As soothing and calming as candles are, you should never forget that they carry the potential for damage and destruction if not given the respect that they deserve. Every candle is a source of heat and fuel for potentially starting a fire and while it is unlikely, it is not impossible. Let’s take a closer look at candle wax and the potential for fires.
Can candle wax catch on fire? Candle wax can catch on fire. If heated enough candle wax begins to turn from a liquid to a vapor, and at that point candle wax becomes combustible. The flame produces the heat, the wax itself is fuel and the air in the room provides the oxygen, all of which can combine to start a fire.
When you have a heat source, fuel and oxygen come together that is referred to as the fire triangle.
The fire triangle is just a simple representation of what is required to create fire.
It is also one of the reasons you should always follow suggested burn practices and never leave a lit candle unattended.
How Candle Wax Fires Work
In order for a candle wax fire to start, you usually need a very unique set of circumstances where you have to have a lot of things going against you.
It is also only something that can happen if you ignore all of the suggested burning practices of your candle manufacturer. That is why it is always important to follow proper burning procedures.
Let’s take a look at what specifically is involved with candle wax fires.
How flammable is candle wax? Candle wax is not very flammable. It is technically considered combustible and not flammable due to the high flashpoint. However, when the wax becomes hot enough the wax can burn and is quite flammable.
Candle wax is only “flammable” when it reaches its flashpoint. The specific flashpoint can vary from wax to wax but most of them are generally in the same range.
At what temperature will candle wax burn? Candle wax will begin to burn when it reaches its flashpoint of approximately 400 F, depending on what type of wax you are using. Candle wax will only burn when it reaches this temperature because this is the temperature at which the liquid wax begins producing wax vapor.
This is also similar to the way a candle flame burns, the wax going up the wick becomes superheated and turns into a vapor before it burns.
Safety & Candle Wax Fires
You have to be very careful when dealing with candle wax fires because molten candle wax is essentially oil. Burning candle wax is essential an oil fire. There is a specific way in which you should deal with this type of fire.
What to do if a candle catches fire? If your candle catches fire then put it out by smothering the flame. Cover the top of the candle with something non-flammable to deprive the flame of oxygen. In addition, you can use a class B fire extinguisher that is designed for use on liquid-based fires.
Nearly all candle fires are avoidable fires. When you look at the reasons these types of fires start, you will begin to see ways that they can be prevented.
Why did my candle catch on fire? Your candle likely caught on fire because you let it burn too long or did not trim the wick properly. A candle that receives regular wick trimmings and is burned following proper burning practices will almost never catch on fire or become a hazard.
Always check the suggested burn practices that come with your candle to make sure that you are following the proper burn guidelines.
Putting Out A Candle Wax Fire
All candle wax fires should be treated as liquid fires. This limits the ways in which you can put the fire out.
How do you put out a candle wax fire? Put out a candle fire by smothering the flame by covering the top of the container with a non-flammable material and cutting off the flow of oxygen to the candle flame. An example could be laying a small flat cooking pan over the opening of the candle. You can also use class B fire extinguishers.
The single most important thing you need to know about candle wax fires is…
NEVER USE WATER ON A CANDLE WAX FIRE!!
Putting water on a candle wax fire is only going to cause the candle to explode and spread the fire everywhere. NEVER put water on a candle wax fire.
Preventing A Candle Wax Fire
Again, nearly all candle wax fires can be prevented. Let’s take a look at how.
How do you prevent a candle wax fire? Prevent a candle wax fire by keeping your candle wick trimmed, never letting your candle burn longer than 4 hours, and make sure you always let your candle completely cool before you light it again. Following these steps will vastly reduce the possibility of a candle wax fire happening.
It is also important to make sure your candles are on heat and fire-resistant surfaces such as glass or metal. If your candle does experience issues, this will help mitigate the damage the candle fire can cause.
Where does the wax go when you burn a candle? When you burn a candle the wax acts as fuel for the flame and is completely consumed as the candle burns. That is why as a candle burns the wax seems to disappear when it is actually being burned up by the flame as the candle burns.
This is all just a reminder that every candle carries with it the potential to start a fire and that candles should be respected and handled accordingly.
Frequently Asked Questions
The entire candle does not catch fire because it is unlikely the candle wax will get hot enough to ignite. For candle wax to get hot enough to completely catch on fire across the surface the wax would have to reach a flashpoint of approximately 400 F.
Wax does not catch fire because the wax does not reach the flashpoint temperature required to allow it to do so. Under normal burning conditions, a candle will not generate enough heat to let the candle wax reach the flashpoint that allows it to catch on fire.
Although candle wax is the fuel, it does not burn up all at once because it doesn’t reach the temperature necessary to ignite. The only wax that gets hot enough to burn is the wax traveling up the wick to the candle flame. As the wax approaches the flame it reaches its flashpoint.
Candles can ignite the molten surface wax when too much wick becomes exposed creating a larger flame, the larger flame can overheat the candle wax and create conditions to allow the wax to ignite. This can also be caused by mushrooming causing a flame that is too large.
In conclusion, candle wax can catch fire but it is a rare occurrence. In order for candle wax to catch fire, you have to have a lot of preventable things happening at once.
You need the candle to burn down near the bottom of the container, you need a wick to get too long and you may even need the wick to begin mushrooming in order to generate a large enough flame.
Once a flame of sufficient size is burning and the wax is low enough in the container that can create conditions for the wax to get hot enough that it reaches its flashpoint and begins turning into a vapor.
Nearly all of these issues are preventable and avoidable if you follow manufacturer-suggested burning practices.