January 15, 2008

Pillar Candles, and the Ways in Which They Disappoint

At the risk of sounding like I think I'm Seinfeld (and what an easy, easy mistake it would be to make!), what is the DEAL with pillar candles? I always think, "Yay, nice big candle!," but then the flame burns itself down into a deep narrow tunnel and drowns in melted wax. And it doesn't look pretty doing it, either.


The greenish one is actually BULGING OUT as it burns down.

I suppose I could keep carving off the top of the candle, to give the flame more breathing room. But what a waste of wax!

29 comments:

Kelsey said...

I am embarrassed to feel like something of an expert on this subject, since I spent six summers living at a summer camp (yes, just like in the movies) and we used lots of candles.

Pier One candles used to burn the nicest and the cheap ones from Target and Kohls were the worst. These days I tend toward jar candles because I worry less about dripping wax and random things catching on fire. Also, I'm far less likely to play with the wax (a habit left over from summer camp days) in a jar candle.

If you want a big fat candle, then the ones with multiple wicks usually work the best.

Pillar candles = what seem like a good idea but always end up annoying you.

Robin M. said...

Burn a pillar candle in such a way as to prevent it from burning straight down the center. The first time you burn a pillar candle, let the pool of wax extend to the outside of it, burning the candle one hour for every inch in diameter.

Nowheymama said...

I know someone who always puts a votive candle in the pillar tunnel once the candle melts down a bit. Supposedly this keeps the pillar exterior looking nice, but it sounds like more work to me. Still, it's an idea.

Marie Green said...

Yes, I agree. I quit buying them.

The Yankee housewarmers (in a jar) are much less disappointing... There is still *some* wasted wax, but not much. And I really do think the smell is superior, too.

Mrs. M said...

i let mine burn an hour for every inch wide the first time (general rule for all candle burning) but still it tunnels a little bit. Yes i still find myself getting them b/c i have these cute little trays and wrought iron stands that are darling. shame on me.

Mommy Daisy said...

I have the same problems, Swistle. I like the advice you're getting, though.

Whimsy said...

In my Insane Nesting Situation, I have cleaned out the upstairs linen closet twice. And each time, I've struggled with the heinous box of fugly pillar candles that I can't bring myself to throw away (because! they're still halfway good!), but I can't bring myself to pull out and burn, either, because they're just so ugly.

And wow - I had no idea there was a formula for keeping the pillars pretty. Unfortunately I don't have the patience or the degree in chemical engineering to figure out the ratio for how long I'm burning them to their diameter or whatever. Ugh.

The result is that I've stopped buying them and have been eyeing those flameless candle things put out by Glade. Expensive, yes. But no flame! No ugly pillar candle remnant!

Swistle said...

Okay, so here is where I was going wrong: there are STANDARD CANDLE-BURNING FORMULAS? Where have I been? I'm going to cut the tops off these candles and see if they're forgiving enough to let me start over. But they're 3 inches across, and when do I burn a candle for 3 hours? Never, that's when! Well, I'm going to do it anyway.

Marie- I agree about Yankee Housewarmers. I was bitching to Paul because the "pear" and "temple" scented candles (in the photo) have almost no detectable scent at all, whereas my Yankee Candle Balsam & Cedar ones are AWESOME and have to be extinguished when the smell gets too strong. (Paul said, "Is this what it's come to? Discussing scented candles?")

Whimsy- If the starting-over technique doesn't work, let's you and me make a pact to TOSS THESE SUCKERS OUT and buy something else next time!

Mama DB said...

My great grandfather and great great grandfather used to make the big pillar candles for churches in England.

I've always been told that you have to do a "control burn" on them for the first few hours (one hour at a time, let the wax cool solidly and then burn for another hour and so forth).

The cheap candles will always burn poorly. The honeycombed candles burn more evenly but are more expensive and don't last as long. If you want to save some money, buy the pillars with 3 wicks, instead of just one.

I love the candles and also just put tea lights in the big pillars if they've not burned properly (then you aren't adding more wax to the mess -just pulling out a tin when it has burned) - that or I'll get a knife and hack the candle down.

Hope this helps you out!

Swistle said...

Kelsey- Ha ha! Candle expert! And indeed: these are the cheap ones from Target.

LoriD said...

My friend, a self-proclaimed candle nut, religiously rolls in the edges of her pillar candles as soon as the flame is extinguished (while the wax is still warm and pliable).

tulipmom said...

I feel your pain. This used to drive me crazy. Unfortunately SB is really bothered by the smell of most candles ... so it's not such a big deal anymore.

Michele said...

You can buy a candle warmer at Michea'ls or AC Moore. Its like a little hot plate for your candles. I use it for my jarred Yankee candles rather than lighting them, since my kids love fire. But my aunt puts her caved in pillar candles in a jar (wide mouthed, pickle jar maybe?) and then melts them on the candle warmer. This is oonly good if you are trying to use them for their olfactory pleasure alone. It does nothing to help the visual appeal.

Gina said...

The 1 hr/inch definitely helps (but I get not being able to do it), and also - trim the wicks to 1/4 inch every time.

But it's true that better candles burn better and longer. My favorites are Trapp and Anthousa (both of which are expensive, but I sometimes find tham at places like Marshalls or Filene's basement pretty cheap and they last a long time.

Maggie said...

I agree about the yankee jar candles being the best...and once they are burned fairly far down and I don't want to light them anymore, I ususally use a candle warmer to get the last bit of scent out of the left over wax.

I have a serious addiction to scented candles.

Wendi said...

I know your pain, Swistle. We make candles for a living and spent many, many hours testing pillars to make sure the wick was right. It's really tricky -- it has to be enough to melt to the edges but not so much that it blows out the side.

You can "hug" your pillars (cup your hand around the top to make the wax turn in a bit) which might help the wax be consumed by the flame. If it's just got the wrong size wick for that type of wax, there's not much you can do...but you could try cutting pieces off and putting them in a candle warmer or melt warmer.

When we burn pillars, we test for an hour per every inch the candle is wide (a 2.5" inch wide pillar would burn for 2.5 hours).

We keep the wick trimmed to about 1/8" to 1/4" (I hate huge, smoky flames). And dip the wick into the wax and then straighten it back up instead of blowing it out -- this totally eliminates the smoke you get when you blow out a candle.

Just tips from a PITA candle lady. LOL

Swistle said...

Wendi- How fun to have an actual candle-maker to consult!

laughing mommy said...

I have to pillar candles in our bathroom doing that bulging thing. Like the candle just can't fit into its skinny jeans anymore.

laughing mommy said...

Two more things...

My friend's husband cuts off the ugly top of her pillar candles with a table saw so they can keep using them.

Have you tried a Scentsy warmer and wax? No pretty flame, but the warmer has a bulb inside that lights up which is pretty... they are even more good smelling than regular scented candles. I don't know if they can be bought online... where I live we usually go to one of those house parties (like Pampered Chef or Tupperware) to get them. I think Yankee sells warmers and wax melty things too.

Jess said...

You are so right, and I never realized it before because I guess I just don't think about these things that much. I'm glad you posted this, though, because now I'll remember to avoid pillar candles when I'm looking for wedding candles.

jen said...

I actually like when it burns itself into a hole because then the entire pillar has a pretty glow!

ok, question for those of you who use the warmers - does the candle last indefinitely or what?

kimmothy said...

Another option is to buy the shorter versions of the pillars. They seem to last a decent amount of time, plus they don't do that annoying tunneling thing. I've switched over in the last few years and have been much happier.

Heather said...

swistle..i saw someone mentioned the Scentsy candles..I happen to sell them. They last longer than normal candles, burn evenly, are non-toxic for you, your kids, your pets-they burn warm, not hot..so safe as well!! There really are alot of benefits of burning them vs. the regular wax candles..theres 30 burners and 80 scents to choose from. Maybe a good alternative? just FYI ;)

Erin said...

Yeah. WTF? Good point and it's about time someone made it. This is why I only buy those Yankee Candles or the like. Only I don't get those very often because (1) they're pricey and (2) I'm an OLD LADY for buying candles in jars... seriously, is this what it's come to? blah.

Jessa said...

You are supposed to be able to lightly mush the tops in towards themselves, but it doesn't work well on the pillars I have.

She Likes Purple said...

One of my pillar candles sprung a leak the other day and wax was literally SQUIRTING out of a hole formed on the side. We have wax droplets all over our carpet now.

Saly said...

Ok, I know nothing about candles.

But YES!! The pink puffy dresses were 75% off at Target! I couldn't believe it!!! GO!! Now!!

Angelina Panettieri said...

I saw someone once who poked holes in the sides of the wax "tunnel" once it had started to burn down - then air can circulate in to feed the flame. I don't know how well it works, though.

Pann said...

I actually kind of like the bulgy look.

The biggest way that my recent candle purchases disappointed, though, was in a lack of a scent.

Granted, I bought them on closeout (CVS post-halloween candle: 75 cents! Target, post-xmas candle: 50 cents!) and I guess it's possible the scent had faded by the time I got them, but that doesn't really make sense (scents!) to me.