Sustainability made simple

How to Prevent and Fix Candle Tunneling

how to fix candle tunneling
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / stheaker

Candle tunneling is a wasteful phenomenon that will see you burn through those candles much quicker than you really should. So what is candle tunneling and what steps can you take to prevent it?

What is Candle Tunneling?

Choose a candle style that suits your needs, thus avoiding waste and annoying tunneling.
Choose a candle style that suits your needs, thus avoiding waste and annoying tunneling. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / congerdesign)

As the term suggests, candle tunneling is when a lit candle melts through the center of the candle, without actually melting all of the surrounding wax. This ends up leaving a ledge of solid wax around the edge of the container, making it increasingly harder to re-light the candle after multiple burns. Tunneling is not only ugly, but it is also very wasteful. There are, however, some simple tricks and tips to apply to stop this from always happening.

It is worth noting that some candles are just poorly made in the first place and will probably tunnel no matter what you do. This might be because the wick is too small for the jar, or the wax is of a poor quality. This means you will have to fix them more than once, and you might have constant problems with both the wick and the wax.

‘Expensive’ and ‘well-made’ are not always the same thing. When you are shopping for candles what you are looking for is a good quality candle, not money to burn. Buying high-quality soy wax candles for example, as these tend to tunnel less, produce less soot, and have the added bonus of being a little more sustainable. Savvy candle makers know how to balance the wick size, wax type, candle size, and scent to produce a finer product, and ultimately that is what you are looking for, not ongoing candle frustrations!

What can you do with those old spent candles? Recycle them of course! Find out here: DIY Candles: How to Make Homemade Candles from Leftover Wax

Fix & Prevent Candle Tunneling

A few simple steps will ensure your candles will burn bright and clean.
A few simple steps will ensure your candles will burn bright and clean. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Hans)

The Important First Burn

The first burn of your candle is all-important, and if done correctly the first time around, this should stop any future candle tunneling in its tracks. Wax has ‘memory’, and the first burn tends to set the radius of the melt. If you create a tunnel on the first burn, the next time you light the candle, it will only get worse. That is why on the first burn it is important to completely melt the first layer of wax evenly before blowing out the candle.

Fixing Wax Burning Problems

If your candle is only burning straight down the middle from the get-go, don’t worry. You might still be able to save it. If the tunneling is mild, you can heat the top of the candle with a hairdryer. The hot air will melt and smooth the wax, making it more even. The next time you burn the candle, follow the instructions for the first burn and melt the entire first layer of wax so it doesn’t happen again.

There is another way to fix candle tunneling by wrapping a piece of aluminum foil around the edges of the candle while it burns. You need to make sure the foil hangs over the unmelted wax but also allows room for the wick to burn properly – then simply let the candle burn for a couple of hours. All of the wax, especially those unmelted edges, should melt properly and even out the candle surface around the wick.

Prevent Annoying Flickering And Ugly Soot

Soot and smoky marks on glass candle holders are another common problem, caused by incomplete combustion, often because the balance or consistency is a little off with the amount of liquid wax being drawn up by the wick. If the flame doesn’t get the right steady flow of fuel, it will flicker and generate unpleasant smoke and soot. A good alternative to this is to buy soy candles instead, as these are known for their almost soot-free quality.

Fix a Short Wick

Another problem that leads to wasting candles is a short wick. You might accidentally cut the wick too low, or it can break off when you are handling the candle. Candle tunneling can often drown or shorten a wick, as the excess wax melts over it.

It is easiest to fix a short wick before the melted wax dries and buries it. If it has just fallen on its side into the liquid wax, with a pair of tweezers try holding it until it can stand up on its own again.

You can also try carving away the wax around the wick so you can light it once more, but this might set off tunneling again, especially if you dig into the wax surface too deeply. The best way to deal with a short or buried wick is to melt the entire surface with a hairdryer, and dump out the excess wax before retrieving the wick.

Alternatively, try turning the candle on its side and melt away the wax, draining it onto a metal surface like the kitchen sink without burning yourself in the process. Then, straighten out the wick with your tweezers, relight the candle and so as to avoid that annoying candle tunneling again, burn the wax cleanly and evenly across the top surface before blowing it out.

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