Why You Should Always Trim Candle Wicks Before Lighting

Here's why the simple step of trimming a candle's wick before lighting will help you maximize the life of your candles.

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The winter holidays could also be called the candle holidays. About one-third of all candle sales (which, in the U.S., total about $3 billion annually) occur during Christmastime, according to the National Candle Association. That means $1 billion worth of flames are flickering during the winter!

And it turns out there’s a lot more to enjoying candles than just lighting them and letting them burn. Did you know you can get the most out your candles by trimming the wick?

Why Trim the Candle Wick?

Trimming the candle wick down to 1/4-in. can help you prevent problems like black flames, flames that are too tall, black smoke stains on glass candle holders and wax that’s burning too quickly.

The wick is the braided cotton that conveys (or wicks) the fuel — which is the wax — to the flame. If the wick is too tall, it could supply too much fuel to the flame too quickly, creating excess smoke and soot. A wick that’s the right height will create an even, steady burn so you can enjoy the glow and scent for hours. A trimmed wick also gives the flame a nice, even shape. A wick that’s too large will convey too much fuel (wax) to the fire, and the carbon buildup creates a black “mushroom cap” on the flame.

How to Trim a Candle Wick

A simple pair of scissors can trim any wick, including candles that are in containers, like glass jars or votives. But after a couple of uses, the wick can be hard to reach. One trick is to access the wick with toenail clippers. You can also use a pair of wick trimmers made specifically for hard-to-reach wicks.

What to Do if the Wick is Too Short?

If you’ve trimmed the wick too short for it to light, you can expose more wick by melting the surrounding wax with a wand lighter, then slowly pouring out the melted wax. Or use a butter knife to gently carve out the wax around the wick.

Other Candle Burning Tips

  • Many candle manufacturers recommend burning candles for no longer than four hours at a time.
  • Extinguish the candle when two inches or fewer of wax remains. This applies to tapers, pillars and candles in big glass jars, according to the National Candle Association.
  • Tiny tea lights will burn for no more than four to six hours.
  • Many candle makers recommend extinguishing flames with a snuffer or by dipping the wick into the wax pool, because blowing out the candle can create excess smoke.
  • And of course, follow basic fire safety by never leaving a candle unattended.
  • Freezing candles isn’t recommended because the wax might crack. Store candles at a moderate to cool temperature.
  • Don’t buy candles with a wick with metal inside or twisted, instead of braided, fibers. These wicks burn quickly, which is why you often see them on birthday candles.

Veronica Graham
Veronica Graham is a freelance writer in Arlington, Mass. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post and SheKnows. She's covered health, politics, high school football and everything in between. Graham enjoys learning about the world through a variety of lenses as a reporter.