My wife is a candle freak. We have spent a small fortune on candles over the years. They are decorative and are functional, providing light in a lightless room. When it comes to preparedness, candles are a huge resource often overlooked.
Incredibly inexpensive with an indefinite shelf life, candles have been around since 200 BC. Beyond providing valuable light candles are useful for other purposes such as fire starting, cooking, and to a minimal extent they can provide heat.
Candles come in all shapes and sizes, and made from a variety of materials. Some have one wick while others have multiple. They can be found in containers such as glass jars and metal tins.
Candles also can be standalone pillars of varying sizes. I am sure we are all familiar enough with candles to bypass a further analysis of soy versus beeswax versus paraffin, etc. You light a candle and it burns with a flame. Pretty simple.
Candles Provide Adaptable and Affordable Light
Simplicity counts for a lot, and when it comes to a reliable, low tech solution for providing light in any scenario where the electrical grid is down or simply not available for use candles still get it done. After all, they have been doing it and doing it well for thousands of years.
A candle can be placed conveniently just about anywhere, singly or in multiples, carried in a specialty container or lantern for the purpose and adapted to use in all kinds of fixtures. Candles can provide a surprising amount of light, and they’re soft, flickering glow is definitely a comfort during trying times.
Best of all, candles are an extremely affordable source of light so long as you purchase smart. now, compared to the ubiquitous and abundant electricity available to us today, your cost per hour of light is going to be significantly more expensive than just flipping a switch and running a light bulb, but considered in the context of emergency lighting, against batteries and many liquid fuels candles are still a good buy.
Candles Can also Provide Heat
Another significant edge that candles have over other emergency light sources is that they produce heat, or rather a significant amount of heat compared to electrical lighting systems. Anytime you’ve got an open flame you have heat, because heat is one of the necessities for producing fire.
A single candle in the middle of a large room will not warm you or anyone else up in a meaningful way, even if you huddle close to it, even dangerously close.
But in smaller spaces, especially when using multiple candles, you can notice a significant increase in the temperature of the air, and they also have a way of drying out the air somewhat, reducing the bite of a damp chill.
In colder climates, this definitely gives a major edge to candles. If you need a significant amount of light and are going to be lighting many candles anyway, you might as well enjoy and partake of their heat output.
Cooking with Candles
Unbelievably, candles can also be used for cooking and surprisingly well so long as you implement the correct material acquisitions ahead of time.
Candles, even large ones, even multiples group together, will not produce enough heat reliably enough to even boil a large quantity of water without modification, but this does not mean that candles cannot be used as a primary heat source in special ovens.
These are special candle ovens, and in particular tea light ovens, are compact, tightly sealed and have interior compartments made of highly polished metal for maximum reflection of heat energy.
They also often utilize removable inserts that allow you to easily add or subtract candles to reach a desired cooking temperature. These might sound like a contraption that is more akin to a child’s learner oven toy, but they are entirely effective.
These ovens are capable of heating smaller servings of food, baking bread and even roasting entire cuts of meat. I think that is awfully impressive for a small oven that relies on nothing more than common, dirt cheap tea light candles as its heat source!
Whatever food preparation alternatives you have as part of your survival stash, if you’re going to be relying heavily on candles as a light source, I would strongly urge you to add one of these ovens to your repertoire.
Understanding Wax Types
Candles are available with many different types of wax, and although not the most essential feature about them, they do make a difference in burn time, brightness and other factors. The most common types of candles in North America are made from soy and paraffin waxes, and beeswax.
Made from hydrogenated soybean oil, soy wax is often used in container candles since it has a lower melting point than other waxes and this means that soy candles can sag or even melt entirely in hot environments, such as the interior of a vehicle.
However, because of this lower melting point in the propensity of the wax to puddle, this means that they last longer than comparable candles made from other kinds of waxes and might be a good choice in temperate regions to maximize burn time.
Paraffin wax is a petroleum product, typically produced from coal or oil shale. Paraffin wax candles are among the most popular and most common because they are extremely affordable, burn brightly and hot and have a reputation for burning very cleanly so long as wicks are trimmed and maintained.
Among the very oldest type of candle wax, beeswax is the same wax produced by, obviously, bees! It has a modest melting temperature and burns brightly although it produces some smoke.
However, beeswax contains nothing in the way of chemical additives or stabilizers unless specifically adulterated by the manufacturer and is also possessed of a pleasant, entirely natural smell.
For those with specific allergies or clean air concerns, beeswax candles are probably just the ticket.
Safety and Operation Concerns
Candles, compared to other forms of emergency lighting, do have fairly significant safety and operational concerns.
The first and most obvious is that every single candle is an open flame, and attended with that are all the risks of any open flame, especially inside your home.
Additionally candles require secondary preparation for ease of use and mess free operation, since wax that melts will drip and dribble everywhere.
First things first, it is imperative that you always safely place and supervise candles that are burning. We have all heard the horror stories and resulting house fires that occur when a candle is left too close to a combustible object which is slowly, or quickly, heated to the point of catching fire.
Worse, children and pets are frequent culprits when it comes to knocking over candles which, sometimes, can lead to surfaces or possessions catching Fire all the same.
For this reason, it is imperative that you stay on top of candle placement and never, ever leave them burning unattended or at worst when you are unable to respond to an accident.
Likewise fire extinguishers must be kept on hand, serviced and ready to use in case of a small accidental Fire if you want to have any hope of containing it before it turns into a fully involved blaze that will engulf your house.
Next, don’t just leave candles sitting around on convenient surfaces, as allowing them to burn down could result in a flammable surface catching fire, at worst, or damage to the surface at best.
Always set your candle in or on unapproved candle holder, or lacking such things, use a heavy ceramic plate with an ample lip or a heavy iron or steel pot or pan.
For taking your candles on the road, that is to say using them as you move around, use a specially designed candlestick with a handle or ring for grasping or a specially designed lantern designed to hold multiple candles.
The latter has the great advantage of containing the flame and usually mirrors to amplify the amount of useful light.
Lastly, candles must be lit by an existing flame, be it another candle, from a match, using a lighter or some other tool that can produce fire. Having all the candles in the world won’t help you if you cannot light them!
Accordingly, make sure you always have on hand several options for creating a fire on demand if you want to rely on candles.
Inside Air Quality Considerations
One thing to note about candles is that, no matter how cleanly burning they happen to be, they do emit a little smoke which can turn into soot. If you are in cramped quarters for some time, especially occupying the same room day after day, there might be a noticeable degradation in air quality, however slight.
Although not an issue for most people, those who suffer from asthma or other breathing ailments, or sensitivities to any ingredient or additive in the candle wax, might begin to experience a scratchy throat, coughing and other symptoms.
This is something that you should plan for and experiment with ahead of time for both yourself and your family if you are going to rely on candles as a primary emergency lighting source in a grid down situation.
Also, I would highly recommend that you think twice before using the efficiency of candles for this task as an excuse to stock up on dozens or hundreds of scented candles for any reason.
Scented candles are a love it or leave it proposition for most folks, and compared to plain and unscented candles are far more likely to aggravate those with breathing conditions.
One or two for special purpose use as part of your survival compliment might be welcome to provide a little comfort and perhaps mask unpleasant odors in the outside air, but a little bit will go a long way! Remember that pure beeswax candles have a pleasant, mildly sweet scent by themselves.
The solution for stuffy or stale inside air resulting from continuous, round the clock burning of candles is simply to let fresh air in if it is possible and safe under the circumstances.
Properly ventilating your house or other space is generally not difficult, and we’ll go a long way towards keeping everyone happy and healthy.
Candles are an ancient and time-honored method of lighting, and though today they are typically relegated to the role of luxury or atmospheric illumination they nonetheless remain an entirely viable and affordable source of emergency light for virtually any situation.
You’ll need to place and burn candles safely, and so common sense must always be employed, but barring just a couple of drawbacks you would be well served for keeping a large stock of candles among your survival supplies.
Wal-Mart and craft stores are both excellent places to find them at great prices. My favorite type of candle is a jar candle. Candles can certainly be a fire hazard and with jar candles the chance of the flame getting out of control is slim. Either way – they should not be left unattended.
With my recent acquisition of a Candlelit Oven, I am stocking up on tea lights by the bag full. I continue to put back candles of all types. Don’t forget the matches.
last update 01/05/2022
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22 thoughts on “Underrated Survival Prep – Candles”
Rourke- Tell your wife we smart woman think alike-grin!!! Yankee candles are more expensive but they do smell great and they last a long time. With coupons they are a better buy. When we lost our power a few weeks ago my husband (who isnt very romantic) said well we can certainly have a candlelight dinner.
I smiled and yes the candles came in handy .Another great cheap source of light is solar lights that one can bring in from the yard -you use several but they do help.
Great way to light up the night and provide warmth to a small space. Invaluable to preppers who live in the north where power failures during blizzards leave the home owner stuck at home with few options.
We’ve used religious ‘votive’ candles to save our backyard citrus trees during hard freezes. After covering tree with cover, a several candles lit underneath this provide overnight warmth, saving the tree from dying.
my only thought-stay away from scented candles-they can cause allergic reactions and/or alert others to your location via the scent. never can have too many of them. . . or zip ties-another subject for a write-up, Roarke.
Gotta disagree with you 100% on this one. Lots of folks burn to death with fires started by candles and there are none in my home anymore. It’s the 21st century and lots of solar, battery, and even muscle powered cheap led lights are available. When I took my local CERT course a few years ago, the sheriff leading the course also described the many deaths she has seen as a forensic examiner due to candles. I know, we’re too smart to have it happen to us but there are no candles in my house. JMHO.
I’ve been buying candles for years, primarily at thrift stores and garage sales, usually for around .25 each and never more than 3 for a dollar (Goodwill seems to charge .49-.99 each which is outrageous)all other thrifts are in the 3 for a dollar price range.
I’ve probably amassed 500 or more and will barter or donate as needed. I store them in medium size Sterilite brand totes I get at Wmart for less than $5.
I like candles myself but seldom burn one. Years ago, when the power was out at our ranch, I lit one of the candles in a jar. Woke up middle of night coughing. It was producing copious amounts of black smoke and I had to repaint much of the inside of the house. After that, I never trust candles in jars, instead preferring single wick candles of about 1″ diameter. Votive candles used at many Protestant alter tables often have a brass wick cap. This cap keeps the paraffin from running down the candle and makes for long burning. Everyone should think seriously about using these long burning candles and metal caps.
Highly respect the opinion of the Panhandle Rancher, but have to ask the obvious. Did the smoke itself wake you up or did smoke detectors go off?
The ranch house I was in is more than 100 years old, 900 sqft, and was built by the family who took the land away from the Indians (my family was the second that owned the land). We built a new house when I retired and used the old house infrequently, more like a line shack. The wife and I lived in it for a brief while and she pronounced it hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and full of bugs and of course she was right (men’s bathrooms should always be to the left and women’s to the right, because they are always ….). I was alone when the candle smoked.
Like so many of my generation, long term impulse noise has degraded my hearing. I can’t hear whistles (which causes problems at qualification), a lot of beeping electronics and even smoke detectors. Thankfully the notch in my hearing is decidedly at the high frequency range so I can mostly discern normal speech. Tried top end hearing aids and was amazed to hear elevators talking to me, birds tweeting, and crickets chirping – even paper rustling as it was moved. After a while, I decided I liked my quiet and put the hearing aids in the drawer. We are doggy and I rely on their excellent hearing. I think they even realize I can’t hear well and make sure I know if something out of place is around. Of course I now wear the best in amplified hearing protection (MSA Sordin) when shooting, but about four decades too late.
I started to loose my hearing in high school shooting .45acp in competition and flying. Pilots didn’t wear headsets in those days and the radios had hand held microphones and speakers. As the engines are unmuffled, the speakers were turned up as high as possible to hear over the engine roar. Later, a few rounds of .357 magnum fired in anger inside a house really rang my bells, and finally being too near incoming naval rifle fire finished the top end of my hearing curve.
Long explanation but as you probably have inferred, but the two rooms of the old house didn’t have fire detectors. All of my ‘modern’ houses do have these wonderful devices and the dogs howl something awful when they go off in testing.
These days there is no excuse not to have functioning smoke detectors. Ours are top end dual technology (smoke and CO), as is our PIR detectors (IR/microwave).
Good catch. Thank you B(b.
I realized from my description some may not realize what I meant by a brass wick cap. These things are properly called candle followers.
Thanks OR…ALWAYS glean a little something, (usually a lot,) from your comments. Will be looking up those caps…
Silly spell check…was PR, not OR
I have been to far too many structure fires started by unattended candles. You can’t fix Stupid.
These things are a disaster waiting to happen in your house.
Find another way to provide light.
Ask your local fire dept. personnel how they like candles……
Just one more thing, if you have a structure fire after SHTF then you are REALLY screwed, ’cause nobody is going to come and save your ass. You are on your own. Not like today when your local FD comes and mitigates the STUPID factor.
Debbie – Usage of candles is like utilizing anything with an open flame or high heat source – responsibility and safety. It’s a personal choice not a matter of intelligence.
You are far too optimistic about the Human Condition. Many more people than you realize are truly wasting good oxygen.
Talk to fire dept. personnel who deal with this stuff EVERY Day. Unless you are too proud to take informed advice. When you realize that you have recommended gear and actions that are going to end in needless death and injury, and property loss, then you need to have less of your ego invested in said advice.
You’re likely right. I think you should head a movement to ban all sources of open flame – gas grills, ANY grills for that matter, gas furnaces, gas water heaters, oil furnaces and of course the evil Tiki torch. We can move onward to other instruments of death – such as the vehicle which kills over 35,000 people per year. Guns – I don’t even need to mention that as our fearless Administration is working on that. How about bicycles? Over 700 deaths per year. Hey – only a little over 100 deaths per year due to candles.
I am depressed now.
Folks, I think DD has a point. Small children, high energy dogs, and candles are decidedly dangerous. I have a number of stockpiled candles in one of the freezers of all places. High in steric acid, these hard candles should never melt at normal house temperatures but I had the extra space.
My experience with the candle in the old ranch house made a believer of me. About 4′ from the ceiling down was thick with black oily smoke. Never had the problem with uncontained candles or any other candle for that matter.
Anyone else had a candle suddenly go smoky?
Wife likes candles and usually has one of the scented ones on fire. I douse them whenever she leaves the room or goes to the bathroom. Think she’s on to me by now.
We have three trash containers for plastic recyclables, paper and other burnables, and then everything else. Like most back in the 1950s, we burn the paper and similar trash in 55 gallon drums and I periodically bury the leftover ash when the barrel is half full. Living in the woods, you can bet we’re careful when burning the trash. I sometimes forget and call our burn trash the burn bag. Wife doesn’t even correct me any more. Those of you in Gov’t service may know for what a burn bag is used.
Like flashlights, I am a fire extinguisher junkie. We have them inside most rooms and large ones outside the buildings. I have a big extinguisher on the welding trailer. Living in the country it would likely be up to the family to extinguish an out of control fire. Things would be crispy by the time the volunteer fire department made it up the mountain.
From previous posts, some of you may know I collect rainwater in two 3000 gallon tanks. I have it plumed into the basement and available through freeze proof hydrants outside. Near the house is a riser with valve and fire department bib. I have gasoline engine powered high volume pumps that can really pressurize this water if needed.
One can’t be too careful with any open fire, especially with active dogs and small children.
Candles have their place .. just never sleep with them lit .. We always have plenty of wax when done .. spare candle wicks .. you can reuse the wax.. Though here in TN .. without a cool place the melt into big lumps no matter what I do.. Can’t do basements in this are due to soil.
Anyone got a recommendation for beand of oil lamps as well ?
The only non pump straight oil lamp (well kerosine or coal oil) we stock are the wonderful Aladdin Lamps (see:http://www.amazon.com/Aladdin-Classic-Brown-Translucent-Bowl/dp/B004ABC77O/ref=sr_1_10?s=furniture&srs=9621098011&ie=UTF8&qid=1449774840&sr=1-10&keywords=aladdin+lamp).
I like the glass bowls over metal as one can readily see the fuel level. These things require no pumping and put out about the light of an 80w incandescent. We have about a dozen in the house equipped with high altitude chimneys and brass insect shields on the top of the chimney. The green glass Lincoln drape bowl and white glass crenelated shades make for a wonderful appearing and so functional light. Of course we have spare chimneys, wicks, mantles, and hardware in metal boxes. We buy about 5 gallons of K1 Kerosine in the can each year. In the winter, these things are used for light and heat. You simply cannot do better. They kill mosquitoes and no seeums in the summer as well.
We also stock the petromax multi fuel pumped lights (similar to the gasoline Coleman). Petromax is of similar design but will burn just about anything, gasoline or diesel and likely alcohol. (see:http://www.amazon.com/BriteLyt-Petromax-USA-500CP-XL/dp/B00J0EBJ8Y/ref=sr_1_8?s=outdoor-recreation&ie=UTF8&qid=1449775141&sr=1-8&keywords=petromax).
excellent feedback PR .. Thanks. I have added the info to my Amazon Wish List … I have been putting those things I want on there for a while .. so when someone asks.. “What to you want for ” I point to the wish list and say start there .. Don’t need more goofy pillows or clothes I don’t intend to wear .. Works well for my kids .. they seem to be at home buying that way .. older peers not so much .. at least it is a reference for me later since I can forget why I went to that room by the time I get there some days 🙂
On personal choice .. Yessir I agree.. tool/topic is almost irreverent really ..
Perfect Security/Safety is the absence of free will .. i.e. no choice or “risk vs reward”.
If my reasonableness measure is wrong ..
Darwin will come knocking and natural selection makes sure I don’t do it again to teach anyone to do it that way right?
Otherwise we are all good .. or lucky ..
I got depressed watching CSPAN .. The debate between Dems and Repubs on firearms control via the Terrorist Watch list ..
That was depressing ..
Good thing I don’t own any guns or need to buy any… I might be mad or something.. whew!
Just a note about stupidity. I got a free shoe box of mics. lengths of candles from our church. Threw it on the rear window shelf in the car and it was summertime. Needless to say I wound up with one shoe box sized candle with 50 wicks.