Frequently Asked Questions About Gel Candles
What is gel?
Gel is essentially a combination of polymer resin and mineral oil that is cut with exceptional safety in respect of the flash point. When combined in a container with a wick it can produce exquisite transparent candles. Because of the clarity of gel, it gives off about 40% more luminescence than regular paraffin wax. The possibilities with gel wax are endless.
Are gel candles safe?
Yes! If you are using non-polar fragrance oils with Penreco gel, tested for the correct wick, and also followed the recommended procedures for making gel candles, then the safety factor is no different from any other candle. It can be argued that all candles are unsafe because of the naked flame, so use due care and caution when burning all types of candles and educate others on the safety aspects of burning them with candle maintenance tips. See below for information about non-polar fragrances.
How long do gel candles burn?
Gel will burn at least twice as long as paraffin wax. Because of this, you will find that to sustain a good melt pool you'll need to use larger wicks. Many of the mass-produced gel candles available on the market in discount stores will fizzle out within a few minutes of lighting because the wick is too small. As always, make sure you are thoroughly testing everything before offering it for sale to the general public.
Can I make gel wax myself?
There is a very fine legal line here. A patent on making gel wax is held by Penreco - Versagel is a trademark of the Penreco Corporation (US Patent 5,879,694). If you decide to make your own gel wax you will need to buy the compound ingredients of mineral oil and resin and mix together. Penreco uses a very narrow cut of mineral oil, which provides safety in relation to the flash point. The mineral oil available on the market does not have to conform to the safety standards employed by Penreco; therefore the safety of your end product and any candles made with it rests with you.
What grade of gel is best?
No one grade is "better" than another because the different grades (densities) of gel work equally well depending upon the context in which they are used. There are three grades/densities - high grade (HP), medium grade (MP) and low grade (LP). The most popular grade of gel with candle makers is the Medium Polymer (MP) because it allows for more fragrance and is a firm gel that works in most projects. The HP grade is more costly, but it holds a significant amount more fragrance and is a stiffer gel. The added stiffness means that not only are you able to embed heavier objects, but it does not suffer so much in shipping because it does not shift as much as lower grades.
Do I need to use specific glassware?
The main thing to be aware of when selecting glassware to use in your gel candles is to ensure that the thickness of it is suitable for hot liquids. Anything too thin can possibly cause strain on the glassware and result in it breaking. Glassware such as votive glasses, tumblers, ivy bowls, champagne flutes, mugs, brandy snifters, and candy dishes are all suitable for gel candles - but ensure the opening is not less than 2" in diameter. You also need to be aware that materials such as wood are too porous for gel wax and anything plastic has the risk of melting when the candle is burned.
Can I use any candle fragrance oil in my gel?
No! If you have heard scare stories in the media about exploding gel candles then it was probably to do with the fragrance oil used. It is ESSENTIAL to use a NON-POLAR fragrance oil with a Flash Point of 170° or higher. The flashpoint of Penreco Versagel (tm) medium density gel is 430° F. The flashpoint means at what temperature the gel will catch on fire.
The melt pool of a gel candle is about 275° F and a fire is only likely if the melt pool is close to 440° F, however, the only way this can happen is if the flashpoint of the gel gets lowered by adding scent. Fragrance has a lower flashpoint than gel, therefore when added it will lower the overall flashpoint of the candle.
A Polar fragrance can possibly deteriorate the gel strength and drop the flashpoint of the gel down to a dangerously low level. The other potential danger of using a polar scent is that it may not mix with your gel, causing scent pockets in your candle. Separation of FO and gel is not always visible to the eye so you cannot ensure this hasn't happened simply by looking at the candle. If the flame reaches a scent pocket, a flare of your candle is likely. It is essential to use non polar fragrances.
Polarity is not an issue with wax paraffin candles and that is because of the melt pool temperature. The melt pool of a wax candle averages 170° F. Wax does not burn as hot and is more forgiving than gel in terms of fragrance flashpoint limitations.
Do NOT over-scent your gel. Penreco lists the following recommendations for their Versagel (tm):
Low Density Gel: 0-3% (1/2 ounce per pound)
Medium Density Gel: 3%-5% (3/4 ounce per pound)
High Density Gel: Up to 6% (1 ounce per pound)
Lastly, you need to mix your fragrance oil very well with gel. This involves stirring your gel for at least two minutes - just like you do with wax. Yes, stirring causes more bubbles, but those can be eliminated by reheating the gel when the fragrance is mixed in thoroughly. Incomplete mixing of the fragrance can potentially cause an irregularly burning flame and scent pockets as described above.
We strongly recommend purchasing Fragrance Oils specifically formulated for use in gel wax - and purchasing only from reputable sources. If the retailer or supplier does not specify their fragrances to be safe for gel, you need to determine the FO's flashpoint and test it for polarity. Even if a supplier lists their fragrance as "Gel Safe", be sure to question how this determination is made and verify proper testing methods. It's still a good idea to test a small amount from each new batch you get to simply double check - even if it's labeled as "gel safe" by the supplier. Manufacturers occasionally make unintentional errors and there can be slight variances in batches - so it's best for you to be responsible for the testing and leave no doubts.
How do I make a gel candle?
The ideas and creativity are limitless! You'll want to follow some basic guidelines for safety, but the rest is up to you. Here are some general tips:
Mixing and blending other ingredients into the gel 203-221° F
Pouring the gel from one container into another 185-203° F
Loss of Air Bubbles 167-185° F
Stiffening of the liquid into a gel structure 140-167° F
Oven temp for removal of air bubbles from the gel base 131-158°F (This can also be accomplished by sitting candle in a sunny windowsill)
Forget using the microwave to melt gel - it just doesn't work and can be unsafe because it heats unevenly. Presto Pots (Kitchen Kettle), glass pots and metal pots can be used and an electric hot plate will also work well. Glass pots are great to use. You'll be able to watch the gel as color is added. Your best bet is to have a pot or glassware that has a pouring spout. You have less spillage when pouring into your containers or glassware. If you don't have a spout, a ladle can be used. MELTING GEL MUST BE SUPERVISED AT ALL TIMES. Never ever leave melting wax unattended, especially gel wax.
Invest in a thermometer that reads in the ranges in the table above. These are available from many candlemaking suppliers, if not a candy thermometer is suitable. This essential piece of equipment will allow you to be consistent with your pours and special effects you may try to achieve as you master the art. Make sure the area you are pouring your gel is steady and level. Gel, like water, will seek its own level and with an uneven surface the gel will harden lopsided in your candle.
What kind of wick should I use?
Wick sizes are diverse and must be test burned to make sure they work with the gel and additive combination. Different sized containers and additive combinations (colors, fragrance, etc.) can affect how the candle will burn. Braided, cotton and paper cored wicks are generally not used in gel candles, whereas zinc cored wicks stand straight in hot gel during manufacture and burning. Wick length and placement are important details that can contribute to candle safety. Wicks should be trimmed to less than 1/4" above the gel surface. Large wicks create a potential for a very large flame with nonuniform combustion, which, when not placed properly, can create localized overheating of the container and "pool". Such conditions can cause uneven temperature dissipation, a potentially unsafe condition. Pre-tabbed wicks which prevent the wick from going to the bottom are the best. Adding a base such as gravel, glass beads or shells will hide the tab. Some wicks come with a coating of wax on them. This coating will sometimes cause bubbles in the gel. It is best always to give your wicks a light coating or pre-coat of gel to help prevent that.
To secure your wick to the bottom of the candle, dip the tab in some gel and press on the bottom of your container. You can use a little hot melt glue on the tab to secure it to the bottom. Place your bottom decorations around the base of the wick. On very large candles or for design effect, multiple wicks can be used. One wick should be used for every 3 to 4 inches of candle diameter.
Here are some basic wick guidelines for gel candles , but as always test in your particular application:
44-24-18 zinc: 2" - 3 1/2" diameter container
51-32-18 zinc: 3" - 4" diameter container
60-44-18 zinc: 4" - 5" diameter container
LX-18: 2 1/2" - 3 1/4" diameter container
What are embeds and how do I use them?
Embeds are items that can be put into the gel wax to add creativity, character, and stunning beauty to the candle. It is critically important that only nonflammable items be used as decorative embeds in gel candles! Items such as seashells, glass figures, marbles, stones, ceramic/porcelain figures, brass charms, and wax embeds are fine in gel candles. Items such as cinnamon sticks, silk flowers, plastic figures, potpourri, candy (sugar is flammable!), dried fruit, paper, wood, etc. are NOT safe to put in gel candles! Porcelain is fine ground white clay, molded and fired in an oven for eight hours at 1200 degrees. Finished with a glazed, underglazed, or "bisque" finish. Glazing produces a high gloss; underglaze produces a matte finish. Bisque is a matte finish without glaze. After finishing, the item is "cooked" for six hours at 800 degrees.
Bone China is white clay with bone ash added. Bone ash content must be at least 25% by US guidelines. Fired at 1800 degrees. The translucent material is finished with a glaze or underglaze (matte). Lighter, stronger, more expensive than porcelain. Alabastrite is a mixture of rock & limestone held together with a resin based adhesive. It has the potential to be flammable when in direct contact with a flame.
Before embedding an object, it's best to first dip it into gel wax and let cool. This gives the embed a light coating which helps prevent unwanted bubbles once placed inside the candle.
A way to ensure gel candle burning safety while using flammable embeds is using a method called "double glassing". This involves using a large container (such as an ivy bowl or fish bowl) and placing a smaller clear glass container inside (such as a votive glass). Place the decorative embed items in the outer bowl around the votive glass, and fill with clear unscented gel. Wick the inner glass and fill with scented gel. The inner glass keeps the burning candle contained and the flame away from contact with the decorative embeds, thus making a safe and refillable candle. Customers can bring these back for refills, or you can make pre-scented gel chunks and package them in a baggie with a wick and sell as do-it-yourself refills.
How do I get rid of bubbles?
Ahhhhh, the never ending bubble question from gellers! Bubbles fall into two categories: wanted and unwanted !! Often times bubbles are wanted in candles such as champagne glasses or other bubbly beverage designs. More often you want to get rid of them. Hotter pours are generally the answer. Preheating or warming the glassware you pour into helps. Keep an eye on the items you embed or add to the gel because they can often produce bubbles as well as some wicks.
When working with the gels try to use metal rather than wood spoons because wooden objects tend to cause bubbles. Pour gently down the side or from a close distance, much like pouring a beer to avoid getting a big head of suds! As your gel is hardening, if there are any surface bubbles a heat gun is excellent for removal. You can also use a pencil torch to smooth the surface.
If you have more bubbles than you want, warming the candle in your oven (131-158° F) for several hours will help. Those who live in hot climates can let them sit in the sun. On the other hand if you want bubbles, pour at lower temperatures. For the frosting effects you can even whip it. For those who want to make beer candles, paraffin wax is often used to top the gel. Whip the paraffin wax and pour over the top of your gel. The head will be more stable.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR TESTING FRAGRANCE OILS FOR POLARITY
The test is easy, quick, and accurate if you follow the directions precisely. This test and it's guidelines have been set forth by Penreco, the ONLY company that has a patent on gel. Penreco has determined the criteria for gel compatible fragrance oils and this is their recommended standard testing method.
First, you want to be sure the oil you're testing has a flashpoint of 170° or higher. If the FP is any lower, it is NOT gel safe.
The test is done in two stages: first with a 25% fragrance load and a second test with a 75% fragrance load. The tests need to be done in a small glass container. Test tubes are ideal, but not many of us have those laying around the house :o). I use a small juice glass. For easy ratio measurements, I use either teaspoons or tablespoons.
The tests require only two things: fragrance oil and MINERAL OIL. Do NOT use baby oil, or the heavy, laxative mineral oil. Use a food grade mineral oil.
For the first test, use 1 teaspoon (or tablespoon if your glass is wide) of fragrance oil to 3 teaspoons (or tablespoons) of mineral oil. Stir for about 1 minute. If the mixture clouds, your FO is not gel compatible. Clouding can be very minimal or heavy to the point of looking like milk. If there is no clouding let the mixture set for at least 1/2 hour. Look for separation of FO and mineral oil. If no separation occurs, then move onto the second test. *NOTE: It is ok for the FO to cloud during the first few seconds of stirring, if it clears and remains clear.
Here you will use 3 tsp. of FO to 1 tsp. mineral oil. Again, stir, look for clouding; let sit, look for separation. If you have neither, then you have a gel compatible FO.
See? That isn't hard. But VERY important.
Many folks tout their FOs as "gel safe" or "100% soluble in gel" if the FP is above 170° or doesn't actually cloud the gel itself. Just because a FO doesn't cloud gel does NOT make it gel compatible or gel safe. According to Penreco guidelines the FO must pass both polarity tests to be considered gel safe and soluble.
How do I package and label my candles?
Packaging & labeling are very important as they give the first view and FIRST IMPRESSION to your customer. Presentation should be eye catching, tasteful, professional and attractive. Cello bags, tulle, and shrink wrap all work extremely well. Stay away from inexpensive looking items such as pipe cleaners. Raffia or decorative twist ties are always a good way to "tie off" your bag!
Your label should look professional as well. This tells the customer exactly what they're purchasing. Labels should always include the following information:
Tips for Caution/Instructions
Always affix a self-adhesive caution/instruction label to your candle - either on the bottom surface or the underside of the lid. You may also print up a candle burning tip sheet. Here's some useful information:
CANDLE, COMBUSTION AND COMMON SENSE....A GUIDE TO SAFER GEL CANDLE USE
The warm glow of fragrant candlelight is one of life's special pleasures. However, it can also be hazardous if safe practices are unheeded. Please be aware of proper and safe candle use.
DON'T LEAVE A BURNING CANDLE UNATTENDED
Could a pet or a child bump it? This is only one possible unforeseeable risk in leaving an unsupervised flame.
AVOID BURNING THE GEL COMPLETELY TO THE BOTTOM.
The container may get very hot, which could result in damage to your furniture or the container. Burn candles only on fireproof surfaces. Extinguish the candle while some gel remains and replace it with a refill.
WICK SHOULD BE TRIMMED TO NO MORE THAN 1/4"(6MM).
A longer wick is prone to dark smoking, especially with more fragrant candles. Also, a longer wick is more apt to burn off-center, creating a hot spot on the side of the container that could cause it to fracture. When the candle is cool, trim the wick with scissors or nail clippers.
INSPECT YOUR CANDLE CONTAINER BEFORE EACH USE.
If you find a chip or crack, discard it. If a match is accidentally dropped into a candle, extinguish the candle and remove the match. If this is not done, the flame could burn away from the center creating a hazard.
AVOID BURNING YOUR CANDLE IN A DRAFTY AREA.
Areas near heat and air conditioning vents, as well as open windows and doors, are prone to drafts. People traffic in walkways also stir the air. A draft may cause the flame to burn sideways which results in wasted gel, tunneling, and a hot spot on the side of the container.
LOOK ABOVE THE CANDLE FOR COMBUSTIBLES.
Is there dry greenery ready to catch fire......draperies and sheers that may billow over the flame....a paper lampshade above the candle? These and similar situations are all potentially hazardous. Also, avoid placing the candle where garments such as lingerie may come in contact with the flame.
If you notice soot buildup on the wick or your candles are throwing black smoke, you may need to trim your wicks. Soot buildup happens when you do not keep your wicks trimmed to 1/4 inch before lighting/burning.
ENJOY YOUR CANDLE, WHILE BURNING WITH SAFETY!!!!!!!!!!!!