Looking for an inspiring afternoon project that’ll chill you out? Pouring your own scented candles is soothingly simple.
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Between the back and forth to the fridge all day, your crippling Animal Crossing addiction, and all the TikTok dance routines you’ve been practicing, you may be finding it difficult to squeeze in any down time for yourself right now. Oh, what’s that? You’re swimming in free time and actively trying to find some new and productive ways to spend it? Have we got a project for you…
Although DIY scented candle making may not have been on your to-do list before, there’s never been a better time to try and hone a new skill — particularly one that you can use to dabble in aromatherapy amidst the exceedingly anxious era we’re living in. Plus, making your own pleasantly fragrant candles is a lot better for your bank account than splurging on something from Diptyque or Le Labo.
To get you started, we tapped a handful of candle-making experts for tips, tricks, and product recommendations to help get you started. Let’s light ‘er up.
Picking your wax
One of the most critical parts of a successful scented candle is — unsurprisingly — the wax you use. By and large, most regular candles are made of traditional paraffin wax, but there’s also soy wax, coconut wax, and myriad blends of multiple different kinds. According to the candle-pros we spoke to, though, you’re better off sticking to natural, plant-based wax to get the longest-lasting, properly scented, and air quality-friendly candle.
“I don’t suggest any wax that has paraffin as it is not as natural and doesn’t burn as clean as a natural plant based wax blend,” said Heather Beaudoin, founder of Los Angeles-based Tiny Bandit, which produces small-batch artisanal candles. “We buy a proprietary blend in big bulk lot slabs but for the home candle maker you should definitely order flakes.” She recommends ordering these $12 one-pound packs of soy wax flakes from Michaels — enough to make two 8-ounce candles (more on how to melt the wax, add a wick, blend scents, and complete your finished candle in a bit).
Patrick Jones, founder and owner of Outdoor Fellow scented candles, prefers a blend of coconut and apricot wax. “I quickly realized, though, that soy wax doesn’t last very long, doesn’t throw a great scent and was also difficult when it came to creating good looking candles,” he said. “Today we use a blend of coconut and apricot wax that creates a beautiful candle, fills a room with scent, and burns for 40-50 hours.” And while coconut apricot blend wax is a bit hard to come by in flake form, you can get a 5-pound slab of the stuff for just $15 on Etsy.
Buying your wicks
“Ultimately what you want is a wick that produces a steady flame, doesn’t have significant carbon buildup and will generate a wax pool that reaches the sides of the vessel so you get maximum scent throw,” said Jones. And while it’s generally a matter of trial and error — and many DIY candles — to identify the perfect wick for every wax blend, he’s a big fan of ECO wicks or CD wicks, since they perform best with the wax blends he uses for Outdoor Fellow. As for Beaudoin, she recommends using lead-free cotton core wicks. The size doesn’t really matter, but the larger the better (since you can always trim when finished).
Making sense of your scent(s)
Much like Doritos flavors and original Netflix movies, candle scents are a highly personal preference. Maybe you’re into fruity over smokey, or spring-like over autumnal. Maybe you just want your house to smell like clean sheets 24/7. You do you. The beauty of making your own candle is that you have full creative control over what sort of vibe and aroma you want yours to throw.
However, fine-tuning a scent to your liking rarely happens the first time around, and the key to honing a specific scent profile is to test and test and test again with each new candle you make. There are a lot of fragrance companies that make pre-made scents, but you can also use essential oils if you have some you particularly like (though essential oils tend to be much less fragrant when used in candles). Jones highly recommends beginners try pre-made fragrance blends (there are a ton of great options from sellers on Etsy) to start testing the waters on what you like and don’t like. Notably, he also cautions about using too much.
“The general rule for adding fragrance is 1 ounce of fragrance for every 16 ounce of wax,” he said. “One of the common misconceptions is the more fragrance you add, the more powerful your candle will smell. That’s simply not the case. Each wax type has what’s called a fragrance load, meaning the maximum amount of fragrance that the wax can retain. If you go over that amount then it can lead to poor burn characteristics.”
Beaudoin echoes that sentiment that you should be exceedingly judicious about the type and amount of fragrance you’re using. For instance, if you’re going to use an essential oil (like the kind you might use in a diffuser), be sure to check its suggested application amount, since all are different. Also, she notes that fragrance oils that have citrus components can be more flammable and irritant than florals, so it’s important to bear that in mind and read all labels before using.
Choosing your vessel
While you should be rightfully focused on finding the right scent, ensuring your finished candle is Insta-worthy hinges heavily on the sort of container you use. Designer candles come in all manner of glass, ceramic, and even metal vessels, so feel free to use those for inspiration. In fact, you can easily re-use a candle jar or container from one you already have that’s nearing its end.
“If you have burned down candle glass I would absolutely reuse those,” said Beaudoin. “Natural wax candles clean up easily with an old sponge, lots of soap and hot water. Be sure to remove the wick residue thoroughly so your new wick can adhere and anchor to the bottom of the glass.” Jones agrees, that “you can use pretty much any vessel you have at home as long as it can withstand the heat of the flame.” In other words, just make sure you’re not using something too delicate that will burn or crack when exposed to an open flame. “Empty soup cans, old tins, even coffee mugs can all be used! Just make sure you’re following proper safety measures,” he said.
If you’re considering buying a new container, you have about as many different options as you do scent combinations, so it’s really a matter of personal taste and preference. Beaudoin loves the selection available at Glassnow, particularly its stock of recycled blue glass from Spain. There are also lots of wonderful options available on Etsy.
How to make your scented candle
Wax of choice
Fragrance oil(s) of choice
Vessel of choice
A pair of chopsticks
Heat-resistant bowl or pitcher
Stove top or hot plate
Step one: Before you begin, you’ll want to prep your area with all necessary materials, and figure out how much wax you’ll need to fill your chosen container. To do this, fill your container up twice with your chosen wax flakes (if you purchased wax in bulk slab form, carefully use a knife to create flakes), and place those flakes into your heat-proof bowl or pitcher.
Step two: Prepare your container by adding your wick. Ensure it’s totally dry inside, add a dab of super glue to the bottom of the wick’s metal plate, and adhere to the center of container’s bottom. Place a pair of chopsticks on the upper lid to keep the wick suspended in place. Set aside.
Step three: Fill your saucepan halfway with water and bring it to a simmer on the stove or hot plate, and gently lower your heat-resistant container into it. Gently stir until the wax is fully melted (do intermittent thermometer checks — it should heat to around 185 degrees Fahrenheit), and remove from water/heat.
Step four: When the wax cools to 160 degrees (again, checking with the thermometer), add your scent and use the mixing spoon to stir it in. Keep in mind Jones’ advice to add one ounce of fragrance per 16 ounces of wax (e.g., 0.5 ounces for an 8-ounce candle, etc.). Waiting for the wax to cool to the appropriate temperature is critical for proper scent integration, as Jones insists: “One of my rookie errors was pouring the fragrance into the liquid wax at the wrong time. There is a window of time to pour the fragrance into the liquid wax for it to properly bind. If the wax is too hot, the fragrance burns off. If the wax is too cold, the fragrance doesn’t bind well to the wax. Both result in a candle that doesn’t have a good scent throw.”
Step five: Let the wax cool further to about 135 degrees Fahrenheit before pouring it into your vessel. You’ll want to pour slowly (to avoid air creating air bubbles) and avoid the chopsticks/wick.
Step six: Trim the wick so that about a quarter inch is left at the top, and let the candle cool at room temperature for 24 hours before lighting.