Light up your life with this guide to buying candles

Whether to set the mood or offer a ray of light during a power outage, candles have become integral parts of our home life. Here's what you need to know.

Light up your life with this guide to buying candles

Candles, along with oil and tallow lamps, were an important light source before the advent of the lightbulb. Today we use their warm, soft light more as a decorative element or for creating an intimate atmosphere than for illuminating our nighttime reading or workspaces. One of the oldest candles is the beeswax taper, but the humble candle has evolved. Today, you can get candles of beeswax or tallow, as well as gel candles or those made from soy.

Materials

  • Candles made from beeswax are high quality but relatively expensive. Real beeswax candles give off a sweet fragrance when they burn.
  • Petroleum-based paraffin is the most frequently used material in the manufacture of candles today. Paraffin candles are an affordable option.
  • Soy wax is made from hydrogenated soybean oil. As a natural substance, soy wax is a much more environmentally-conscious choice than paraffin. Soy candles are also less sooty when they burn.
  • Stearin, or stearic acid, is made from vegetable and animal fats. Adding stearin to paraffin candles makes them easier to manipulate during production. The candles also burn more slowly.

Lanterns

Candles add a warm glow to a nice supper, but sometimes a lantern works better — outdoors, for instance; candles can be too unstable or easily blown out by an errant gust. Here are some ways to make lanterns work for you:

  • Candles in jars can look like twinkling fairy lights on the patio. Use large-bellied jars decorated with sand, stones or seashells.
  • Use glass-frosting spray on jars containing candles to create a nice, soft light.
  • Drop tea lights into well-cleaned baby food jars and arrange them in small clusters on the table and sideboard. They'll look fabulous.
  • Make tin cans into lanterns by punching holes in a pattern with a hammer and nail. To avoid denting the can, first fill it with water and freeze it for several hours.

Creative candlesticks

Yes, a nice meal demands some chic silver or crystal candlesticks. But what about a cozy evening by the fire, or a romantic getaway at the cottage? Here are some time-honoured solutions for when the crystal just doesn't fit.

  • Use an old wine bottle with a raffia-wrapped bottom, or any nicely-shaped bottle. Just insert a candle in the top; the wax flowing down the side will give the bottle a vintage look. Use a coaster to avoid staining the table under it.
  • You can also paint bottles, cover them with decoupage or fill them with coloured sand or ornamental stones.
  • Make candle holders by hollowing out a space for votive candles in apples or pumpkins, like you might have already done for Halloween.
  • For a pretty dining-room table centrepiece, create a floral arrangement in a pot with floral foam and seasonal blooms, then tape toothpicks to the ends of your candles and insert them in the centre.

Staying safe

Candles are useful, warm, old-fashioned and romantic, but they can also be dangerous. Stay safe with these simple rules:

  • Never leave candles unattended — not even for a short time, and not even if they are tea lights or lanterns.
  • Always use a container in which the candle stands up straight.
  • Trim the wick down to about one centimetre (1/2 inch).
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