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Strongly Scented Candles: Use your mouth, nose and eyes to tell

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Triple scented, heavily scented, strongly scented - these are all phrases candle manufacturers are using to tout their claim that their candles have more "smell" for your buck. In reality, these claims only act to confuse most consumers. Candles are made with so many different wax blends, it can be difficult to know for sure how well a cold candle will perform until it is lit. That means, in most cases, buying the candle first. So what can you do if you're eager to try a new candle scent or candles form a new company? Use your senses to make sense of the scents!

A primer on candlemaking: for traditional paraffin candles, while the ingredient list may differ from maker to make, the concept is the same: refined petroleum distillates (paraffin wax) is combined with additives and a wick is incorporated to make the finished candle product. The more refined the paraffin, the fewer impurities there are in the wax, which helps reduce sooting or contamination in the candle. Many companies tout "food grade wax" which means that the wax (not the additives mixed with it) is suitable in food related uses (like canning). Once you throw additives into the mix, that claim doesn't mean as much.

Additives like vybar, stearic acid, translucent and lustre crystals all have a different effect on the wax. Some are hardeners, while others cause the product de-mold more easily, and others still give the candle a different glow quality. Fragrance and color, which are also wax additives mind you, can further affect the burn and, obviously the fragrance, of the candle mix. Ultimately, the wick is what carries all those chemicals to the flame, releasing your favorite aroma into the air. It is the combination of these additives that give each candle a distinct character.

As for "triple scented" and the like, this stems from old candlemaking wisdom that suggests using approximately 1/3 - 1/2 ounce of fragrance per pound of your wax recipe. this is called your fragrance load. Those additives can serve as an oil binder, helping to lock in fragrance and color, depending on the oil content of the same. Thus, a "triple scented" candle is one that uses roughly 1 to 1.5 ounces of fragrance per pound of wax.

Depending on the wax blend, however, a candle may or may not be able to hold that much fragrance without leeching or burning improperly. Leeching occurs when the oils from the fragrance or coloring seep from the candle. It is more apparent in a tealight, because it has a greasy appearance inside the cup. It will also tend to soot more because of the excess oil that is burning. Candles that hold in too much of that fragrance just won't have the wonderful aroma you desire when it burns.

So how do you combat all this? First, use your mouth. Ask questions about how the candle is made, or visit the website of the candle maker. While you're not likely to get their secret recipe from them, you should be able to get candle basics like burn times, wick content and fragrance load. Ask for a sample. While you may not get a department store to oblige, many on-line retailers will be glad to let you sample their wares, especially since you may not feel comfortable trying a product you've never smelled before!

Next, use your nose. A cold candle should have a good scent throw (a normal nose should be able to smell it about an arm's length away). Compare the cold throw of your new fragrance to ones you've previously tried. This is the way most people select their candles, and on the whole should be a fair indicator of the relative strength of the fragrance when it burns. Further, use your mouth again. When you smell the candle, can you taste it? Fragrance that lingers will usually leave an aftertaste in your mouth. If you're comparing several scents, sniff back and forth several times using deep inhalations. Try not to get light headed, and after a while, one fragrance should become more prominent. Your brain is processing out the weaker fragrance, and all you'll be able to smell is the stronger one. This works for food scents as well as other non-food fragrances.

Now look at the candle. According to a national survey, color is one of the least important reasons for buying a candle (scent is number one). While color may make a difference in your choice, what you're really looking for are three things: texture, leeching and wicking. Does the candle appear smooth and glossy or rough, even bubbly? With the obvious exception of novelty candles (like "snow" candles), a well-made candle should be smooth, with no pockets, bubbles or mars. It shouldn't look like an oil slick, either - a sure sign of leeching. Finally, look at the wick, if you have a 3 inch pillar in your hand, you should have roughly a 30-ply wick in there (certainly not a votive sized wick!). The candle will burn too slow, and eventually drown out if the wick is too small. Too big, and the wax is consumed too quickly, creating lots of smoke and soot. Cotton wicks burn hotter than zinc cored wicks, and nearly all metal cored wicks in the US are zinc, not lead. This is another misconception the candle world has foisted on consumers. Lead wicking was all but done away with in the US, when a pact was signed by US candlemakers decades ago. Foreign manufacturers may still use them, however, so know teh country of origin for your candles. Basically every US candlemaker should be using lead-free wicking, so that claim doesn't mean much anymore.

With a little practice, any candle connoiseur can become a pro at sniffing out the strongest scents. This method also works with other candle types as well. Soy and gel candles both burn slower than traditional paraffin and can hold more fragrance. A recent addition to the candle market, resin-based candles, hold even more fragrance such that scent throw on a cold candle can be significant even from a few feet away. In any case, trust your senses. If you doubt your own, borrow a friend! Between you, the real scent sleuthing will become clear.

Lisa Robbin is the Director of Product Development for the giving candle, the maker of Heavenly Gems resin-based clear candles. Lisa writes articles on all things candle related in an effort to educate consumers about making the most out of their candle purchases. You can email her directly at

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