make for beautiful centerpieces even on their own.
With these, there’s far less concern for the type of surface the candle sits on as long as it’s solid. But having the lights clustered together could be considered a design disadvantage. And you want to be sure to place these where there’s less risk of them being knocked over.
Votive Candle Holders
Votive holders aren’t just for votive candles. They are also the perfect size for tea lights. Though there is an array of styles with these, going with the basic glass holder mentioned before means going with these.
One advantage is that, unlike with candelabras, you maintain the ability to spread them out just as if you weren’t using holders. Plus votive holders can be very budget friendly. Using these won’t be much of a stretch and they’re much safer than using no holder at all.
I like to think of tea light lanterns as the middle ground between candelabras and votive holders. Like candelabras, they can be hung. Like votive holders, you aren’t forced to have a cluster of candles.
This is another option that can provide enough flexibility to suit your design theme. There are also sorts of materials and colors to choose from. Perhaps the biggest drawback with lanterns is the price – they generally cost more than votive holders and more per candle than candelabras.
Read our full article on Best Candle Holders.
Tea Light Candle Holder Alternatives
If your main reason for wanting to skip the candle holders is budget, a little creativity can add safety without adding expense. It can even help enhance the decor.
The shape and size of tea lights provide a lot of versatility when going the do-it-yourself route for holders. When choosing what you’ll use, be sure to go with a material that’s fire and heat resistant and won’t crack or leak. Here are some examples:
Trays can be a good alternative to the candelabra style. You can cluster the tea lights on the tray to create a similar visual effect. Just be sure to avoid using any tray made of plastic. Some good options are metal, wood, or glass.
That leftover tile from your last home improvement project may be just the solution you need. It can serve as a barrier between the tea lights and the surface where they sit. Function-wise, I liken them to the lantern-style holders in that you have the candles spread out.
If you’re looking for a more elegant solution, consider putting the tea lights in wine glasses. It’s a popular method for wedding receptions. And if you happen to already own a nice collection of stemware, using them instead of buying holders can help you save money.
Types of Candles That Don’t Need a Holder
Perhaps neither buying nor making your own candle holder simply isn’t an option. This can happen when you’re stuck at home and the right materials aren’t available. It’s a scenario I can relate to – one in which, ironically, the use of candles is often essential.
But if tea lights aren’t your only option, you may find that some of the other types of candles suit your purpose better. Candles that can stand on their own and give more height between the burning wick and the surface may prove a better choice when there’s no holder.
The circumference of a votive candle’s base is usually as wide as that of a tea light or wider, but this type of candle is also taller. These get a much longer burn time – eight to ten hours as opposed to the three hours of the average tea light.
I have used votive candles without holders many times without issue. But here are some things to keep in mind: the wax may drip to the surface and you’ll have to be mindful of when the candle gets low. Be sure to put the candle on a surface that won’t get damaged by the wax and heat.
Pillar candles are similar to votive candles but bigger. These can come with multiple wicks. They’re high on the list of candles you can use without a holder. Thanks to their larger size it’s less likely for wax to drip to the surface, staying instead in a pool in the center.
There’s no need to use a holder with a jar candle – the jar is the holder. This makes these the best choice for going holder-free. True, they’re no replacement for the elegance of the little tea lights, but they’re one of the safest options as long as they don’t get tipped over.
While the surface that a jar candle sits on is less of a concern, you still want to make sure they stay away from things like curtains or other flammable materials.
Using Tea Lights Just Right
Whether you opt to use a holder for them or not, tea lights are wonderful mood-setters that can add a relaxing ambiance to any room. For this reason, it’s possible to not find an adequate substitution for them.
One little trick I use when forgoing holders is to set an alarm that reminds me to check on my candles. Though I know not to leave any open flame unattended, it’s a safety measure that helps me have a bit more peace of mind.
Read our full review about Best Tea Light Candles.