Who doesn’t enjoy lighting a candle to set the mood? You sink into a bath by candlelight and an evening’s wash becomes a romantic self-care routine. A meal for two over a candle is so much more charming than one conducted by electric light. And you probably think, from watching a candle, that the answer to “is wax flammable” is obvious but it’s not quite as simple as it appears.
Paraffin wax used in candles is flammable but does not catch fire easily. As a solid, the wax needs to be heated enough to change into a gas (turns to vapor). This vapor, mixed with oxygen is what burns and sustains a fire. Paraffin wax has a flashpoint of 392 to 480 degrees Fahrenheit (200 to 249 Celsius).
Candles and other wax products can obviously burn, but maybe not in the way it seems. Let’s take a closer look at the flammable properties of wax.
Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?
Table of Contents
Can Candle Wax Catch On Fire?
Yes, candle wax can catch on fire. Though your candle wax won’t catch fire in normal usage of a candle, that doesn’t mean that it won’t melt.
Most candles are made from paraffin wax and when that wax is vaporized, it is very combustible.
However, it is defined by OSHA as combustible, rather than flammable. This just means it has a flashpoint above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It will still indeed catch fire in the right circumstances.
For a great explanation of how a candle actually burns, watch this video:
At What Temperature Does It Ignite?
Yes, wax can ignite. It can ignite at temperatures as low as 392 degrees Fahrenheit.
In fact, nearly everything can ignite if you can supply enough heat over enough time in the presence of oxygen.
There is no exact formula for a paraffin wax and thus, the numbers we offer here are a guidance to the temperature at which paraffin wax might ignite and not a hard and fast rule.
But a pure paraffin wax, that is one without any form of additives, should ignite at around 392 degrees Fahrenheit, that is about 200 degrees Celsius.
If there are additives in the paraffin, then this will push the ignition point of the wax up, because the additives bind to the paraffin and make it harder for the bonds between molecules to break down.
Paraffin wax with additives burns at around 480 degrees Fahrenheit or 249 degrees Celsius.
Also read: Is Silicone Flammable or Fire Resistant?
Where Does The Wax Go When You Burn A Candle?
When you burn a candle, as we’ve seen, you’re really burning the wicking material in the center of the candle – the candle wax does not burn. The wax turns to vapor and that is what burns.
It does, however, melt and the majority of the candle wax runs down the candle and pools around the base of the candle and most of it will set back to a solid again within a few seconds.
However, if you burn an entire candle and collect up all the wax on the plate, you will noticed that you have less wax than you had in the candle when you started.
Where did the other wax go? It was converted into wax fumes and those fumes evaporate under the heat.
This is why it can be quite unpleasant to sniff any fumes coming off a candle, they’re made of wax. Fortunately, the wax isn’t toxic, so you’re probably not risking your health if this happens.
Also read: Is Hair Gel Flammable? Sometimes…
Is It A Fire Hazard?
As long as you store your wax candles safely, then the wax is not a fire hazard.
However, a lit candle is definitely a fire hazard, not because of the wax, but because it’s the source of a naked flame.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an average of 7610 house fires, resulting in an average of 81 deaths, 677 injuries, and 278 million dollars in property damage, are caused by candles every year.https://www.nfpa.org/candles
This means the most important thing to do with candles is to ensure that they are securely placed (to not fall over), that they are positioned over things that won’t burn (using a saucer or a plate under the candle to catch dripping wax and falling pieces of candles is a good idea), and that they aren’t likely to be knocked over by anyone passing them by.
Watch this video for some more great candle fire safety facts and tips:
How Do You Put Out A Wax Fire?
If you need to put out a candle, you should use a candle snuffer. This is a device designed to safely extinguish a candle without spraying hot wax everywhere. This is designed to cut off the oxygen supply and put out the candle safely and quickly.
If the wax does catch fire, don’t use water to try and extinguish the flames. The candle wax will have melted and throwing water on it is likely to send hot lumps of wax flying everywhere. It’s best to treat it like an oil fire – smother it with a fire blanket or use a fire extinguisher suitable for use on a cooking oil fire.
Is It OK To Leave A Candle On Overnight?
It is very much not OK to leave a candle on overnight. While they may have done this in days gone by when electric lighting was not an option, they also had rather more house fires than we do today and that’s because a lit candle left to burn unattended is a fire hazard.
It just takes an odd draft, a pet, or other minor incident to send a lit candle flying and for a fire to start.
Can A Candle Explode?
Possibly, though if it did the most likely explanation would be some sort of impurity in the wax rather than the candle wax itself.
You could, in theory, create a wax explosion by melting the wax and then spraying it in fine droplets over a naked flame – but you’d really have to be trying to make that happen.
Note: Do not try this. It would be very unsafe.