Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Gel candles can explode, posing a greater-than-usual fire and injury hazard.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2001]
Origins: Yes, gel candles do pose fire and injury hazards beyond those presented by ordinary wax candles, so they should be accorded an extra bit of caution if you're thinking of bringing them into your home. However, as with so many
Contrary to what this
There is a special danger inherent to gel candles, but it has to do with the effect of heat on the containers that house them, not with the gel itself. If the material used to contain the goo is not sufficiently resilient, it can shatter (i.e., "explode") as the concentrated heat of the candle's flame compromises it. The glass containers used to hold these popular fragrance candles are sometimes not made strong enough to withstand the heat they are called upon to contain. Heat makes things expand, and in this case it can cause the glass that houses the gel candles to shatter. There's no mysterious gas that builds up, no strange chemical reaction brought on by dangerous unnamed substances reacting to God-knows-what, just ordinary expansion due to heat. Leave a coffee mug sitting on a hot burner long enough, and you'll see the same
In this manner, a gel candle can explode in someone's hands, resulting in dire burns as the hot gel flows out to coat the victim's extremities. For this reason, it's important not to move either a lit gel candle or one that has recently been extinguished. Extinguish the candle and let it cool, then move it.
Additionally, some lit gel candles have been observed to flare up, producing flames shooting a few inches into the air, but these candles were quickly recalled by their manufacturers (e.g., the 1998 recall of
As for a fire started by a gel candle being "so hot it melted the smoke alarm," such a result wouldn't have anything to do with whatever the candle was made from, but rather with the contents of the home that became fuel for the growing conflagration. Also, that a fire can (and often does) become hot enough to melt a smoke detector does not, as the
That gel candles will explode due to heat expansion shattering their glass containers outward is fact; that they're made of a mysterious chemical that touches off for no reason, with the uncontrolled burning of this substance resulting in immediate flash fires that melt everything in their path in a scant matter of seconds, is pure invention.
Because the heat expansion effect on the glass housings of gel candles poses a real danger, this form of romantic lighting should not be left lit for more than an hour or two. In common with all candles, they should not be allowed to burn unattended (which includes not leaving them lit while you drift off to sleep) or left within reach of a child, even for half a moment. Unattended candles of all stripes have started fires in which lives have been lost, so don't take that caution lightly. As for kids and lit candles, it only takes half a second to cause a lifetime's worth of scars.
If there's a power outage, be careful with the candles you use. Don't use a lit candle to check inside a cupboard or closet (this is a light source that also sets things on fire, remember, such as items hanging in a closet), and certainly never take a lit candle with you to check on what you think might be a fuel leak.
Candles: Use them responsibly, be they gel or wax.
Barbara "waxing poetic" Mikkelson
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the snopes.com logo are registered service marks of snopes.com.