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There's a right way and a wrong way to take care of your candles. This news may come as a surprise to some. After all, how much attention could one candle possibly need? But the truth is, there are some steps you should be taking if you want to keep your candles in tip-top shape—and most of them are easy to incorporate into your routine.

How to take care of your candles

1 Make sure your candle burns evenly the first time you light it

When you light a candle for the very first time, be sure to let it burn for a while. You want to ensure the entire surface of the candle melts before you put it out. Why? If you don't, your candle could end up with a rim of solid wax that never ends up melting. (This is called tunneling—and you've probably seen it happen before.) If you want all the wax in your candle to burn, it's important to let it burn evenly before you put it out. Scott Dean Brown, owner of SDB Candle Co., says this process should take at least 1 hour—so try not to light a new candle unless you have a little time to spare.

2 Keep your candle clean

Once you've used a candle a few times, you may notice that soot and other debris have started to accumulate inside the container. Clean this gunk out the moment you see it. "Debris that protrudes above the wax can be ignited by the candle's flame and produce multiple flames in the candle," Kathy LaVanier, CEO of Renegade Candles, says. This can cause the candle to overheat, creating a flashover, or when the candle's entire surface lights on fire.

Be sure to use tweezers (or something similar) to pluck wick trimmings from your candle's wax whenever you see them. Use a dry towel to wipe away soot, fingerprints, and other aesthetic distractions. (Be sure not to use a wet towel, though, because water can disrupt your candle's burn.)

3 Trim your candle's wick

If you want a clean, even burn, you'll want to make sure your candle's wick is the right length. And doing so might require some trimming. Before you light your candle, double-check your wick's length. If it's longer than the recommended 0.25 inches, use scissors (or a wick trimmer) to neatly trim it. Then relight it. Of course, you don't want to cut it too short, either. A too-short wick can get lost in a sea of melted wax and fail to light, so try to be as precise as you can.

4 Minimize mess when putting out your candle

When it comes time to put out your candle, do so carefully. If your candle came in a jar, you can put it out by placing the lid back on the jar. Or you can invest in a proper snuffer. "Blowing a candle out works, but should be done carefully," LaVanier says. "Be gentle, using only the amount of air needed." If you blow too hard, you can cause wax to splatter everywhere—wasting your wax and creating a mess for you to clean up.

You can also put your candle out by dipping the wick in melted wax. LaVanier says you can do this using a special candle tool called a wick dipper. Use the tool to press your wick into the wax, then be sure to straighten it back up before it dries.

5 Retire your candle while there's still wax in it

You should stop using a candle before it completely runs out of wax. Why? If you let your candle burn all the way down, it could overheat its container—which could cause a problem, create a mess, or both. Most candle experts recommend retiring your candle while there's still 0.5 inches of wax left in it.

Remember, you can always clean out the wax and reuse your container. LaVanier recommends using a mug warmer to burn off the rest of the wax, or placing your candle in the freezer. This can cause the wax to shrink, allowing you to get it out more easily. "Give your vessels another life and reuse them for other purposes—as a flower vase, an orchid pot, a pencil holder, a makeup brush holder, or even a drinking glass," Brown says.

6 Store your candles in a cool, dark place

Unfortunately, your candles can expire over time. And while they're unlikely to spoil the same way food does, they can lose their fragrance, become discolored, or otherwise grow stale. Temperature fluctuations can speed the aging process up—and light can, too. So find a cool, dark place to store your candles between seasons. (Brown recommends storing your candles at room temperature.) And whenever possible, try to light your candles within 12 to 16 months of buying them.

Dos and don'ts of candle care

1 Do let your candle burn for about 3 to 4 hours at a time

One of the most common candle mistakes LaVanier says she sees? People letting their candles burn too long—or not letting them burn long enough. "Candles are developed to be burned 3–4 hours at a time," she says. So you'll want to get as close to this burn duration as you can.

If you go too short, your candle may tunnel, or it may not smell very fragrant. "Fragrance is emitted via evaporation from the pool of hot wax," LaVanier says. "So the larger the hot wax pool, the more it can emit." If you go too long, your candle may get too hot, and its wax may get too thin. The heat can actually damage some of the fragrance oils in your candle, and the thin wax can cause your candle to put off soot.

2 Don't put your candle in a windy spot

Wind can cause your candle to burn unevenly, which can lead to tunneling. "Keep the candle away from air vents, windows, or drafts," Brown says. "If you notice the flame flickering, or it appears to be tunneling, move the candle to a place with less air movement."

3 Do put your candle on a heat-resistant surface

This one may seem obvious, but it bears repeating. Be sure your candle is on a steady, heat-resistant surface before you light it. Otherwise, you may damage your furniture. (And of course, keep your candle away from flammable objects—and away from any kids or pets who might knock it over.)

4 Don't let your wick mushroom

Have you ever seen a candle wick topped with something that looks like a small burnt piece of popcorn? This is called a mushroom. Be sure to remove mushrooms from your wick before relighting your candle. (Otherwise, you may end up with a very large, smoky flame.) When you go to trim your wick, look for mushrooms and remove them. Then relight your candle.

5 Do keep lit candles a few inches apart

If you decide to light a few candles at once, be sure to keep them several inches apart. If you place them closer together, they may cause each other to heat up or melt. "'Candle-scaping' is a beautiful look," LaVanier says. "Keep it performing optimally with at least 5 to 6 inches of separation [between your candles]."

6 Don't freeze your candles

"There is an old tale that freezing candles will make them last longer, but it isn't true," LaVanier says. In fact, freezing a candle can actually cause its wax to crack. And this can make it harder to get a clean, even burn the next time you light it.

7 Do follow the directions

Reading the directions is always a good idea. Candles can be made from a range of different ingredients, so it's worth it to follow the specific care instructions that came with yours. This can help you ensure that your candle lasts as long as possible.

8 Don't leave your candle unattended

Don't leave your candle unattended, and don't leave your candle lit while you're sleeping. Accidents can and do happen, and you can avoid them by being present and awake when your candle is lit.