What's the difference between cotton and wood wicks? | Psalms & Serenity

What's the difference between cotton and wood wicks?

We make both wooden and cotton wick candles.  A question is often asked by our customers, “What’s the difference between the different wicks?”  We love carrying both types of candles; it opens so many new conversations and helps us have something for everyone. Wooden wicks vs. cotton wicks is becoming a booming topic at our craft shows and market events and we would like to share our findings with you! There are quite a few differences that we will go over below.

Wooden wicks are thin slabs or tubes of wood crafted precisely for candle making. They create a beautiful crackling sound but need a bit more attention and maintenance. Cotton wicks are braided cotton strands, dipped in wax and compressed to hold their shape.  Cotton wicks often create lower cost and easier to maintain candles.


Burning Wooden Wick and Cotton Wick Candles

There are indeed right and wrong ways to burn each type of candle, but the number one way to get the best results with either wick is to always burn your candles until the wax has completely melted to each side of the candle glass.  

Lighting and Relighting

Both wooden wicks and cotton wicks ignite and take flame easily upon the first lighting.  However, upon the second and subsequent burnings, the wooden variety will need a bit more care and time.  Cotton wicks are more of a grab and go kind of candle, trim the wick and they will light in 3 seconds, while wooden wicks may take up to 20 seconds to catch fire.

In fact, it may take 2 or 3 tries to relight a wooden wick candle, as they require more time for the fire to penetrate the outer, more charred layers of wood.

Matches vs. Stick Lighters

I have found that this is actually one of the most important differences between using a candle with Cotton versus one with wooden wicks. 

Wooden wick candles are almost entirely impossible to light with a match.  We have found that there just isn’t enough flame or enough time given to you by the length of a match to properly provide fire to a wooden wick.  Even fireplace matches are somewhat ineffective.  We always recommend purchasing a stick lighter if you are thinking about purchasing a wooden wick candle.

Cotton wicks are much easier to light with matches.  Even tiny matches have enough length on them to properly light a cotton wick candle. 

We always recommend a hurricane glass be used in an outdoor setting to increase the life of your candle if you wish to bring the ambiance outdoors. 

Drafts and Wind Gusts

Both types of wick will struggle in a draft or gust of wind.  Burning a candle in a drafty corridor or outdoors will cause the erratic flame to consume more of your candle but will also create more soot and smoke in the process.

Wooden wicks are not recommended in drafty places or for outdoors use, as they are more likely to extinguish under light wind pressure and are more difficult to relight.

Cotton wicks do much better in an outdoor setting but will still struggle and burn faster and more erratic.

Are There Differences in Scent Throw?

We have found that wooden wick candles have a better scent throw when burning.  It is likely because the candle’s wick burns lower and smolders.  This helps warm the wax around the wick instead of just burning it off quickly with a tall flame that is more likely to happen with a cotton wick candle.

With cotton wick candles, a taller flame will likely burn up all your valuable fragrances from your wax quickly. After an intense burn like this or if you have left your candle burning longer than 4 hours at a time, you may notice subsequent burns are actually less scented.  This is a great reason to continue to trim your wicks to ¼” as directed on most candle warning labels and to burn in 1-2-hour increments.

Wooden wicks create a horizontal flame that throws more heat into your candle quicker, so even though it burns slower and lower, a wooden wick candle with heat up your fragrances and creates a scent throw into your room in less time.

Wooden Wick vs Cotton Wick Maintenance

There will always be a small amount of maintenance involved if you want to get the most out of your candles and decrease the amount of soot and smoke they produce. 

While wooden wick candles require more maintenance than cotton wick candles, if you can find the right one it is TOTALLY worth it; this is our favorite wooden wick candle.

Losing your Flame; Wooden Wick Maintenance

The reason we think wooden wick candles require more maintenance is the constant risk of the flame extinguishing before the candle has had a chance to settle in.  It is so important for your candle to stay lit long enough to create a level surface of melted wax up to all edges of the container.  This ensures that future burns will melt to the same edge; it decreases the risk of your candle creating a tunnel through the center of your wax, and allows you to get the most value out of your candle purchase.

Because the risk of losing your flame is greater in a wooden wick candle, this step requires more attention to guarantee your candle stays lit and stays happy.

If your candle does indeed extinguish itself, it may create that tunneling affect as mentioned above.  And of course, the only real way to combat that is to scrape away the excess ridges of un-melted and wasted wax to bring your candle back to level. 

This can, of course, happen to cotton wick candles too.  But if left alone side-by-side, it is more likely to happen to a wooden wick candle.

Trimming Wicks

Most candle makers provide you with trimming information that can be found on the warning label located at the bottom of your candle.  In most cases It’s suggested that your wick be kept at a constant ¼” inch for the optimal performance of your candle. 

Some candles burn quicker or consume candle wax at different rates, so it is always good to burn your candle for 1-2 hours and check how your wick is doing.  

A quarter inch is a good height for both wooden and cotton wick candles.  But trimming each can be a bit different. 

Wooden wicks can be trimmed by pinching the upper most part of the wick where it appears to be splitting apart from the center, removing this part of the wick will decrease flame size, decrease the output of smoke and the buildup of soot. It will, however, provide less ‘kindling’ for your wick to catch fire, so it will be hard to light your candle after trimming.  You can use nail clippers or your fingertips for this step.

Cotton Wicks can also be trimmed by pinching the brittle uppermost part of the burnt wick.  You can use your fingers or a fancy pair of wick trimmers if you would like to keep your hands clean.  Again, this will decrease the height of the flame, the output of smoke and will increase the life (total burn hours) of your candle.

Outdoor vs. Indoor Usage

As mentioned above, cotton wicks are more useful for outdoor themed candles if you are thinking about making or burning candles outdoors, cotton wick offer much more versatility for this use.

Which Wick Burns Longer

Wooden wick candles typically produce a lower, smoldering flame, which will consume your candle at a slower rate and thus burn longer! This of course depends greatly on the correct sized wick for the size of the candle if it’s burned in optimal conditions and when it’s been trimmed properly.

Candles with more than one wick, whether they are wooden or cotton, will also (in most cases) burn at a quicker pace per volume than those with a single centered wick.

Wax leftover at the bottom of a burn candle glass

It should be mentioned, however, that the amount of unused wax in the base of your candle container after you have used every lest bit of wick can tell a story as well. 

Wooden wicks require a larger metal wick stand to hold the wick straight and centered in your candle. This wick stand is twice the height of a typical wick stand in cotton wick candles.

We’ve found that wooden wicks can’t consume up to 1/4" of wax below that wick stand.  Where a cotton wick candle will be almost clean at its base when it has finally finished its life.

Which Wick is More Sustainable?

Wooden wicks have more transparency and options for sustainability.

Wooden Wick Sustainability:

There are a variety of manufacturers and distributors of wooden wicks out there.  And when we first started formulating our line it seemed like every supplier had something completely different.  Some companies glue multiple wooden wicks together for a multi-ply super wick.  Others soak their wood with accelerants for better flame retention. 

But what we have found is that it’s difficult to discern whether or not those glues or accelerants are safe to breathe in as part of a burning candle and they add more issues than they solve.  We have finally found a great supplier that sells raw, untreated wooden wicks that are FSC Certified wood, plus they actually plant a tree for every $100 spent.  (Please note, that this article is not paid for or endorsed in any way by this company. We honestly, love their mission so much and want you to find the best wooden wick for the environment.)

Cotton Wick Sustainability:

There are far less options for organic or sustainably sourced cotton candle wicks.

There are also some companies that add zinc or lead to their braided wicks for a ‘self-trimming’ property’, where the wick barely needs trimmed through the life of the candle. 

There are also companies that create perfectly wonderful pure cotton wicks that are dipped in paraffin wax. This may be a very tiny amount of paraffin entering into your candle and into your air, but it should be mentioned.

Truly, wooden wick candles are my personal favorite.  The depth and purity of the scent throw, the amazing crackling ambiance and the options for sustainability and responsibly sourced materials make wooden wicks a winner in my book.  They are TOTALLY WORTH IT if you can get the hang of burning them in the right environment, for the right amount of time and if you trim your wicks properly. 

The type of wick should not be the only factor when selecting a candle to purchase for your home.  It is important to note what type of wax is being used, the price and the candle’s overall quality need to be factored into your decision.

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