Buying Guide to Candles

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6 Things to Know Before You Buy

As mood-setters, candles are among the hardest-working decorations you can find: When lit, they cast a warm glow (and often, a great scent) that can transform the ambience of almost any room to warm and festive. But even before you light it, a candle's color, and the way you display it, will amp up a room's style-factor.

But the 'burning' question is: How do you choose a great candle? Easy. Determine how these six must know facts apply to you, and you'll know the right way light up your home.

Fact #1: Candle Material

Among the most popular candle materials, you'll find:

  • Soy. These candles are the most even-burning of your options. Scented soy candles also tend to have especially pleasing aromas. But because soy is so soft, you usually find soy candles sold in glass containers, not in candles you can place in a candleholder you already own. (One way to get the best of both worlds is to find a soy candle that's mixed with paraffin, which creates a harder candle.)
  • Paraffin. Generally the least expensive candle material, paraffin has been around the longest. Paraffin candles tend to burn very quickly, which is why other materials, like vybar, are often added to increase their burn-time. Paraffin can be an allergen for sensitive individuals, so keep that in mind when you shop.
  • Beeswax. Drip-free and slow-burning, beeswax is often one of the most costly candle materials. It has a honey-like scent that doesn't mix as well with other aromas.

Fact #2: Candle Size and Shape

The most common candle shapes are:

  • Pillars. These are thick candles (usually at least 2 or 3 inches wide). Often, they're shaped like round columns, but they come in many other shapes, including squares and rectangles.
  • Tapers. These are the tall candles you'll see in candlesticks on a formal dinner table. Tapers are usually thinner at the top than the bottom. Sizes range from ½-inch to 1-inch in diameter and from 6- to 18-inches tall.
  • Votives: Shorter candles (usually between 2- and 3-inches tall), that are wider than tapers, but narrower than pillars (between 1 and 2 inches wide).
  • Tea Lights. These are the short, disc-shaped candles that go in chafing dishes and some other specialty holders.
  • Container. Any candle that's poured into a vessel made of glass or some other material, and comes as a single item.
  • Novelty. These are candles in shapes beyond a standard column or square--they may look like they've been carved or sculpted.

Fact #3: Scented or Unscented

Scented candles are a great way to create ambiance: You can find almost any aroma, from pumpkin spice, to vanilla, rose, lime, berry, lavender and cedar. There are even quick scent candles that burn fast and scent the air more quickly.

But scented candles can interfere with the taste of your food, so if you prefer the look of candles but don't want the smell, choose unscented options.

Fact #4: Wick Type

The material of the wick makes a difference in how well the candle burns, and in how much care the candle requires. Look for a cotton wick, which burns more evenly and slowly than wire woven types. Cotton wicks also don't require trimming, and they smoke less than wire wicks.

Fact #5: Burning or Flameless

If the safety of candles is a problem for you, try a flame-free option. These give the look and feel of candles without fire or smoke. Flameless candles use low-voltage LED lighting, which flickers and fades, imitating flames. Some come with remote controls or built-in timers that shut the candles off after a specified period. You'll even find battery-operated tea lights. Some flameless candles are made of plastic, while others are made of wax.

Fact #6: Display Method

Some candles, such as free-standing solid pillar varieties and jar types, don't need a holder. Others, like taper candles, require candlesticks, and votive, floating, and luminary candles must burn in some sort of glass or metal container.