Candle Tunneling

Any non-tapered candle can tunnel. It’s probably the number one issue that candle users face. You light your candle and the wick burns brightly but the wax on the surface of the candle doesn’t melt, and eventually the wick is in a tunnel of wax. There’s a ring of unmelted wax around the edges of the candle, and it sits there, refusing to cooperate.

Wide tunnel

Filled candles are most prone to tunneling. It can happen with ANY SIZE, from tea light to giant pillar candle. Tunneling is wasteful and awkward and shortens the life of the candle. When using candles for magic, odds are we are using them up as completely was we can, and leaving a wide ring of unused wax leaves much of the candle unburned.

Narrower tunnel

And while filled candles are most prone to it, any kind of candle can tunnel if it’s wide enough. Some pillar candles are designed to tunnel, in fact, to make the unlit candle more attractive.

Surely it was designed to do this.

Why Is This Happening?
Have I Angered The Candle Gods?

There’s a variety of reasons why tunneling happens. If you think appealing to candle gods will help, feel free, but odds are it’s a much more practical issue.

The biggest reason candles tunnel is that they haven’t been burned long enough. When working with any kind of candle, you will need to be ready for a considerable first burn. The whole surface of the candle has to liquify. Plan to burn the candle one hour for every inch of diameter. If the whole surface of the candle is not liquid when it’s extinguished and no additional steps are taken, the candle will only liquify to the original pool for the life of the candle. All subsequent burns should do the same – liquify the surface of the wax. Lighting a candle and extinguishing it after a half hour is a really good way to get a tunneled candle.

Another reason for tunneling is the candle’s environment. Maybe you haven’t noticed that your table is uneven, or that a slight draft comes in through the window. If a candle burns unevenly, try moving it to another location.

Drafts and candles don’t mix.

Candles can be manufactured incorrectly, too, and nothing you do will help them burn evenly, if that’s the case. Manufacturing errors include a wick that’s too big for the candle, a wick that doesn’t match the melting point of the wax, sub-standard wax that won’t liquify.
You can be as meticulous as can be with a candle, and if it’s badly made, it will burn unevenly and tunnel and smoke and generally fail to behave itself.

The source of your candles can be important – they’re available pretty much everywhere. Drugstores, corner stores, and stores like Target have a bunch of candles at reasonable prices (one of my favorite sources for bulk tea lights is Ikea). You can also spend a lot of money on candles at specialty stores. Currently, candles are popular in home decorating and sold at furniture stores all over the place. If the candle has the right size and type of wick, and is made of standard paraffin, proper preparation will make for a candle that doesn’t give you problem. Cheap candles can burn very well. Expensive candles can burn badly. One thing to note – the big candles sold in home decor stores are often not intended to be burned. Keep in mind that any candle wider than about three inches across is simply not going to liquify properly without multiple wicks. Before you buy a beautiful candle, be sure it’s intended to be used as a candle and not as a piece of home decor.

These are not intended for burning.
Enough wicks for an even burn

Help! How Do I Fix This?

If you catch the tunneling early, you can at least attempt to fix it. Extinguish the candle and even out the wax around the wick with a spoon or butter knife or something else you don’t mind getting covered in wax. Once the surface is smooth, you can re-light the wick and try again – keeping in mind that the wax “remembers” how far it liquified from the wick and will not melt a new pool.


Some candle makers recommend softening the surface of the wax in the unmelted areas with a blow dryer to ensure it burns evenly. This is not a thing I recommend. Not for magical reasons, but because standing around blow drying the surface of a candle is ridiculous. Surely you have other things to do.

Another option to fix early tunneling is giving the candle a cover of tinfoil, with a small opening at the top to give the flame oxygen. The tinfoil cover keeps the heat inside, forcing the whole surface of the wax to melt. You’ll need to supervise this closely, however, since the tinfoil melts the wax very quickly. It often happens within the first ten minutes. After the surface is liquid, discard the tinfoil and allow the candle to burn normally.
The tinfoil cover can backfire (so to speak) if the tunnel is too deep – the wax can liquify and drown the wick.
If a candle covered in tinfoil isn’t your style, you can buy a candle topper. With the surging popularity of scented candles, an evenly burning candle is a goal that more people are trying to achieve. Candle toppers are available from a considerable number of sources. These are metal circles designed to fit over a pillar candle to reflect heat back on to the candle to ensure an evenly melted candle. For the most part, candle toppers are decorative, but they do serve a purpose. The candle toppers can get very hot, if the design is mostly solid metal. This is a decorative candle topper that won’t get too hot.

Isn’t it pretty?

If you decide that a candle topper is the way to go, you’ll need to use it continuously, and you can’t swap candle toppers around. Each topper retains heat in a different way. If the aim of the candle topper is to keep the heat distributed the same way every time, it defeats the entire purpose if you change between different kinds of toppers on the same candle.

The best way to avoid tunneling is to choose your candle carefully, prepare it well, and keep a close eye on it.

As with all practical suggestions, this may not work for everybody, but avoiding the annoyance of candle tunneling might be worth some effort.