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20 July 2023 / Laura Garvin Gomez

How to Fix Candle Tunnelling

Revive your candles and prevent uneven burning with expert tips in our blog on fixing candle tunnelling.

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Yellow candle that's been blown out

Even the most experienced candlemakers and candle enthusiasts have to deal with the issue of learning how to stop candle tunnelling.

Whilst it is more common with lower quality wax, it can still occur on any candle, so it’s helpful to learn some tips and tricks you can use to minimise the risk.

From how long you burn the candle, to the size of the wick and where the candle is positioned, we look at everything to do with tunnelling so you can start to enjoy your candles with as little stress as possible.

What is candle tunnelling?

Candle tunnelling is an issue that almost anyone who regularly burns candles will experience. Tunnelling looks exactly as it sounds – it happens when a tunnel-like ‘hole’ starts to appear in the middle of the candle as it burns, which can lead to a lot of wax being wasted. There are a few reasons why tunnelling can occur and just as many methods you can try to fix the problem, which we explain in more detail below.

What are the causes of candle tunnelling?

There are a few reasons why candles start to tunnel, with the main culprits being:

  • Wick size: When the right wick is used in a candle, it stands a much better chance of performing well. This is especially true of the wick size, as if it is incorrect the outer wax of the candle will struggle to melt sufficiently. Instead, it will burn downwards and inwards, creating a hole right in the middle of the wax.
  • Wax memory: When talking about wax memory, it relates to the slightly softer top layer of wax that cooled and hardened after last being ignited. If not enough time is allowed for the flame to burn the outer ring of wax to increase its memory, it will start to tunnel, making it near impossible to burn the wax on the outside of the candle.
  • Poor positioning: Where you position your candle will also affect how it burns and performs. Ideally, you want to keep it away from windows, doors and areas that produce a draft. Otherwise, the flame will flicker, causing the heat to burn unevenly, affecting its memory and likely causing the wax to tunnel.

Small lit candle with a green fabric background

How to stop a candle from tunnelling

If you want to repair tunnelled candles, you can try the methods below. And for anyone eager to understand how to fix candle tunnelling without foil, then the first few suggestions may work for you:

  • Burn the candle for at least 3 hours: The first time you light a candle is also the most important, as it helps to create the wax memory for every subsequent burn. Ignite the candle for at least 3-4 hours the first few times, so the outer ring of wax can melt and soften. This should be enough to prevent tunnelling from occurring and allow the wax to burn evenly all the way down.
  • Use the correct-sized wick: As we mentioned above, one of the main reasons for tunnelling is that the wrong sized wick has been used in the candle. If you are making the candles, then it’s important to introduce a testing process that will highlight how well constructed it has or hasn’t been. If tunnelling is an issue for you, then use a bigger wick for the next one and carry out some tests to see how it performs.
  • Try using a hairdryer: If tunnelling has already started to happen on the candle, you can use a little bit of external heat to help it recover. Turn the hairdryer to a warm setting and direct it to the uneven sides of the candle, making sure to work around each section that needs to melt. The wax should soften so you can reshape the candle and remove the tunnel shape inside.
  • Wrap aluminium foil around the container: Another tried and tested method for stopping candle tunnelling is to wrap aluminium foil around the container. Cut the appropriate amount needed and use it to completely cover the top of the jar. Once you light the candle, the heat will be able to spread across the wax, with the foil retaining the temperature so the wax can start to soften and melt.
  • Buy a candle topper: A candle topper works in much the same way as aluminium foil. Once placed onto the container, it helps to retain the heat across the surface of the candle, so it remains evenly distributed and the wax can melt evenly. They can also be a little more decorative than foil, so if that’s important to you, then a candle topper might be a good option.

Three lit candles in amber glass jars

How to burn a candle evenly

Good preparation of your candle can make all the difference when it comes to its burn performance. But even after you have ignited it for the first time, it can be a bit of a challenge to keep the wax level. Try the following to see if it helps:

  1. Check that the candle is on a completely level surface. Even the slightest tilt on the flame can cause the candle to burn and melt unevenly.
  2. When you have finished burning the candle, allow it to cool completely once extinguished, before relighting it.
  3. Cover the candle when it is not in use, as this will keep it protected against any dust and air trying to get into the container.

It’s also helpful to keep your candles out of direct sunlight and heat sources to ensure the wax does not soften and weaken ahead of its next burn. And you made the candle yourself, trim the wick before lighting it, which should reduce soot emissions.

Black and white illustration of a candle

Hopefully you can use some of the information above to help you conquer candle tunnelling so you can get more out of your next burn. If tunnelling starts to happen again, you now have a few tricks you can try to get things back in order before the issue ruins the candle completely. Investing in good quality wax and wicks will also make a difference and allow you to make the most of your candles every time they are lit.

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