Emergency Candles 101: Everything You Need to Know

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Making sure you have all the necessary supplies in the event of a disaster is critical for your safety and that of others. If you find yourself in a situation where you have lost power, or there is no access to heat or light, candles are an excellent solution. Emergency candles provide light and heat for a considerable amount of time for survival. 

What should you know about emergency candles? Emergency candles are excellent survival tools that provide all the following benefits:

  • Can provide up to 100 hours of burn time, depending on the model 
  • Require no power or battery operation for use 
  • Serve as important sources of light and heat 
  • Easy to store and use for multiple outages 
  • Can be used for indoor and outdoor use
  • Will not explode when stored 

Emergency candles may not be your top priority for an emergency supply kit, but they are an important inclusion for many survival situations. Whether at home during a power outage or outdoors, emergency candles serve as a useful power source. We will break down all you need to know about emergency candles and why you should have them. 

Why Use Emergency Candles? 

When preparing for an emergency, there are staples that most people think to have with them. A first aid kit, batteries, flashlights, non-perishables, and water are some of the first things that may come to mind. But in the event of an emergency, you’ll want to think of everything! One such item that may come in handy more than you think is an emergency candle. 

These are the top benefits to using an emergency candle and why you should keep them handy: 

  1. Burn Time: While different candle models will vary in burn time, candles offer energy over a significant amount of time. You can easily reuse them and achieve hours of light, whereas a flashlight’s batteries may burn out faster. 
  2. No power or batteries: With no constraints, emergency candles can be used anywhere. They don’t require power (often used when there is no power), and they are a cheaper alternative to batteries. You’ll only need a match to light them up. 
  3. Light and heat source: Candles provide ample emergency lighting in the face of no power. They can also provide the heat (more when coupled with each other) to cook or provide warmth when needed. 
  4. Easy storage: Candles can be easily stored in around a home or packed for an outdoor adventure. Most candles are somewhat small, so they don’t take up too much room and are lightweight for travel. 
  5. Indoor and outdoor use: Whether at home or outside, emergency candles are great tools for light and heat. The primary risk with use indoors is a fire if left unattended, and you may run into some trouble outside with wind. Protecting the flame will help to prevent this. 
  6. No explosions: Candles are not made of explosive materials, so they are safe, even when in hot conditions. It is recommended to keep them cool to prevent melting wax, but they do not present a danger when stored or not in use. 

Emergency candles can be used as either a primary light source or a backup in the event that your flashlight or lantern does not work. Under almost any conditions, the emergency candle will be a reliable option when light and heat are needed. 

Different Types of Emergency Candles

Emergency candles are available in a variety of designs, impacting their light source, heat production, and burn time. Any candle can be considered an emergency candle as it provides light when needed. Selecting a specific emergency candle will vary based on your needs, and the price you are willing to pay.  

These are a couple of effective options to consider when choosing between different types of emergency candles: 

  • Liquid Emergency Candles: Unlike traditional candles, these use liquid paraffin to light and power the candle for upwards of 115 hours. There is no smoke or odor like there would be in a traditional candle. They need to be sealed properly afterward to avoid leaks but may not provide extensive light and should be properly ventilated. 
  • Container candles: You can find candles in small containers, making them easy to store and extinguish when finished. Many come with multiple wicks to make use of all the wax. These are also the easiest kind to make on your own. 
  • Pillar candles: These candles stand on their own but should be placed on some kind of dish or holder to catch any wax that may fall. They are a popular choice for emergency candles because they are long-lasting and provide ample lighting. 
  • Tea lights: These are not always the ideal candle option because many are needed to produce enough light and heat. However, they are very economical and come in large quantities which are effective when used together. Specific emergency candle tea lights will burn longer than ones typically found at the store. The extended burn is worth the additional performance despite increased costs. 

All of these options serve their purpose in providing a sufficient light and heat source for emergency use. The first three options are going to be more useful independent of one another compared to tea lights, which will require multiple to be most effective. 

Note that these specific styles look very similar to traditional candles you may have at home. What separates emergency candles from them is their emphasis on light production. They do not melt into themselves as easily where light can be blocked by the candle’s structure. Their lack of scent is also more efficient and less toxic, especially when burned for many hours. 

When Should You Use Emergency Candles?  

Emergency candles are recommended to be kept around the home for emergencies and when spending lots of time outdoors. Camping and outdoor adventuring can really benefit from having emergency candles on hand. In both home and outdoor environments, they serve as heat and light sources when they aren’t available. 

These are the scenarios in which you would need to use emergency candles: 

  • Power outage: These can be caused by weather (heat waves) and storms, collisions with power lines, and high-power demand. If you are in an area that is particularly prone to natural disasters (earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, etc.) or heat waves, you may be more susceptible to power outages. 
  • Camping: Being away from resources such as power and energy (or if they run out) may require a need for emergency lighting, or more often, heat. You can use the candles to heat an area or start a larger fire. 
  • No gas/electricity for cooking: Emergency candles can also be used to cook food or water if there is no access to gas or electric stoves. Gas sources will, of course, burn hotter, but if you have no other options, candles will serve as a useful alternative. 

It is important to note that you will need to also have matches or a lighter accompanying the candles in order to light the candles. Keep them in a dry place, such as a sealable plastic bag, so that your fire source will not be compromised. 

We still recommend keeping a flashlight or some other light providing device in your emergency kit. These are often more convenient, and there is no risk of fire, but candles are going to be more dependable in the long run as they will always light (where a flashlight may not). 

How Long Do Emergency Candles Last? 

One of the primary questions asked about emergency candles is how long they last. The answer is that it really depends on the model that you select. Burn times are impacted by candle size, wax usage, and type of wick. The longest burning emergency candles can provide up to 115 hours of burn time while shorter burns last upwards of 7 hours (tealights).  

These are the typical ranges for emergency candle burn times: 

  • Pillar candles: Burn time will depend on candle size with your smaller 3-inch candles burning around 30 hours and large 7-inch candles providing 90 hours of burn time. 
  • Tea light candles: Burn upwards of 7-10 hours depending on the composition. Their small wax size limits the amount of burn time. 
  • Liquid paraffin candles: These burn over 100 hours and use specialty wicks to do so. 

Liquid wax candles are going to offer the highest burn time, often using liquid paraffin. These are fed directly from the liquid to fuel the flame, so there is no traditional wax or wick involved. Paraffin is typically used as the least expensive option in paraffin candles (which makes them popular for emergency use), usually offering the lowest burn time when in a wax form. 

Beeswax is another common candle option that is naturally produced by bees. Its natural properties make it non-toxic and provide upwards of 100 hours of burn time for larger emergency candles. Even your smaller beeswax candles will provide 35 hours of burn time. They will be more expensive than paraffin alternatives, but they are a natural product. 

What Impacts Emergency Candle Burn Time? 

The following factors are the major contributors to the burning of emergency candles: 

  • Wax: These typically come in paraffin, beeswax, soy wax, and palm wax. Paraffin is the most common but also the only unnatural choice. It typically offers a shorter burn time than its natural alternatives. 
  • Wick: The shape and size of the wick will impact burn time, with smaller wicks typically lasting longer. 
  • Environment: Higher environmental temperatures will contribute to a hotter flame, making the candle burn faster. Greater air movement may also lead to a faster burn. More oxygen in the air reacts with the flamed wick to combust and burn more candles.  

The Importance of the Wick

While not as impactful as the wax type, the wick will also have an effect on the burn time of the emergency candle. Flat wicks are most common, and they will burn onto themselves (curl), which burns the fastest. Square wicks are heartier for greater light and heat production while still providing a slow burn. Cored wicks use a stiff material inside to keep the flame upright. 

Smaller wicks will burn through wax at a slower rate but may not provide as much light or warmth if you need it. If light is the primary concern, stick to a smaller and more efficient wick. Multiple wicks in a candle is also a good choice because it will use all of the wax available. Try not to burn all at the same time as this will pool the wax and make it burn out faster. 

Where Should You Keep Emergency Candles? 

Because emergency candles are not explosive or dangerous when not in use, they are safe to store almost anywhere. Our storage recommendations are designed to help you get the most time and efficiency out of the candles, so their function is not compromised, and they do not become damaged. 

Ideal storage conditions for emergency candles are: 

  • Cool and dark locations: This will help to keep the candles at room temperature, so they are not susceptible to melting or a change in composition. While attics may be a good place for things you won’t always use, they can become very hot and may not be ideal for emergency candles. Consider an easily accessible closet or a storage area. 
  • Out of direct sunlight: Sunlight will be the most likely culprit of a melted emergency candle. This can make a mess or help bring the candle to a flashpoint where it could react with a flame or spark. Warm locations may also change the shape or bend the candles. 
  • Dry locations: While water will not damage most emergency candles, continued exposure is not recommended. It may wear on the candle over extended periods or still be wet when you need to use it. 
  • Upright or level: Keeping containers and candles upright will help to make sure that the candles do not make a mess in the event that they do melt. This is particularly useful for candles that are kept in jars or tea lights. 
  • Away from flames: Try to store emergency candles away from fire hazards, such as in a kitchen. They should also not be stored with other flammable products, including cardboard or gases. 

Safely storing your emergency candles will make them easier to access and more effective when you have to use them. 

How to Make Your Own Emergency Candles

Candle making is a popular activity that you can also apply to your emergency candles. This can drive the cost down per unit if you make them in bulk and gives you the ability to design the exact type of candle you want. These can be made with traditional materials for emergency candles or ones that are often found around your house. 

Making Emergency Candles from Scratch 

Let’s first look at how you can make traditional emergency candles at home. We recommend making your candles in a container as they will create less of a mess and can be more easily contained. These are the materials you will need: 

  • Container: The size will dictate the amount of burn time, so opt for a larger jar if you want a candle that will burn for much longer. 
  • Wax: Consider paraffin (short burn but inexpensive), beeswax (natural product with long burn time), or soy wax (similar to paraffin but natural). 
  • Wick: You can use some candle string or look for specific candle wicks. Make sure that they will not burn too fast for your candle. Fast burning wicks do not mix well with slow-burning beeswax. They also need to be larger for slower-burning waxes, or it will drown the flame.  
  • Wick preparation: Consider preparing the candle wick in Borax and salt for more effective burning. 
  • Wick holder: Anything that will hold your wick across the top of the container to keep it in place will work. Consider a clothespin or pencil to hold or tie the wick around. 

Once you have your desired materials, you will want to follow these steps for candle creation: 

  1. Prepare containers or molds: If you are making candles in a jar or container, line them up. For free-standing candles, you will need to create a mold to help them keep their shape during the melting process. You will want to use something rigid that can be molded into your desired shape and easily removed after. Tinfoil, toilet paper rolls, and plastic cups are a few effective options. Pre-made molds are often easiest to use and remove. 
  2. Prepare the wick: This will depend on the type of wax you use. Paraffin will not always require a prepared wick because it burns quickly just as the wick will. If you are using beeswax or want a more durable wick, you will need to soak it in salt and Borax for upwards of 24 hours. After this, dip the wick in the wax for greater rigidity. 
  3. Cut wick: Provide enough wick to cover the entire size of the candle and additional at the top for burning. 
  4. Anchor: Using your clothespin or similar material, you will want to tie or hold the wick and place along the top of the jar or mold to prevent it from falling in once the wax pouring begins. 
  5. Wax melting: Now, you can melt your wax in large quantities to fill all the candles jars. We recommend a double boil method where you place the wax in a bowl and melt it over a pot of boiling water. This will melt the wax with steam from the water. 
  6. Put wax in jars: Carefully pour your wax mixture into the containers. Prepare the surrounding area in case of spills. 
  7. Remove molds: This can be tricky as some of the material can stick. Plastic cups are your best bet of removing without remnants, but they need to be durable as they could melt with the hot wax. 

The process of making your candles is fairly simple, but you should do all the steps slowly and keep the area clean so that you do not spill any wax, which could be damaging to nearby surfaces or contact with your skin and clothes.  

Creative Last-Minute Candle Ideas

In the event that you do not have access to emergency candles in an emergency situation, there are plenty of items around the house that can substitute as a light source. You will need to make sure they are kept out of reach from children or pets. These improvised ideas are effective but may be more susceptible to danger as they are not intended to be candles. 

Try these ideas for your last-minute lighting needs: 

  • Wicks: Cotton string or twine will give you the burn you need, and they are common items you can typically find around the house. T-shirt fabric, paper towels, and newspaper tightly rolled all make solid backup options for wicks. 
  • Orange: Put a little bit of olive oil (or similar cooking oils) onto a halved orange. Place your wick in the center and let it burn. 
  • Butter: Poke a hole into a stick of butter and feed the cotton into the center. Light the wick, and you will have a butter candle. Make sure you put on a plate as this can get messy. 
  • Crayons: You can think of these as mini candles, with the paper acting like the wick as it burns down. Make sure you contain them as they can get messy. Melt the underside so it will stick to a surface and stand straight up.  
  • Oil jar candles: Fill a flame-resistant jar with cooking oil or olive oil and poke a hole through the lid of the jar. Needle the wick (can be cotton) through the hole and let the candle burn through the oil in the jar. 

You can check out how to make a few of these here. Make sure that you place all of these on a plate or a surface that can catch the messes that will be created by the melted ‘wax.’ These solutions are not going to be as long-lasting as emergency candles, but they will be a light source if you need it. 

Safely Burning Emergency Candles

One of the primary downsides of using an emergency candle is that they are a fire hazard. They need to be handled carefully, as they could result in a house fire if proper protocols are not followed. Especially when using in a dark location, you will want to carefully burn your candles to prevent further accidents in an emergency situation. 

These are some safety measures that should be taken and remembered to avoid the dangers associated with candle burning: 

  • Never leave candles unattended: Do not leave the room, fall asleep, or forget about a burning candle. This is one of the easiest ways for an accident or fire to occur. 
  • Place candles at appropriate height: Make sure that the candles are kept in a location that cannot be easily knocked over by pets, children, or anyone in the home. Placing them at higher heights will avoid unnecessary contact. 
  • Keep away from flammable materials: Make sure the candle will not be able to light anything around it on fire. Especially if there is a draft or breeze, this could put items in your home at risk of catching fire. Keep away from paper materials and fabric. 
  • Steer clear of excess air movement: Drafts and breezes may lead to more mess and unpredictable burns. Keep away from open windows or air vents that may contribute to more airflow. 
  • Ventilation: Especially if using a paraffin candle, you will want to make sure the area is properly ventilated (without created too much air movement) so that fumes and chemicals burned don’t pollute the air. While there is no major risk, the fumes produced can be a nuisance. 

Following these guidelines will help to keep your environment safe and allow you to get the most out of your emergency candles. The goal is to conserve and maximize burn time, which can all be negatively impacted when not following proper lighting and safety protocol. 

Many emergency candles are designed to stop burning in the event that they are tipped over. Look at the additional safety features offered with each candle when making your decision. These considerations may be particularly important if you have lots of people in the home or risks of contact with the candle. 

Including Emergency Candles in Your Survival Kit 

The benefits that emergency candles provide make them necessary to keep in any survival or emergency kit. They are an effective light and heat source, being easy to use and requiring nothing more than matches or a lighter. While you should still take caution as they are a fire hazard, when properly used, they are extremely helpful in emergency situations. 

It is always best to be overly prepared for emergencies, where light and heat are often two things we take for granted when they are taken away for unpredictable amounts of time. 

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