If you love candles, chances are that you’re familiar with the wide variety out there. Candles can be scented or unscented, tall and skinny or fat and short, and can be made from a wide range of different fuel sources from petroleum-based products to natural beeswax. There's also the choice between wooden wicks vs. cotton wicks.
What you prefer in a candle is a very individual experience. You may already have preferences in terms of what kind of wax or scent you like, but what about the wick? There are two major types of wick available and they appeal to different types of people. If you're not sure what the differences are between wooden wicks and cotton wicks, this article will help you out.
What are Wooden Wicks?
Wooden wicks are thin strips or tubes of wood specifically made for use as a candlewick. They can be made out of a variety of different types of wood and are often created at different widths to best suit the candle it’s being used in. When lit, wooden wicks can give off a pleasant crackling sound similar to that of a fireplace. Many people who use candles with wooden wicks note that they find the soft crackles and the wider light provided by the flame to be quite relaxing.
A wooden wick will heat your wax more evenly, helping you to achieve a more even burn over time. This is beneficial in a couple of different ways. If you use scented candles, you will be less likely to burn all the scent away when you first light the candle, and the lower, smoldering flame will throw scent better. Wooden wicks are also a better choice for wider candles since they are more likely to be able to burn evenly to all sides.
Wooden wicks have a lot of benefits, but they also have a few drawbacks. They can take longer to light and are more likely to be put out by sudden gusts of wind. If you plan to use your candles outdoors, a cotton wick may be a better choice to avoid frustration. Although they can take more time to get going, they are often more enjoyable, and those who use them find they are worth the effort.
Are Cotton Wicks Better Than Wooden Wicks?
Cotton wicks are much more common than wooden wicks. They are the ubiquitous braided cotton dipped in wax that are seen everywhere. They're common, of course, because they work well.
They are easy to light and also to relight after the candle has been used many times. Although all wicks will struggle in windy conditions, a cotton wick is less likely to go out completely when exposed to a gust of wind.
Of course, cotton wicks have drawbacks as well. Cotton wicks may be dipped in paraffin, or even metals such as zinc, for purposes ranging from self-trimming properties to easier lighting. This is fine if you're not worried about what chemicals are being released when you burn your candle. Cotton wicks produce more soot than candles and mushroom, a problem not seen in wood wicks.
Maintaining Your Wooden Wick
Both cotton wicks and wood wicks are easy to light at first. It's only after this first initial burning that care and maintenance become a concern for candle lovers. After the first burning, both wooden wicks need to be maintained, as do cotton wicks, but how you do so is different.
With a cotton wick, maintenance involves trimming the wick to about 1/4” each time you light the candle. Trimming the wick properly is important because it will reduce the amount of soot your candle puts out and will help foster a steady, low flame.
Wood wicks also need to be trimmed to get the most out of the candle, but they need to be trimmed even shorter. A wood wick needs to be trimmed to about 1/8” to burn well and produce a nice, low flame. A wooden wick should never be longer than 3/4” for safety.
When trimmed properly, a wooden wick has a real benefit compared to cotton wicks, in that it will burn cleaner even compared to a properly trimmed cotton wick. That means if you're concerned about soot or black smoke, or you simply want to enjoy candles without worrying about how much carbon they create, you should make wooden wicks your choice.
Are Wooden Wicks More Sustainable than Cotton Wicks?
Sustainability in just about everything has become a legitimate concern for people. If your main concern is choosing a candle that is as sustainable as possible, you've probably considered the container and wax type, but what sort of wick you have can make a difference too.
In general, wooden wicks are more sustainable than cotton wicks. This is in part because it's easier to track the sustainability of a wooden wick through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). In comparison, cotton wicks are less sustainable even when organic because of the huge amount of water cotton needs in order to be grown.
Some cotton wicks, even 100% organic ones, are dipped in paraffin wax to make them easier to light. Although the amount of paraffin used is very small, it’s still fossil fuel being burned up for no other purpose to make an easy to light wick even easier.
On top of this, other ingredients can be added to cotton wicks such as zinc to make the wicks self-trimming. Although you're unlikely to have this problem from an organic cotton wick, some wicks can even contain lead.
If you choose a candle with a cotton wick, choose one that is made from 100% cotton and doesn't contain these harmful additives. A cotton wick isn't necessarily a bad thing in its own right—it is simply easy to add things to and manufacturers often do in an effort to make their wicks better.
Wooden wicks don't typically have these problems since they are simply pieces of wood specifically cut to be useful as a wick. As far as sustainability, they are the clear winners in this field.
Should I Use a Wooden Wick or a Cotton Wick?
Which type of wick you prefer is a matter of personal preference. Both a wooden wick and a cotton wick do the job of burning candle wax and keeping your flame glowing for many hours.
If you like the idea of a tiny fireplace crackling merrily on your table, a wooden wick may be your preferred option. If you'd rather a no-fuss candle you can light and forget about, a cotton wick is probably right for you.
If you're not sure which one you'll like best, consider getting one of each and comparing the two through their lifespans. Do you find the soothing crackle of a wood wick worth the maintenance it needs? Do you feel the ease of use a cotton wick provides is worth the environmental and health concerns they pose?
There's a lot to consider when trying to decide what works best for you. Each wick has unique benefits and drawbacks that make the choice a very personal one. In the end, there is no right or wrong answer. It's simply a matter of comparing the two and see which one works best for you.