Candles are more than just sources of light and warmth—they hold a fascinating secret about what happens when they burn. Let’s uncover the story of what really goes on when a candle is lit.
The Illumination Process: How Wax Fuels the Flame
When a candle burns, the light and heat you see come from the wax. The wick, typically made of cotton, is the pathway for melted wax to travel up and evaporate. This vaporized wax mixes with the flame and burns. The wax primarily gives off the heat, although the wick also contributes to the burn. Sometimes, you might spot puddles around the candle base, which is from melted wax that didn’t get burned and dripped down.
Breaking Down Wax: The Chemical Composition
Wax is made of hydrogen and carbon. As the candle burns, these elements join with the oxygen in the air. They transform into carbon dioxide and water vapor. Most of the candle’s substance ends up as these two gases.
The Gas Emission: Understanding Carbon Dioxide and Water Vapor
Carbon dioxide and water vapor aren’t entirely harmless in large amounts—too much can be risky, but in small amounts, they’re normal parts of the air. The gases released by a burning candle are quite small, akin to the amount a person might exhale in the room.
Imperfect Burning: The Incomplete Journey
If candles burned perfectly, every bit of wax would change into carbon dioxide or water vapor. But they don’t burn flawlessly. At the edges of the flame, tiny groups of carbon molecules, about 0.1 percent of the candle’s mass, break away before fully burning. These particles contribute to smoke and soot, akin to food splatters caused by a kitchen mixer.
Candle Chemistry Unveiled: The Essence of Burned Wax
The process of candle burning reveals a complex transformation of wax into gases, shedding light on the gases emitted and the incomplete burning resulting in tiny particles. Understanding this journey illuminates the chemistry behind candlelight and the elements released into the air when candles burn.