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How does a candle burn?


What is the science behind how candles work?

1724 day(s) ago

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BobToday
Candles are made of three distinct parts: a fuel source, a container, and a wick. In most candles, the container and the fuel are one and the same. Sometimes the container can be made of glass. This is true of candles that use a gel as a fuel source. Traditional candles, however, use one of many sorts of wax. A common type of wax used in candles is called paraffin. It is derived from crude oil.

The wick of a candle is a string or twine that is embedded lengthwise in the fuel source, from top to bottom. Wicks are commonly made of glass fiber or other super-absorbent material. The wick must be absorbent and have a strong capillary action to make the candle work. It has to be able to pull in the heated, liquefied fuel and make it rise to the top.

To make a traditional candle, some of the wax is heated so it liquefies and the wick is soaked in it. The wick is then inserted into the center of a mold that is filled with the wax. A portion of the wick extends from the top so it can be lit. When the wax cools it is removed from the mold. When a candle is used, the wick lights easily since it was soaked in the wax. As the wick burns down, the top of the candle around the wick begins to melt. As the wax melts, it feeds into the absorbent wick to keep it alight. The actual wick burns very slowly because the fire is primarily sustained by the wax. It is not the liquid wax, though, that is burning. The wax closest to the flame vaporizes and gives off a combustible gas. It is mostly this gas that burns. When the wax is vaporized, the released gas actually cools the wick to keep it from burning too much. It is possible to burn solid and liquid wax also but it requires temperatures much greater than can be created from the flame of a wick.


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