Remove the lid, light the wick, set it down. Following these steps will certainly result in a lit candle. Yet, without proper wick care, they may also lead to excess soot, wax tunneling, and a flickering flame. Of course, basic wick care begins with keeping your candle wicks trimmed, so just how long should a wick be on a candle?

Here’s the TL;DR:

A wick on a candle should be ⅛ to ¼-inch (0.32 to 0.64 cm) above the wax for an even, clean burn with a steady flame height. Trim your wick roughly every four hours of burn time, and ensure you trim the wick evenly. For a candle’s first burn, trim the wick to ¼-inch (0.64 cm) before lighting it.

Maintaining your candle wicks will lead to a cleaner and safer burn. But did you know you can possibly squeeze an extra 25% of life out of a candle simply by maintaining proper wick length? Keep reading to learn why wick height matters and how to fix a long or short wick.

Why Candle Wicks Should Always Be ⅛–¼-Inch Long

…Well, it’s mainly so your candles don’t wind up looking like this:

Surprisingly, the ⅛–¼-inch recommendation isn’t just some arbitrary guideline that Big Candle agreed to slap on a label to avoid lawsuits. In fact, there’s actually quite a bit of logic (and science) behind the length of a wick and how the candle burns.

Now, there are three main reasons candle experts recommend this wick length:

A Controlled Flame Height

A “healthy” flame height for a candle is roughly 1⁄2–2 inches (1.27–5.08 cm). The ideal flame height largely depends on the size of the candle. Smaller candles (like votives) are closer to ½ inches, while larger candles (such as pillars) top out closer to 1–2 inches.

A ⅛–¼-inch candle wick is likelier to have a steady, controlled flame. 

If the candle wick is any longer, the candle will “burn hot,” which means the wick melts the wax much hotter and quicker than usual. Not only does this reduce the overall lifespan of the article, but it can also cause flame flickering, shatter the glass, and even create a fire hazard.

For the record, yes and yes. Candles do shatter, which was precisely why Mainstays recalled over one million of its candles in 2023. And candles do cause fires and are responsible for 2% of all home fires.

Less Soot + Black Smoke

A candle with an unusually large flame could also lead to something called “incomplete combustion.” In other words, the candle’s flame absorbs the wax more quickly than the flame can burn it. 

The result is black smoke coming from the candle and a powdery black residue (soot) along the candle’s inner edges. 

Now, according to experts this soot isn’t necessarily “dangerous” to breathe in small amounts. But it could cause some mild respiratory issues if you directly inhale it. So by maintaining your candle wicks, you can help to ensure your candles always burn “clean.”

A More Even, Slower Burn

Perhaps the most important benefit to maintaining your candle wick length is its impact on a candle’s lifespan — extending it by up to 25%! 

The explanation is quite simple, actually. If a candle always has the perfect wick length and can pool to the edges with each burn, it can utilize all of its wax (i.e., it doesn’t tunnel).

What Happens if Your Wick Isn’t the Right Length

A candle with a mis-sized wick will generally still light and work. Though, that may not happen if your too-short wick becomes buried in the hardened wax or your too-long wick burns so hot that it shatters the glass.

candle wick length example comparison

However, here’s what could happen if your candle wick isn’t as long as it should be:

Candle Wick Is Too Short

When a candle’s wick is too short, it’ll begin the process of “tunneling.” Tunneling is when a “tunnel” begins burning from the top of the candle and down because of an eternally dull flame. What’s left is a ridge of wax forming around the glass interior.

The weak flame only burns the wax in the candle’s center rather than pooling out to the edges. If left unfixed, this waxy ring could melt during a future burn. This extra burned wax will raise the height of the pooling, sometimes drowning or “burying” the wick in the process.

A short-wicked candle typically won’t burn correctly. It may also require more maintenance to continue using (i.e., digging out yet another buried wick).

A candle with a wick that’s too short could:

  • Burn unevenly and begin tunneling (the wax pool won’t extend to the glass edges)
  • Create a small, weak flame (appears dimly lit and doesn’t melt the wax effectively)
  • Extinguish itself without melting all the wax
  • Appear “drowned” or “buried” in the wax

How To Fix a Candle Wick That’s Too Short

To fix a candle wick that’s too short, you’ll first need to determine just how buried or drowned the wick is. Start by trying to light the wick with a lighter or a match.

If the wick can catch a flame:

  1. Use a lighter to light the wick.
  2. Allow the candle to burn for about 20–30 minutes. 
  3. Blow out the flame once some of the wax has melted.
  4. Pour the pooling wax out of the candle and onto a paper plate. (Heat warning.)
  5. Light the wick again. After pouring out the pooled wax, the wick should poke out more than before.
  6. Allow the candle to burn until the wax reaches the edges before extinguishing it.

If the wick can’t catch a flame:

  1. Use a hair dryer, lighter, or heat gun to heat the wax around the wick.
  2. Pour the pooling wax out of the candle and onto a paper plate. (Heat warning.)
  3. Light the wick again. After pouring out the pooled wax, the wick should poke out more than before.
  4. Allow the candle to burn until the wax reaches the edges before extinguishing it.
You can also scoop the wax out with a spoon or butter knife or soak it up with a paper towel.

Candle Wick Is Too Long

When a candle’s wick is too long, you’ll notice an unusually large or unstable flame that burns much faster than normal. As a result, the candle may release small plumes of black smoke and leave behind black soot on the glass as it burns. 

An oversized wick may also take on a new, distinct shape, especially if you burn the candle for four consecutive hours or longer.

The very tip of the wick will seemingly sprout a rounded, mushroom-top shape — also dubbed the “mushroom wick.” This mushrooming wick is little more than a build-up of carbon particles resulting from a wick that absorbs more wax than it can burn. 

Here’s an example of a candle with a mushrooming wick:

mushroom wick on candle

As a result, a long-wicked candle (including those with mushroom wicks) will have a much shorter lifespan than those with a trimmed wick. It’s also not unusual for mushroomed wicks to release some of their sooty debris back into the melted candle wax.

A candle with a wick that’s too long could:

  • Produce an unusually large flame
  • Lead to a flickering flame
  • Burn quickly and unevenly
  • A shorter lifespan
  • Create a lot more black smoke and soot
  • Result in a “mushroom-shaped” wick (the wick and wax aren’t burning at the same pace)

How To Fix a Candle Wick That’s Too Long

To fix a candle wick that’s too long, you’ll need a candle wick trimmer, which is basically a ridiculously long pair of thin scissors. 

A wick trimmer has two distinct bends — one at the handle and another near the tip. This design allows you to lower the trimmer into the candle to cut the wick while also collecting and removing any excess soot at the tip of the wick.

You could also use a pair of regular scissors or nail clippers in a pinch if you don’t have an actual wick trimmer.

Here’s how you’d trim a candle wick that’s too long:

  1. Make sure the candle is at room temperature or cooler. Seriously, don’t attempt to trim a recently or currently lit candle.
  2. Lower your cutting instrument down into the candle.
  3. Trim the wick to roughly ⅛–¼-inch above the wax and as straight as possible.
  4. After you clamp down on the trimmer or clipper, keep it clasped shut as you pull it back out of the glass. This allows you to hold onto the wick debris instead of sprinkling it into the candle wax accidentally.
  5. Discard the wick debris in the garbage can once you’re confident it’s 100% cooled.

Generally, you should trim your candle wicks after every four hours of burn time. However, it doesn’t hurt to get into the habit of trimming the wick before every burn session.

How Long Should a Wick Be for the First Burn?

A wick should be about ¼-inch-long (0.64 cm) for the first burn. You should also keep the candle lit long enough for the wax to melt to the edge of the glass to prevent tunneling. Generally, this takes about one hour per inch (in diameter). A 4-inch candle should burn for about four hours on its first burn.

Some candle brands pre-trim their candle wicks, meaning they come essentially ready to light. However, more likely than not, you’ll need to trim your wicks with a wick trimmer or scissors before the first burn to maximize the candle’s lifespan.

Read my article How To Stop a Candle From Tunneling [11 Must-Try Methods] to learn how to prevent tunneling and how to fix it.

Final Thoughts

The candle wick is easily the most forgotten piece of candle care. However, it’s also arguably the most simple. The best way to extend the lifespan of your candles is by allowing the candle to burn to the edges on the first burn. Trim off any mushrooming wicks and maintain a wick that’s always ⅛–¼ inches long.