Are you burning candles safely? Preventing candle fires this season

October 28, 2022

Burn your candles with care this season with these candle fire safety tips.

Extinguished candle with burning candles behind 
Candles make for warm and inviting accents to a home during any season, although they seem to truly shine during the fall and winter months. But as you fill your home with notes of spices and vanilla bean, remember that candles can be as hazardous as they are beautiful!

Without proper candle fire safety, their open flames can ignite anything flammable, leading to home fires, property damage, and possibly resulting in injury or death. Read on to learn how to keep you, your family, and your home safe with some simple candle safety tips.

Are Candles Safe?

Because they are household fixtures, you may be wondering if candles are actually dangerous, or how dangerous they can potentially be. It may be hard to imagine that something as soothing as a candle can actually be hazardous, but they absolutely can be. Fire can be dangerous no matter how small and without proper precautions, small flames quickly become much larger flames.  

According to the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) reports from 2015 - 2019, an average of 20 home candle fires are reported each day with an estimated 8,200 home fires being started by candles every single year. How could this be possible? Well, it’s reported that more than one-third of of home candle fires start in the bedroom and are responsible for 47% of the associated injuries and 35% of the associated deaths of all of the reported candle fires.

Simple actions such as having a candle burning too close to something flammable accounts for three of every five candle fires, and even not blowing candles out before falling asleep was a factor in 10% of the the home candle fires and led to 12% of associated deaths.

As we approach the holiday season, it is especially important to remember candle fire safety. The peak months for home candle fires are December and January, with Christmas Day being the peak day of the year for candle fires.

Not using proper candle care can result in very serious and unfortunate outcomes. But the good news is that each of us can take preventative measures to avoid these situations. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 85% of candle fires could be avoided if consumers followed these three basic safety rules.

Take precautions this year when burning candles by:
  • Avoid leaving any burning candles unattended
  • Never burn candles on or near anything that might catch fire
  • Keep candles out of reach of children and pets
With these in mind, you’re closer to candle safety and we’ll make sure you’re well-informed about how to do each of these steps and more.

What should you do before you light a candle?

Are there any precautions you should take before you burn candles? Before you strike and light, consider some of the following! 

Avoid oxygen. Oxygen allows your candles to burn smooth and steady, but air is only part oxygen. In higher concentrations, oxygen can cause a flame to quickly get out of hand. Before preparing your candle for lighting, make sure you ask yourself if anyone in your home uses oxygen. If oxygen is used in your home, NEVER burn a candle in close proximity to the tank or source. This is extremely hazardous. If an open flame gets too close to a rich source of oxygen, it will feed rapidly the flame causing it to suddenly and violently flare up. For those who use oxygen for medical reasons, it may be best to avoid burning candles in your home. 

Trim your wicks. According to the National Candle Association, you’ll want to make sure that you always trim your candle wicks to ¼ inch. To do this, you can purchase a candle wick trimmer especially for this use. However, you can also use nail clippers or scissors, which you may already have handy around your house. Trimming your wicks helps to avoid long or crooked wicks, which can cause uneven burning, dripping, or flaring.

Use candle holders. Many candles come in their own glass candle holder. However, if you find yourself selecting a candle holder, make sure you choose one specifically designed for candle use. Candle holders are designed to be sturdy, large enough to contain any drips or melted wax, and are heat resistant. Set your candle holders on a sturdy, uncluttered surface that won’t tip over easily and isn’t flammable.

Keep candles clean. Whether you are lighting a candle for the first time or you are relighting a candle that you have previously burned, make sure the wax pool is clear of wick trimmings, matches, and debris. Flammable debris can cause hazardous flares.

Mind your surroundings. Once your candle is prepped and ready to use, you’ll need to think about location, location, location. Burn your candles in a well-ventilated room. Be sure to avoid drafts, vents, or air currents, as these can cause rapid and uneven burning, sooting, and excessive dripping. You’ll want to place candles at least 1 foot (30 centimeters) away from anything that can burn, like sheets, drapes, paper, and flammable liquids. Avoid the use of candles in the bedroom and other areas where people may fall asleep.

Heed warnings. Make sure to check the candle warning labels for the manufacturer’s recommendations on proper use and burn time. It’s typical for the manufacturer’s instructions to say that you should not burn a candle for longer than four hours. If you are eager to light your candle again, make sure to wait at least two hours before doing so.

Light carefully. Make sure to use long matches or a long-reach lighter to light your candle. If you're using a lighter, make sure you have a flame before moving it to wick to avoid building up the flammable gas vapor. Keep loose clothing, hair, and any combustible materials away from the flame.

Check your alarms! Finally, check your smoke alarms and have a plan for contacting your local fire department in case a fire does occur.

Now you’re ready to light!

How to burn candles safely

    Once your candle is burning in your home, your attentiveness becomes crucial.
  • Always keep your candles attended by an adult. You’ll want to keep the lighted candle out of the reach of children, pets, or anyone else who may knock the candles over. Candles can also be a source of curiosity for children and pets. So you’ll want to make sure they do not touch or move the burning candle or a candle that's wax is still liquefied.
  • Make sure not to place your candle on or near anything flammable. Avoid furniture, drapes, bedding, carpets, books, paper, flammable decorations, and the like. Remember, the best place for your candle is a candle holder designed specifically for candles.
  • When you are choosing the location of several candles, place them at least three inches apart from one another. Candles that are too close may melt each other or create drafts that can cause improper or uneven burning.
  • Don’t burn your candles too low. While you don’t want to burn a candle for more than 4 hours, you should keep an eye on it in case you need to extinguish the candle before then. If the flame burns too low, it becomes dangerous. The National Candle Association recommends as a margin of safety that you extinguish your candle when 1/2 inch of wax remains in the container or 2 inches on wax if using a pillar candle.
  • Watch the flame of your candle to make sure it doesn’t become too high or begin to flicker repeatedly. Put out your candle, trim the wick, and check for unwanted drafts before re-lighting.
Now that you know what to look out for with your candle, you’ll be able to burn it with care. And when you’re ready to put your candle out, follow the tips below.

How to properly put out a candle

When you are ready to leave the room, go to bed, or otherwise put out your candle, there’s a proper way to do so.
  • Use a candle snuffer to extinguish your candle. Though it is common to lean into a candle and blow it out, that is not the best way when putting out an open flame. According to the Candle Association, the safest way to prevent hot wax from splattering and other fire hazards is by using a candle snuffer.
  • NEVER use water to extinguish a candle. The water on hot glass may crack or completely break the candle container. More importantly, the water can splatter hot, flaming wax everywhere, rapidly spreading fire and potentially causing serious injury. 
  • Double check that the wick is no longer glowing before you leave the candle unattended. Just because there isn't a visible flame doesn't mean a hot wick can't reignite! 
  • Leave the candle in place and don’t touch or move it until the wax is completely cooled.
  • Never use a sharp object like a knife to remove wax drippings from a glass candle holder. Cooled or not, even small scratches to the glass can weaken the candle holder or cause the glass to break as you continue to use it.
Once you follow these steps, you’ll have safely put out your candle!

How to burn candles around children

Keeping candles away from children may sound simple, but kids often have a way of getting into things that they aren't supposed to! Fortunately, we have a few pieces of advice for your child’s safety:
  • Keep your matches and lighters up high out of children’s reach, or locked away somewhere they cannot access like a drawer or cabinet.
  • Burn candles on safe, sturdy surfaces that are far out of reach of children.
  • Never leave your child alone in a room with a lit candle. Always make sure there is an attentive adult keeping an eye on the open-flame.
  • Consider using candle alternatives or flameless candles in your home.

What are candle alternatives?

There may be several reasons an open-flame candle is not for your home. Perhaps your home uses oxygen, you are wary about flames around your children, or you are creating a safety plan in which candles aren’t the best option.

No matter the reason, here are a few candle alternatives:
  • Flashlights and battery-powered lighting are the best light sources during a power outage. Have these prepared instead of a candle in case of emergency, power failure, or when fueling equipment like lanterns or kerosene heaters.
  • Lamps and night lights are better alternatives to a candle when you are looking for reading light or a dim light to fall asleep with.
  • Flameless candles can look and even smell like real candles to give the same cozy feeling without the fire hazard.
Though open-flame candles require us to be more attentive, it is possible to burn your favorite seasonal candles with care. A few simple precautions can keep you, your family, and your home safe from candle fires this season.

Putting out a candle safely with a snuffer

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by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Strategist at Germania Insurance.

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