The candle is one of man’s oldest inventions however, it is more than that. The invention of candle represents an important step in the evolution of man’s search for illumination. And so, the art of candle-making is a craft that has existed for thousands of years. However, with the invention of the light bulb in the 1800s came a massive decline in the global demand for candles and this has eventually resulted in a huge loss of essential knowledge related to candles and candle-making. Nowadays, many people do not even know what the black thing on a candle is called.



In all fairness to those who do not know what the black thing on a candle is called, the term “black thing” is rather ambiguous and could refer to a number of things. However, only two things of those options stand out in relation to candles. The first – and perhaps, the most precise – is the candle wick, which is the material in the middle of candles, stuck in the molded candle wax that carries the flame when the candle is lit. Candle wicks are generally made of braided fiber and they are designed to burn off along with the candle. However, they are not necessarily black when the candle is first bought because during this period, before use, candle wicks are usually white in the color of un-dyed white cotton. However, candle wicks can also be made of hemp, flax and other fiber which are usually braided and treated to improve their burning. After use, the originally usually white candle wicks turn black as a result of combustion.

The second option or possible meaning for “the black thing on a candle” is soot. Soot is usually released when things are lit or set on fire. It occurs as a result of combustion or more precisely, as a result of incomplete combustion. While burning is going on, soot that is immediately released is emitted in gaseous form and then, it later solidifies when its particles settle. But even in gaseous form, the black color of soot is usually evident and ironically, the quality of the wick can often determine the amount of soot that will be released upon candle-burning. Heavy emission of soot is undesirable in candle burning and so, it follows that low quality of wicks is one of the things that may be responsible for it.


Just like the candle, the candle wick has been around for thousands of years. Even in prehistoric time, the earliest forms of candles also needed wicks to burn because wicks soak up fuel which is very important for the sustenance of flames, as no fire or flame can burn in the absence of fuel. Modern wicks perform this function through capillary action and back then, the technicality was the same. Mankind started out with wicks made of plant materials and unprocessed fiber and then, an evolutionary process began to unfold as changes were made and implemented in candle-making. It was in the 19th century, however, that the braided wick was invented.

The braided wick works far better than earlier versions of wick even though the materials used are pretty much the same (i.e. cotton). However, the act of braiding affords braided wicks a stiffness and durability which earlier versions of wicks – made of twisted cotton – simply did not possess. Also, the way braided wicks are curled ensures that the wicks disintegrate at a steady pace in line with the rate of melting of the candle wax. Asides cotton, other materials used for wicks in candle making include flax and other fibers. Also, apart from the materials used, the method of treatment used in manufacturing wicks matters a whole lot. For instance, braided wicks can be flat braided or square braided. Flat braided wicks are usually used in tapers and pillars type of candles and they are curled in a way that ensures that they trim themselves as the candle burns. This self-trimming function serves to reduce the build-up of carbon and also soot. Also, wicks can be designed to have cores made of zinc, paper and other materials, in order to aid effective burning of the candle.



In any case, whether we are referring to the candle wick or soot, there are proper guidelines to handling “the black thing on a candle”.

In the case of candle wicks, wicks should be cared for before during and after candle-burning in order to prevent the buildup of carbon and soot, and also to ensure effective burning of the candle for proper illumination. One of the most important parts of this care is trimming the candle wick. The candle wick should be trimmed after the candle is bought and before use by reducing its length to a fraction of an inch. This allows the wick to burn effectively, without giving off much soot. It also prevents the formation of a dome or mushroom shaped structure on the wick which allows more soot to be released. Asides the length of the wick – and constant trimming to prevent the formation of the dome-shaped structure – the width of the wick also matters. Candle wicks of larger width and diameters tend to burn brighter than those of smaller width, making the candle burn faster; thus the width of the candle wick should be taken into consideration before it is bought.

Soot on the other hand, is much better handled by prevention through trimming of the candle wick and exercising care during candle-burning, as other factors like strong winds can also make candles give off more soot. Asides this, the quality of the wick also matters since wicks of lower quality tend to give off more soot. However, in instances where soot has already formed, it is very important not to let it accumulate as this can lead to accidents such as fire outbreaks. Therefore, candle-holders and containers should be cleaned regularly in order to prevent the accumulation of soot.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top