Candle tunneling is one of the most aggravating issues that tend to get under your skin in more ways than one. But what exactly is candle tunneling? And why does it happen? What are the causes and how do you fix them? We’re here to answer all of those questions for you in this article. So, let’s get started!
Common reasons why homemade candles start tunneling are improperly 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 what tunneling is, why candles do it, and what you can do to help prevent it. We’ll also talk a little about reversing tunneling once it’s already started. So, let’s jump right in!
Why Your Homemade Candles Are Tunneling
If you’re new to the art of candle making, you may not be familiar with the term “tunneling.” Tunneling is when your candle burns and creates a narrow tunnel of burning wax straight down the middle, leaving hardened, unmelted wax around the sides of the container.
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 we talk about fixing it, let’s first look at all the things that could be causing it.
Improperly Sized Wick
One of the most common underlying issues that cause tunneling is an improperly sized wick. Though using a wick that’s too large for your candle size can cause its own issues, using a wick that’s too small regularly results in tunneling.
The wick simply isn’t large enough to produce a proper flame. The more modest flame puts out 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 in the same way that 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.
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 is to 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 waxwork best in places where the climate is warm. They also perform better as melts or in pillar candles.
Other softer types of waxwork 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.
- 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 surface of the candle 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 stage of tunneling, the hairdryer or heat gun method might not work as well. But still, all hope is not lost. Try wrapping the edges of the candle 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. Within an hour to two hours, your tunneled candle should have an even burn.
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 evenly 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, the best thing you can do is 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. The next thing you should do is 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 and 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 need to 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.
The best remedy for candle tunneling is prevention. Be sure you choose the appropriate size and number of wicks and the right wax blend. Practice good burning habits; don’t light a large candle if you aren’t going to let it burn for at least a few hours.
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.