When you hear wax, most people think of candles. Yeah, we know that wax is the major component of candles – but that isn’t all there is to it. There are different wax types, each with different characteristics and flammability ratings. Paraffin wax is the most common type of wax; this is the type of wax commonly used in making candles.
Candles have been helping Americans for ages, helping us set our space with a luxurious aroma and adding a cozy vibe to homes. But how safe is having candle wax or any other type of wax in your home? Is wax flammable?
Is Wax Flammable?
The short and direct answer to this question is yes. Wax is flammable. It has a very high ‘flash point’ – the temperature the wax will heat to before catching fire. This high flash point means wax will not ignite easily; it can burn, but not as easily as other flammable substances.
What Types Of Wax Are There?
Wax comes in different types, the most common being paraffin wax, made from petroleum. Paraffin wax is considered one of the safest because of its high melting point and low flammability level. Beeswax, gel wax, and soy wax are other common types of wax, each with its unique properties.
Regarding flammability, beeswax is even less flammable than paraffin wax; it has a much higher melting point. Even soy wax and gel wax have a higher melting point than paraffin wax and are much less flammable.
Can Wax Catch Fire?
Wax products, including candles, crayons, and some cosmetics, can catch fire, but not easily – they will only catch fire if misused. Paraffin wax, for instance, made in making candles, can melt and vaporize, at which point it becomes very combustible.
This is why the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) defines wax as combustible rather than flammable. This is because wax has a flash point above 100oF and will only burn or catch fire in the right circumstances.
Generally, wax can ignite if it is heated at temperatures as low as 392oF (200o Celsius), provided it is pure. However, if the wax has additives, the additives will likely push the wax’s ignition point up. Wax with additives usually has a flash point of about 480o Fahrenheit (290o Celsius).
While we have established that wax is flammable – it is more complex than it seems. Wax’s ability to burn hinges on various factors, including the wax type, temperature, and oxygen levels. These three factors are crucial in determining whether that particular wax will catch fire.
Is Paraffin Wax Flammable?
Paraffin wax is flammable but needs to be heated enough and changed from solid to vapor to ignite. Since paraffin wax is usually in a solid state, it will take a certain temperature to melt it to vapor. However, in its gaseous state, paraffin wax will mix with oxygen and can burn or sustain a fire.
But, if you store your paraffin wax safely, it does not qualify as a fire hazard – only potentially. Moreover, paraffin wax does not exactly have a low melting point, although it may soften slightly in direct sunlight. Nevertheless, it would take a scorching sun to melt paraffin to the point where it catches fire.
Paraffin wax is often used in making candles, and a lit candle is undoubtedly a fire hazard. However, these risks are more because of the naked flame than the wax itself. The important thing to note is to ensure the candles are securely placed (not likely to fall) and away from combustible materials.
If paraffin wax (or any other) does catch on fire, you should never use water; it will likely worsen things. Instead, blow out the candle or put a lid over it to extinguish the fire, provided it is still minor.
Is It Possible For Candle Wax To Explode?
Candle wax can explode, but the chances of that happening are slim. If candle wax does explode, it most likely isn’t because of the wax but the impurity in the wax. For a candle to burn, it needs fuel, which is the wax, oxygen, and heat, with the wick acting as a catalyst.
Only the upper part of the candle is exposed to oxygen when you light a candle. Therefore, the fire slowly burns down; at this point, the chance of the candle wax starting a fire is minimal. However, it is possible to create a wax explosion by spraying melted wax in fine droplets over a flame; never try this.
During a Thanksgiving celebration, my kids tried spilling some melted wax from the dinner table into the fireplace. It wasn’t a beautiful sight. So, don’t try this, and don’t allow your kids near candles, either! If you’ve ever dealt with restless kids who can’t keep their hands to themselves, you will understand how quickly a situation can turn dangerous.
While candle wax can explode, you should know that it is abnormal if it does. This is because the candle has no component or compound that can cause it to explode. This means other factors are at play, such as explosive impurities present in the candle wax.
However, candle fire can cause an explosion of some sort, provided some conditions are met. For instance, when melted wax combines with water, the candle can splatter into the candle jar, thus breaking or exploding.
Can A Candle With Fragrance Oil Start A Fire?
Usually, a candle with fragrance oil shouldn’t catch or start a fire. However, there are exceptions.
For instance, when there is too much fragrance oil in a candle, it makes it unstable. As such, the wax will become frothy and affect the stability of the fire when you light your wick.
I had had a romantic dinner turned into a disaster when I used a candle like this. So, hear me out when I say you must be careful when purchasing scented candles. I know we all need and buy them, but a little caution can’t hurt, right?
In candles with excess fragrance oil, the oils can soak the wick and burst into flames when lit. The standard and generally-accepted fragrance load (fragrance oil-to-wax ratio) is 6–10%. If you make your scented candles, you need to take note of this and the recommended safe percentages of oil per mixture.
Anything higher is unsafe and puts you at risk, regardless of the flashpoint of the fragrance oil. Furthermore, fragrance oils that produce highly flammable vapor can cause your candle to start a fire, especially when used in excess.
Therefore, we advise you to carefully use candles with fragrance oils like pear drops and essential oils like tea tree.
Can Wood Finishing Wax Catch Fire Easily?
Wood finishing wax is one of the most popular types of wax. It is used to coat and protect the outer surface of the wood and beautify it. It is usually used on interior furniture where a hard clear coat isn’t required.
Wood finishing wax is highly flammable and requires extra caution when using or disposing of it. It contains petroleum and solvent distillates such as naphtha and hydrotreated light, making it highly flammable. In addition, when the wax dries, these substances remain behind to protect the wood; if exposed to flame, it will catch fire.
Although it is unlikely, finishing wax can catch fire from a spark. But, it is important to note that finishing wax is not self-igniting – meaning, you need to set it on fire for it to burn.
That means finishing wax probably won’t self-ignite if you leave it alone, even in high temperatures. But, under high temperatures, the wax is already heated such that it only needs a tiny spark to cause a big fire.
Is wax flammable? Yes, in the right conditions, wax is flammable. There are different types of wax: beeswax, paraffin wax, candle wax, wood finish wax, and more.
Each type of wax has unique properties that make it either flammable or otherwise. Generally, however, wax should be considered flammable, as it can cause a fire under the right conditions.