I confess: I'm addicted to candles. I can't help myself. And, it's not just the romance, really. It's the way I relax when there is a candle burning nearby. And, the fragrance! I feel like I am being indulged, and I love it!
If you are like me, however, you have no doubt experienced some challenges with burning candles, or at least with certain candles. Sure, there are just some candles that aren't of a very good quality, including poor wax quality, excessive scented oils, and air pockets, and there is nothing you can do about this except toss the candle. But, even with a quality candle, there are some things you need to keep in mind as you burn them in order to get the most enjoyment out of them. Basically, I think these issues fall under a few categories: problems with lighting and burning, problems with the wick, problems with placement, problems with containers, and problems with extinguishing.
Before burning your candle, it is very important to make sure you trim the wick to ¼ inch. One of the main culprits in a smoking and sooting candle flame is the wick being too long. Keeping it trimmed to ¼ inch will help prevent or cut down on this problem. Also, keep it trimmed after every 3 or 4 hours of burning. In fact, that should be the maximum amount of time you burn a candle each time. You need to make sure you burn it long enough so that the melt pool reaches the edge of the container, and 3 or 4 hours is usually sufficient. If it is not, then your wick may be too small for the candle. Burning longer than that can also lead to the formation of a mushroom head on the top of the wick, which also contributes to smoking and sooting. If this happens, extinguish the candle, let the candle cool and the wax harden, and then trim the wick back down to ¼ inch.
If your candle flame is too small, you may have trimmed it too short. In this case, you will need to let it burn for awhile, then tilt the candle in each direction as it burns so as to melt more of the wax around the wick. Then, extinguish the wick and clear the wax around the wick and all of the way to the edges of the container, so as to lower the overall level of wax in the container. Again, though, if it still tends to burn too small of a flame, the wick may be too small or of the wrong type for the candle.
On the other hand, if your flame is too large, in addition to being dangerous, it will also shorten the life of your candle, and it will contribute to excessive smoking and sooting. Trimming the wick to ¼ inch should take care of this problem.
Some have written about the danger of metal-core wicks in candles. This is no longer really a problem, since lead wicks were banned in the U.S. after 2003, and before then were chiefly limited to cheap imports. Today's metal-core wicks are made of either tin or zinc, and have been repeatedly shown to be safe for burning.
In terms of placement, of course you want to make doubly sure that your burning candles are kept well out of the reach of children and pets! Also, keep burning candles away from air drafts, as this can be one of the biggest contributors to smoking and sooting, as well as crackling. It also causes your candle to burn more quickly.
When not being burned, you will want to keep your candles out of direct sunlight, as this will cause the colors to fade much more quickly than normal. There is nothing you can do about the normal fading, but you can at least slow it down by avoiding sunlight.
You should burn your candles in containers whenever possible, and always place a protective cloth or barrier underneath your candles, even with containers, to prevent burning and waxing on the surface. Votive candles, in particular, are made to burn more quickly and throw off more scent. You can increase their burn time by placing them in containers. The tighter the container, the better in this case.
As your jar candles burn down, you may notice soot building up around the inside edges of the jar. This is easy to clean, and you can just wipe down the sides with a paper towel, perhaps with a little glass cleaner on it. Another thing I sometimes notice as my jar candles burn down, is that the wick(s) begin migrating over toward the sides. You will want to try and move them back toward the center, if possible, before the wax re-hardens.
To extinguish your candle, it is best to just put the lid over it, if you are using a jar candle. This will snuff it out and prevent the excessive smoking, as well. If you don't have a lid, then you can either use a candle snuffer, or an even better method is to use an object to bend the wick over and push it into the wax to snuff it out, then straighten it back out. This will extinguish it and also fuel it for the next time you light it! Blowing it out is the least favorite option, as it will continue to smoke for a long time. If you must, however, be sure you place your hand or some other barrier behind it before you blow, to prevent sparks and sooty pieces of wick from landing on objects where they might catch fire.
So, light up, and enjoy!