Why Did My Tealight Candle Catch On Fire?

What are Tealight Candles?

Tealight candles are a type of small wax candle that sits inside a thin metal tin or cup. They get their name from their teal blue colored tins, though tealights can come in tins of various colors. Tealights are approximately 1-2 inches tall and 1 inch in diameter. The metal tin helps protect and contain the candle while it burns.

Tealights have a short burning time, usually lasting 3-6 hours. Their small size and portability has made them popular for a variety of uses. Tealights are commonly used for decoration, whether used to create ambiance, used on the table at restaurants, or during special events and holidays. Their small size also makes them convenient to take camping or use during power outages when emergency lighting is needed.

Tealight Construction

Tealight candles have a very simple construction that contributes to how they burn. The main components are the wax, the metal tin, and the wick.

The wax used in tealights is typically a blend of paraffin wax and stearic acid. Paraffin wax is derived from petroleum, while stearic acid is derived from animal fat or vegetable oils. The blend creates a wax with a melting point around 130-185°F to allow the wax to liquefy into a pool as it burns.

The metal tin serves as the container for the wax and comes in different shapes like rounds or squares. The tins are designed to be thin to transmit heat through the metal into the wax pool during burning. Most tealight tins are made from aluminum which has good thermal conductivity.

The wick is typically made of cotton that has been braided or twisted together. It runs through the center of the wax pool and sticks out the top in order to be lit by a match or lighter. The wick material and thickness are designed to provide the proper capillary action to draw melted wax up through the wick during burning.

How Tealights Burn

Tealight candles burn through a process that involves the melting point of the wax, capillary action drawing the liquid wax up the wick, and heat transfer.

The wax used in tealights has a low melting point, allowing it to liquefy once the candle is lit. As the wax melts, capillary action causes the liquid wax to travel up the cotton wick. This wicking process brings the liquid fuel to the flame so it can continue burning.

The heat of the flame melts the solid wax into liquid form. This liquid wax is then drawn up the wick by capillary action. As the wax vaporizes at the flame, the wax releases energy that helps sustain the flame. This energy transfer from the wax to the flame allows the candle to keep burning once lit.

Understanding how tealights burn through the melting of wax, wicking, and heat transfer helps explain what’s happening inside the candle to keep the flame going while there is still wax fuel available.

Common Causes of Tealight Fires

There are a few common causes of tealight candles catching fire unexpectedly:

Burning Too Long

Tealight candles are designed to burn for 4-6 hours. If left burning longer than that, the wax can overheat and ignite the metal cup holding the candle. This can cause the flame to flare up suddenly.

Placement Near Flammable Materials

Tealights generate heat as they burn. Placing them too close to flammable materials like paper, fabric, or dried flowers can lead to those items catching fire.

Knocked Over While Lit

If a tealight candle gets knocked over while still burning, the flame can spread quickly. The melted wax can act as an accelerant. This is especially dangerous on surfaces like wood, carpet or tablecloths.

Preventing Tealight Fires

The best way to prevent a tealight candle from catching fire is to take precautions when using them.

Always extinguish tealight candles fully before leaving them unattended. Make sure the wick is no longer glowing or smoldering. Never leave a burning tealight unattended.

Use fireproof or heatproof holders and plates underneath tealights. Glass, metal and ceramic are ideal materials that can withstand high temperatures. Avoid using flammable materials like wood, plastic or paper under tealights.

Follow all manufacturer guidelines for safe usage when burning tealight candles. This may include instructions on burn times, proper ventilation, placement on heat resistant surfaces and more. Do not burn tealight candles near flammable materials or leave unattended.

What to Do If a Tealight Catches Fire

If you notice a tealight candle catching fire, it’s important to take quick action to extinguish the flames before they spread. Here are some tips on what to do if a tealight candle catches fire:

  • Smother the flame with a tight fitting lid or plate. By cutting off the oxygen supply, you can quickly put out the fire.
  • Use baking soda to extinguish the flames. The sodium bicarbonate reacts with the fire to smother it.
  • Call the emergency services right away if the fire is spreading out of control. Fires can quickly get dangerous, so don’t try to battle a large blaze yourself.

Acting quickly to smother a flaming tealight can prevent major fire damage. But if the fire grows too large, get to safety and let the fire department handle the emergency response.

Fire Risks of Tealights

While tealight fires are usually small and contained, there are several potential fire risks associated with them:

  • Burns – If the flame flares up or someone knocks over a burning tealight, hot wax can spill and cause burns to skin.
  • Property damage – Tealights placed too close to flammable materials like curtains, tablecloths, plants or decorations can ignite those items and lead to property damage.
  • Injury – Knocking over a tealight can result in falls or cuts from broken glass. Fires started by tealights can also lead to smoke inhalation or other injuries.

The fire risks associated with tealights tend to increase around holidays when more tealights are in use. Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve are times when extra care should be taken with tealight placement and supervision.

Compared to taper candles, pillars, votives and other candle varieties, tealights pose a relatively high fire risk. Their small size makes them easy to overlook, their metal cups transfer heat readily, and their wax pool is shallow which allows the flame to more easily make contact and ignite the surrounding material. Proper precautions are recommended when using tealights.

Fire Safety Tips

When using tealights or any other candles, it’s important to follow basic fire safety guidelines to prevent accidents and injuries.

Some key tips for candle safety include:

  • Keep candles away from anything flammable like curtains, fabric, paper, etc. Leave at least 12 inches of space.
  • Never leave a burning candle unattended. Always blow it out if you’re leaving the room.
  • Use candle holders made of non-flammable materials like glass, metal or ceramic. Avoid plastic holders.
  • Place candles on a stable, level surface. Don’t put them near edges where they could get knocked over.
  • Trim wicks to 1⁄4 inch before lighting to avoid high flames.
  • Make sure candles are completely extinguished and cool before disposal.
  • Consider using battery-operated flameless candles which don’t have a live flame.

For tealights specifically, only burn them in proper tealight containers, not makeshift holders. Place the container on a heat-safe platter or plate to catch melted wax. Keep away from drafts that could blow the flame out and reignite the wick unexpectedly. Always supervise lit tealights and extinguish before leaving the area.

Following basic precautions will help ensure candle safety and prevent fires or other accidents when using tealights or regular candles.

Alternatives to Tealights

If you’re concerned about the fire risks of tealight candles but still want to enjoy their cozy ambience, there are safer options to consider. Here are some popular alternatives to traditional tealights:

Battery-Operated Candles

Battery-operated candles provide the flicker and glow of real candles without an open flame. Many are designed to look just like tealights and fit in tealight holders. They turn on and off with a switch or remote control. Battery-operated candles last for up to 200 hours on a set of batteries, so you don’t have to worry about them burning out. They’re safe around kids and pets.

Flameless Candles

Flameless candles use LED lights to mimic the look of a real flame. They provide a very realistic flickering effect without any fire risk. Flameless tealights are widely available and fit perfectly into tealight holders. Most flameless candles run on batteries and will last for years before needing to replace the batteries. They produce no smoke, ash, heat, or dripping wax.

Other Small Candle Options

If you still want the ambience of real wax candles but in a smaller, safer size, there are options like votive candles or mini pillar candles. These give you real candlelight on a smaller scale. Just be sure to keep them in proper candle holders and away from flammable materials. Sturdy votives and pillars are less likely to tip over than tealights.


Tealight candles can catch fire due to a few common reasons. If the wax pool reaches the rim of the metal cup, it can ignite the whole wax pool as the wax overflows. Putting tealights near flammable materials like paper or fabrics can also lead to fire, as these materials may ignite if they get too close to the flame. Drafts and breezes can make tealights burn unevenly and flare up. Lastly, if the wick is allowed to become too long, this gives more surface area for the flame to grow too large and get out of control.

Some tips to prevent tealight fires include keeping them on fireproof surfaces, watching them closely, trimming the wicks, and not placing them near drafts or flammable objects. It’s also critical to never leave burning tealights unattended. Make sure you extinguish tealights before leaving a room or going to sleep. For added safety, consider using battery-operated flameless candles instead.

In general, exercise caution with all open flames. Keep candles away from children and pets. Always have a plan to quickly extinguish the flame if needed – keep baking soda, a fire extinguisher, or water nearby. Notify others in your home when candles are burning. Stay alert to potential fire hazards to protect your family and home.

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