Prevent your candles from tunneling as they burn

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Lighting a candle seems foolproof – light the wick, melt the wax and, if you have a scented candle, enjoy the aroma, right? Well, not so fast. There’s actually a right way and a wrong way to light a candle to get your money’s worth.

By burning a candle properly, you can avoid tunneling, where the wick burns a tunnel into the center of a candle, leaving a thick ring of unmelted wax around the outer rim. Once a candle has started tunneling, it will do so every time you light it (unless you fix it; I’ll show you how to do that below).

Keeping your tunnel candle burning leaves you with a wick that burns up quickly and a bundle of wax that never melted and therefore gave off no scent. If you’ve spent more than $40 on a Boy Smells candle or $70 on a Diptyque candle, you’re going to want to squeeze out all the aroma you can.

You can find more tips here The best way to travel with contact lenses and How to cut a cake with dental floss.

Cut the wick first

Before you light any candle – whether new or already lit – consider trimming the wick. This will help prevent black burn marks from forming on the candle’s container and prevent charred bits of wick from falling into the melted wax.

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You should trim the wick to 1/4 to 1/8 inch with scissors wick trimmer.

If your boxed candle has a wooden wick — an eighth to a quarter of an inch high — you can skip the trimming before the first burn, said Kris Powers, the lab manager for the Newell Brands Home Fragrance Test Laboratory (Newell Brands owns Yankee Candles, Chesapeake Bay Candles and Woodwick). After lighting the candle for the first time, you can snap off the tip of the wick before lighting the candle again to prevent dirt from getting into the wax.

Next, let the top layer of wax melt to the brim to keep the candle from tunneling

This is the most important step to avoid tunneling. When you light your candle, let it burn long enough for the top surface of the wax to melt completely, from the wick to the rim of the candle container. Not only will this release as much odor as possible, but it will also stop tunneling in its tracks.

Powers recommends burning your candle for at least 3 to 4 hours to “ensure complete melting of the wax” and prevent tunneling.

Not every candle takes that long to melt the top layer of wax. Be sure to read and follow all manufacturer’s instructions for your particular candle and do not burn your candle for longer than the recommended time on the label (if any).

By doing this the first time you light a new candle, you ensure that the wax “remembers” how far from the wick it melted the first time, and will melt again in the same way the next time you light it. However, this applies every time you light the candle, not just the first time, so follow this rule every time you light it.

A lit tunnel wax candle in a glass container on a wooden surface with a southwest fabric background

See that layer of unmelted wax around the edge? You want to avoid that.

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Finally, avoid drafts when you light the candle

Tunneling can also occur if the flame moves or tilts to one side while the candle is burning, which is usually caused by strong airflow. Turn off all fans and avoid placing your candle in front of an open window to keep the flame steady while it burns.

Drafts of air can also cause black burn marks on the candle container.

How to fix a tunneled candle

All of the above advice is important when lighting a new candle for the first time, but what if you already have a candle with a tunnel in the middle? Depending on the severity, there are ways to get rid of the tunnel.

Use aluminum foil to hold a candle that has started to tunnel

The next time you light your tunneled candle, grab a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the top of the container. Poke a hole at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide in the center to give the flame enough oxygen to burn.

Allow the candle to burn long enough to melt the wax to the rim of the container. The aluminum foil helps retain enough heat to melt the entire wax surface.

You can also buy a metal candle topper, which works the same as the aluminum foil, just in a more visually appealing game. Yankee Candles sells several toppers to match their candles, and you can find others on Etsy and other online stores.

A lit candle covered with aluminum foil on top to melt the wax

Cover the top of your candle with aluminum foil to allow the wax to melt evenly.

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

To fix serious candle tunneling, try a cup warmer

For candles with deep tunnels, the tinfoil trick may not cut it. If you still want to enjoy the scent of your candle and the wick is almost gone, try one cup warmer.

These small heating plates can heat the entire candle to melt the remaining wax and bring out the aroma. I used one many years ago when I lived in a dorm where open flames were forbidden.

Because there is no flame to heat the wax, the wax does not disappear with this method. You can reheat the candle over and over again on a mug warmer, but it will lose its scent over time.

You can find more tips here Wash your car without water and The smart way to travel with contact lenses. Prevent your candles from tunneling as they burn

Chris Barrese

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