Where Does The Wax Really Go When You Burn A Candle?
It’s an age-old question that has left many of us scratching our heads.
As we gaze at the flickering light of a candle, what happens to all its wax?
Do wax particles just float around? Do we breathe them in? Or does it just work like magic and disappears out of our sight?!
But to figure out what happens to the wax during a burn, we need to understand some of the science behind it.
Where Does The Wax Really Go?
Candle wax is the solid part of your candle. It’s the part of the candle that surrounds the wick.
It’s a carbon-rich solid that liquefies when heated. Most candle waxes are made of fats, oils, and substances derived from organic materials such as insects, animals, rocks, and plants.
If we look deeper into candle wax, we’ll see many hydrogen and carbon molecules floating around (hydrocarbons). These can vary in distribution depending on the type of candle, which will affect how it burns.
When you light a candle, the wax melts and is soaked up by the wick. This melted wax acts as fuel to keep the candle flame burning. As wax is burned, capillary action ensures that more liquid wax is brought up through the wick.
So where does the wax go next?
As the liquid wax hits the flame it vaporizes into two components – hydrogen and carbon.
We all know that a flame needs oxygen to sustain itself. The oxygen in your home interacts with this hydrogen and carbon to create 3 things – energy (in the form of heat and light), water vapor, and carbon dioxide.
Essentially, these 3 components are what you see being created as your candle burns. Little by little, this combustion will work away to consume most of the candle wax, with most of it evaporating into the air. Science backs this up with the Law of Conservation of Matter which dictates that matter cannot be destroyed. Instead, it just transforms into other states.
Why Is There Soot And Smoke?
The complete combustion of candles allows every wax molecule to react with oxygen.
However; this is extremely hard to do as it is almost impossible to achieve an even burn throughout a candle’s life.
When there is too much wax being absorbed by the candle’s wick, the result is incomplete combustion. In other words, there is too much fuel for the candle flame to keep up with. A telltale sign of this occurring is a flickering flame.
The result of this is the soot and smoke that you see being produced from a candle. This is most easily observed from the dark ‘ash’ areas that develop on your candle jar.
There are ways you can guide your candle toward having a cleaner burn and this mainly involves preventing candle tunneling. A big part of this is ensuring you trim the wicks of your candle to the appropriate length.
Am I Inhaling Candle Wax?
When it comes to concerns surrounding inhaling candle wax, you can rest assured that this is not the case.
Instead of directly inhaling candle wax, you are instead breathing in the safe by-products – water vapor and carbon dioxide.
Both of these substances are present in our everyday lives and don’t pose any risk when we inhale them.
However, if you’re burning a candle in a room, the amount of these substances in the air would naturally increase more than the usual small amounts.
While large amounts of carbon dioxide can be dangerous when inhaled, it’s next to impossible to achieve unsafe levels when using candles.
In a similar vein, inhaling large amounts of soot isn’t good for you either but such an unsafe level of soot production is virtually non-existent when it comes to candles. As an added note, it’s best not to sit too close to a burning candle as higher concentrations of soot are located closer to the flame.
Don’t Let Your Candle Burn All The Way To The End
Speaking of vanishing candle wax, it’s not a good idea to let your wax be completely consumed.
As recommended by the National Candle Association, if your candle is sitting in a jar, extinguish it when there is about half an inch to two inches of wax left. This prevents it from becoming too hot which could shatter the jar and cause a fire hazard.