Candle Safety: 10 Things You Should Know

Between Halloween, the holidays, and chilly romantic evenings, candles are a cool-weather favorite. They're pretty, comforting, and make easy last-minute gifts - yet they're deceptively dangerous. Research from the National Fire Protection Association found approximately 25 candle fires are reported every day. Meanwhile, a joint study from the U.S. Fire Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency found that the frequency of candle fires tends to spike during the holidays. Between 2009 and 2013, these fires caused $374 million in property damage, most of which stemmed from misuse, such as forgetting to extinguish a lit candle, or placing one too close to something flammable. Consider these candle safety tips next time you carve a pumpkin or set the table for a nice dinner:

Burning candles are a fall favorite but require some caution.Burning candles are a fall favorite but require some caution.
  • Trim candlewicks before lighting them. Wicks should be no longer than 1/4 inch, although many manufacturers recommended 1/8 inch. A trimmed wick means there's less material for the flame to burn, resulting in less soot.
  • Use a holder specifically for candles. These holders are treated to be heat- and wax-resistant. Warm candles and wax can damage certain surfaces. 
  • Extinguish candles whenever leaving the room. Even a quick step into the hallway is enough time for a burning candle to fall over and catch fire. 
  • Don't extinguish candles with water. Wax and water don't mix well, and using water to extinguish a candle can cause hot wax to splash and burn your arm. Also, the rapid temperature change might cause a glass container to shatter.
  • Keep burning candles away from flammable objects. Most candle-related fires start when a nearby object catches flame. Never burn a candle on a bookshelf or a windowsill with curtains.
  • Avoid candles with lead in the wick. The Consumer Product Safely Commission banned manufacturers from making candles with lead in 2003. Still, it's possible to run into a candle made before the ban in a thrift store or through a wholesale service. Burning lead-wicked candles poses a serious health hazard. To test whether your candle has lead in it, drag the tip of the unburnt wick across a sheet of paper. If you see a light gray mark similar to that of a pencil, there's lead in your candle. 
  • Use LED tea lights or glow sticks in jack-o'-lanterns. Most pumpkins aren't stable, so they can be easily kicked around by sugar-buzzed children. Plus, combining a lit flame with dry autumn grass is a recipe for a big fire.
  • Wear flame-retardant costumes during Halloween. Vampire capes and wizard robes are perfect fire hazards. Since you can't guarantee your neighbors are as flame-conscious as you, check to make sure your costumes are flame-retardant.
  • Don't pass lit, bare candles from one person to another. Many religious ceremonies involve lit candles. Instead of passing one back and forth, give each participant a candle. Light one, then have everyone else dip their unlit wicks against the flame. 
  • Take extra caution during overnight ceremonies. If your ceremony requires you to leave a fire burning overnight, close it in a glass container and place it on a metal tray or in a sink. You can also set the enclosed candle in a basin of water.

Proper candle use is a fire safety measure that is often overlooked. Many people think candles aren't a big deal, but the truth is they cost several hundred lives and millions in property damage each year. Keep you and your loved ones safe by adhering to these simple tips.