• Sarah S.

Wooden Wicks vs Cotton Wicks

Updated: Apr 2, 2019

We make both wooden and cotton wick candles, so this question is often asked by our customers, “What’s the difference between the different wicks?” We love carrying both types of candles; it opens up 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’d like to share our findings with you! There are quite a few differences that we’ll 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.

We’ve dedicated an entire post as a resource for proper burning techniques of wooden wick candles here.

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’ll 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’ve 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’ve 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. For the amount of time that you’ll need to hold to flame on the wooden wick, there will be so much burnt match debris inside your candle wax that it will become a fire hazard.

We always recommend purchasing a stick lighter if you’re thinking about purchasing a wooden wick candle. Also, your poor singed fingertips will thank you!

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. Photo Credit: T2 Photography

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’re 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’ve found that wooden wick candles have a better scent throw when burning. It’s 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 of your valuable fragrances from your wax quickly. After a really intense burn like this or if you’ve 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 you’re 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’s more likely to happen to a wooden wick candle. Here’s our absolutely favorite cotton wick candle that we make, we always burn this in our studio!

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’s 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’d 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.

Which Wick is More Versatile

If you’re a candle maker, cotton wicks provide SO MUCH MORE versatility. Your scent formulas can be easily tested and edits to the wick size for the vessel are just mostly a matter of increasing or decreasing the size of your wick.

However, if you’re willing to put in more effort to test wooden wicks in your candles, they can be absolutely breathtaking with amazing ambiance and shelf appeal and added value!

Variations in batches of Wood Wicks

Wooden wicks can vary slightly in the density and the thickness of the wood from batch to batch and sometimes that produces a candle that causes the end user difficult issues with relighting, troubleshooting and extinguishing prematurely.

We’re always coming up with new formulas for scents and wooden wicks absolutely always need to be tested several times before we come to a final decision about the wick size. It actually gets to the point you can tell by the lack of flexibility or the absurd rigidity of a wick that it will need to be retested with your scent and wax formula to ensure that batch of wicks will work properly for the end user.

Outdoor vs. Indoor Usage

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

Size and Diameter of the Container

Both cotton wicks and wooden wicks work great for most containers. Choosing which to use for your particular container is only a matter of testing the diameter to make sure your candle burns cleanly to each side, the flame isn’t too small or too big, and if you need to add more wicks to the container.

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’re 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’ve 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 actually 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’ve 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’ve 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. See our Parafin vs soy wax blog here. This may be a very tiny amount of paraffin entering into your candle and into your air, but it should be mentioned.

If you really are against a wooden wick, and aren’t in love with the world of cotton wicks either, there is a third option. Organic Hemp Wick is now on the market. We don’t have any experience with this type of wick as far as performance, but it could be a great option if you’re a maker striving for a purely organic candle, or if you’re a consumer looking for something new.

Reading this you may have concluded that I prefer cotton wick candles to wooden wick.

Truly, after all is said and done 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 shouldn’t be the only factor when selecting a candle to purchase for your home. It’s 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.

Look for candles with any or all of these attributes on the label:

  • pure soy wax or a coconut/soy blend

  • phthalate free

  • non-toxic

  • if it’s a cotton wick, shop for ‘lead and zinc-free’

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