Is Candle wax flammable? (A 5 point guide)

In this article, we will enlight you about the following question: “Is Candle wax flammable?”, and other important questions about 

Is Candle wax flammable?

Yes, candle wax is flammable. The wax can ignite after heating, and it actually does every time we light a candle. The wax itself doesn’t present a big fire hazard if it’s solid, but the naked flame in the candle does.

Candles safety

Between 2015 and 2019, about 7.400 home structure fires were started by candles in the U.S, and an average of 90 deaths happen every year.

On average, 20 home candle fires were reported per day.

During that same time, candles caused 2% of reported home fires, 3% of home fire deaths, and 6% of injuries. It’s not an expressive rate, but they all could be avoided easily.

About 37% of these fires started in bedrooms. December and January were the months with the highest peaks of candle fires.

Candles safety tips

A lighted candle is an open flame. 

It will burn anything it can possibly do unless we prevent it.

You can think about fires as a result of combustion, instead of seeing them as a force of nature. 

Fires will take place every time we allow it. Lighted candles are a constant source of the best kind of ignition: fire itself.

Consider not lighting a candle in a room people may fall asleep. Leaving an unattended fire is always a fire hazard.

Also, only light candles at least 30cm (1ft) away from anything that can burn, which includes (but is not limited to):

  • Paper
  • Plastics
  • Curtains
  • Matches
  • Mattress
  • Cosmetics
  • Upholstery
  • Wood furniture

Beware not to leave anything on top of the candle, including cabinetry. The heat can travel more easily upward than on the side.

If you do want to burn candles stay tuned to the following:

  • Use good candle holders, and make sure the candle can’t fall easily;
  • Put the candleholders on a sturdy and leveled surface;
  • Light the candles carefully, always keeping your clothes away from the flames;
  • Don’t light a candle if there’s an oxygen supply nearby;
  • Put the fire out before the candle reaches the candle holder;
  • Never leave a kid or pet alone with a burning candle, no matter how educated they are.

Can Candle wax catch on fire?

Candle wax can catch fire and it will do every time you light a candle.

When we light a candle, we make the wicking material in the center burn. The heat from this initial burn will melt the wax, and eventually make it evaporates.

But as soon as it does evaporate, the open flame burns it. This burn makes the candle have a characteristic smell.

As a result, if you collect and weigh the remaining wax after the wick ended, you’d see that there is less wax than in the beginning. This happens because the wax (normally paraffine) was consumed.

In fact, what the wax does is slow down the wick burn so the fire lasts longer. It does that by being slowly consumed along the process.

How do candles burn?

The combustion reaction takes place in the wick.

The wax is basically made of hydrocarbons, chemical species made entirely from Carbon and Hydrogen.

Combustion is a chemical reaction between a source of fuel and oxygen gas. Heat, light, carbon dioxide, and water are the byproducts of the reaction.

If you look close to a fired candle there will be a blue zone near the wick. This is where the hydrocarbons in the wax start to vaporize to react with oxygen.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candle

This process takes a few minutes to start because the wax is not available yet to be burned, since it’s still solid. Once it initiates, the candle will burn all along unless something extinguishes the flame.

The candle will burn cleanly and steadily, providing a good amount of light. If the flames start getting too big or little (due to the amount of air or fuel provided to it, or because there’s a wind disturbing the combustion), a wisp of smoke can be formed.

This happens because incomplete combustion had occurred. The hydrocarbon molecules couldn’t react properly with oxygen, so compounds other than carbon dioxide and water will be formed.

The dark fume is made of soot, ashes, and many other things.

The hydrocarbon vapors get close to the flame, being evaporated by the heat of the initial flame. They are heated to a temperature of 1000°C, in the middle of the flame. 

Once reaching this temperature, they start getting incandescent, so the color of the flame turn to something orange-like. In this stage, simpler hydrocarbons are still being formed.

Source: https://candles.org/candle-science/

The combustion reaction generates light (radiation) in all colors of the visible spectrum, but yellow color overall. This is why many fires have this color.

Light and heat are just faces of the same coin, they are both radiations. 

The only difference between them is one we can see, and the other we cannot. Also, heat has specific properties that make it easy to be caught in many ways (the air, our skin, our frying pans..). This is what heat is in essence.

The flame then starts to taper because the heat from the downside is being forced to the top, through convection. This makes the top part of the flame, right where the yellow color ends, to be the hottest area, that can reach 1400°C.

Candles and wax flammability

So, we understood how candles catch fire and that waxes act like combustibles too. But how dangerous waxes are?

As you could see from the previous topic, wax requires a lot of heat to become burnable. Candle wax itself doesn’t present a big fire hazard under normal conditions.

To make wax willing to catch fire easily we would have first to put it under abnormal circumstances. We’d have to heat it a lot, make it all turn to liquid then apply a constant source of fire while preventing it from getting cold again.

Even doing so, it would still burn less than other common sources of fuel like alcohol and diesel. 

You could probably be asking yourself if it doesn’t have a risk of explosion.

Considering we’re dealing with a common paraffin candle, you would have to put a lot of effort to make it explosive. Somehow, a big amount of wax hydrocarbon vapor should be kept in one place, and then a source of ignition would be provided. 

This would be hard to provide because, as we saw in the “How candles burn?” section, the hydrocarbons would start igniting onsite if a source of ignition were close by. 

You could only see an explosion by the burn of a common candle if you were trying to achieve it.

Conclusion

Candle wax is flammable. It can burn and it does every time a candle is lighted. Although, it alone doesn’t present a fire hazard because it can ignite easily, and candles burn slowly because of the wax. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS): Is Candle wax flammable?

Can a candle explode?

No. As explained in the “Candles and wax flammability” section, it can’t explode. You would need extreme conditions in order for it to explode. You couldn’t provide such a scenario at home.

Is candle wax toxic?

No. Candle wax is made of paraffin, which is not toxic and presents no risk.

Is candle wax edible?

It is considered nonpoisonous, but other problems could arise if a lot is swallowed. If only a bit is ingested, you could only feel a minor upset stomach or a loose stool.

Candle wax is made of?

It’s made of paraffin wax. It’s a byproduct of the refining of lubricating oil. It comes from crude oil.

Is it ok to leave a candle on overnight?

No. Every time a lighted candle is left unattended is a big fire hazard. A candle is an open flame that can burn any combustible thing it comes across.

Citations

https://www.nfpa.org//-/media/Files/Public-Education/Resources/Safety-tip-sheets/CandleSafetyTips.pdf
https://www.nfpa.org/~/media/files/public-education/resources/safety-tip-sheets/religious_candles_safety_tips.pdf
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candle

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