What are Emergency Candles? (With 8 DIY candle ideas)

Emergency candles are some of the most basic preparedness items that you can buy. Being able to see during an emergency is obviously something that we should all prioritize.

Emergency candles are specifically designed to burn for extended periods of time during emergencies or other times when you may need them. They are typically made of paraffin wax but can be made from a wide range of material. They typically burn for anywhere from a few hours up to several days.

In the past, most people had some old candles thrown in a drawer somewhere with a lighter or a box of matches just in case the power went out. These days it’s getting less and less common.

Make sure you have a few quality emergency candles in any emergency kit that you own!

Emergency Candles

Emergency candles make a great addition to almost any emergency kit that you could put together. When the power goes out, the first thing that you should do is grab a light source and emergency candles fill that role really well.

How Long do Emergency Candles Last?

Trying to figure out how long an emergency candle lasts is often one of the first things that we do when we start looking for one. Luckily, this is the top selling point for emergency candles so they will probably have the burn time written right on the outside of the packaging.

In general, they’re going to claim that they burn for somewhere between 5 hours and all the way out to several days.

Are the times they claim accurate? I’ve found them to be pretty accurate when I’ve used them and I always have a lot more than I need so even if they burned for a little less time it wasn’t an issue.

If you know you’re going to need to burn a candle for 5 hours, don’t just buy one 5 hour candle and assume you’re good…

How Many Emergency Candles Do I Need?

The number of candles that you need will depend on how many rooms you need to light and how long you expect to have to keep those rooms lit.

Most people only need one or two candles going at a time if they’re just trying to keep some light in a room during a power outage. If you need more than that then you’re going to want to buy larger candles with multiple wicks.

You’ll need 5 to 10 candles going at a time to light a typical living room if you want a workable amount of light without having to carry a candle with you everywhere you go.

There are other ways to maximize the light produced by emergency candles. You can get a lot of light out of a candle depending on where you place them and the types of material that you place them in front of.

One of the best ways to increase the light they produce is to put the candle in front of a mirror. This reflects the light back into the room and can increase the light produced several times.

Windows are another great way to increase the light that is refracted back into a room. Place candles in front of them and the light should increase dramatically.

Metal candle holders, glass lamps and placing candles in front of a white wall also increase the light you can get out of a candle.

What Type of Candles Should I Buy?

In a pinch, you can use any candle to light a room in an emergency. It’s just not an ideal situation. Ideally, you’d have candles that are purposely designed to be burned for long periods with minimal scents and colors added.

This is where emergency candles come in. They’re designed to burn for long periods without producing a lot of soot or unneeded scents.

I personally prefer emergency candles that use liquid paraffin and work more like a lantern. They simply can’t be beaten for burn time!

Sterno 115 Hour Plus Emergency Paraffin Candle

The Sterno 115 Hour Plus Emergency Paraffin Candle is a purpose-made emergency candle made for extremely long burn times.

The liquid paraffin fuel is held in a sturdy plastic container. The wick can be extinguished to allow the candle to be used later.

SE Survivor Series 3-Wick 36-Hour Emergency Candle

SE 3-Wick Emergency Candle, 36 Hours Long Burning, Top Layer Soy Wax, Great Light Source Gear for Survival, Camping, Blackout & Peace of Mind
  • LONG-LASTING EMERGENCY CANDLE - The SE Survivor Series 3-Wick 36-Hour Emergency Candle (OD-3WSC100)...
  • DUAL WAX COMPOSITION - This emergency candle features a unique design with a soy wax top layer and a...
  • PORTABLE AND LIGHTWEIGHT - Weighing just 3.6 ounces and measuring 2.75 x 3.13 x 2.75 inches, this...
  • UNSCENTED FOR VERSATILE USE - The SE Survivor Series Emergency Candle is unscented, allowing for...
  • INDOOR AND OUTDOOR READY - This emergency candle is a versatile lighting solution designed for...

The SE Survivor Series 3-Wick 36-Hour Emergency Candle is a great emergency candle if you prefer normal wax style candles. Each wich is designed to burn for 12 hours. You can light all three for more light but this reduced the burn time of the candle to 12 hours.

The candle has a soy wax top layer and a palm wax lower layer. The aluminum container makes it easy to extinguish the candle and save it for later use.

BOLSIUS Straight Unscented White Candles

BOLSIUS White Household Candles 7 Inch Dinner Candlesticks - 45 Count Bulk Pack - 6+ Hours Clean Burning - Premium European Quality - Shabbat Candles - No Palm Oil - 0% Animal Fat - Emergency Candles
  • ILLUMINATE YOUR DECOR WITH ONLY THE BEST - Our dripless candles white in color are a must-have in...
  • CRAFTY MANUFACTURED LONG WHITE CANDLES - Bolsius non drip candles are designed to last longer than...
  • PREMIUM QUALITY DRIPLESS HOUSEHOLD CANDLES - Our long straight household candles are made to provide...
  • LONG BURN CANDLES FOR ALL NIGHT - Bolsius long candlesticks are created from a high-grade wax which...
  • MULTI-PURPOSE CLEAN BURNING CANDLES - Order our pack of 45 no drip candles and use as Christmas...

The BOLSIUS Straight Unscented White Candles are traditional white taper candles that you can find just about anywhere. They have a 7 hour burn time and stand 7″ tall. They come in a box of 45 so you can burn one candle at a time or easily light an entire house.

When they’re burned indoors they consume nearly 100% of their wax making them dripless and efficient.

Hosley Unscented Votive Candles

Hosley's Set of 30 Unscented White Votive Candles
  • PRODUCT: Hosley's Set of 30 Unscented White Votive Candles
  • USES: These are perfect for: everyday use, wedding, events, aromatherapy, birthdays holidays, mood...
  • BENEFITS: With burn times up to 10 hours, these votive candles will last the duration of most...
  • MEASUREMENTS/MATERIAL: Each one measures 1.5"D x 1.5"H and is made from unscented wax.
  • HOSLEY BRAND PRODUCTS: Hosley brand products are made from quality raw materials with minimal...

The Hosley Unscented Votive Candles are traditional votive candles that come in a pack of 30. They claim a burn time of up to 10 hours each and only stand 1 1/2″ tall.

They’re made with paraffin wax and should work well for any normal emergency.

Are Emergency Candles the Best Option for You?

Deciding if emergency candles are right for you is a pretty simple question. The answer is yes. Buy some and keep them in a place that’s easily accessible in the dark.

The real question is are they the best option. That answer is a little different.

I prefer something like the Goal Zero Torch 250 for when the lights go out. In my opinion, something like that is much more suitable for an everyday power outage than candles.

Emergency candles have their place as a last resort, but they probably shouldn’t be your first choice. There are just too many good lighting options available to overlook them for candles.

What Are Emergency Candles Made of?

Emergency candles are made from two things, the wax, and the wick.


Many emergency candles are made from paraffin wax because it’s cheap and readily available with modern manufacturing processes.

Some emergency candles are actually more like mini lanterns than a traditional candle. These use liquid paraffin as fuel and have some of the longest burn times.

Beeswax, soy and other types of waxes are also being added into the mix.

What does this all mean? Not a whole lot to be completely honest. All quality waxes burn for around the same amount of time and produce about the same amount of soot (carbon) when they’re burned.

Don’t listen to the random people that say “paraffin is crap” or “soy is the best” because urn times come down more to quality than anything else. Don’t believe me? You can read what the experts say here.

What can you do with leftover wax? Leftover wax can be melted and re-used. Just find a piece of cord that is 100% cotton and melt the wax around it in a non-flammable container.


Flat Wicks – Flat wicks are usually made from three fiber bundles and are used because they burn consistently and fold into the flame to consume themselves.

Square Wicks – Square wicks are knotted or braided and a stronger than flat wicks. They also curling to the flame and are normally used in candles made of beeswax. They help prevent clogging of the wick.

Cored Wicks – Cored wicks are braided or knotted and have a material in the center to keep them straight. Most of the cores are made of paper or cotton, but zinc and iron are also used.

Can a candle burn without a wick? A candle can’t burn without a wick, because the wax can’t burn until it’s vaporized. When a candle is lit, the wax is melted and vaporized allowing it to burn. Without the wick, a flame would normally just melt the wax and that’s it.

Can you use a toothpick as a wick? A good trick for candles that have a wick that is too short to light is to stick a toothpick into the wax next to the wick. Light the toothpick and the candle will burn fine!

Safety Concerns with Candles

When you’re burning candles, there are several safety precautions you should take.

The top three are:

  • Never leave a burning candle unattended!
  • Never burn a candle on or near anything that might catch fire.
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.

If you follow these simple steps you can reduce the chance of fire by up to 85%!

How to Burn a Candle Safely

Before Lighting

  • Before lighting, trim the wick to ¼ inch.
  • Keep your hair and any loose clothing away from the flame.
  • Use a candle holder designed for use with a candle.
  • Burn candles in a well-ventilated room.
  • Place the candleholder on a stable, heat-resistant surface.
  • Avoid drafts, vents or air currents.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on burn time and proper use.

While Burning

  • Never move a votive or container candle when the wax is liquefied.
  • Don’t burn a candle all the way down.
  • Burn candles at least 3″ from one another. This is to make sure they don’t melt one another, or create their own drafts that will cause the candles to burn improperly.
  • Extinguish a candle if the flame becomes too high.
  • Always keep the candle in sight.
  • Be careful if using candles during a power outage. Flashlights and other battery-powered lights are safer sources of light during a power failure. Never use a candle during a power outage when fueling equipment like a lantern or kerosene heater.
  • Never burn a candle on or near anything that can catch fire.
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.

When Extinguishing

    • Use a candle snuffer to extinguish a candle.
    • Never use water to extinguish a candle.
    • Make sure the candle is completely out before leaving the room.
  • Don’t touch or move the candle until it has completely cooled.

How to Make Your Own Emergency Candles

In an emergency, there are a lot of things laying around the house that can be used as a candle. They usually aren’t as good as a true candle, but they’re better than nothing!

You’ll notice a common theme in a lot of these homemade candles. They use a wick of some kind and oil or wax as the fuel. As long as you have a wick and a fuel, you can pretty much make a candle out of anything.

I’ve found the ideal wick to be 100% cotton butcher string, but almost any flammable material will for if you can’t have any.

Keep in mind, most of these aren’t ideal but they can work if you really need them to.

What Can be Used as a Candle?

Crisco Shortening Candle – Crisco can be used to make a really easy candle that actually lasts nearly as long as a normal candle.

Simply melt the Crisco in a non-flammable container, suspend a 100% cotton cord in the middle to use as a wick and allow the Crisco to cool.

Cut the wick to 1/4″ and light it.

You may have heard that Crisco candles are toxic. This simply isn’t the case. A little digging and you’ll see that this is floating around on some off the wall forums and not a mainstream idea at all.

Tuna Can Candle – Any canned food that’s stored in oil can be used as a quick makeshift candle. Just poke a hole in the top of the can and insert a 100% cotton string to make a wick.

After you’re done, you can still eat the food inside. This should be done within 24 hours of poking the hole in the can.

Butter Candle – To make a candle out of butter, all you need to do is stick a wick through the middle of the butter and light it. The butter will be vaporized and burn just like wax in a normal candle.

Crayon Candles – Crayons can be used as a candle in a pinch. Burn the top of the candle until it lights. The outer wrapper will act as the wick and melt the wax inside. It’s basically an inside out candle.

Coconut Oil Candle – You can make coconut oil candles in pretty much the same way as you would make a Crisco candle. Melt the coconut oil, suspend the string inside, and allow it to cool.

Once it’s cool, cut the wick to 1/4 ” and light it. They’re about just as efficient as the Crisco candle.

Orange Oil Lamp – This is more of an oil lamp than a candle but it’s easy to do and can be done pretty quickly in an emergency.

Cut an orange in half and remove the fruit keeping the center pith (the white lining) in place. Fill it with olive oil and light the pith.

Cheese Wax Candle – Cheese wax can be used to make an easy candle. Just anchor the wick in the bottom of a non-flammable container and press the soft wax down around the wick.

Trim the wick to 1/4″ and light it.

Bacon Grease Candle – A bacon grease candle can be made with old bacon grease and a wick.

To make the candle, melt the grease and suspend the wick in the middle of the grease. Wait for the grease to cool and trim the wick to a 1/4″.

Related Questions

What can I use instead of a candle wick? Homemade wicks can be made from cotton fabric, twine, rolled up newspaper, paper towels, or toilet paper. Nearly any material made of paper or cotton can be used as a makeshift wick. 100% cotton butcher’s string is one of the best wick alternatives you can get.

What kind of candle burns the longest? Wax burns at different rates based on many factors. In general, beeswax candles are the longest burning because of their density and the higher temperatures needed to melt and vaporize the wax. Emergency “candles” that use liquid paraffin wax will last longer than traditional candles.

Can you use yarn as a wick? Yarn can be used as a wick as long as it is 100% cotton. Wicks are better if they are undyed and tightly woven. Loosely woven pieces of yarn aren’t the best as a wick. You can make it better by dipping the yarn into melted wax, removing it, twisting it tighter and allowing it to cool.

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