Unveiling the Mystery of Candle Tunneling: Causes, Fixes, and Prevention

Candle tunneling – an irksome issue that can throw off any candle enthusiast. But what underpins this problem, and how can one avert or amend it? This article ventures into the heart of candle tunneling, explaining its causes and offering easy yet effective remedies. Whether you’re a seasoned candle maker or a newcomer to this aromatic craft, understanding tunneling is your first step toward perfect candles. Let’s illuminate this topic.

Common reasons why homemade candles start tunneling are improper wick sizes, too few wicks for large candles, insufficient initial burn times, and unsuitable wax blends. Easy fixes for tunneling include using tinfoil, a hairdryer, your oven, or a candle warmer to raise the temperature of the wax. 

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In this article, I’ll discuss tunneling, why candles do it, and what you can do to help prevent it. We’ll also talk about reversing tunneling once it’s started. So, let’s jump right in! 

Why Your Homemade Candles Are Tunneling

Candle tunneling occurs when a candle burns, creating a narrow tunnel of burning wax straight down the middle, leaving a rim of unburned wax. This problem is rooted in various factors like incorrect wick size, insufficient wicks for larger candles, inadequate initial burn times, and unsuitable wax blends. A properly burning candle should have its entire surface melted within two hours, ensuring an even burn and prolonged candle life.

If a candle is burning correctly, the entire surface of the candle should eventually melt. That usually happens in two hours or less for most candles. If, instead, your wick is burning, and only a small section of wax around it is melting deeper and deeper, that’s tunneling.

Before discussing fixing it, let’s first look at all the things that could be causing it. 

Improperly Sized Wick

A common culprit of tunneling is an improperly sized wick. A wick too small creates a modest flame, generating less heat and causing only the wax directly around the flame to melt, leading to tunneling.

The wick isn’t large enough to produce a proper flame. The more modest flame produces less heat in a smaller, concentrated area. The result is that the only part of the candle that melts is the wax directly surrounding the flame, causing tunneling.

Not Enough Wicks for the Candle’s Size

Sometimes tunneling occurs not because the wick is too small but because there aren’t enough wicks in the candle. Small candles usually do fine with a single wick, but if you’re making homemade candles in 16-ounce jars like the Juvitus Thick Glass Straight-Sided Jars from Amazon.com, you’re going to need more than one wick.

There’s a reason Bath and Body Works uses three wicks in their oversized, three-wick candles, and it isn’t just to make them more visually appealing. Three properly spaced wicks distribute the heat more evenly and help prevent tunneling.

Insufficient Initial Burn Time

Candles have wax memory. Wax memory means the wax will continue to melt like you burned the candle for the first time. If you lit the candle and only let it burn for 30-40 minutes before blowing it out, it probably didn’t melt all the way to the edges. Now, this does not mean you need to leave your candle overnight to ensure it burns long enough.

The wax that did melt remains softer and easier to burn than the unmelted parts of the candle, meaning that it will be the part that melts the next time you burn the candle. If you didn’t let the entire surface melt the first time, it probably wouldn’t melt on subsequent burns.

Furthermore, the more often you burn the candle this way, the more likely tunneling will occur. Only burn large candles when you’re going to burn them for over an hour. If you’re only using them for brief periods, use tealights, votives, or taper candles. 

Unsuitable Wax Blends

According to All Seasons Wax Co., another often overlooked cause of tunneling is using unsuitable wax blends. 

For example, certain waxes are harder and have higher melting points. Those types of wax work best in places where the climate is warm. They also perform better as melts or in pillar candles. 

Other softer types of wax work better in cool climates or for container candles. Choosing the most suitable wax for your area and candle type can reduce the likelihood of tunneling. 

4 Easy Fixes for Candle Tunneling

If you’ve reached the point with some of your candles where prevention is no longer an option, don’t panic; there are a few things you can do to try to reverse the tunneling. 

  1. Use a Hair Dryer

The hairdryer method is the easiest one, and if you catch the tunneling early enough, it should work. If you notice your candle is starting to tunnel, plug in your hairdryer and blow hot hair over the candle’s surface until the wax melts evenly.

A heat gun, such as the Teccpo 1500W Professional Electric Hot Air Gun from Amazon.com, works for this method, as its nozzle attachments are perfect for focusing the heat onto particular spots of your candle.

  • Use Tinfoil

If your candle is in a more advanced tunneling stage, the hairdryer or heat gun method might not work either. But still, all hope is not lost. Try wrapping the candle’s edges in tin foil all the way around. This video shows you how:

It’s a simple fix; folding the tinfoil and adding it to the candle takes mere moments. The tinfoil helps keep the heat inside the candle, making its entire surface hotter. Your tunneled candle should have an even burn within an hour to two hours.

Some people say putting the candle in a hurricane vase will achieve the same effect, but I have no personal experience with this method. 

  • Put The Candle in the Oven

Another option is to place your candle on an aluminum-covered baking sheet. Set your oven to 175ºF (79.44ºC), and put the candle in the oven for about five minutes. The oven’s interior should be warm enough to melt the candle’s surface without melting the whole thing or damaging it, but you should monitor it closely to be sure.

  • Use a Candle Warmer 

If the tunneling in your candle has gotten too out of control and you can’t use any of these methods to fix it, you can stop lighting it and put it on a candle warmer instead. The warmer will heat and melt the wax, releasing the candle’s scent into your house, but it won’t cause any further tunneling because you’re not actually burning the candle.  

How To Prevent Candle Tunneling

The best way to “fix” candle tunneling is not to fix it at all. Instead, you should do everything you can to prevent it. I’ve already mentioned selecting the correct wax for your climate and candle needs. Next, you should make sure you pick the correct wick size. This video gives you some excellent information on how to do that:

Additionally, be sure you’re using enough wicks for larger candles. Don’t purchase 16-ounce jars; stick a single wick in the middle. It won’t work. Finally, make a point of burning candles long enough to let the entire top layer of the wax melt, especially when you burn them!

Osmology has a great chart that tells you how long you should burn a candle, depending on its diameter. Bookmark that chart, and if you forget that three-inch candles must burn for three hours, go back and look. Remember, though, the chart isn’t gospel. Use it as a guide, but be sure your candles are melting all the way to the edge of their jars before you blow them out.

Final Thoughts

Prevention, timely identification, and tunneling correction ensure your candles burn beautifully, last longer, and continue to create that cozy ambiance you love. Embrace these insights and enjoy a fulfilling, fragrant candle-making journey.

If you notice tunneling, try to catch and remedy it early with a hairdryer or using the tinfoil method. If all else fails, you can try putting it in the oven or transferring the candle to a warmer instead.

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