Today, most candles are made from paraffin. Candles can also be made from beeswax, soy, other plant waxes, and tallow (a by-product of beef-fat rendering). Gel candles are made from a mixture of paraffin and plastic.
A candle manufacturer is traditionally known as a chandler. Various devices have been invented to hold candles, from simple tabletop candle holders, to elaborate chandeliers.
The heat of the match used to light the candle melts and vaporizes a small amount of fuel. Once vaporized, the fuel combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form a flame. This flame provides sufficient heat to keep the candle burning via a self-sustaining chain of events: the heat of the flame melts the top of the mass of solid fuel, the liquefied fuel then moves upward through the wick via capillary action, and the liquefied fuel is then vaporized to burn within the candle's flame.
The burning of the fuel takes place in several distinct regions (as evidenced by the various colors that can be seen within the candle's flame). Within the bluer regions, hydrogen is being separated from the fuel and burned to form water vapor. The brighter, yellower part of the flame is the remaining carbon being oxidized to form carbon dioxide.
As the mass of solid fuel is melted and consumed, the candle grows shorter. Portions of the wick that are not emitting vaporized fuel are consumed in the flame. The incineration of the wick limits the exposed length of the wick, thus maintaining a constant burning temperature and rate of fuel consumption. Some wicks require regular trimming with scissors (or a specialized wick trimmer), usually to about one-quarter inch (~0.7 cm), to promote slower, steady burning, and also to prevent smoking. In early times, the wick needed to be trimmed quite frequently, and special candle-scissors, referred to as "snuffers" until the 20th century, were produced for this purpose, often combined with an extinguisher. In modern candles, the wick is constructed so that it curves over as it burns (see picture on the right), so that the end of the wick gets oxygen and is then consumed by fire—a self-trimming wick.
The candle can be made of paraffin (a byproduct of petroleum refining), stearin (now produced almost exclusively from palm waxes), beeswax (a byproduct of honey collection), gel (a mixture of resin and mineral oil), some plant waxes (generally palm, carnauba, bayberry, or soybean wax), tallow (rarely used since the introduction of affordable and cheap wax alternatives) or spermaceti (extracted from the head of a Sperm Whale). The size of the flame and corresponding rate of burning is controlled largely by the candle wick.
The most basic production method of candles generally entails melting the solid fuel by the controlled application of heat. The liquid is then poured into a mould or a wick is repeatedly immersed in the liquid to create a dipped tapered candle. Often fragrance oils, essential oils or aniline-based dye is added.
Candles made of beeswax burn more cleanly and release fewer chemicals than petroleum-based paraffin waxes. Highly refined paraffin wax, however, can burn as cleanly as natural waxes, creating fewer particulates during combustion than synthetic candles. The type of wick and inclusion of any scents and/or dyes have a much greater impact on the release of compounds, particulates, and smoke, regardless of the base material. The cleanest burning candle will be well-constructed, unscented, undyed, and burn in a draught-free area. Candles will burn well when formulated waxes are blended together (soy, paraffin and other waxes),
A smoke film can be a concern to those who frequently burn a candle indoors and is also referred to as ghosting, carbon tracking, or carbon tracing. Smoke can be produced when a candle does not burn the wax fuel completely. A scented candle can be a source of candle smoke deposits. Trimming candle wicks to about 6 millimetres (¼ in) or shorter will keep smoking to a minimum. A flickering flame will produce more smoke, therefore a candle should be burned in an area free from draught.
There are differing opinions about which kind of wax in a candle is best for the environment. Proponents of the soy wax candle note that the material is biodegradable. Paraffin wax, as used in candle making, is also biodegradable. It also often meets the United States Food and Drug Administration criteria for use in foods and food contact. Natural waxes have a neutral carbon footprint as carbon dioxide was removed from the air to produce the natural wax, which upon burning would not result in a net increase in carbon dioxide.
A candle wick is a piece of string or cord that holds the flame of a candle. A candle wick works by capillary action, drawing ("wicking") the melted wax or fuel up to the flame. When the liquid fuel reaches the flame, it vaporizes and combusts. The candle wick influences how the candle burns. Important characteristics of the wick include diameter, stiffness, fire-resistance, and tethering.
Based on measurements of a taper-type, paraffin wax candle, a modern candle typically burns at a steady rate of about 0.1 g/min, releasing heat at roughly 80 W. The light produced is about 13 lumens, for a luminous efficacy of about 0.17 lumens per watt (luminous efficacy of a source), a hundred times lower than an incandescent light bulb.
The luminous intensity of a typical candle is thus approximately one candela. The SI unit, the candela, was in fact based on an older unit called the candlepower, which represented the luminous intensity emitted by a candle made to particular specifications (a "standard candle"). The modern unit is defined in a more precise and repeatable way, but was chosen such that a candle's luminous intensity is still about one candela.
The hottest part of the flame is just above the very dull blue part to one side of the flame, at the base. At this point, the flame is about 1,400 °C. However note that this part of the flame is very small and releases little heat energy. The blue color is due to chemiluminescence, while the visible yellow color is due to radiative emission from hot soot particles. The soot is formed through a series of complex chemical reactions, leading from the fuel molecule through molecular growth, until multi-carbon ring compounds are formed. The thermal structure of a flame is complex, hundreds of degrees over very short distances leading to extremely steep temperature gradients. On average, the flame temperature is about 1,000 °C. A typical candle creates 50 BTUs per hour of heat. The color temperature is approximately 1,000 K.
History of study
According to the U.S. National Fire Protection Association, candles are one of the leading sources of residential fires in the U.S. with almost 10% of civilian injuries and 6% of civilian fatalities from fire attributed to candles.
A candle flame that is longer than its laminar smoke point will emit soot. Soot inhalation has known health hazards. Proper wick trimming will substancially reduce soot emissions from most candles.
The liquid wax is hot and can cause skin burns, but the amount and temperature are generally rather limited and the burns are seldom serious. The best way to avoid getting burned from splashed wax is to use a candle snuffer instead of blowing on the flame. A candle snuffer is usually a small metal cup on the end of a long handle. When placed over the flame the oxygen supply is cut off. They were used daily when the candle was the main source of lighting a home, before electric lights were available.
Glass candle holders are sometimes cracked by thermal shock from the candle flame, particularly when the candle burns down to the end. When burning candles in glass holders or jars, users should avoid lighting candles with chipped or cracked containers, and stop use once 1/2 inch or less of wax remains.
A former worry regarding the safety of candles was that a lead core was used in the wicks to keep them upright in container candles. Without a stiff core, the wicks of a container candle could sag and drown in the deep wax pool. Concerns rose that the lead in these wicks would vaporize during the burning process, releasing lead vapors — a known health and developmental hazard. Lead core wicks have not been common since the 1970s. Today, most metal-cored wicks use zinc or a zinc alloy, which has become the industry standard. Wicks made from specially treated paper and cotton are also available.
Decorative candle holders, especially those shaped as a pedestal, are called candlesticks; if multiple candle tapers are held, the term candelabrum is also used. The root form of chandelier is from the word for candle, but now usually refers to an electric fixture. The word chandelier is sometimes now used to describe a hanging fixture designed to hold multiple tapers.
Many candle holders use a friction-tight socket to keep the candle upright. In this case, a candle that is slightly too wide will not fit in the holder, and a candle that is slightly too narrow will wobble. Any candle that is too large can be trimmed to fit with a knife; a candle that is too small can be fitted with aluminium foil. Traditionally, the candle and candle holders were made in the same place, so they were appropriately sized, but international trade has combined the modern candle with existing holders, which makes the ill-fitting candle more common. This friction tight socket is only needed for the federals and the tapers. For tea light candles, there are a variety of candle holders, including small glass holders and elaborate multi candle stands. The same is true for votives. Wall sconces are available for tea light and votive candles. For pillar type candles, the assortment of candle holders is broad. A fireproof plate, such as a glass plate or small mirror, is a candle holder for a pillar style candle. A pedestal of any kind, with the appropriate-sized fireproof top, is another option. A large glass bowl with a large flat bottom and tall mostly vertical curved sides is called a hurricane. The pillar style candle is placed at the bottom center of the hurricane. A hurricane on a pedestal is sometimes sold as a unit.
The earliest known candles originated in China around 200 BC, and were made from whale fat. Candles did not appear in Europe or the Middle East until sometime after 400 AD, due largely to the availability of olive oil for burning in lamps. The early European candle was made from various forms of natural fat, tallow, and wax. In the 18th century, spermaceti, oil produced by the sperm whale, was used to produce a superior candle. Late in the 18th century, colza oil and rapeseed oil came into use as much cheaper substitutes. Paraffin was first distilled in 1830, and revolutionized candle-making, as it was an inexpensive material which produced a high-quality, odorless candle that burned reasonably cleanly. The industry was devastated soon after, however, by the distillation of kerosene (confusingly also called paraffin oil or just paraffin). Recently resin based candles that are freestanding and transparent have been developed, with the claim that they burn longer than traditional paraffin candles. They are usually scented and oil based.
With the fairly consistent and measurable burning of a candle, a common use was to tell the time. The candle designed for this purpose might have time measurements, usually in hours, marked along the wax. The Song dynasty in China (960–1279) used candle-clocks. By the 18th century, candle-clocks were being made with weights set into the sides of the candle. As the candle melted, the weights fell off and made a noise as they fell into a bowl. A form of candle-clock was used in coal-mining until the 20th century.
In the days leading to Christmas some people burn a candle a set amount to represent each day, as marked on the candle. The type of candle used in this way is called the Advent candle, although this term is also used to refer to a candle that decorates an Advent wreath.
Before the invention of electric lighting candles and oil lamps were commonly used for illumination. In areas without electricity, they are still used routinely. Until the 20th century, candles were more common in northern Europe. In southern Europe and the Mediterranean, oil lamps predominated. In the developed world today, candles are used mainly for their aesthetic value and scent, particularly to set a soft, warm, or romantic ambiance, and for emergency lighting during electrical power failures. Scented candles are used in aromatherapy. They are also used for religious or ritual purposes.
Candles are used in the religious ceremonies of many faiths.
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- National Candle Association of the U.S.
- The Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday
- A Candle Eastern Orthodox usage
- European Candle Association (ECA)
- Latin American Candle Manufacturers Association (ALAFAVE)
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