top view of a candle with tunneling next to lighting sticks and a notebook

Candle tunneling – what it is, how to remedy and avoid it

Candles bring a special kind of comfort to any space that they are placed in.  The gentle glow, the rich fragrance and the ability to transport our mind to a calm place.  So how frustrating is it when your gorgeous candle burns down the centre and leaves a ring of wax around the edge?

This process is known as ‘tunneling’.  Not only is it unpleasant to look at, but it means you are missing out on enjoying the full fragrance and burn potential of your candle.  To understand how to fix this, or how to avoid it in the future, let’s first look at what causes tunneling.

What causes tunneling?

Tunneling can be caused by a number of issues.  In some cases, the candle has been made with a wick which is just not strong enough to melt all the wax it’s set in - a losing battle really!  But an experienced chandler (that’s the fancy name for a candle maker!) will have tested extensively with their containers and wicks to make sure the wick size is up to the job.  The next, and probably most common cause, is how the candle was burnt the first time it was lit.  You’ll notice in our ‘Candle Care’ advice, we stress the importance of allowing your candle to melt all the way to the edge the very first time you light it.  There are good reasons for this advice and avoiding tunneling is the main one!  Incredibly, candles are very good at ‘remembering’ their first burn path.  When you melt wax, it becomes a liquid (obvious, I know!) But when it cools down, it takes time for it to become as hard as it was before you first lit it.  Depending on the type of wax, this could take days or even weeks.  This means that the melted wax is softer and so takes less heat to melt again.  When you relight the candle, the previously melted area will turn liquid first and faster than the rest of the candle.  So, if you burn your candle for 10 minutes and it only creates a tiny pool of wax, the next time the candle is burnt it will follow the same path; burning poorly and quickly. 

Other causes of tunneling can also be the environment in which the candle is used.  If the surface the candle is sitting on is not flat, the candle may burn one side faster than the other, resulting in slanted tunneling. So always be sure to set your candle on a flat even surface.

Airflow in the room can also have an effect.  Candles are best burnt indoors away from any direct drafts.  If your candle is in a drafty area, you may find it burns unevenly and leads to some form of tunneling.  In this case, move it away from the draft or place it inside a protective candle holder.


How to remedy tunneling?


Don’t despair – there are some remedies that can salvage your fragrant flame!

If the tunneling is slight, maybe it's only the second burn, you may be able to remedy it by simply giving it a long enough burn for the rest of the surface to melt and catch up with the initial melt pool.  Alternatively, you can VERY CAREFULLY blast the top with the hot setting on your hairdryer – this will soften the top layer and it should smooth out.  But go slow with this method, hot wax spattering on you is going to hurt!!

If your tunneling has gone beyond a few millimetres, you may need to try the now viral hack known as the ‘foil method’.  The idea here is to reflect back the heat of the candle and melt the top layer of hard wax.  Again, approach this with caution as the foil can become very hot.  Firstly, light your candle and then VERY CAREFULLY wrap tin foil around the candle creating a dome with a hole in the top.  Allow it to burn for about an hour or until the surface is liquid to the edge.  VERY CAREFULLY remove the tin foil – it will be hot – and allow the candle to cool.  You may want to try this process in the sink just in case any of the wax spills when removing the foil.

In the worst-case scenario, your wick has given up the will to live and simply hasn’t the power to melt the wax anymore.  In this situation, you may have to accept that the candle is finished, but you can still release the fragrance from the wax by getting a bit creative.  If you have a wax melter or oil burner, you can scrape out the wax from your candle and melt it in the dish on the top of the burner. Or put it atop your radiator and let the heat gently release the scent that way.  Although you won’t get the joy of the flame, you will still be able to enjoy the fabulous fragrance. 

Like many things, prevention is better than cure when it comes to candle tunneling.  Burn your candle well the first time and you will enjoy many hours of that gorgeous fragrance and flame.  Place it on a flat, level surface away from drafts.  Ensure the first burn melts the wax right to the edges.  Trim your wick to ¼ inch before each subsequent burn.  Use a snuffer to extinguish if possible. 

And most of all ENJOY!!

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