Lighting a candle might sound simple enough-it's just wax and a wick, right?-but if you want to get the most burn for your buck, things get a bit more complicated. Every candle you buy has a preestablished lifespan, and even the little things in your burning ritual can compromise that number. Fortunately, there are several sneaky tricks you can implement to optimize your flame time. Since buying nice candles is an investment, we asked the pros at Anecdote Candles how to burn a candle evenly, plus how to avoid some of the most common candle mistakes that people make.
You're not trimming your wick.
Do you ever notice that wicks acquire a mushroom top after they've burned for a while? That's normal, but it's not the best way to burn a candle. Always be sure to trim the wick to a quarter inch before burning to allow for a clean, even burn-any higher means that you'll have a large, flickering flame that leaves soot specks around the side of the jar. You can do this with standard scissors, but if your candle container is shaped so that it's hard to get the blades all the way into the jar, it might be easier to use a wick trimmer, like Ruispeed Candle Wick Trimmer ($9; amazon.com).
You're not burning for long enough.
You've burned your candle and let it dry out, but it doesn't look quite right. What went wrong? If your wax is looking lumpy or has a huge pit at the center (i.e., tunneling), chances are that you didn't burn your candle for long enough. Candles have a burn memory, so you're going to want to be sure to burn your candle all the way to the edge of the vessel every time you burn it (which usually takes around two hours). If the wax at the edge of the candle doesn't heat up and liquify, the next time you light the candle it will only expand to that small ring in the middle, meaning you're wasting all the peripheral wax.
It is possible to bring a tunneled candle back to life, however. Pop the candle in an oven at 175 degrees for about five minutes-the distributed heat will help melt the wax so that it's smooth and level across the top again.
You're not paying attention to your surroundings.
Environment is important, too. When burning candles, avoid vents, fans, or drafts. These air currents can cause candles to burn unevenly and prevent the scent from effectively spreading across the room. Plus, it can produce excessive smoke that leaves messy black stains on your container. Pro tip: You'll also want to keep your candles away from the walls because the heat or soot could leave an unsightly black mark there as well.
You're blowing out the flame.
You might think candle snuffers are archaic items that nobody actually uses, but they do indeed serve a purpose. Blowing out the flame like the wolf in The Three Little Pigs will result in a smoke-filled area, drag soot on the container, and possibly push the wick down into the wax (creating damage when dug back out). Instead, using a candle snuffer-like Madala Candle Snuffer ($7; amazon.com)-to extinguish the flame will keep the wick in place, prevent the post-burning smell, and eliminate any dangers associated with blowing on hot wax. (Plus, it's pretty fun to use.)
You're tossing the lid.
There's a reason why most candles come with a lid. Covering your candle while it's not being used will protect it from dust and preserve the wax (hence its scent) nicely. You can also use them to prop up your jar and shield your tabletops while burning. P.S. It's a smart idea to save a couple of candle lids after the candles are done, in case one of your future candles doesn't come with a lid.