6 candle-burning mistakes to avoid this fall, according to experts

These burning mistakes aren’t just a nuisance, they can be dangerous to your home, too

Three sculpted candles with swirl pattern exteriors lit on a tray
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Candles seem pretty straightforward, but there are some important rules we need to follow if we want to make the most of the wax and wick. 

When you have spent good money on the best candles you can afford, it is important to make them last and avoid burning through them too quickly and wasting their scent.

These are the six candle-burning mistakes you might be making, and how to correct them to extend the burn time of your candle.

Candle burning mistakes  

There is, of course, more to a good candle burn than how you burn it. The quality of your candle, the vessel it is in, and the wick also play a part. 

That being said, how you treat it is vital to get your money's worth. 

A table with The White Company Candles on

(Image credit: The White Company)

1. Not properly trimming wicks

One of the most important candle care steps you should take no matter what candle you are burning is trimming the wick. Not only does having a wick trimmer, at Amazon,  help the candle burn more evenly, but can help to avoid a fire hazard, warns Brandon Stevenson, CEO of Moment at Home, candle specialists.

‘I can't tell you how many times I've seen a candle in a friend's or family member's house with a huge flame, untrimmed wick, and wick residue in the melt pool,’ he begins. ‘Generally, the rim of these candles is covered in soot as well. While I will not say that it's impossible that the candle itself was a poorly designed candle, chances are that these problems are created by not trimming the candle wick.

‘The general rule is to trim your wick every time you burn your candle. Cotton wicks should be about 1/4" long and you should remove any remnants from the wax pool, and cut off any excess wick or 'mushrooming' of the wick, too, to help prevent spitting or smoke. 

‘If you do not trim the wick, not only will the performance of the candle decline, but chances are that it will not last as long either.’

2. Not burning your candles long enough

If you are lighting a candle to make your home smell nice, it is poor practice to blow it out as soon as you notice the scent in your living room. Not only will the fragrance dissipate too soon, but you will create a tunnel down the center of your candle, with untouched wax on either side, that will prevent your candle from burning evenly. 

‘How and where the consumer uses the candle plays a big role in tunneling. When burning a candle for the first time, it's essential to allow the wax to melt evenly across the entire surface,’ explains Laura McCann, candle expert and CEO at ADORAtherapy. ‘This helps prevent tunneling from occurring in subsequent burns. If the first burn doesn't create an even wax pool, a memory ring can form, causing the candle to tunnel in subsequent burns.’

Laura McCann
Laura McCann

Laura has years of experience in creating beautiful aromatherapy products having grown up spending time in her grandfather's perfume shop.

That being said, it is important to avoid burning your candle too long and wasting the wax and fragrance, adds Birdie Hansen, founder, and CEO of Effing Candle: 

‘You need to monitor your burn time. Really, you should burn your candle for one hour for each inch in vessel diameter. More than that and the vessel can get too hot and explode. 

‘Also try to give your candle a day or two off in between burns. The harder the wax, the slower it burns, so letting the wax harden between burns may help your candle last longer,’ she adds.

3. Not fixing tunneling

If your candle has tunneled, leave a permanent well in the center around the wick. In that case, it is important to fix the tunneling and restore an even surface before you continue to burn your candle, says Laura Honey, Homes & Gardens eCommerce editor and qualified master perfumer. 

‘Tunneling can seem like a nightmare, but it is super simple to fix. Wrap some aluminum foil around the top edges of your candle vessel, creating a ring around the edge so that some of the foil covers the edges of the candle wax. Keep plenty of the wax around the wick visible to allow air in.

‘Light the wicks and allow the candle to burn for an adequate amount of time. The ring of foil around the edge will help the heat to distribute more evenly across the candle surface, remelting the solid rim of the candle and flattening out the surface again.

‘Allow the wax to set again before burning the candle as normal, allowing it to burn to the edge.’ 

A headshot of Laura Honey, with bookshelves in the background
Laura Honey

 As an appliance aficionado and lover of language, Laura is at home eCommerce editing. Whether she's cathartically cleaning, mass baking, or gardening outside, she's always thinking about what products would be useful and helpful.

After graduating from Oxford University, Laura worked in luxury retail. Always an advocate for quality and style over quantity and fads, she's eager to lend a critical and considered perspective on what’s worth the investment. The secret to her heart is simplicity in products, in style and, of course, in your homes and gardens.  

4. Burning your candle in a drafty spot

Candles make excellent home decor, but putting them just anywhere for the sake of aesthetics can affect the burn, reveals Laura McCann, candle expert. Putting your candle in a drafty spot, such as when styling a console table in an entryway, or by a window, can stop the candle burning evenly by disturbing the flame, she says. 

‘In my opinion, the biggest candle tunneling culprit is location, location, location. Always place the candle in an area without drafts or strong air currents, as these are the main culprits in causing uneven burning.’

5. Burning your candle on the wrong surface

It is not just where your candle burns, but what it burns on, too, that can prove fatal. Although they are contained in a jar or vessel, candles can damage your furniture through heat transfer – this could even lead to a fire if you are not careful, warns Birdie Hansen, candle specialist:

‘Always burn on a heat-safe surface. I like burning my candles on a coaster or marble trivet,’ such as this marble trivet from Amazon.’ 

6. Expecting too much from poor-quality wax

If you have gone for quantity over quality of candles for fragrance layering or to set a cozy mood in your home, it can be a mistake to expect them to have an even burn, or a strong fragrance, says Birdie Hansen, candle specialist. The cheaper the candle, the more attention you need to pay attention to it for a good burn.

‘I strongly encourage investing in a few high-quality, super-fragrant candles that you love instead of buying cheaper candles just to have a home fragrance,’ she recommends. ‘If you want to make your candles last super long, invest in a candle warmer or lamp. They're flameless and will gently warm up the wax so it emits fragrance.

‘I urge you to avoid paraffin wax candles. Paraffin is petroleum-based and can release toxic chemicals when lit,’ Birdie says. ‘Instead, choose an all-natural wax. Manufacturers aren't required to disclose the ingredients in wax blends, so a candle that says soy wax blend could be mixed with paraffin wax. Buy from a brand that discloses each ingredient in their wax.

‘It is also essential to avoid ignoring the importance of a high-quality wick. Cotton wicks can be made of cotton that has been covered in pesticides. Wooden wicks are super cozy but can be harmful to the environment.’


How do you save a drowning candle?

If your melted candle wax is drowning your short wick, then you will need to carefully remove some of the excess wax before it has the chance to dry out. To do this, blow the female of your candle out, then use a cotton pad or bud and dip it into the wax, letting it soak up some of the liquid, and repeating as necessary until the wax line is clear of your wick top. Be careful not to touch the hot wax to protect your skin, and be sure that any embers have been extinguished to prevent your cotton pad from catching alight.

Why is my candle tunneling on the first burn?

If your candle is tunneling on the first burn, it could be caused by a number of small defects, from poor-quality wax to too short a wick. Tunneling is caused by the flames not burning hot enough to heat up the whole surface of the candle, so leaving your wicks longer and making sure to invest in good-quality candles can help prevent this. Otherwise, wrap some aluminum foil around the top of the jar to help heat the candle evenly and fix the tunneling issue.

Whether you make your own candles, or pick up your favorite scents from stores, burning them correctly will make all the difference to how long your candle lasts, and how good it smells.

Chiana Dickson

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.