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Avoid and Fix Candle Tunneling

First Burn

Even high-quality candles can have a tunneling issue if they are not burned correctly. Tunneling is when the middle of your candle burns down leaving a ring of solid wax around the edge. The easiest way to stop tunneling is to prevent it with a proper first burn. The first time you light a candle is the most important. You want the entire top surface of your candle – from edge to edge – to become liquid. A candle will only melt as far as it did during its initial burn. Meaning, if you do not reach a full melt pool during the first burn, the next time you light it, your candle will likely only melt to the same place it did the first time, making the “tunnel” deeper and deeper with each burn.

Burn your candle for as long as it takes the melted wax pool to reach the edge. A generally accepted guide is that candles should burn one hour for every inch in diameter. This means the bigger your candle, the longer it needs to burn. Most candles take three or more hours to reach a full melt pool so make sure you plan accordingly to avoid a candle that tunnels. Occasionally a candle will correct itself if you allow it to have a long burn the next time.

The Fix

The longer you let your candle tunnel, the harder it becomes to fix. Fortunately, when addressed early, it is possible to stop tunneling. The most common fix is the foil method. The theory is that by making a tent out of foil, you can direct the flame’s heat back down to melt the wax.

If you have burned your candle 3-4 hours at least twice and see signs of tunneling, follow these steps:

  1. Trim your wick.
  2. Tear a large piece of tinfoil off the roll. Fold it into a long rectangle.
  3. Wrap the entire foil rectangle around the top of your candle jar.
  4. Form the top of the foil (that extends above the candle jar) into a cone-shaped tent, like a teepee.
  5. Burn the candle with the foil tent for 3+ hours. Give your candle time to reach a full melt pool The solid wax should get smaller but you may need to repeat the foil burn a few times to fully restore your candle.

Candle tunneling may be too severe to rescue your candle using the foil method. If this is the case, forget lighting it and use a candle warmer to heat the wax from the bottom to still enjoy the fragrance.  

To Recap

While tunneling is annoying, it can be easily prevented and even fixed in many cases.

  1. Buy quality candles.
  2. The first burn is critical. Burn candles long enough for the surface wax to melt to the edge.
  3. Once tunneling is evident, use the foil method for the next several burns to even out your candle.

Happy burning!

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