Consider the importance and utility of candles before electricity sparked some 141 years ago. Now consider that significance in the context of 2020 when candles — like Gwyneth Paltrow’s “This Smells Like My Vagina” — sell for $75.
Globally, the candle market accounts for roughly 8.38 billion USD and by 2026 is projected to rise to 13.72 billion. The U.S. alone uses 1 billion pounds of wax to produce its candles, but a lot of that wax is being wasted.
Once a wick has completely burned and no longer catches flame, the candle can no longer burn. What remains is leftover candle wax along the sides and bottom of the jar; Bath & Body Works’ candles are notorious for this. Once a candle melts, that’s it, right? Not exactly.
Instead of throwing it out, you should reuse the candle wax from old candles to make new ones. In a quarantine, it’s a great DIY project that helps you get a little more life out of your favorite candles without having to reach for the wallet.
How to Reuse Candle Wax From an Old Candle
What’s really fun about this DIY project is its level of creativity and variety. You can mix and match different melted waxes from old candles to create new blends like white tea and lavender, black currant and vanilla, or warm tobacco pipe and cedar and suede. You also can pour different colored melted wax into a glass jar for colorful layers.
Choosing the vessel for your recycled candle renders a similar artistry. Perhaps you have a coconut shell lying around or that ceramic piece your kid made in the second grade. I made tea lights using the oyster shells I had shucked at Glidden’s Point when I was researching for another Public Goods article.
Michele Cook of Blaze On Creations (@blazeoncreations) uses beautifully decorated upcycled beer cans from Archetype Brewing in Asheville, NC. The “Cowboy Poet” can, which won USA Today’s Reader’s Choice Award for Best Beer Label of 2020, pairs perfectly with the sandalwood and patchouli blend Cook creates using all-natural soy wax and pure essential oils.
Even the choice of wick you use for your recycled candle can vary. There are standard prewaxed wicks, all natural hemp wicks made with 100% beeswax wicks or wooden wicks that crackle like a campfire when lit.
What You’ll Need
- Leftover candles (a layer of wax is on the bottom and sides, but the wicks no longer burn)
- Old jar, vintage beer can, your grandma’s teacup, an oyster shell, or any container for your new candle (do not use anything that can burn or melt).
- Hot glue gun
- Prewaxed wicks
- Kitchen tongs or tweezers
- Twist ties
- Oven mit
- Double boiler*
- 1. Fill the larger saucepan halfway with water or enough so that when you place the smaller saucepan inside, it does not spill over.
- 2. Bring water to a simmer.
- 3. Place candle wax pieces in smaller saucepan.
- 4. Place smaller saucepan inside larger one.
- 5. Gradually bring to a boil if needed.
- *Use two saucepans, one smaller than the other, to make a double boiler. This method ensures that the candle wax does not scorch or catch fire by transmitting heat through two pans, hence the name “double boiler.” Because the candle wax never directly touches the heat source, this method is safest.
- Place leftover candles on a hot plate or in a double boiler to help the wax melt. You can also scrape out the leftover wax with a butter knife, but the hardened wax tends to be a nuisance.
- While the wax melts, use a hot glue gun and glue the bottom of one prewaxed wick to the jar, can, shell or container that will make your new candle.
- Once the wax completely melts, remove the metal wick with a pair of kitchen tongs (bamboo tongs are easy to clean) or a tweezer. If you scraped the leftover wax out with a butter knife, remove the metal wick before melting the wax.
- Remove debris, such as singed bits and wick fragments, from the melted wax with a fork or spoon.
- Using an oven mit, slowly pour the melted wax into the jar and fill to just below the rim. If the wick looks limp or doesn’t stand up straight, use a pencil, skewer or twist tie to hold it in place.
- Let the wax solidify overnight.
- Cut the wick to 1/8 of an inch from the surface of the wax.
- Light your new candle and enjoy.
*Tip: Always trim candle wicks to 1/8 of an inch every four hours or before each use to extend the life of your candle and avoid what’s called a “mushroom wick” from forming. This shape happens when candle wax does not burn quick enough for the wick. The wick then absorbs the wax and creates a cluster of carbon particles that resembles a mushroom cap. To fix this issue, trim the carbon “cap” with scissors or a nail clipper and carefully straighten the wick with your fingers or a tweezer.
Not all candles are made of the same ingredients, which means not all candles have the same boiling point levels. The essential oils listed on the back of a 12-pack of votive candles from the 99 cents store are not the same as those in Public Goods’ candles. Keep that in mind when melting multiple waxes (or any wax for that matter) together to make a candle. Alcohol, an ingredient in some candles, can catch fire. Never leave a hot plate, stove, or glue gun unattended.
While you marvel at your new candle, remember that this is a recycled candle. The color of the wax may change, especially if you are mixing different waxes. Results will vary when you mix paraffin and soy, for example.
Another drawback is that the scent might not be as strong. You can add a few drops of your favorite essential oils to counter this, but plan accordingly because different types of waxes (soy, paraffin) have different melting temperatures. Miscalculations will evaporate the essential oil.
Still, candles — with their dancing flames and the flickering shadows they cast on walls — are simple pleasures of peace and tranquility.
Another way you can reuse candle wax is by cutting it up into small cubes and placing it in a wax warmer. Home improvement handyman Bob Vila lists this and a dozen other ways you can reuse old candles.
In Our Idiot Brother (2011) , stoner slacker Ned (Paul Rudd) changes career paths and begins making recycled candles with his friend, Billy:
Ned: Anyway, what I was saying though, is that people recycle cans, they recycle papers, you know…why not, why not candles? I say, we put a bin out, and let people bring their old drippings at their convenience.
Billy: It’s like those bags that say, “I used to be a plastic bottle.” We can have a bin that says. “I used to be another candle!”
Ned: That’s a great idea. Yeah. And then when they bring those candles, we put them in another bin that says, “I used to be another candle!”
Billy: Yeah… and eventually we can just have one that says, “Trust me, I used to be a lot of candles!”
Through comedic license, this scene sheds light on the sustainability of candles. Perhaps more importantly, the conversation helps us appreciate the cycle of repurposing.
Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.
From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.