Thousands of years ago, candles were one of the sole sources of indoor illumination and although the world’s technology has advanced far beyond the invention of candles, candles are still very relevant today. This is a rather astounding fact, when you stop to think about it, and you begin to realize that all along, throughout the evolution of humanity, candles have been abiding and evolving right alongside us. However, it is unfortunate that the general knowledge of candles has declined in the past decades and some people don’t even know what affects how fast a candle burns.
HOW DOES A CANDLE BURN?
A burning candle can be a very fascinating sight to behold, philosophically. On one hand, the candle is burning to provide light and heat – illumination and warmth – two things that we humans constantly have needs for. But from another perspective, a burning candle is basically exhausting itself as it meets our needs. It melts and soon, if it is left burning for long enough, no trace of it will remain; except for the solidified pool of melted wax it leaves behind. Even from a purely scientific standpoint, the life of a candle is not very simple. First, the candle gets made by boiling wax inside a mold and sticking in a wick then, after it is formed and ready for use, the wick is lit. A few things happen when a candle is lit. First of all, it takes a couple of seconds for the wick to catch fire and sustain it, because of the thermal conductivity and burning properties of the material used in making it. Then, no fire can burn in the absence of oxygen and so, the presence of oxygen is very important to sustain combustion. However, even in the presence of oxygen fuel is still needed in order to sustain a burning fire, even if the fire is of the small size of a single flame. In candles, this fuel is usually contained in the material of the candle wax; as a matter of fact, the candle-wax itself serves as the source of a burning candle’s flame. As the candle burns, the wax melts and the wick sucks up the fuel through capillary action in order to feed the flame with it. This way, the candle sustains itself by providing its flames with much needed fuel.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CANDLE BURNS?
When a candle burns, it usually emits vapors and tiny droplets which contain some chemical compounds in minute quantities. These chemical compounds include soot and some volatile components of the candle wax which should not be inhaled in large quantities as they can cause problems in the respiratory system of humans and other living things. People with asthma and those with other preexisting respiratory issues, in particular have to be very careful to stay away from the gaseous emissions of burning candles. However, these emissions are usually given off in small quantities, which should not constitute any big issues in the present of proper ventilation, such as an open window, through which the emissions of burning candles can escape out of the room in which the candle is being burned; instead of all these emissions (such as soot) to accumulate in the room and settle on surfaces there.
In the instance of scented candles – that is, candles that contain fragrances, aromas and perfumes that have been added to them when they were still in their melted form, during the process of candle-making – scents and fragrances also make up part of the gaseous emissions given off by the candles during burning. Due to their fragrance and the nature of their scents, scented candles are widely used during aromatherapy in order to calm the nerves, relax and relieve stress. However, proper ventilation is also important when burning scented candles, even if the purpose of the candle-burning session is aromatherapy. This is because scented candles can contribute to nausea, if the scent they release during candle burning is too strong.
WHAT AFFECTS HOW FAST A CANDLE BURNS?
There are many factors that can affect how fast a candle burns. Some of these factors have to do with the types of materials used in making the candle and others have to do with handling and positioning of the candle. Some of these factors include the following:
- The type of candle wax of the candle
Some kinds of waxes melt at a faster rate compared to others and some melt faster under the influence of lower temperatures of heat; because they are easier to melt than others.
- The type of wicks used in the candle
The kind of wicks used in making candles can affect how fast a candle burns. This is because some wicks have higher thermal conductivity compared to others and they tend to burn hotter, thus melting the candle wax faster when lit.
The essence of proper ventilation during candle burning cannot be overstated, however, ventilation also poses its own risks to the burning capability of candles. Moving air can change the direction of the flame of a burning candle, thus tilting it to one corner; making one side burn faster than others. When this happens, the melting of the candle-wax will not be even on the surface and this can easily lead to tunneling and wasting of candle wax, as the candle will burn down much faster than it is supposed to. Also, heavy gusts of wind can put out a candle outright. Thus, it is very important to position a burning candle well, even as you employ proper ventilation.
- Wick trimming
Trimming of the wick is another factor that can affect how fast a candle burns. Trimming is a handling or managing practice of candles which can influence the rate of burning of candles. This is because a candle with a wick that is well trimmed will burn clean, emitting less soot compared to a candle that has not been trimmed. Also, the wax of a well-trimmed candle will melt more evenly than that of a candle that has not been trimmed; and there is a lesser risk of tunneling, which will make the candle burn out much faster than it is supposed to.