Since working in the candle industry beginning in 1997, I have been asked countless times by customers if we make dripless candles or more specifically, dripless taper candles. The short answer, based on the industry definition, is “yes”. So what is the industry standard for a dripless candle? Basically it means a candle that when burned under proper conditions will not drip. “Proper conditions” is the key phrase here. We have all seen movies set in past centuries where candles are burning and wax is dripping down the sides and all over the holder, those were NOT dripless candles.
How Are Dripless Candles Different?
So how exactly does a dripless candle differ from one that drips and what does it mean to burn a candle under proper conditions? Dripless taper candles are made by adding an extra step to the manufacturing process. The candle is dipped one last time in a coating of significantly higher melt temperature wax. This creates a shell of wax that will melt just a little slower than the rest of the candle creating a small “cup” which keeps the liquid pool contained near the flame. Non-dripless candles don’t include that outer shell.
What Are The Proper Burning Conditions?
An easy way to visualize the proper conditions when burning a candle is using a glass of water. I think we would all agree that a glass cup would be considered dripless. Candles that are made to be dripless are often affected by less than ideal conditions. Lets take a look at what effect some of these conditions have on a full glass of water because they apply to candles as well. We will start with the most common 2 issues. The glass in the image below is set as it should be, standing upright on a flat surface. The water is filled just to above the rim, which is possible due to surface tension (a completely separate topic), and yet it is not dripping.
Candles that sit crooked
Candles that aren’t standing straight is one very common problem especially with tapers due to slight differences in sizes of holders and of the base of the candle. Using the example of the cup of water, we an see what happens when it leans over. This is definitely NOT an optimum condition for the cup and is not for candles either. This happened to my wife a few weeks ago. We were eating breakfast at Friendly’s on our weekend away and she dropped her full cup of coffee right onto the table. I haven’t moved so fast in a long time.
Another factor which affects dripless candles is wind, constant wind created by anything, a fan, an open window, a heat or air conditioning vent, high traffic walking areas, someone who won’t stop talking… ok not so much that last one. I’m sure you get the idea. When the flame is consistently pushed one direction it creates uneven heat and causes the higher temperature shell of wax to melt faster on one side, making a low point in the “cup”. This lets the liquid pool start to run off the top of the candle creating a drip that if let go will continue to flow. I had my daughter blow across the top of the cup in the first image. The picture below is the result.
External heat source
One of the not so obvious conditions that can cause a dripless candle to drip is heat. Burning candles in groups close together can be a problem. What happens in this case is that the heat from surrounding candle flames soften the outer shell of wax. When the candle’s hot liquid pool comes in contact with the protective outer shell, it can’t contain it because it is already warm and soft. The double heat source make the wax wall fail, the liquid melts through, and runs down the side. If a candle is placed in direct sunlight the same thing can happen or even candles burned in a shady area if they are outside on a hot summer day. Outdoor weddings is one example of where this can often occur, which brings me to another problem. Most people will burn candles in a glass hurricane shade at outdoor events to protect them from the wind. Not a bad idea but depending on the diameter of your hurricane it could contain some of the heat, softening the outside of the candle and cause it to drip as well.
Keep these things in mind, when setting up your next event where candles will be burning, to help avoid a wax mess at the end of the night.