Choosing the Right Wicks for Your Candles

Beginners Start here!

Written by
Cindy Novack
Published on
July 6, 2023 at 5:26:46 PM PDT July 6, 2023 at 5:26:46 PM PDTth, July 6, 2023 at 5:26:46 PM PDT

For many, choosing the correct wick is the most confusing part about making your candles. So many wick choices are available with many different opinions on what wick is best, which can be very frustrating.

It would be great if candle wicks were a “one-size-fits-all” product, but unfortunately, they are not. Just as you are very careful about choosing, weighing, measuring, and testing ingredients for your soap or skin care products, the same principle applies to choosing and testing wicks for your candles.

We have all experienced candles that burned a tunnel down the middle and left wax around the outside of the jar, and that burned so hot that the jar opening turned black with soot.

These problems are the reason why most of us start making our candles.

The wick is crucial in ensuring a safe and properly burning candle. If your candles don't burn correctly, not only does it pose a safety hazard, but it also discourages repeat orders and recommendations from customers.

The primary function of a wick is to draw the wax up from the melt pool through its fibers into the flame; this is called wick capillary action. The wax is the fuel for the flame, and the wick keeps feeding the flame so that the candle keeps burning.

In a perfect world, with a perfect candle, the candle will burn with a nice, bright, even flame, producing a wonderfully scented melt pool of wax that gets consumed until only a tiny amount of wax remains in the bottom of the jar.

Choosing the proper size wick for your candle is extremely important because you want your wax and wick to consume themselves at the same rate without sooting or leaving wax leftover in your jar.

Sounds great, right? Ok, let's start learning about wicks! 

The first thing to consider is what type of wax you are using. It is almost impossible to choose a wick without knowing this information first.

Plant waxes tend to burn better with wicks made from natural fibers.

Paraffin waxes tend to burn easily, so they don’t need a hotter burning wick.

Palm and beeswax are tricky to wick because they are incredibly hard-burning waxes.

It’s best to follow the wick recommendations from the manufacturer or supplier of the wax you are using as a starting point. They have already done the research and can guide you to which type of wick they’ve had good results using. You can fine-tune the wick size after test burning and adjust it if necessary.

Our Wick Selection Chart is a great place to start and an invaluable resource for choosing wicks for your candles. It is organized by wax type and then candle size making it easy to find the proper wick size quickly.

Choosing a wick can get confusing because sometimes you may have a few options for the wax you use.

The next thing to consider is how you like your candles to burn.

Would you like a nice slow burn or a hotter burn that gets a fragrant melt pool quicker?

Do you prefer a wick that burns with a curl or a mushroom?

Your decision on how you would like your candle to burn can narrow down the wick-type choices when presented with multiple options.

Let’s talk about the different wick types. If you look at a wick closely (without wax coating), you will see that it is made of many strands of fibers that are either braided or knitted in different patterns.

As you can see by the picture, different brands of wicks fall into each wick type. Each brand has something different to offer candle makers.

Flat braided wicks appear flat and offer a consistently slower burn. They tend to curl when burning and are often self-trimming. These wicks are a great choice for pillar or freestanding candles when you want a nice slow burn so the wax melt pool doesn’t overflow.

Pictured in the flat braid type is a standard cotton wick and Heinz Coreless CD wick.

You can see that the Heinz CD wick has darker fibers braided into the wick, and that allows for a hotter burn than standard flat braid wicking. A hotter burn is needed for blended paraffins, soy, and other natural waxes.  

Square braided wicks can be square or round in appearance and offer a hotter burn than flat braided wicks because there is more area for the wax to travel up to the flame. 

When burning, square braid wicks do not curl and may get a small mushroom. The square braid picture also shows different brands, the standard cotton and then the Wedo RRD, made of special high-tech fibers that work well for candle gel, palm, and beeswax.   

Cored wicks are cotton wicks braided around the outside of a core. The cores are typically zinc, paper, or cotton, acting like a backbone in the wick to keep it upright and burning straight in the jar even when the wax melt pool is deep. 

Cored wicks burn with a mushroom, and some candle makers believe their candles have a stronger hot scent throw because the mushroom allows for a hotter burn and larger melt pool. 

The picture of the cored wicks shows the zinc (no, it’s not lead because lead was banned in the USA in 1974) and the paper cores on the inside of the wick.

Cored wicks are a favorite for container candles because they stand straighter, burn hotter than flat or square braid wicks, and work well with most waxes. 

Wood wicks are relatively new on the market and provide a subtle crackle as your candle burns.

Wood wicks achieve a melt pool faster than braided wicks but can be tricky to work with and require a lot of test burning with each wax and fragrance you use.

Hopefully, wick types and burn styles are starting to make sense now, and you can see why it is important to choose the wick according to what wax you are using.

There are many other brands within each wick type, we only chose a few to use as examples. Remember that wick recommendation charts are also developed based on wick-burning preferences.

Now it’s time to move on to wick sizes.

Each wick type and brand will have different sizes to accommodate different diameters of candles. Within a brand, the smaller sizes will have smaller numbers, and the larger sizes have larger numbers. For instance, a size 3 wick is much smaller than a size 16 wick. A size 62 wick is much larger than a size 44 wick.

As the wick sizes get larger, more fibers are braided into the wick so that more wax can be carried up to fuel the flame.  

To select the correct wick size, you must measure the diameter of your candle and then consult the wick chart to see which wick size will properly consume the wax in your candle.

A smaller wick won’t allow much wax to travel up to the flame, whereas a large wick will allow more wax to be consumed.

So a tiny candle like a tealight or votive with a 1.5-inch diameter will need a small size wick allowing only small amounts of wax to travel up the wick, and the candle burns longer with the proper flame.

Imagine what would happen if you used a very large wick in a tealight candle. The wax would be consumed quickly, and the flame would burn high like a torch and throw black smoke (soot).

This would be a very dangerous candle to burn, not to mention it being a fire hazard.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, using a wick too small for the diameter of your candle will not allow enough wax to travel up the wick and consume the candle.

Then what happens is that the candle either burns straight down the middle leaving wax around the sides of the jars (this is called tunneling), or the wick will extinguish itself and drown in the melted wax pool. 

Wicking can be purchased raw, just as it comes off the braiding machine, or primed with a wax coating.

Priming a wick is coating it with wax to fill in the space between wick fibers, allowing it to burn evenly.

Wick priming machines dip the raw wick into hot wax, scrape off the excess while pushing the wax into the wick fibers, and then cool the wick off in a water tank.

This process gets repeated up to seven times depending on the wick type and size.

It is almost always a good idea to purchase your primed wicks so you can be sure the wicking is ready for the best burn possible.

Pre-tabbed wicks have already been machine primed, and the metal wick sustainers (wick tabs) are attached to the bottom.

This is the most popular way to purchase wicks for your candles and will save you hours.

Now you know about wick types, sizes, and charts, but it is always recommended to perform test burns on your candles.

I cannot stress the importance of test burning enough.

The wick charts are a general guideline to help get you started with the correct size, but they do not replace test burns.

Candle making, like soap making, is both an art and a science. You develop your techniques and style, which will differ from the wick chart information.

Simple test burns can save you from product failures before giving or selling your candle to someone else.

It comes down to that if your flame is high and wild, the wick is too big. The wick is too small if your flame is barely there or keeps extinguishing itself.

Fragrance, additives, and coloring also play a part in your candle burn success, so you can look forward to more information on conducting test burns and working with difficult candle problems in the future.

Hopefully, after reading this blog post, you better understand the purpose of candle wicks, wick types, and the performance of a properly burning candle.

I hope this information gave you more confidence in choosing wicks for your candles. 

Our Candle Wicking 101 Livestream replay is another great resource for wick information.

Good luck and happy candle-making!