Candles as an Emergency Fuel Source for Warmth, Light, and Cooking

Wax candles may be a valuable addition to your emergency fuel storage to ensure that basic fuel needs are safely met when disaster strikes. Throughout history, wax has been a standard fuel in homes.

Are candles a good option for emergency lighting, cooking, and heating? Absolutely. While candles are not as powerful as propane, wood, or liquid fuels, candles are safe to store in large quantities, produce minimal toxins when burned, and are easy to use.

Candles may be a viable solution to meet the indoor emergency fuel needs for individuals who live in small apartments with limited storage space or for those without the money to afford a better solution.

Let’s explore how candles may help you when disaster strikes.

Best Candle Wax for Emergency Use

The best candle wax to store and use in emergencies depends on your individual needs and preferences. Here are some thoughts that may help you decide which candle wax is best for you.

Unscented Wax

Unscented candles are the best option for emergency lighting, cooking, and heating.

During some of our early experimentation, I picked up scented tea lights because they were less expensive. The smell was overwhelming once we started burning several at a time. It was a good lesson.

Burning one or two scented candles for atmosphere is very different than burning 20 tea lights to power a HERC oven while cooking dinner. The combination of cooking smells does not mix well with the scented candles.

Cost of Wax

Paraffin is the least expensive wax. Candles made from paraffin, or a paraffin wax blend, tend to be less expensive than natural wax candles. Paraffin candles are widely available in a variety of sizes and shapes.

Natural wax (soy wax, palm wax, and beeswax) candles may be more expensive, but the value of longer burn time and less soot may make the additional cost worth it to you.

Air Quality

The research study quoted at the end of this post established that paraffin, soy wax, stearin, palm wax, and beeswax are all safe to burn indoors and produce toxins well below the established guidelines. Scented candles increased the level of toxins in the air, but levels were still below safe indoor air quality limits.

Burn Time

Natural waxes tend to burn longer than paraffin. Natural waxes also tend to burn cleaner and produce less smoke than paraffin.

Best Candle for Emergency Use

You may want to store a variety of candles for emergency use. Each of these candles is a bit unique in both function and benefits. Let’s explore why you might select these candles  

Pillar Candles

A pillar candle is large, made of rigid wax, and has the ability to stand on its own. It should be placed on a non-flammable plate or bowl to catch the melted wax.

Burn rates for a 3-inch pillar candle may average 30-35 hours for 3-inch, 65-70 hours for 5-inch, and 90-95 hours for a 7-inch pillar candle.

Container Candles

Container candles are good for emergency use. These candles come in a non-flammable container filled with wax with a wick in the center. Container candles can be quite beautiful and are easy to make at home.

We keep several container candles around for emergency lighting. I purchase container candles that have lids in both glass and metal containers.

Votive Candles

A votive candle is a small candle that is sold without a cup. A votive candle will completely liquefy and must be placed in a cup or votive holder to burn. A small votive candle can burn for up to 10 hours.

Tip: To easily clean wax out of a votive holder, place it in the freezer. The frozen wax will pop right out of the container.

Tea Light Candles

A tea light is a small candle that is sold in its own cup to contain the wax. They are usually sold in a thin metal tin but you can also find it in a clear plastic cup. Tea lights are my favorite option for emergency candles.

Tea lights can be used for emergency heaters, cooking, and baking, as well as for lighting. Tea lights are easy to store, versatile, and are my go-to candle for emergency preparedness.

Tall Candles

A taper candle is a long, narrow candle that is slightly wider at the base than at the tip. These candles are placed on a candlestick to provide light to the room.

Tall straight candles are popular for emergency preparedness and church ceremonies. You can find long candles specifically designed and sold for emergency lighting.

Liquid Emergency Candles 

100-Hour liquid candles are popular self-contained liquid candles sold specifically for emergency lighting. The plastic container has a wide base and is filled with liquid paraffin. It produces a small flame that provides light and burns clean.

Factors That Affect Burn Rates of Individual Candles

As you plan for unseen events, it is important that you understand how long your fuel sources may last so you can accurately estimate the amount of fuel you want to fill the need. Many candles will disclose the estimated burn time right on the label. Factors that affect the rate candles burn include:

  • Available oxygen
  • Air movement
  • Ambient temperature
  • Candle size
  • Wick thickness, length, and material (the larger the wick, the faster it burns)
  • Variety of wax and hardness

As a general rule, you can calculate wax burn rates for smaller candles at 7 to 9 hours per ounce of wax. Larger candles burn much faster at 5 to 7 hours per ounce of wax.

Candles made from natural wax (beeswax or soy) may burn slightly longer than paraffin wax candles. Paraffin candles are widely available and relatively inexpensive, which makes them a better choice for me our emergency preparedness plan.

When selecting large candles, multiple wicks are a better choice to ensure the wax fuel is efficiently used and not wasted.

Calculating Burn Time for Storage Quantities

It is important to store enough fuel to outlast the disaster. Be conservative when calculating your burn time. If a candle states that it will burn for 4 hours, I estimate 3.5 hours in my calculations. It is better to have a little extra fuel than to run short.

Tea Light Facts

Unscented tea lights are a good emergency fuel source and one of my favorite storage candles due to their versatility. Let’s review some facts that will help you understand the benefits and limitations of using tea lights.

  • Tea lights come in a thin metal cup to contain the melted wax
  • The wax will completely liquefy as a tea light burns
  • Tea lights have an indefinite shelf life when stored correctly
  • Tea lights will burn for 3-6 hours depending on the brand
  • Tea lights produce approximately 100 BTUs per hour
  • Tea lights have an open flame. Keep away from children and pets.
  • Tea lights do pose a fire risk. Do not burn unattended!
  • Place tea lights on a non-flammable surface
  • Tea lights produce about 13 lumens of light
  • Tea light flame can be as hot as 2552°F (1400° C)
  • The wick should be trimmed to 1/4 to 1/2 inch before lighting
  • Always smother flames, do not blow out candles

Tea lights look innocent but have the potential to start a fire. Take appropriate precautions when using them as a source of emergency fuel.

Candles as an Emergency Light Source

Candles can be used as a low-level emergency light source. A candle produces a light of about 13 lumens. To put this into perspective, a 40-watt bulb produces 450 lumens. You would need to burn 35 candles to get the same light produced by one 40-watt bulb.

The flame of a candle can produce a soft light that will illuminate a dark room. It can be comforting and add a sense of peace to challenging circumstances. However, candlelight is difficult to read by or use for task lighting. Candles obviously have an open flame which can be a burn or fire hazard.

We turned our power off one January to see if we could survive the cold winter without electricity. You can read more about it at, Surviving a Winter Power Outage – How to Stay Warm.

My original emergency lighting plan included a lot of candles. I stored all kinds of beautiful candles, most of them scented. It didn’t take long to see that candles may not be the best light source for our family.

The little ones were fascinated by the open flames and started to stick flammable objects in them. Before long, we decided that it was significantly safer to use our solar-powered lanterns, flashlights, and glow sticks.

Another issue with the candles was the overwhelming combination of scents. One scented candle can be delightful, but a mixture of several burning at once can overwhelm the senses and be obnoxious. My future emergency lighting plan includes mostly unscented candles and only a few of my favorite scented ones.

Candles as an Emergency Cooking Fuel

Candles can be used as an emergency cooking fuel. Butane, propane, and alcohol will burn hotter and are more ideal cooking fuels. That being said, don’t underestimate your ability to use tea lights as an emergency cooking fuel.

Tea lights are safe to store indoors in larger quantities because they are not explosive and they have an indefinite shelf life. That makes tea lights a viable option for tiny homes and apartments.

Tea Light Stoves

One way to use tea lights for emergency cooking is with a little stove. We created a make-shift stove using a few bricks, a cooling rack, and some tea lights. We also created a stove from a round cake pan lined with foil (to catch spilled wax) and a cooling rack.

These emergency stoves can be created from items around the house. It took a bit longer to heat up the food than other methods but it still got the job done. We boiled water in 20 minutes using 7 tea lights.

It is also possible to use a traditional stovetop by placing the tea lights in the drip pan under the burner and placing the pan on the top as usual. I’d recommend lining the drip pan with foil in case the wax spills.

A small backpacking stove may be able to use tea lights as a fuel source. The trick is to make sure that the flame is close enough to the bottom of the pan to get the maximum benefit from the little candles. You may need to raise the tea lights up a little bit to get them close enough to achieve cooking temperatures.

One final consideration is to make sure that the candles have plenty of oxygen to burn.

Candles as an Emergency Heat Source

Tea lights can be used as an emergency heat source. They are never going to warm a room to a toasty 68°F but they will take the chill off the air and give you a good place to warm your hands.

Burning tea lights inside of a metal container will produce a nice heat source. The outside of the can will get hot enough that you can barely touch it so keep it away from anything flammable.

When you utilize a good design and combine tea lights with thermal mass to retain the heat, you can create a heat source that just might get you through an emergency.

During our January power outage experiment, we used a terracotta pot heater that we purchased. It was hot enough to be a hand warmer but that was just about it. It was better than nothing, even if only by a little.

We experimented with inexpensive terracotta pots as a thermal mass for emergency heaters. Ultimately, we decided to use Safe Heat instead of tea lights. Check out our post, Terracotta Pot Heater/Cooker – How to Heat and Cook without Electricity to see what we came up with.

How to Store Candles for Emergency Preparedness

Candles have an indefinite shelf life when stored correctly, take up very little space, and are not explosive. Those three traits make candles a great option to tuck away for emergencies.

Candles are not hazardous under normal handling and storage conditions. Candles have a low flash point of about 370°F and should be stored away from heat sources and open flame, according to the material safety data sheet.

Tips for storing candles and tea lights for emergencies:

  • Store in a cool location out of direct sunlight. Hot conditions will cause the wax to melt and make a mess.
  • Tea lights store best when they are stored level. This prevents damage and helps contain the wax in the event that they are exposed to heat.
  • Tea lights are not damaged by water. You can submerge them in water and they will still light. I don’t recommend that, but it is good to know that water will not damage tea lights.

Ideas for Storing Tea Lights for Emergencies

You can store 800 tea light candles in a 5-gallon plastic bucket. That will give you 3,200 hours of burn time if you have the 4-hour tea lights. 

To determine how many hours of “burn time”, take an average of how many will be used at one time. I use 7-8 tea lights when I am using them as a stove. A 5-gallon bucket of 4-hour tea lights would allow me to cook indoors for 400 hours. Remember candles cook at a lower temperature than your stovetop so food will take longer to cook.

The HERC candle oven takes 20 tea lights to bake at full capacity. That means that the 5-gallon bucket will let me bake for 160 hours inside my home. One bucket can go a long way to meeting our emergency fuel needs.

How about storing tea lights in a box under the bed? Perhaps stash a shoebox of tea lights at the top of your closet? What about a seldom-used container in your pantry?

You can fit 168 (4-hour) tea lights in a small shoebox. Those tea lights can provide you with 84 hours of stovetop cooking or 33 hours of cooking in a HERC candle oven. The total cost, including a butane lighter, is only $10.50 cents. I’d say that is a pretty good investment.

A repurposed #10 can with a plastic lid makes a good container to store tea lights. I was able to fit 121 (4-hour) tea lights in this can. Small boxes of matches can easily fit between the candles.

Consider making one (or more) of the portable emergency candle kits below.

Portable Emergency Heating and Lighting Candle Kit

You can make a simple emergency kit for your vehicle or home by using a metal can or tin with a tight-fitting lid, tea lights, and matches.

  • Any metal tin or can will work as long as it has a snug-fitting lid to keep the contents contained and dry.
  • Unscented tea lights are best for emergency use. Place the tea lights in the original packaging inside of the metal tin if they fit well. If not, place the tea lights in small Ziplock bags. Make sure that they remain level inside the container.
  • A package of strike-anywhere matches. Since this is an emergency kit, you may want to use stormproof matches that will light under almost any conditions. Alternatively, you can include a butane lighter.

This handy little kit can provide you with a little light and heat during an emergency. It gives you the basic resources that you need to keep from freezing in a stranded car or during a power outage. It also provides some light and will even help you start a fire.

Is It Safe to Burn Wax Candles Indoors?

The question that comes up frequently is whether or not it is really safe to burn candles indoors. We did some research to positively answer this question.

Okometric Candle Research Study

A research study conducted by Okometric evaluated candles made from paraffin, soy wax, stearin, palm wax, and beeswax. Emissions were analyzed for over 300 toxic chemicals.

“The study found all of the waxes burned cleanly and safely, with no appreciable differences in burning behavior. Their combustion byproducts were virtually identical in composition and quality, with all emission levels registering far below the most restrictive of any applicable indoor-air standards.” Candle Science & Testing – Report on the Okometric Wax and Emissions Study.

This study showed that the combustion emissions of the candles pose no significant risk potential to the consumer of the candle and are safe to burn indoors. They did note that:

“For all evaluation parameters the content of emitted hazardous substances of the candle with 8% scent is significantly above the comparison value of the candle with 1.5% scent. The cause here may be the suboptimal combustion when the scent portion is too high.”

The takeaway is that it is better to use unscented candles as a fuel source than scented candles.

German Research Study – Schwind, Hosseinpour, Fiedler, Lau and Hulzinger

Another study, Determining and Evaluating the Emissions of PCDD/PCDF, PAH and Short-Chain Aldehydes in Combustion Gases of Candles concludes:

“… the burning emissions of the examined candles do not represent a potential health hazard … burn emissions of … paraffin, stearin and beeswax candles show no significant differences with respect to the pollutant classes examined. Candles made from paraffin are toxicologically just as innocuous as beeswax or stearin candles.”

Provident Prepper Personal Research

During our 30-day grid-down cooking challenge, we frequently used the HERC candle oven in the kitchen with a carbon monoxide detector that had a digital readout nearby. The carbon monoxide detector never registered any level of carbon monoxide while cooking with candles.

We used unscented candles and while we could smell the candles burning, we did not have any issues with air quality.

There were a couple of times when the candle wax ignited and we had to extinguish the flames. This was not a problem because we were nearby, but it was a good lesson to remind us that we should never leave an open flame unattended.

Candles are a Valuable Emergency Fuel Source

Our research and personal experimentation have given us a high level of confidence in the effectiveness of candles as an emergency fuel source. While other fuels such as propane, butane, alcohol, and wood are significantly more powerful, wax is safe to burn indoors, is stable in storage, and has an indefinite shelf life.

Consider how many candles you should store for an emergency and stock up while they are available and inexpensive.

Thanks for being part of the solution!

Jonathan and Kylene Jones


Kylene Jones is a blogger, content creator, published author, motivational speaker, homesteader, prepper, mother, and grandmother. She practices self-reliance, provident living, and emergency preparedness in her everyday life. She loves working with her husband, Jonathan, and is committed to helping our community be prepared to thrive during the challenges that lie in our future.

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