Of all the types of candles on the market, pillar candles are meant to burn the longest each time you light them. If you only leave it lit a few minutes at a time, the wax doesn't melt evenly, which affects how the candle burns every time after that. According to Harlem Candle Company, the proper way to burn a pillar candle is to leave it lit for 1 hour per inch of diameter.
Preparing for the First Burn
Before lighting a pillar candle the first time, remove any labels that might be on the perimeter. Trim the candle wick to 1/4 inch, which provides optimal burning height. According to Candle Kiosk, anything longer than that and the wick may mushroom at the top, or it may smoke and create a flame that flares up too high.
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Select a clear area from any breezes and in no risk of nearby objects catching fire. Set the candle atop a saucer-style candle holder, which helps prevent waxy marks or potential candle drips on your furniture. Measure the diameter of the candle and plan on burning it for 1 hour per inch of diameter, as an estimate.
Light the candle and burn it for the estimated time, ensuring that the pool of molten wax nearly reaches the outside of the candle. If the wax pool is still just a narrow ring around the wick, let it burn longer so nearly all of the top of the candle wax is molten. This first burn is the most critical for a pillar candle, as it sets the wax and ensures even burning in the future. The wax that melted previously burns faster than the hardened, non-melted wax, and this is why it's important to let all but the very edges on the top of the candle get soft before extinguishing the candle.
Prevent Candle Tunneling
Candle tunneling is a common issue for pillar candles in particular. Tunneling simply means a narrow tunnel around the wick develops and gets deeper each time you burn the candle, to the point it's eventually difficult to reach the wick, resulting in a largely wasted candle. Tunneling happens if you don't allow the candle to melt almost all the way across the top on the first burn, or if you only let the candle burn for a short time when the diameter calls for a much longer burn time. It could also happen if the wick is of poor quality, or if there's only one wick on an extra wide pillar candle, when it should have several wicks.
In some rare instances with fancy textured pillar candles, the inner wax is a softer variety than the outer detailed wax, and it's meant to burn that way, preserving the shape of the outer texture or detailing. For best results before burning such candles, read the candle instructions on the packaging or on the manufacturer's website. It's also a good idea to stay nearby when burning a candle the first few times to get a feel for how it burns, and how fast. Never leave a lit candle unattended, and don't leave any candle lit if you may fall asleep, such as in your room around bedtime.
Always keep the wick trimmed to about 1/4 inch, and keep the molten wax area atop the candle free from debris. This helps ensure ideal burning for the life of the candle. If necessary, use a toothpick to fish out any burned wick bits or other debris while the wax is molten.