Candlemaking is not a dangerous hobby but, like all activities that involve the use of a heat source, it is essential to know some elementary safety measures.
Once you know and understand the risks linked to the activity, the different ways to reduce them and the things to do and NOT TO DO if you face a paraffin fire, making candles will become as safe as knitting is.
Working in relaxed conditions and without being disturbed is essential to ensure optimal safety.
Arrange your working space as explained in the article titled Your workplace.
Don't let children or pets enter your workplace and get in your way. These two weird species come equipped with an endless curiosity and, if curiosity won't kill the cat in this case, hot wax all over the fur won't be appreciated much... If you want to initiate your children to the art of candlemaking, choose a day whare you've got plenty of time and limit the equipment to the strict minimum needed for the project.
Once the paraffin has begon to melt in the double-boiler (or the slow cooker), DON'T LEAVE THE ROOM, whatever happens. Let the phone ring, the dog bark and turn off TV. If you really need to walk away, EVEN if you think it's just for a short moment, turn off the heat source.
Give yourself enough room to work at ease. Don't wedge yourself in between the toaster and the coffee machine.
You are going to spill hot paraffin. Maybe not today, perhaps not tomorrow but it will eventually happen, next week or next month... guaranteed! Knowing that, a little advice can be useful:
Paraffin spills can be easily removed from a tiled floor. Let the wax cool, scrape it off with an old knive use a soft cloth to clean up the remains.
If your workplace has a vinyl or parquet floor, it may be a good idea to cover the surface above which you're going to work with a large cardboard plate taped to the ground (don't use newspapers as they create a slipping hazard) or a large square of leftover carpet or any non slip flooring.
Generously cover your pouring area with waxed paper (a paper that has been made moistureproof by treatment with wax, used especially in cooking and for wrapping food for storage). This will allow you to reuse the wax if you ever "miss" the mold.
Removing wax from clothing is a pain in the ear. Whenever possible, wear old clothes or an apron when you work with wax. Avoid ample clothes that can potentially knock off your molds - or worse, your double-boiler - or hang in the wax without you noticing. If you spill wax on your clothes, let it cool and harden before you try to remove it. Then scrape off as much as possible and remove the residue by placing a paper towel over it and pressing it with an iron. The wax will melt and transfer from the cloth to the paper towel.
In most of the cases, it's best to let the wax harden before you try and remove it.
Lots of candlemakers use the double-boiler method to melt paraffin. This way, paraffin should never exceed the water boiling temperature, in other words 100°C (212°F).
At this temperature, paraffin is relatively innocuous (but don't put your fingers in it "just to see what happens").
But in some cases (for example when making sand candles), you'll need to melt you paraffin on direct heat. Or you can choose to use a slow cooker (better known as the Presto Pot), like many candlemakers who live in the United States do.
Both methods can potentially heat the wax to a temperature above 100°C (212°F) and this can be dangerous.
You need to know that
paraffin won't warn you by starting to boil, like water does. It will just get hotter and hotter until the moment when the vapors catch fire!
the flash point of paraffin is round 375°F (190°C), depending on the formula used, but DON'T TRUST THIS FIGURE. Paraffin can vary in temperature at a speed you wouldn' suspect!
Even when using a double-boiler, ALWAYS put a thermometer in the wax from the very beginning of the melting process and leave it in there. If you purchased a good model, protected by a metal frame, its alcohol bubble will always be far enough from the sides of the melting pot to allow for a reliable temperature reading.
Even for a short time, NEVER leave the melting paraffin unattended.
If you're the cautious kind, you probably have already one or both of these objects in your kitchen:
a kitchen fire extinguisher (these devices are made specially for the type of fire that can arise in a kitchen. Whenever possible, use such a model)
a fire blanket. An oil fire produces a amount of heat that should not be underestimated; a fire blanket is the best tool to extinguish such a fire while protecting your hands, arms and face and avoiding serious burns. The "comfort" it provides will make it much easier for you to put off the fire.
Both items are generally available in DIY stores. If not, check the phone directory in the section 'fire prevention'
If the worse happens, if the paraffin catches fire:
Don't panic! I know it's quite easy to say but if you remember just ONE thing if it ever happens, let this one thing be the following: What you will do (or won't do) in the next 30 seconds will be decisive for your own survival and that of your home!
WHATEVER HAPPENS, don't throw water on the flames to try and extinguish them! The following pictures illustrate what happens when you pour a simple glass of water on a burning fryer:
Do you want this to happen in your kitchen or workplace???
Immediatly turn off the heat source
Don't try to move the melting pot or double-boiler. Remember that the container is probably as hot as what's inside. All that you'll reach by moving it is 1) inflict yourself third grade burns on the hands, 2) drop the pan full of burning paraffin; 3) because of that, help the fire spread to the whole room and, probably, the whole house.
If you have a fire blanket available, it's time to use it. Remain calm when you use it and remember the instructions (instructions should be read before you actually need to follow them). Cover the burning pan with the blanket, this should put off the flames in no time.
No fire blanket? Humidified (not wet) kitchen towels can also be used to cover the burning pan. Of course, if the pan has a lid, it will do as well but this will force you to move your arm and hand above the flames.
Do not hesitate to call the fire department. Remember you're not Superman. But don't panic either.
When the fire is extinguished, don't touch the pan before at least three hours.
Like in many other situations, danger comes when routine settles. Even if you've been making candles for ten years or more, never forget about safety.
A few more points:
if you spill hot paraffin onto your skin, the first thing to do is to flush with cool (not cold) running water.
keep any flame away from melting paraffin. Don't smoke above or in the vicinity of your melting pan.
don't even think of using a deep fryer or fondue kettle to melt paraffin. The oven, traditionnal or microwave, is never to be used!
Only selected models of slow cookers have a temperature control unit that's reliable enough. But even then, temperature control units DO fail eventually, so always leave a a thermometer in the paraffin.
Candlemaking is not a dangerous hobby but it is essential to know some elementary safety measures