Candles used to be a source of light for humankind before evolving into mostly a household accessory. Even in these modern times, though, many people keep candles for emergencies. Are the candles you bought for this purpose a decade ago still going to perform when they are most needed? Or have they expired and need to be replaced?
Candles do not decompose, however, candles made with organic materials will eventually decay. Scent degradation and color loss will be the initial indicators of this process before the integrity of the wax itself is compromised. However, as long as there are wax and a wick, a candle will burn.
Taking care of your candles is essential to prolonging their life and keeping them in optimal condition for burning effectively. By doing so, you can enjoy a scented candle longer or have a source of light when you need it most – in an emergency. First, let’s look at a few different candle types and see if there’s any difference in shelf life.
Types of Candles and How Long They Last
There are many different types of candles made from a variety of materials. Here are the most common ones along with their properties and shelf lives.
Soy Candles- Since they are made of organic materials without preservatives, soy candles will generally begin to deteriorate and go bad after about a year to a year and a half. Be sure to check the label, some manufacturers have started adding preservatives.
Beeswax Candles- Beeswax candles have the longest shelf life of any candle. The substances contained in beeswax are known for their conservative properties. In fact, the ancient Egyptians use the same stuff, called propolis when mummifying dead people.
Citronella Candles- The typical shelf life of citronella candles is 24 months. After that, they will begin to degrade in quality. This is due to the candles being made from organic materials, namely the oil from leaves and stems of lemongrass.
Yankee Candles- Typically made from paraffin wax, Yankee candles have a shelf life of 5 years or more. This is because paraffin is petroleum-based. If stored properly, they can last indefinitely.
How to Maximize The Life of Candles
No matter why you have a candle (for scent, ambiance, or as the primary source of lighting), you will want it to burn for as long as possible. There are some easy tricks to get the maximum burn time out of your candle.
- First, you must burn your candle correctly the first time. This means burning the candle until the wax melts to the edge of the container to create a layer of protective wax. Such a layer traps the scents below the melted wax and decreases the rate of scent evaporation. It also protects the unburned wax from atmospheric moisture. To make sure this shielding layer remains intact, do not move the candle until the wax fully sets after this first burn.
- During your candle’s lifetime, keeping the wick no longer than 1/4 inch will elongate its burn time. A longer wick will cause the wax to burn quicker than needed due to excess heat. If you are a regular candle user, a wick trimmer like this one found on Amazon, is probably a wise investment.
- Another way to prevent the candle from burning too fast is to keep it in a sheltered area. A breeze will cause the flame to move across the wax and melt more quickly. The draft also feeds the flame, causing it to burn hotter and again, melt the wax quicker. As wax is the candle’s fuel, you want to preserve it as much as possible.
How to Properly Store Candles
All candles, regardless of their intended use, need to be kept dry. Humidity alone will compromise the wax and lead to inefficient burning and premature extinguishing of the flame.
A damp or wet wick may not light at all, and if it does, combustion will be far from optimal. In certain climates, it will be necessary to keep your candles in the main home, like a garage, attic, or shed will expose the candles to the excess moisture in the air.
It is also essential to keep your candles in a cool environment to preserve the wax and scent. Direct sunlight will melt the wax of the candle, and this will significantly decrease the burn time of your candle. If the wax does melt, there are some things you can do with the melted wax. Making more candles, making fire starters, or using it as a pincushion are but three of them.
If the production of perfume is the primary purpose of your candle, then exposure to heat will cause the essential oils in the wax to evaporate. This process will dull the fragrance produced during burning.
Scented candles are best stored in a sealed container, such as a jar or a tin, to conserve the aromas. I actually use a large plastic container, like these found on Amazon, to store my candles.
Sealing prevents the air from reacting with the oils in the wax and releasing the fragrance slowly into the environment. Further, storage prevents pollutants, such as dust, from forming on the wax. These contaminants may result in the wax burning uncleanly and inefficiently.
Signs That Your Candle Has Expired
If you come across some neglected, improperly stored candles, a quick visual inspection can pinpoint a spoiled product. Look for signs of discoloration and crystallization, particularly around the edges. Such visible changes are more commonly seen with soy-based candles several years after they were manufactured.
Scented candles will lose their potency despite being stored correctly. However, if a foul smell is detected upon burning, then the scent has exceeded its shelflife. For this reason, most suppliers recommend that scented candles are used within a year of purchase. While the candle may not fill your room with the desired hint of an apple orchard, these candles will still work fine for providing light in an emergency.
If you have purchased your candles for their scent, use them within a year and store them properly between uses to get the most fragrance from your candle. Candles will have their most robust aroma 1-4 months after they are cured.
If you store your emergency candles in a cool and dry environment, then they will last years before their burn time decreases.
If you are stocking candles for emergencies, buy paraffin-based or beeswax candles as they boast long burn times. I prefer beeswax candles in an enclosed container, like these found on Amazon. They are a lot less messy and easy to store both at home or in a bag.
Which wax has the longest burn time? Beeswax burns the longest of all the candle waxes. Typically you will get just under twice as much burn time with a beeswax candle as you do with an equivalent paraffin candle. For example, a 3×6 beeswax pillar will burn for ~110 hours, whereas a 3×6 paraffin pillar will burn for ~60 hours. This makes beeswax the most suitable substrate for emergency candles when burn time is the most vital consideration.
What is paraffin wax? Paraffin wax is the most common base used in candle production. It is a long hydrocarbon chain that is derived from the processing of petroleum, coal, or oil shale, and was first created in 1830 by Karl von Reichenbach. It is perfect for candlemaking because it burns cleanly, reproducibility, and is economical.
Is that white mold on my beeswax candle? You may have encountered a white film on your beeswax candles and wondered if the substance is mold. This coating on the candle’s surface is naturally occurring oils in the beeswax, which migrate to the exterior of the wax. These oils form tiny crystals, called wax bloom, and can look like mold to the untrained eye.
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