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Wicks

Candles come in all shapes and sizes for almost any occasion imaginable.  You can easily appreciate the different designs and textures of every candle.  However, you may not know that different candles require different wicks.  In order to achieve a slow, clean burn, you must match the right wick with the right kind of wax.

Getting the "right fit"

Unfortunately, there is no "one size fits all" formulate when matching wax with wicks.

In fact, there are more than 100 unique wicks on the market today, both from domestic and imported sources.  To help select the appropriate wick, there are some general guidelines to follow.  For the most part, a high-quality wick is made from a braided fabric, while a lower quality wick is twisted.  Twisted wicks are useful for some applications and are commonly used in birthday candles.

The four main types of wicks include:

Flat Wicks  —  These are the most commonly used wicks.  They are very consistent, flat-plaited wicks that curl in the flame for self-trimming effect.  These wicks are used broadly for taper and pillar candles.  Soutache Wicks are very similar to this style.  They provide a curl and are used for tealight applications.

Square Wicks — These are braided wicks that also curl in the flame.  These are more rounded and a bit more robust than the flat wicks.  They are preferred in beeswax applications and can help inhibit clogging of the wick when there are higher levels of non-combustible material (such as high pigment or fragrance).  These wicks are used most frequently in taper or pillar applications.

Cored Wicks — These are braided wicks with a round cross section and are designed to remain straight while burning.  These wicks contain different core materials — including zinc, cotton and paper — to provide a range of stiffness effects.  These wicks are used in jars, columns, votives and devotional lights.

Specialty and Oil Lamp Wicks — These are specially designed wicks for various applications, including oil lamps and insect-repellent flames.

Questions and Answers about Candle Wicks

Are candle wicks made of lead?

The majority of wicks manufactured today in the U.S. are made of 100 percent cotton – with no metal core. Those few wicks with metal are typically zinc-core wicks. All of these wicks are safe.

Even though the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) determined in 1974 that lead-core wicks do not present a health hazard, the National Candle Association’s members voluntarily agreed to stop using lead wicks. Companies belonging to the National Candle Association make about 95 percent of the candles manufactured in the United States today.

It is possible that a small percentage of imported candles on the market today contain lead-core wicks. However, the National Candle Association and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have taken strong action to remove candles with lead-core wicks from store shelves. This will help ensure that all candles on the market today use safe wicks.

What is the National Candle Association doing to ensure candle wicks are safe?

The National Candle Association supports a ban on lead-core wicks for domestic and imported candles. The candle association’s members – which manufacture almost all of the candles made in the U.S. today – have already voluntarily agreed not to use lead-core wicks.

The National Candle Association is committed to using only safe wicks and supports the removal of any lead-core wick candles from the market.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently sent letters to retailers across the country, telling them not to sell candles containing lead-core wicks.

If a consumer is still worried, how can he or she tell whether a candle has a lead-core wick?

There is an easy way to test whether or not a candle is using a lead core wick. Take a normal piece of white paper with you to the store. Rub the paper on the tip of an un-burnt candle's wick. If it leaves a light grey pencil like mark, it is using a lead core.

A wick that uses a lead core should leave a light grey mark, similar to what a pencil mark would look like. When rubbing the paper on the un-burnt wick, zinc or tin wicks should not leave any mark on the paper.


It is important for consumers to know that wicks made with cotton, paper, zinc, or non-metallic materials are safe.

Why do candle manufacturers use metal wicks?

Zinc or tin wicks are used by some U.S. manufacturers in votive, pillar, tealight and glass jar candles.  Zinc wicks, which have been used safely for 20 years, and the more recent alternative, tin wicks, add extra rigidity to the wick.  This attribute helps the wick remain centered and upright to ensure clean and proper burning.  Extensive research supports the safety of zinc and tin wicks.

Studies show zinc and tin core wicks still give off some lead.  How can this be safe?

Studies show that these trace amounts in zinc or tin core wicks do not present a health concern for consumers.  Research shows that zinc and tin wicks are safe and pass the Environmental Protection Agency's air quality tests.  Even using extremely conservative assumptions, a person would have to burn over 3,000 candles with zinc wicks for four hours a day to exceed the EPA's air quality standard for lead.

Is it safe to burn candles in a house with children?

Safety, including issues such as children’s health, is a top priority for National Candle Association members. That is why our organization adopted a voluntary ban on lead wicks and supports the removal of candles with lead wicks from store shelves.

When used properly, candles are safe. Following are simple steps to ensure candles are used correctly:

  • Keep wicks trimmed to 1/8 or 1/4 of an inch. Remove wick trimmings and do not allow match pieces to fall into the candle.
  • Keep candles away from vents and strong drafts.
  • Never leave a burning candle unattended.
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children and away from pets and anything flammable.

National Candle Association Statement on the Safety of Wicks

The National Candle Association, which represents the vast majority of candle manufacturers and distributors in the United States, supports the removal of any lead-core wick candles from the market.

National Candle Association (NCA) members are committed to using only safe wicks.

Even though the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) determined in 1974 that lead-core wicks do not present a health hazard, the National Candle Association’s members voluntarily agreed to stop using lead wicks. Companies belonging to the National Candle Association make about 95 percent of the candles manufactured in the United States today.

Recent studies, however, indicate that some imported candles may contain lead-core wicks. The National Candle Association strongly urges all manufacturers – both domestic and foreign – to adopt its strict safety standards. The NCA will contact any manufacturer found to be using lead-core wicks and urge it to discontinue the practice immediately.

The majority of wicks made today in the U.S. are made of 100 percent cotton – with no metal core. Those few wicks with metal are typically zinc-core wicks.

It is important for consumers to know that wicks made with cotton, paper or zinc and tin are safe. A consumer can determine if a candle has a lead-core wick by using this easy test:

  • Rub a piece of paper on the tip of an unused metal wick. A lead-core wick will leave a gray pencil-like mark, while zinc or tin will not.

The National Candle Association continues to be at the forefront of candle safety and is working with the CPSC and the American Society for Testing and Materials to ensure all candles are safe.


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