When quarantine started, I made a list of easy home projects to give me something to do when all I could think to do is “scroll endlessly on my phone.” Things like “finally hang up pictures in the bedroom” and “organize the pantry.” But it took scrolling through Twitter to discover my new favorite “chore.” It was deeply satisfying, required almost no actual effort, and involved my favorite home decor object: My candles.
The buildup of taller wax reduces the overall burn time, makes the wick harder to reach over time, and makes the container harder to reuse. In other words, it's a real bummer.
Lucy Partington, a beauty editor in the U.K., asked Instagram for suggestions to fix “tunneling” in candles, a term I was not familiar with but immediately understood. As I have started dishing out more and more money more and more regularly for fancy candles, I have learned the dos and don’ts of candle care. Far less likely to suffer at my hands than my house plants, I try to keep my wicks trimmed and let the candle burn long enough for the the pool of melted wax to reach the edge. If you don’t, you run the risk of tunneling, which causes a few problems: The buildup of taller wax reduces the overall burn time, makes the wick harder to reach over time, and makes the container harder to reuse. In other words, it's a real bummer.
But, as Parrington learned and later shared on Twitter and Instagram, not irreversible. And all it takes is covering the candles in foil and lighting the wicks.
The foil traps heat from the flame of the candle and melts down the hard wax on the sides, allowing it to even out. Parington’s video was undeniably satisfying, so I knew I had to try it myself.
I had two candles with various levels of tunneling. One candle had a kind of half-tunnel from sitting in a drafty spot in my bathroom. (Maybe not a fully covered wax tunnel, just a wax breezeway? A wax ledge?) My second candle was a final sale impulse purchase from Anthropologie and I had no idea how big it was going to be until it arrived. Even with three wicks, it’s hard to commit to a long enough burn time to allow the wax to fully melt to the edges, which resulted in a small amount of wax build-up despite my best efforts.
I covered the candles in foil, lit the wicks, and sat back and waited. (I found the easiest way to do this was to simply cover the candle with the foil like leftovers bound for the fridge, then poke a hole in the middle with a pen or pencil and kind of fold it back to the rim). Since this was housework (and research!), I had to sit by and observe, all while listening to The Chicks newest album and playing Candy Crush. You know, for science.
After an hour or so, I could see some progress. But I also saw something that Partington did not encounter. On my smaller candle, I was dealing with a few inches of hard wax build up. As it melted and sunk down, it started to cover the wick. After a while, the flame was mostly gone and a bit of wax tunnel still remained. Never one to be defeated, I found a solution. While it’s more involved than the foil hack, it actually worked really well. I snipped a tiny piece of kitchen twine and gently nestled it down by the submerged wick. Because trying to re-light it while the wax was still soft caused my helper wick to fall or move, I let the candle wax harden and I was able to light my new wick no problem. As it burned a second time, the temporary wick was able to burn off wax until the real wick was tall enough. I had more moderate success with my giant sale candle, but saw less wax build-up after a few hours. I think the giant candle/three wick thing made it a bit harder: there was less heat build-up overall, maybe.
Problem (mostly) solved. Candle life successfully extended.
At the end of a few fragrant hours, I still had some wax on the side of the candle. But, because of the heat, it was pretty soft. I finally got impatient enough that I took the end of a used matchstick and, this time, gently wiped down the sides. (You could do this with a small spatula or knife, but I wanted to use something I could toss afterwards and not worry about cleaning up.) I used this to gently prod the last bit of wax into the liquid, where it quickly melted.
Problem (mostly) solved. Candle life successfully extended. And while I didn’t get the flawless “after” shot that Partington did, I think I might try the foil trick again in a few weeks to see if it can melt down the last little bits.
If you do attempt this at home (which you should!) I do have a few bits of advice: leave your wick on the longer side if you have considerable build-up, and have a little thread or twine handy if you need to create a second wick. Other than that, it’s a hands-off, relaxing way to fix a pesky problem. If only folding my laundry or fixing our crooked cabinet door were so fun.