Why do my candles “tunnel” and can I fix them?

tunneling candleAs I have been skimming over candle related questions posted by people online I have seen the topic of tunneling come up quite often.  For those of you who do not know what tunneling means in relation to candles, it is when the candle burns straight down the middle and not out to the edges.  The point of this post is to explain a few reasons why a candle may tunnel and how to try and fix the problem.  I mean lets face it, nobody wants to toss a candle that has hardly been used.

Two of the main reasons a candle could tunnel are poor quality and too many short burns.  In the case of poor quality, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the wax was bad or the fragrance was cheap but most likely the wrong wick was used in the candle.  If the size of the wick is too small, it doesn’t create a large enough flame, which in turn doesn’t create enough heat to melt the wax.  What you want to see when you burn a jar candle or votive, (any type of container candle) is for the wax pool to reach all the way to the edge.

Sometimes the tunneling effect is caused by too many short burns.  Take note to the size of candle you are burning and to how long you are going to leave it lit.  If you know you will have to extinguish the candle in an hour or even two, light a smaller one like a votive or tealights.  A 4″ diameter jar candle won’t usually melt out to the edge in an hours time.  A few short burns in a row will start your candle tunneling.  What starts to happen next is as the flame works its way down into the candle it starts to melt wax off the walls.  This wax runs down the sides and fills up the hole around the wick and drowns it out.  Once that happens, relighting the candle will not work.

So how do you fix a candle that has tunneled? The easiest way to get fix your candle is to remove all of the waxtunneling candle fixed that is higher than the area around the wick.  Use a butter knife or a fork to carve away the built up wax.  You can use that wax in candle warmer or toss it in the trash.  If you try to light your candle it may not easily light.  This is because the wick is not long enough due to the liquid wax which ran down into the hole surrounding the wick.  When the wax hardens it leaves the wick to short to light.  You can carve some of the wax away from the wick and try lighting it.  A better option is to lay the candle on its side, use your lighter to melt the wax away from around the wick and pour it into the trash.  Relight your candle and make sure that you allow the wax pool to reach the edge before blowing it out.

For the poor quality candle you can do a temporary fix using the method above however you will need to repeat the process after a few burns because the candle will not ever melt all the way to the edges.

10 thoughts on “Why do my candles “tunnel” and can I fix them?

  1. selby ramon

    the wick is very long when i first light it and i let it burn for hours and still i get that tunnelling effect. i will remove the excess was as you pointed out! Thanks for your help.

    • Lindsay

      always trim the wick to a quarter of an inch before you light it. A wick that is too long will droop into the wax and cause a whole other set of problems

  2. Ltt Mdm

    This works for me every time: use a spoon or knife to carve out a “moat” in the wax in the shape of the Mercedes-Benz logo. For a 4″ three-wick candle, remove 1/2″ of wax from the circumference of the candle. Then between each pair of wicks, scoop out wax to form three radii from the center of the candle to the circumference. Relight the candle and let it burn long enough to re-level the wax. Tilt gently in a circle to help it after an hour or so. This will last for several burn sessions; repeat when wicks get too short again.

  3. tryblinking

    I want to cut a large, deep recess from an expensive, molded 4″ diameter candle, to place 6hr tea lights inside; in effect an artificially pre-tunnelled candle.
    How would I determine the max depth and diameter I can carve out, before the candle would self-destruct from melting of the walls.

    • futrose

      The majority of the heat will be created directly above the flame, you can feel a huge difference if you place your hand beside a candle flame vs. above it. If you drill you hole deep enough that the top of the flame is even or a little lower than the top of the candle you should be good on the depth. For the width, you should make the hole as large as possible. If you can leave about 1/4 inch wall of wax that would be ideal, if not make it as wide as you can. I’m assuming you also want some of the light to shine through the wall of wax so you want them to be thin or it will block the light.

  4. Feeling stumped

    I’m making my own beeswax candles and I know that I’m supposed to set the wick so that the “v” in the bride is right side up when the candle is so that it “wicks up the wax properly. My problem is that when I look closely the wick is square with the “v’s” on opposite sides going in the same direction and the other opposite sides go in the other direction. How do I know what side to judge by?

    • futrose

      Some wicks are directional and other types are not. If you are using a cotton braided wick it is NOT directional so is doesn’t matter which way you put the wick into the candle.

  5. Stacy

    My unity candle had been sitting in my window. It caved in on the back half way down to the bottom. I’m absolutely sick over it , and know it can be fixed I just don’t know how to go about fixing it or where to turn to have it fixed.

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