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Types of Candles, Waxes, Wicks, Fragrance, Colorants


Votives, container candles and pillars are currently the most popular types of candles with American consumers. The main types of candles on the market are:

  • Tapers: very slender candles that can range in height from 6” up to 20” and are used in an appropriate holder.
  • Votives: free standing candles that were originally produced as white and unscented and are typically lit for devotion or gratitude in religious ceremonies.
  • Pillars: a rigid, free standing candle that is available in a wide variety of shapes and designs.
  • Container candles: candles created from wax poured into a special glass, tan, and/or pottery. Container candles can be used decoratively and are typically highly fragranced.
  • Tea-light candles: candles which are very small cylindrical candle that is in its own aluminum or polycarbonate holder.
  • Liturgical candles
  • Outdoor candles
  • Floating candles
  • Novelty candles: a variety of candles, including globe Candles, faceted Candles, Spiral Candles, Pyramid Candles, Christmas Tree, Bunny Rabbit, Turkey, Pumpkins, and other shapes.
  • Utility candles
  • Birthday candles


Over the centuries, candle waxes have been developed from a variety of fats, oils and waxy-like substances derived from animals, insects, plants and rocks.

Scientists consider "wax" to be a generic term for classifying materials that have the following characteristics:

  1. Solid at room temperature; liquid at higher temperatures
  2. Primarily hydrocarbon in structure
  3. Water repellent
  4. Smooth texture; buffable under slight pressure
  5. Low toxicity; low reactivity
  6. Low odor
  7. Combustible
Waxes are widely used throughout the world for a wide range of applications, including packaging, coatings, cosmetics, foods, adhesives, inks, castings, crayons, chewing gum, polishes and - of course - candles.


Most consumers usually think of a candle's shape, color or fragrance as its most important element. Most candle manufacturers, though, would probably say it's the wick that makes the candle.

The purpose of a wick is to deliver fuel (wax) to the flame. Acting like a fuel pump, the wick draws the liquefied wax up into the flame to burn. Different wick sizes allow for different amounts of fuel to drawn into the flame. Too much fuel and the flame will flare and soot; too little fuel and the flame will sputter out.
All wicks consist of a bundle of fibers that are either twisted, braided or knitted together. These fibers absorb the liquefied wax and carry it to the flame by capillary action.>There are more than 100 unique wicks on the market today. The type of wax used in a candle, as well as the candle's size, shape, color and fragrance materials all impact wick choice. Selecting the correct wick is critical to making a candle that burns cleanly and properly. Reputable candle manufacturers take great care in selecting a wick of the proper size, shape and material to meet the burn requirements of a particular candle

Types of Wicks

Most high-quality wicks are made from braided, plaited or knitted fibers to encourage a slow and consistent burn. In general, twisted wicks are of lower quality than braided or knitted wicks. They burn much faster because their loose construction allows more fuel to quickly reach the flame. However, twisted wicks are useful for certain applications, such as birthday candles.
In general, wicks can be divided into four major types:
  1. Flat Wicks. These flat-plaited or knitted wicks, usually made from three bundles of fiber, are very consistent in their burning and curl in the flame for a self-trimming effect. They are the most commonly used wicks, and can be broadly found in taper and pillar candles.
  2. Square Wicks. These braided or knitted wicks also curl in the flame, but are more rounded and a bit more robust than flat wicks. They are preferred for beeswax applications and can help inhibit clogging of the wick, which can occur with certain types of pigments or fragrances. Square wicks are most frequently used in taper and pillar applications.
  3. Cored Wicks. These braided or knitted wicks use a core material to keep the wick straight or upright while burning. The wicks have a round cross section, and the use of different core materials provides a range of stiffness effects. The most common core materials for wicks are cotton, paper, zinc or tin. Cored wicks can be found in jar candles, pillars, votives and devotional lights.
  4. Special and Oil Lamp Wicks. These wicks are specially designed to meet the burn characteristics of specific candle applications, such as oil lamps and insect-repelling candles.

Wick Use in the U.S.

Approximately 80 percent of the wicks manufactured in the are made of all-cotton or cotton-paper combinations. The remainder are primarily metal- and paper-cored wicks.

Lead wicks were banned from the U.S marketplace in 2003, and for several years before that were found primarily in inexpensive foreign candle imports.

The metal-core wicks sometimes found in candles are typically zinc- or tin-core wicks. They are most often used in container candles and votives to keep the wick upright when the surrounding wax liquefies. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown both zinc- and tin-core wicks to be safe.


The addition of fragrance to a candle formulation is commonplace in the United States. In fact, an estimated 75 percent of candles sold in the U.S. are scented.

Candle manufacturers work closely with fragrance companies to develop scented formulations that are not only pleasing, but will burn safely and properly.

The aroma from a lighted scented candle is released through the evaporation of the fragrance from the hot wax pool and from the solid candle itself. Like unscented candles, properly-formulated scented candles will primarily produce water vapor and carbon dioxide when burned. The only difference is that a fragrance is also released with a scented candle.

Most scented candles contain a combination of natural and synthetic fragrances. These fragrance materials may be derived from essential oils or from synthetic aroma chemicals. A well-made candle will contain only fragrance materials approved for candle use; the addition of fragrance to a candle formulation should be carefully monitored to ensure that the candle will burn cleanly and properly.
Candle manufacturers can select from an estimated 500 to 800 aroma chemicals and essential oils to develop scents that are both pleasing to consumers and compatible with candle use. These fragrance materials are safe, high-quality ingredients that are also found in many perfumes, bath soaps, lotions and shampoos.


Candles are available in a seemingly endless palette of colors, from luminescent shades of ivory to deep rich jewel tones, pastels, metallics and chromatic layers.
In addition, candle manufacturers introduce new hues and shades each year, reflecting the emerging color trends in interior design and fashion.

Although candle color is the second-most important factor (after fragrance) for influencing consumer purchasing decisions, color and fragrance are closely linked. In fact, research has shown that consumers expect the color of a scented candle to mirror their psychological perception of the fragrance. A cinnamon-scented candle, for example, is expected to fall somewhere in the red-bronze palette, while "mountain breeze" draws expectations of a candle in the pale blue or green shades.

Specially-formulated pigments (microscopic, suspended color particles) and dyes (both liquid and powder form) are used to color candles. Dyes have different properties from pigments (like dyes are combustible so help candle burn while pigments do not burn well and can clog a wick), and are used to create different effects. In general, pigments are used to coat the outside of a candle with color, while dyes are used to color the candle throughout.

Melting And Filling Equipment, Inc.
National Candle Association