what happens if you burn a candle too long
Kristina Davis

What happens if you burn a candle too long? Most of us know from experience all the things that can go wrong, even with the tiniest of sparks. While we’re careful around gas stoves, fuel pumps, campfires, etc., do we employ the same level of caution around candles?

Candles have been around since 500 BC. They were our primary source of light from then until the 1700s when electricity reached houses. Today, candles are used for esthetic and religious reasons. Most times, they sit on our shelves and counters, never once being lit.

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Perhaps our dwindling use of candles is a reason why we are unfamiliar with what happens if you burn a candle for too long.

Given the general possibility of candles being fire hazards, it’s evident that we need to rethink where and for how long we use them.

What Happens if you Burn a Candle too Long?

You risk losing the candle’s integrity to soot production, tunneling through the center, and debris accumulation. You might also increase the chances of a fire, especially if you leave candles unattended.

How Long Does A Candle Burn?

how long does a candle burn

Most manufacturers will put a label on their packaging, indicating how long you should burn a candle.

Take that as a baseline but consider the following as variables that affect duration:

  • Size (this is an obvious one)
  • Shape
  • Integrity of the wax
  • Size and material of the wick
  • Movement of air in the room
  • Oxygen levels in the room
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These variables make it challenging to estimate precisely how long a candle will burn for.

A tealight candle is easier to estimate in case you are wondering how long does a tealight candle burn? These small candles are contained in a short plastic or metal cup so that the candle stays lit even after the wax has been completely liquefied.

They are popularly used for accent lighting and heating scented oil. Most tealight candles burn for approximately four hours, while some can burn for up to as long as six hours.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should!

What Happens If You Burn A Candle Too Long?

Knowing how long to burn a candle is essential to avoid possible accidents. For instance, if a candle burns for too long, carbon collects on the wick, which, in turn, affects the way the candle flame behaves. The flame will grow to dangerous levels, the wax will tunnel, soot production will increase, and the candle container might face some damage. If all this isn’t enough to give you pause, consider the potential darkening of walls because of the additional soot.

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When a candle has been reduced to just a burning wick in a liquid wax pool, the dangers multiply.

The wick, which is now free to float around, tends to gravitate towards the candle container’s edge. This could potentially bring it closer to papers or books kept nearby.

This is one of the reasons why most fire departments strongly advise us not to leave candles unattended.

How to Burn A Candle – Professional Tips for Everyday Candle Users

how to burn a candle

1. Trim the Wick

Before you light a candle, remember to trim the wick first. Never let the wick grow to more than between 1/8 and 1/4 inches from the wax. You could use a pair of scissors or a nail cutter to do this.

Trimming wicks ensures that you have a smooth and brighter burn without all the excess carbon and soot. When you have a long wick, the flame burns irregularly and changes heat distribution. This affects both the wick and the wax. Uneven burning leads to dripping and soot formation. For safety reasons, do not forget this step.

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You may need to intervene and trim the wick again if your candle has been burning for a while. By checking on and trimming the wick at regular intervals, you can prolong the life of your candle by up to 25 percent.

You also need to check for any leftover debris in the wax pool before you light a candle. Debris constitutes excess broken bits of wick, lint or dirt, and excess liquid wax. These might cause sudden flare-ups and even small fires. Again, never leave candles unchecked for too long.

2. Let the Candle Burn All the Way

Once you’ve lit a candle, the best thing to do is keep it burning for a long time. Otherwise, you might damage the structure and shorten its lifespan. This is what we call candle tunneling and it can happen both when you don’t trim the wick and when you put out a candle prematurely.

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Ideally, candles are made to burn for at least an hour for every inch of its diameter.

This means if you have a candle that’s two inches across, you need to let it burn for two full hours. If you put the flame out sooner, all the liquefied wax will flow towards the edges of the container and solidify there, creating a memory ring.

Once this ring forms, the candle will start to tunnel, and so, the next time you light it, the candle will burn unevenly. Fortunately, you can fix this. Click on the link and check out this video.

If all the wax liquefies, you won’t need to bother with tunneling issues. The answer to the question of how long should you burn a candle for? Until the wax melts completely.

3. Move the Flame Away from Drafts

A strong draft or movement in the air can disrupt the smooth burning of a candle flame. This could put pesky black soot stains on the glass or metal container of your candle.

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Keeping candles away from sources of moving air such as open windows, fans, and air conditioners is also a matter of fire safety. Ensuring that the candle is covered and positioned beyond the reach of flammable objects and moving air is a necessary safety precaution.

4. Appropriate Storage

Candles need to be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place with the lid on to prevent dust accumulation and also to ensure longevity of the fragrance added to the wax. Most candles have a lifespan of 6 to 12 months from manufacture. They don’t spoil, like food. But it is best to use them within this time.

5. Follow the Manufacturer’s Instructions

When you’re dealing with anything that involves fire or heat, it’s wise to take prescribed precautionary notes seriously. Before you use candles, be sure to check if the manufacturer has included any special storage or usage instructions, especially notes about how long should you burn a candle. Since not all candles are created equally, this one check could be the difference between an enjoyable evening and a tragedy.

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Key Takeaways

  • Trim the wick regularly.
  • Clean out debris and soot when you see it.
  • Never leave candles unattended.
  • Put out candles only after all the wax has melted.
  • Store candles as per manufacturer instructions.
  • Follow all safety precautions advocated by your local fire department


Candles are beautiful and incredibly pleasant to have around the house, but they do come with certain risks and stipulations of use. Thank you for reading, and we hope you enjoy your future candle-lit experiences.

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How many hours can a candle burn?

Small candles can burn up to 9 hours for each ounce of wax. While larger candles can burn much faster due to the long wicks. As a general rule, a 12 ouch candle can burn up to 60-80 hours without much effort.

Is it bad to burn candles in the house?

Too much burning of candles can be dangerous to your health. This is due to the paraffin wax sooth that can result in damage to your health, electricals and other parts of your house.

Can burning candles be harmful?

Candles emit harmful toxic components into the air which include benzene, acetone, and toluene. These are known to harm your skin and can cause asthma attacks, allergies, and other related skin problems.