When I was a college student, I spent a summer working at a Yankee Candle store.
Few people purchase candles during sweltering New England summers, so I spent most of my shifts picking up ultimately useless skills, like how to smell the difference between Sparkling Cinnamon and Cinnamon Stick.
But I did learn one thing that’s stayed with me for years: There is a right way to burn a candle — and most people have no idea what it is.
Heed the following guidelines and you’ll get way more mileage out of your favorite candles.
1. Trim the wick. Every. Single. Time.
Each time you want to burn your candle, start by trimming the wick to between 1/8 and 1/4 inches long. You can use scissors, nail clippers (that’s my personal favorite), or a specialized wick trimmer, but no matter what you do, always trim.
Why? First, trimmed wicks will give you a cleaner, brighter burn. Untrimmed wicks are a lot more likely to take on a weird mushroom-esque shape (see below) that dulls and obscures the flame.
And second, excessively long wicks are a top cause of those nasty smoky stains that end up on your glass jar candles. Trimming the wick keeps the flame in control and prevents those marks from forming in the first place.
2. Let the wax melt all the way across.
Once your candle’s lit, don’t blow it out until the top layer of wax has melted all the way across. This might take several hours — so don’t set out to burn a candle at all unless you’ve got time to kill.
Whenever you fail to achieve full melt, you’re contributing to a process that we Yankee employees called tunnelling. The wick starts to sink lower and lower, like a tunnel is forming right through the center of the candle.
Eventually, the tunnel will grow so deep that it’ll be tough to light the wick at all. More importantly, all that unmelted wax on the sides represents hours of lovely fragrance and burn time you bought but won’t ever get to utilize.
It takes patience, but if you melt the wax all the way across every time you burn, the surface of the candle will stay flat and the sides of the jar will stay clean, all the way down until the candle is spent.
3. Buy multi-wick candles.
I know from experience that it’s hard to find enough time for a proper burn. The solution? Buy a candle with two or three wicks. More flames means more heat — which leads to a quicker melt.
On that note: Be wary of extra-wide candles that only have one wick. If the candle surface has just one wick and a diameter of more than 3 or 4 inches, don’t buy it. One wick will never produce enough heat to melt it all the way across.
4. Keep the flame away from moving air.
Do your best to keep your burning candle away from fans, air conditioners, open windows, or heavily trafficked areas where people walk back and forth a lot. Moving air can disturb the flame, leading to even more unsightly black marks on the glass.
Now: Go forth and burn those candles like the experts do.