Candle usage in the United States has skyrocketed over
the last 20 years and candle manufacturing is now a $2 billion
industry. According to the National Candle Association,
seven out of 10 households use candles. The majority of
these consumers use candles one to three times a week.
Decorative and fragranced candles may be an attractive
addition to your home décor, but if used improperly,
they can be a serious fire hazard. According to the National
Fire Protection Association Journal article, "Candle
Fires on the Rise", residential fires caused by candles
have more than doubled during the past decade.
In addition to being a fire hazard, improperly used candles
can generate a significant amount of soot. This soot can
damage the walls, floors and ceilings of your home as well
as your personal belongings.
After declining from 1980 to 1990,
candle-related home fires started increasing in 1991,
and since 1995, each year has seen a new high in the
number of fires blamed on candles. In 2001, candle
fires in the home were responsible for an estimated
190 civilian deaths, 1,450 civilian injuries and $265
million in property damage.
What underlies this devastation? First, candles have
become more popular: According to the National Candle
Association, seven out of 10 households use candles.
Second, many people don't realize how quickly something
can go wrong, and don't know the rules for safe candle
use. One-third of these fires occurred after candles
were left unattended, abandoned or inadequately controlled.
One-quarter occurred when combustible material came
too close to the flame. And 6 percent were started
by people—usually children—playing with
Another important factor may be poverty. As many as one-third
of people killed in candle fires were using them for light
because their power had been shut off.
Even as candle-caused fires increase, the number of home
fires is dropping. So the proportion of home fires related
to candles has been growing, according to the NFPA study.
In 2001, candle fires accounted for 4.7 percent of home
fires, compared with 1.1 percent in the early 1980s.
Four out of 10 candle fires start in the bedroom, and one
in six start in common rooms, living rooms, family rooms
or dens. Nearly half the people killed by candle fires in
the home were younger than 20; children ages 5 to 9 accounted
for a disproportionate share of the victims, with a candle-fire
death rate 2.5 times higher than the general population.
Candle fires are most common in December, perhaps because
candles are frequently a part of holiday decorating and
rituals. Eleven percent of the candle fires in December
started when decorations were ignited.
The NFPA offers these tips for safe candle use:
Extinguish all candles when leaving the room or going to
Keep candles away from things that can catch fire, such
as clothing, books, paper, curtains, Christmas trees, or
Place candles on stable furniture in sturdy holders that
won't tip over and that are big enough to collect dripping
Don't place lit candles in windows, where they may ignite
blinds or curtains.
Place candles only in areas where they won't be knocked
over by children or pets.
Extinguish taper and pillar candles when they get within
two inches of the holder or decorative material. Extinguish
votive and filled candles before the last half-inch of wax
starts to melt.
Avoid candles with combustible materials embedded in them,
or with holders or decorations that could ignite.
Don't allow children or teens to have candles in their bedrooms.
Gel candles have become increasingly popular. Their beauty
and long-burning characteristics are two reasons for their
popularity. An eight-ounce gel candle will burn a hundred
hours or more, creating increased injury and fire risks
beyond that of regular candles.
The concern about gel candles is not so much with the gel
itself, but rather with (1) the type of wick used, (2) the
container the candle is set in, (3) the embedding of combustible
materials in the gel, and (4) the amount of fragrance which
is added to the gel.
Cotton and paper-cored wicks are generally not used in gel
candles because of their tendency to sag or lean over during
the manufacturing and burning process. Zinc-cored wicks
are used because of their ability to stand straight in the
hot gel during both manufacturing and burning.
Wick length and placement are important for candle safety.
Wicks should be trimmed to ¼ inch above the gel surface.
Long wicks create a very tall flame that burns in an irregular
pattern. If the wick is not placed properly, it causes localized
overheating of the container and a liquid pool of wax. Such
conditions can cause uneven temperature dissipation and
possible cracking of the container.
Containers should not be combustible. Plastic or wood products
should not be used. Gel candles can be created in almost
any type of glassware as long as it can withstand heat.
Gel works best in containers between 2 and 3 inches in diameter,
and is not recommended for use in containers over 4 inches
Larger containers will frequently use multiple wicks. Multiple
wicks mean multiple flames, and the more flame the hotter
the melted pool of wax; thus the greater danger of the container
cracking. Glass containers with narrow mouths are not recommended
due to the closer proximity of the flame to the wall of
Embedding of Objects
Combustible materials such as wood and plastic should never
be embedded into a gel candle. Only non-combustible materials;
like glass marbles, rocks, or shells; should be used.
Fragrance in gel candles plays a significant role in the
safety of these types of candles and has been a major factor
in candle fires. The fragrance needs to be compatible with
the solubility of the gel. There are fragrances that are
formulated specifically for gel candles. The most important
factor in the fragrance selection is the flashpoint. Most
fragrances have flash points of 140º F and higher.
A preferred fragrance flashpoint would be 170º F or
Flashpoint is the temperature at which a material ignites.
Adding too much fragrance can clog the wick causing the
candle to burn improperly. In addition to selecting the
correct type of fragrance, it is important that the fragrance
be completely mixed into the gel before it is poured into
Incomplete mixing of the fragrance can cause an irregular
Many candles have been recalled due to the fire hazard
created by their design. To see what products have been
recalled, go to the CPSC web site. Use their search page
and look for candle recalls.
Given the number of deaths and the amount of property damage,
candles warrant special care and safety precautions when