The Different Types Of Candle Wicks: Understanding The Flame

Embark on a fascinating journey through the world of candle wicks. These seemingly simple components play a crucial role in transforming a piece of wax into a captivating source of light and ambiance. Whether you're a seasoned candle maker or a casual candle user, understanding the importance of a wick in a candle, the science behind its function, and the impact of choosing the right wick can enhance your candle experience.


The Fundamental Role of a Wick in a Candle

At the heart of every candle lies its unsung hero: the wick. Far from being a mere piece of string, the wick is a meticulously crafted element that significantly determines the burning efficiency, scent dispersion, and even the aesthetic appeal of a candle. By controlling the rate at which the wax is consumed, the wick influences the candle’s burn time and the intensity of its glow.


an unlit candle wick


The Science Behind How a Candle Wick Works

The wick is an integral part of the fascinating science of candle burning, also known as capillary action. When a candle is lit, the heat of the flame melts the wax near the wick. This liquid wax is then drawn up the wick due to the capillary action, where it meets the flame's heat.

The heat decomposes the hydrocarbons in the wax, turning it into a gas. This vapor reacts with oxygen in the air to create heat, light, water vapor, and carbon dioxide - the elements we recognize as a candle flame. The size, material, and braiding technique of the wick influence how quickly this process happens, thereby controlling the burn rate and the size of the flame.


Importance of Choosing the Right Wick

Choosing the right wick is crucial for creating a perfect candle. The wick determines how the candle burns and how well it releases its fragrance. A wick that's too small may not produce enough heat to fully melt the wax, leading to tunneling. Conversely, a wick that's too large may cause the candle to burn too quickly or produce smoke and soot.

By understanding the characteristics and uses of different wick types, you can choose the one that best suits the wax type, size, and fragrance of your candle, ensuring a clean, even burn every time. This knowledge is invaluable whether you're a candle maker seeking to perfect your craft, or a consumer wanting to get the most out of your candles.

various sized candles burning


Unmasking the Different Types of Candle Wicks

When it comes to candle making, one quickly discovers that the wick is far more than a mere afterthought. It is, in fact, a pivotal component that directly influences how the candle burns, its lifespan, and even the intensity of its fragrance. With an array of options on the market, choosing the right wick can feel like a daunting task. However, by delving deeper into the unique characteristics and specific uses of each type, this decision becomes less of a challenge and more of an exciting exploration. Let's pull back the curtain on the diverse world of candle wicks.

What Are Candle Wicks Made Of?

Diving into Cotton Wicks

Cotton wicks, derived from 100% natural cotton fibers, are a popular choice in the world of candle making. Known for their clean and consistent burn, they offer a versatile solution compatible with various wax types, including soy, paraffin, and beeswax. The burning process of a cotton wick involves an interesting scientific principle known as capillary action, where liquid wax is drawn up the wick against gravity to fuel the flame.

Beyond candle making, cotton wicks find applications in different fields, such as semi-hydroponics and solar module cooling, owing to their effective wicking abilities. With some maintenance and preparation, like cleaning before use, cotton wicks can provide an optimal performance, enhancing the overall candle-burning experience.

Exploring the World of Braided Wicks

Braided wicks, also known as knitted wicks, are a fascinating element in the diverse landscape of candle making. These wicks employ a core material to maintain their straight or upright position while burning1. They exhibit a round cross-section, and their use spans across multiple candle types, from simple pillar candles to more complex creations1.

The anatomy of a braided wick is an interesting aspect to explore. The core, often made of cotton but sometimes containing other materials like paper or metal, provides the structural foundation for the wick. Wrapped around this core are several strands of cotton fibers, braided together to form the wick's body. This braiding can be square or flat, with each style offering distinct burning characteristics.

Square braided wicks are a popular choice due to their self-trimming nature, which reduces instances of excessive flickering or mushrooming. They work well with a variety of wax types including soy, beeswax, palm, coconut, gel, and paraffin wax. The size of the wick and the tightness of the braid can influence the burn rate and flame size, providing candle makers with a range of options to suit their specific needs.

Flat braided wicks, on the other hand, are characterized by their paper fiber construction. These wicks provide a distinct aesthetic appeal and are known for their consistent and controlled burn.

The Lowdown on Paper Wicks

Paper wicks are a unique and versatile choice in the diverse arena of candle making. These wicks are typically made from a blend of cotton and paper fibers, offering a balance between the natural burn of cotton and the rigidity provided by paper.

When it comes to candle creation, the choice of wick can significantly impact the quality of the burn. Paper wicks are known for their sturdy structure, which helps maintain an upright position even when the wax around them melts. This makes them an ideal choice for candles with a high percentage of glycerine or scents, as they can withstand the softness of such waxes without bending or drowning.

The capillary action seen in cotton wicks also applies to paper wicks. This principle allows the liquid wax to flow up the wick, fueling the flame. This capillary flow is not limited to wax alone. Studies have observed similar behavior with other liquids in paper strips, further highlighting the wicking abilities of paper.


Wooden Wicks: A Modern Twist

Wood wicks are a contemporary addition to the world of candle making, bringing a unique aesthetic and sensory appeal to the craft. Made from natural wood or a blend of wood and cotton fibers, these wicks provide a distinct crackling sound reminiscent of a cozy fireplace, adding an auditory element to the traditional candle burning experience.

In terms of design, wooden wicks stand out with their flat, wide shape that gives a horizontal flame, contributing to a modern, minimalist look. This shape also allows for a larger melt pool, which can help distribute fragrance more effectively throughout the room.

There is a variety of wood types used in creating wooden wicks, with each offering a different burn quality. Some of the common types include softwood varieties like pine, fir, and spruce, appreciated for their excellent crackling properties. Hardwoods like oak and maple are also used, known for their slower, even burn.

However, as charming as they may be, wooden wicks do require some special considerations. They need to be trimmed to their recommended height, usually between 3/16 and 1/4. They also often require a wider diameter candle to ensure proper burning.

Despite these extra steps, the unique aesthetic and sensory experiences offered by wooden wicks make them a worthwhile choice for many candle crafters. With their modern twist on the traditional wick, they truly bring a new dimension to the art of candle making.


various wood wick candles


Zinc Wicks: A Metallic Alternative

Zinc wicks, part of the larger family of cored wicks, introduce a metallic element to the traditional world of candle making. These wicks are made by wrapping a cotton outer layer around a central core made of zinc. This core provides the wick with a sturdy structure, enabling it to stand upright even in the face of melting wax.

One of the key advantages of zinc wicks is their slow and consistent burn rate. The metallic core conducts heat downwards, melting more of the wax and resulting in a larger melt pool. This makes zinc wicks an excellent choice for use in larger diameter candles where a wide melt pool is necessary for full fragrance throw.

In addition to their performance characteristics, zinc wicks also offer a certain visual appeal. The metal core glows while the candle burns, adding a unique aesthetic element to the candle burning experience.

Zinc wicks do require some specific handling tips. For instance, they should be trimmed to 1/4 inch before the first burn and maintained at that length for subsequent burns. This helps prevent the wick from becoming too long and causing an overly large flame.

However, it's worth noting that while zinc wicks are a popular choice, they have faced some controversy over environmental concerns. While zinc itself is not harmful, awareness about the environmental impact of mining and processing metals has led some candle makers to seek out alternatives like cotton or wood wicks.

Despite this, zinc wicks remain a viable option for those seeking a slow, steady burn and a stand-out aesthetic. 

The Linen Wick

Linen wicks present an intriguing alternative in the diverse field of candle making. Made from the fibers of the flax plant, linen is known for its strength and absorbency, both of which are beneficial properties for a candle wick.

One of the standout characteristics of linen wicks is their ability to absorb a substantial amount of wax, which can result in a longer burn time compared to other wick types. This makes them particularly suitable for use in beeswax candles, which are known for their extended burn times.

Linen wicks also have a unique aesthetic appeal. As they burn, they produce a delicate curl at the tip, which can add a touch of elegance to the candle experience. Furthermore, because linen is a natural fiber, it offers a clean burn with less soot production compared to some other wick materials.

However, as with any wick type, linen wicks come with their own set of considerations. They tend to work best in smaller diameter candles, as they may struggle to draw up enough wax in larger sizes. Additionally, because linen is a denser material, it may need to be primed or pre-waxed before use to ensure a consistent burn.

Despite these considerations, linen wicks offer a unique combination of functional and aesthetic benefits that make them a compelling choice for many candle makers. With their high absorbency and elegant burn, they bring an element of sophistication to the candle burning experience.

Silk Wicks: The Rarest Of Them All

Silk wicks represent the pinnacle of luxury in the candle making world. Made from the spun fibers of the silkworm, these wicks are not only rare but also bring a unique set of characteristics to the table.

One of the key attributes of silk wicks is their strength and durability. Silk is known for its high tensile strength, which means that it can withstand the heat of a burning candle without breaking or fraying. This quality makes silk wicks a perfect choice for candles intended for long burning times.

In addition, silk wicks have excellent absorbency, allowing them to draw up wax efficiently. This quality results in a consistent and steady flame, enhancing the overall candle burning experience.

One of the most intriguing aspects of silk wicks is the delicate glow they produce when lit. This soft, warm light adds a touch of elegance and sophistication to any setting, making silk-wicked candles an ideal choice for romantic dinners, relaxing baths, or ambiance creation.

However, the process of creating silk wicks is both labor-intensive and time-consuming, contributing to their rarity. Each silk thread must be carefully spun and then braided together to create the final wick, a process that requires a high level of skill and expertise.

Despite their scarcity and the meticulous process required in their creation, silk wicks continue to captivate candle makers and enthusiasts alike. Their unique properties and undeniable charm make them a truly exceptional choice in the realm of candle making.

Remember, when using a silk wick, it's essential to trim it to the appropriate length before lighting to ensure an optimal burn and prevent any potential issues. With the right care, a silk-wicked candle can provide a luxurious and unforgettable experience.


Synthetic Fiber Wicks

Synthetic fiber wicks are a modern addition to the candle making industry, providing an alternative to traditional natural fiber options. These wicks are typically made from materials like nylon or polyester, which are known for their strength and durability.

One of the major advantages of synthetic fibre wicks is their resistance to fraying and breakage. This makes them particularly suitable for candles that are intended to burn for extended periods of time. Additionally, synthetic fibers have a high melting point, meaning they can withstand the heat of a candle flame without degrading quickly.

Another benefit of these fiber wicks is their consistent burning behavior. Because these materials are man-made, they can be engineered for uniformity, resulting in a steady and predictable flame. This can enhance the overall candle experience by ensuring a smooth, even burn.

In terms of aesthetics, these wicks can offer a clean and modern appearance. They maintain their shape well, even when burning, and do not produce the curling effect seen with some natural fiber wicks.

However, it's important to note that synthetic wicks are not without their drawbacks. Some types of synthetic fibers can produce more soot than natural alternatives, potentially leading to a darker burn. Additionally, because synthetic materials are derived from petroleum products, there may be environmental considerations to take into account.

Despite these challenges, synthetic fiber wicks continue to be a popular choice in the candle making world. Their durability, consistency, and sleek appearance make them a versatile option that can suit a variety of candle styles and purposes. As always, it's essential for candle makers to understand the properties and implications of their chosen wick material to ensure the best possible results.

Navigating Your Candle Wick Selection

Choosing the right wick for your candle is a critical step in the candle making process. The wick you select can significantly impact the performance and aesthetics of your final product. Let's navigate through the important factors to consider when choosing a wick and tips for matching wick type to candle type.

lit candle in a clear glass jar

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Wick

When selecting a wick for your candle, there are several key factors to consider:


  • Candle Size: The size of your candle will determine the wick size you need. Larger candles require thicker wicks to ensure that the flame can reach enough wax to burn effectively.

  • Wax Type: Different types of wax have different melting points and burn rates. You'll need to match your wick to the type of wax you're using to ensure an even and consistent burn.

  • Fragrance and Color: If you're adding fragrance or color to your candles, this can affect the burn rate. Heavily scented or brightly colored candles may require a larger wick.

  • Burn Time: If you want a candle that burns for a long time, you'll need a wick that can absorb and burn the wax at a slower rate, such as a linen wick.

  • Soot Production: Some wicks can produce more soot than others. If you want a cleaner burn, look for wicks made from natural fibers.


Tips for Matching Wick Type to Candle Type

Here are some tips to help you match the right wick to your candle type:


  • Container Candles: These candles need wicks that can burn all the wax without causing the container to overheat. Cotton or linen wicks are often a good choice.

  • Pillar Candles: Pillar candles require wicks that burn a bit hotter to ensure the entire diameter of the candle melts evenly. Consider using a thicker cotton or synthetic fiber wick.

  • Votive Candles: These small candles do well with thinner wicks. A thin cotton or linen wick can provide the ideal burn for these types of candles.

  • Beeswax Candles: Beeswax burns longer and cleaner than many other types of wax. Linen wicks, known for their absorbency and long burn time, are often paired with beeswax.


Final Thoughts On Candle Wick Types

When it comes to enjoying a candle, the type of wick might not be the first thing that comes to your mind. However, the wick plays a significant role in how your candle burns, how long it lasts, and even how it smells. Understanding the different types of wicks can help you make informed decisions when buying candles.

Natural fiber wicks, such as cotton or linen, are often chosen for their clean burn and minimal soot production. If you value eco-friendliness, these could be a great choice as they're renewable and biodegradable. Candles with these wicks typically provide a steady flame for a cozy ambiance.

Synthetic wicks, usually made from nylon or polyester, are known for their durability and consistent burning behavior. These are ideal if you prefer candles that can burn for extended periods. However, keep in mind that they may produce slightly more soot than natural alternatives.

Silk wicks, while less common and pricier, provide a touch of luxury. They're known for their strength and absorbency, and they emit a soft, elegant glow when lit. If you're seeking a unique candle experience, silk-wicked candles might just be what you're looking for.

Wood wicks are a newer type of wick, but are gaining in popularity rapidly. They burn well, are clean and eco friendly, and provide an immersive crackling sound. If you’re looking for something new to try, this is it.

Remember, each type of wick offers a different burning experience. For instance, if you're planning a relaxing evening bath, you might opt for a candle with a cotton wick for its gentle, steady flame. If you're preparing for a long night of studying or work, a candle with a synthetic wick would be more suitable due to its long burn time. Or if you're reading a good book, you might opt for a wooden wick for it's crackle.


an extinguished wick still smoking


In conclusion, the art of choosing a candle extends beyond just selecting a scent or color - the type of wick matters too. The next time you're candle shopping, take a moment to consider the wick type. It might just enhance your candle burning experience, making those moments of relaxation, celebration, or concentration even more special.


  1. Elements of a Candle: Wicks