The Hidden Danger of Burning Candles on Your Kitchen Counter (Hint: It Has Nothing to Do with Fire)

published Dec 14, 2023
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Cozy Christmas decor: burning candle on a wooden table top with garlands and decorations. Soft focus and beautiful color grading. New Year's Holidays.
Credit: Aleksandra Starkova/Shutterstock

Candles are a big part of how I make my home feel cozy. I love the warm glow of a flickering flame, especially through amber glass, and I love the sense of warmth that candles bestow on a space. Lighting candles, for me, is a little ritual with many purposes: making guests feel welcome, giving myself a pick-me-up when I’m working hard in the kitchen, rewarding myself when I’m finished cleaning up a space, or helping me stay focused when I’m writing at my desk. 

Of course, candles involve the inherent danger of fire. When I do decide to light one up, I never leave the room with a candle lit, and I make sure there are no kids or pets running around. However, as I discovered through a shocking and scary recent experience, there’s another hidden danger of candles that has nothing to do with typical fire hazard concerns — the glass holders can spontaneously shatter. 

It happened one night when we had some friends over for dinner. I had a candle lit, as I often do when we have guests over, and right as we were preparing to get dinner on the table, we heard a POP! — a sudden explosion of glass. The candle had burst! 

Thankfully (and amazingly), none of the shards of glass struck anyone and we were able to extinguish the candle without anything catching fire. But it was a terrifying moment, and I wanted to make sure it would never happen again. (Shortly after it happened to me, coincidentally, it also happened to an editor at The Kitchn!)

Credit: Quinn Fish

One thing I did was start reading the labels on my candles — definitely something I should’ve done before. I noticed that my candles said to discontinue use when the wax reaches one-quarter-inch thick and also that they say never to burn longer than four hours. I’m pretty sure that the exploded candle had been burning for a long time and was low on wax — two things it’s important to avoid when burning candles. 

According to JKM Candles, burning a candle for too long causes all sorts of dangerous problems. For one thing, when a candle burns for a prolonged amount of time, the outer wax heats up as well as the inner wax. After a time, the heat transfers to the glass through conduction and when the temperature of the glass rises to a dangerous level, the glass can explode. 

In addition, the wax of a candle that’s burned for too long can reach its flash point, meaning the wax itself can catch fire and cause the glass to explode. Burning a candle for too long can also create problems with soot, which could clog the wick, leading to improper burning and, yes, the candle exploding. 

“Candles are very sensitive to temperature,” says Meg Prewitt, president of Family Tree Candle Company. “It’s ideal to keep candles at room temperature and not allow extreme variations. For example, never leave candles in your car during hot or cold weather, as this affects the wax and the burn quality of the candle. When candles aren’t in use, store them in a kitchen or bathroom cabinet where the temperature remains the same as your home. Being consistent with storage and temperature regulation should improve the quality of your candle and the burn time.”

I also found out from Jenkins Restorations that water falling into a candle, even if it’s only a few drops, can lead to a wax fire, which is essentially an instantly huge fireball. This is obviously terrifying and definitely makes me think twice about lighting candles too close to my kitchen sink or near the bathtub! This combustion can also cause the candle glass to explode. 

I honestly had no idea that there were so many ways a candle could end up exploding. Especially during this cold season of home and hygge, when I burn candles more often than ever, I’ll be viewing them with a newfound caution. Remaining vigilant about what can lead to candles exploding will be top of mind to keep my family, and yours, safe through the cozy months.