candle wick in bowl

Everything You Need to Know About Candle Wicks

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Candles used to be a primary source of lighting in the home and other spaces. In recent times however, they are being designed and made differently as they now serve various purposes, ranging from celebrations (on a cake) to aromatherapy.

Despite this versatility, one thing remains constant — the candle wick. A candle without a wick is just wax, so regardless of the design or purpose a candle serves, there will always be a wick in it.

What is a Candle Wick Made of: Brief History of Wicks

The origin of candle wicks dates back to over 5,000 years ago, when the ancient Egyptians used reeds soaked in animal fat — called rushlights — as candles. The reeds had a fibrous texture and absorbed the fat, allowing the fire to burn well.

The ancient Romans take credit for coming up with the early candle design. They dipped rolled papyrus in animal fat or beeswax. Later, they started to loosely weave fibers together so the fire could burn longer.

Modern candlemakers took a cue from the ancient Roman improvised wicking system and began making candle wicks with tightly braided or woven cotton, paper, zinc, or hemp.

candle wick zoomed in
An up close look at a wick burning.

How does Wicks Work?

The wick is what makes a candle burn. It is what causes a scented candle to release its fragrance and gives the candlelight — but how exactly does a wick work?

The process by which candle wicks work is called Capillary action. Just as plants absorb water from their root upwards, it is the same way capillary action applies to candle wax and wicks.

The wick absorbs the melted candle wax — also known as the fuel — and brings it up to the flame. This action keeps the fire burning.

It is, however, important to know that the type of wick can influence how the candle burns. Depending on the type of wick used, your candle’s light or flame could burn brightly or be dim.

Types of Wicks

As it has been established earlier, the wick is the most important part of a candle, and the type and quality of wick used will determine how well and how long your candle burns.

Let’s look at some common types of candle wicks for a clearer understanding of how wicks work and know which one to go for if you plan to make your own candle at home:

  • Flat Wicks: Flat wicks are the most common wicks you will find in taper or pillar candles. They are made from bundles of fiber (such as cotton) which are usually plaited or knitted.
    With flat wicks, you will find that the wick curls or bends slightly as it burns — this allows the fire to burn slowly and consistently without mushrooming too much at the tip. (Mushrooming refers to the build-up of wax at the tip of the wick as it burns).

  • Cored Wicks: Cored wicks are made of materials like cotton, zinc, tin, or paper to keep the wick upright or stiff while burning. Thanks to this, you would not have to suspend the wick as you pour or dip it into the melted candle wax.
    You will find cored wicks in containers or jar candles. Since they are thick and do not curl, cored wicks tend to mushroom at the end.

  • Square Wicks: Square wicks are also made from braided or knitted fiber but usually have a round or robust shape, perfect for use in beeswax candles, pillars, and tapers. Square wicks bend slightly at the tip, so you can expect the wick to mushroom a little at the tip.

  • Wooden Wicks: Wooden wicks are usually made from semi-wood, 100% wood, or fibrous, and wood combinations are also extracted from non-toxic and natural ingredients. They burn slowly and evenly and are known to make soft crackling, campfire-like sounds while aflame.

Characteristics of a Wick

The stiffness, diameter, fire resistance, and tethering of a wick will determine how your candle flame will burn. For instance, if a wick is stiff — think copper — the fire will burn low, and the candle will melt easily. A less-stiff wick such as one made softly with cotton fiber will curl back into the flame as it burns, making the candle burn brightly, slowly, and evenly.

Wick materials for use at home
Home wick materials

How to Make a Homemade Wick

No matter how complicated it sounds, it will interest you to know that it is possible to make a wick at home, on your own.

This applies to whether you are a fan of DIYs and want to experiment with making a candle, or you are into aromatherapy and would like to make your own scented candles.

To make your own wick in three simple steps, you will need:

  • Some cotton strings
  • A pair of scissors
  • Plier
  • A wick tab

Step 1: cut three pieces of cotton strings according to your desired length — you could make it a bit longer than the container you intend to use for your candle.

Step 2: tie the three strings together to form a knot, and then braid the strings tightly from the knot to the end.

Step 3: Pass the end of the now braided cotton strings through a wick tab and use the plier to pinch the opening of the wick tab close, securing the string in place.

You now have your wick ready for use.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can a wick burn?

It all depends on the size of the candle, the wax used, and the type of wick. Larger candles will typically burn longer than smaller ones; Soy wax candles are longer lasting than paraffin wax candles. You will also find that wooden wicks can burn significantly longer than other types of wicks.

Can I use a toothpick as a candle wick?

Yes. You may use a toothpick as a candle wick if the wick is too short for your candle size. However, do not expect your candle to burn for long and expect to see the toothpick produce a lot of dark soot.

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