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 most of all NOT TO DO if you're ever faced with a paraffin fire, making candles will become as safe as knitting.
Working in relaxed conditions and without being disturbed is essential to ensure optimal safety.
- Setup your workplace according to the recommendations from the relevant pages.
- Don't let children or pets enter your workplace and get in your way. These two peculiar species come equipped with an endless curiosity and, if curiosity won't kill the cat in this case, hot wax all over her fur probably won't be appreciated much... If you want to initiate your children to the art of candlemaking, choose a day when you've got plenty of time and restrict the equipment to the bare minimum needed for the project.
- Once the paraffin has started 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 plenty of room to work at ease. Don't wedge yourself in between the toaster and the coffee machine.
Eventually, you are going to spill hot paraffin. Maybe not today, perhaps not tomorrow but it will happen, next week or next month... guaranteed! Knowing that, a little bit of advice can be useful:
- Paraffin spills can be easily removed from a tiled floor. Let the wax cool then scrape it off with an old knife. Use a soft cloth or some kitchen paper to clean up what remains.
- If your workplace has a vinyl or wooden floor, it is probably a good idea to cover the surface above which you are going to work with a large piece of cardboard taped to the ground (don't use newspapers as they are a genuine 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 waterproof by treatment with wax, used mainly in cooking and to wrap 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 what's left by placing some kitchen paper over it and pressing gently with an iron. The wax will melt and transfer from the piece of clothing to the kitchen paper.
- In most cases, it is recommended to let the wax harden before you try and remove it.
The vast majority of candlemakers use the double boiler method to melt paraffin wax; doing so ensures that the wax never exceeds the water boiling temperature, in other words 212°F.
At this temperature, paraffin is relatively safe (but resist the urge to dip your finger in it "just to see what happens").
But in some cases, and I'm thinking for example of sand candles, you may have to heat your wax to higher temperatures than allowed by a double boiler and use direct heat. Or you may want to use a slow cooker, like many US candlemakers do.
Both methods can potentially heat the wax to temperatures well above 212°F and this is where things can become dangerous.
You have to know that:
- paraffin wax won't warn you by starting to boil like water does. It will instead get hotter and hotter until it reaches the temperature where vapors will catch fire.
- the flash point of paraffin is generally around 392°F but DO NOT RELY ON THIS FIGURE. Wax temperature can skyrocket at a speed you wouldn't suspect!
Even if you do use the double boiler method, always place a thermometer in the wax as soon as it starts melting and leave it there until the end. If you bought a good model protected by a metal frame, the measuring end will always be kept far enough from the walls of your melting pot to allow for a reliable reading of the temperature.
If you are the cautious kind, you certainly already have in your kitchen the following two items:
- a kitchen fire extinguisher (these devices are specially designed for the types of fires that can arise in a kitchen. Whenever possible, use such a model).
- a fire blanket. Because of the amount of heat produced by an oil fire, it is almost impossible to get close enough to a burning frying kettle to put out the fire with its lid. A fire blanket will protect your hands, arms and face from the heat and will give you more time and comfort to smother the fire efficiently and without burning yourself. Make sure you purchase a model made to deal with oil fires; there is another similar model of fire blanket that is too light and not protective enough, meant for other usages.
Should the worst happen, should the paraffin catch fire:
In candlemaking like in many other domains, danger comes when routine settles. Even if you've been making candles for more than ten years, never forget about your safety.
A few more points:
- if hot paraffin drips onto your skin, immediately place the affected area under cold running water.
- keep all sorts of flame away from the melting paraffin. Do not smoke above or near the pan.
- do not even think of using a deep fryer to melt paraffin wax. The oven, traditional or microwave, is never to be used either.
Only a few models of slow cookers have a temperature control system advanced enough to ensure a safe usage. And even in that case, thermostats go bust: always leave a thermometer in melting paraffin.