What You’ll Need to Boil Water with a Candle

When it comes to emergency preparedness, boiling water with a candle probably isn’t high on the list of options you’d consider. Even though it isn’t the most efficient way to boil water, using candles to heat water to the boiling point can be accomplished as long as a few conditions are met. 

So, what do you need to boil water with a candle? To boil water with a candle, you will need the following items:

  • Candle
  • Pot
  • Burner
  • Additional wicks and candle wax
  • Firestarter
  • Additional fuel source

Learning how to boil water with a candle can be a valuable skill for learning to survive in an emergency where electricity for cooking is no longer available. Read on to find out more about boiling water with a candle and how you can pull it off. 

What You’ll Need to Boil Water with a Candle 

To boil water with a candle, you’ll need a list of supplies. These are the things you’ll need to
get started: 

  • Candle: The type of candle you choose to boil water with is important, as single-wick emergency survival kit candles will not burn as hot as candles with multiple wicks, and candles that are contained to a glass or metal container will not burn down as quickly, giving them an advantage in fire-starting. Be sure to use an unscented candle to prevent your cooked food from taking on the smell and flavors of air fresheners.
  • Pot: Keep in mind that you’ll want to use a pot with a relatively thin bottom, and one that is as narrow as possible. The larger the container is in comparison to your candle set-up, the longer it will take to boil water. Getting a pot with a cover will help it to boil since the increased pressure will raise the water temperature more quickly.
  • Burner: A metal burner or grate is necessary to place over the top of your candle set-up between the pot and the candle. You’ll need to keep the candle flames as close to the bottom of the pan as possible.
  • Additional wicks and candle wax: The primary disadvantage of boiling water with candles is that most candles will burn down more quickly than the water can be boiled, and this, in turn, draws the heat further and further away from the bottom of the pot. This problem can be mitigated by adding more wax and a longer wick to the candle to keep the candle flame as close to the top of the candle container (and the pot bottom) as possible.
  • Firestarter: You’ll need flint, matchesOpens in a new tab., a lighterOpens in a new tab., or some other source of fire to light your candle for boiling water. In an emergency, you should have several different fire-starting tools at your disposal in case inclement weather renders one or more of the methods unusable (for example, windy conditions will impede lighting matches and candles outdoors).
  • Additional fuel source: If you can swing it, placing a small source of fuel between the candle fire and the pot (such as a bare-metal can filled with shredded tinder and dripped wax as an accelerant) can significantly increase the amount of energy your candle fire puts out, and can subsequently make boiling water over the candle fire much faster and easier than using candles alone. 

As long as you have these necessary supplies, you should be able to boil water over a candle fire. This will enable you to cook a wide variety of survivalist meals from coffee to canned soup. While hiding in an emergency, a small candle fire indoors is the best way to cook your food without drawing unwanted attention from outsiders.

How to Boil Water with a Candle 

Once you have the necessary materials, the process of boiling water with a candle is relatively simple. The candle should be placed on a stable surface, and the metal burner should be placed over the top of it, with as little distance between the burner surface and the candle flames as possible. It’s essential to keep in mind that the further your candle flame is away from your water source, the more the heat dissipates, and the longer the water will take to boil. 

After lighting the candle, follow these steps to boil water with a candle: 

  • Place the metal burner over the top of the candle, being sure to keep the top surface of the burner as close to the candle flames as possible. The further the candle flame is from the container of water, the longer the container will take to heat to a boiling point.
  • Place the pot or can of water on top of the burner surface. Remember that the thinner the metal bottom of the water container, the less time it will take for heat to conduct through it and boil the water.
  • Place the pot lid on the water. The build-up of steam inside the pot causes the pressure inside the pot to rise, which in turn will cause the water in the pot to boil faster. 

Note: While it is a familiar old wive’s tale to add salt to the water to boil it more quickly, this is one old wive’s tale that is scientifically incorrect—it takes longer to boil water after adding salt to itOpens in a new tab.. For this reason, you shouldn’t try to add salt to the water you’re boiling to boil it more quickly and save your candles. 

Why Learn How to Boil Water with a Candle?

There are many reasons why a person might want to learn how to boil water with a candle, as starting a fire with minimal equipment is a valuable skill to have during an emergency or in any kind of situation where traditional heating methods are not an option. 

Here are some of the ways you can use water that has been boiled with a candle: 

  • Emergency cooking: In a pinch, candles can be used to boil a can or pot of water for soup or other cooking uses. Being able to eat homecooked meals, even in a wilderness or refugee situation, can be a significant morale booster, especially in the face of other emergency conflicts.
  • Survivalist training: You might not need to know how to boil water with a candle if you’re a well-prepared survivalist and have a wide variety of cookstoves and other heating survival tools at your disposal. However, possessing the knowledge that you could boil water and cook with a candle alone can be empowering even if it doesn’t end up practically useful in the long run.
  • Backwoods cooking: Outside of the context of an emergency, boiling water with a candle can be used to cook food in the deep bush where it is not practical to haul a bunch of fuel or heating implements along. Learning how to boil water in a minimalist way can help you reduce the number of supplies you need to take along with you.
  • Water sanitation: Outside of cooking, boiled water is crucial in an emergency because boiling water collected from a river, stream, or other wild source is the only way to make sure that it is cleared of potential pathogens before consuming. Waterborne disease can be a significant threat in an emergency scenario. Boiled water can also be used to sterilize and dress wounds in the field.
  • Snowmelt: In a situation without running water, candle heat can be used to both melt and boil snow for drinking purposes. Candle-based fires are a good option for boiling water in snowy conditions where traditional fires are more difficult to build. 

Even if you have plenty of other heating and cooking tools at your disposal, it’s a good idea to know how to boil water from candles just in case the worst should happen. 

How Long Does It Take to Boil Water with a Candle?

The amount of time it takes to boil water with a candle is dependent on several different variables: 

  • Candle flame size: The larger the size of the flame on the candle, the more BTUs it will put out. Candles that feature multiple flames (tri-wicks or tandem tea lights) can generate more heat than those with a single wick and will boil water faster. Larger tri-wick candles are also more suitable for boiling larger volumes of water.
  • Ambient temperature: It almost goes without saying, but the colder it is where you’re trying to boil water with a candle, the longer it’s going to take to warm the water up to a boiling temperature.
  • The temperature of the water: The warmer water is to start with, the less time it takes to bring to a boil no matter what kind of heat source you’re using. Water from a river in the summer will be much easier to bring to a boil than water from a frozen one.
  • The distance of the pot from the flames: The key to bringing water to a boil quickly with candles is making sure that the heat of the candle is applied as directly to the bottom of the metal can or pot as possible. The further the pot is away from the candle flames, the more dispersed the heat is, and the longer the metal of the pot will take to heat up.
  • Any additional fuel sources: While additional fuel sources aren’t always available in an emergency, incorporating even a little shredded waste paper and used wax to a candle cookfire can significantly raise the heat put out by the fire and make the process of boiling water faster.

The length of time it takes to get water boiling quickly is critical when it comes to boiling water over candlelight since this form of heat can dissipate fast. If the candles burn down before the water has a chance to heat up to a boiling point, then they won’t be able to put out enough energy to get the water boiling at all. 

Why Boiling Water with Candles Can Be Difficult

Compared to other sources of fuel and fire used in an emergency preparedness situation, boiling water with candles as a starter is one of the more complicated methods of boiling water, relegated to absolute emergencies where supplies are scarce. 

Other than the fact that it can take a long time for candles to heat water to the boiling point, there are several other reasons why boiling water with candles can be challenging compared to other heating methods. 

Here are some of the reasons why boiling water with candles can be tricky: 

  • Wind factor: Small candles are challenging to keep ignited in windy conditions, so be prepared to build your candle-fueled cookfire in a wind-sheltered area to prevent the candles from being blown out. If a gust of wind blows out your candle, it can drop the heat of the water quickly before you have a chance to reignite it. 
  • Wax fires: Working with wax around boiling water is potentially dangerous. While it isn’t likely that you’ll drop lit candles in your boiling water if you’re sufficiently careful in working with your emergency supplies, accidentally doing so could cause a wax fire. Wax fires occur when the wax melts and explodes into a large fireball when it encounters boiling water. Since only a small amount of wax is necessary to accidentally start a wax fire, working with candles around boiling water is a risky business around your emergency supplies. The last thing you need in your fallout shelter is a giant fireball. 
  • Regular fire hazard: Even without the additional threat of a wax fire if you accidentally drop candle wax into your pot of boiling water, the open flames associated with candles pose a higher risk of fire than many other types of heating implements used in emergency preparedness. While this risk is somewhat mitigated outdoors, the chance for starting a fire by knocking over a candle is still a serious one, especially in dry conditions. 
  • Lack of fuel: If you’re trying to start the water boiling with a candle alone, you’re probably going to have a difficult time. Candle wax does not put out the BTUs to efficiently heat water to the boiling point before burning down. BTUs correspond to the height of the candle flame—the smaller the candle’s flame, the fewer BTUs the candle can put out, and the longer it will take for it to bring water to a boil. For many smaller candles, this amount of time is longer than the lifespan of the candle. 
  • Freezing temperatures: Trying to get water boiling in the winter over a candle fire versus a camp stove or woodburning campfire in freezing weather is significantly more difficult to the point of being nearly impossible. To increase your odds, bring your candle fire indoors out of the cold. If the heat has been lost in winter during an emergency, even indoor temperatures can be cold enough to make heating with candles challenging to do. 

Boiling water with a candle can be significantly more difficult than other forms of cooking, but since it is a cooking method of last resort, it’s still worth knowing the basic tenets of how to pull it off. 

Can a Candle Be Used to Boil Water Without Fuel?

Ideally, in an emergency, you would use candles to help act as the catalyst for a more significant fire. Candles can boil water on their own, but it can be hard because of the relatively low heat they put out in comparison to other heat sources. Candle wax simply can’t get as hot as quickly as other forms of emergency heating, such as camp stoves, can. 

While it is harder to boil water with candles alone rather than using your emergency candles to start a larger cookfire, doing so also has its advantages if you can pull it off. 

One significant advantage is that a candle fire can be easily managed indoors without a fireplace in comparison to other types of fires, making it an excellent choice for survivalists who don’t have a firepit handy, or when cold and windy conditions make traditional fire-building outside nearly impossible. 

Another upside of candle fires is that as long as candles are burned for less than four hoursOpens in a new tab., and their wicks are sufficiently trimmed, candles do not put off a lot of smoke and soot. For survivalists in an emergency who are being forced to cook in hiding without drawing attention to their location, keeping down smoke is a significant benefit. 

Boiling Water with a Candle is a Useful Emergency Skill

While it’s not likely to be anyone’s go-to method as long as there are other heat sources available in an emergency, knowing how to boil water without electricity or a suitable place to build a proper fire can be the difference between life and death in the wrong circumstances. 

For people who are serious about emergency preparedness, this is one survival technique they should have tucked away in your arsenal. 

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