Candle tunneling occurs when only the center of the wax right around the wick melts and burns down. If candle tunneling occurs over time, you’ll end up with a ring of hard wax around the outside of the candle. Candle tunneling can occur in any candle, regardless of the quality or type of wax, but it is more likely to happen with cheap candles. Sometimes, candle tunneling is caused by a wick that isn’t large enough for the size of the candle, but more often it’s caused by the timing of the first burn.
You want to avoid candle tunneling because it reduces the overall burn time for the candle (since all the wax isn’t being used up). It also makes it harder and harder to light the wick as the candle continues to burn down. So how to prevent it—or how to fix candle tunneling if it’s already happening? We answer both of these questions in our candle care guide below.
The first burn is critical to prevent candle tunneling. 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 melt the wax in the tunnel first, making it deeper and continuing to leave unmelted wax around the edges. That’s why it’s so important to completely melt the first layer of wax on the first burn before blowing out the candle.
For the first burn, place the candle in a draft-free area to ensure that it will burn evenly. After lighting it, check it every 30 minutes or so to make sure that the first layer of wax has completely melted—the deeper the layer, the better. The amount of time this will take will vary depending on the type of wax and the size of the candle and the wick. As a general rule, it takes about one hour of burn time for each inch of the candle’s diameter. However, this is only a guideline, and you should continue to check on the candle and blow it out only when the first layer of wax has completely melted.
If your candle has already started to tunnel, don’t fret yet. You might still be able to save it. If the tunneling is mild, you can blast the top of the candle with a hairdryer. The hot air will melt and smooth the wax, making it more level. 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.
If the hairdryer doesn’t work, you can also try the oven. Heat it to 175 degrees F, place the candle on a cookie sheet and pop the candle in the oven for about five minutes. You might need less time for a smaller candle or more time for a larger one. Turn on the oven light so you can keep an eye on the candle and make sure that it doesn’t get too warm.
You can also try the foil tent method. To do this, light the candle and then place a tent of aluminum foil over the top. Poke a hole in the top so that smoke can escape. The foil will reflect heat back onto the candle, melting the wax around the edges and not just in the middle. Keep an eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t overheat. When the wax has all melted, carefully remove the aluminum foil using an oven mitt or other protection (the foil will be very hot!) and blow out the candle.
In some cases, your candle tunneling might be too extreme to rescue your candle. While this may be disappointing, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy your candle. Instead, you can get a candle warmer, which warms the wax in the bottom of container candles. Even if your candle tunneling is to the point that you can no longer light the wick, a candle warmer will still heat the existing wax enough to release gentle scents.
Buying high quality soy candles is one way to prevent candle tunneling. Shop our entire collection of candles, including scents inspired by states, hometowns, memories and more!
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